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Internal Discussion: “Madrasatul Ula sebagai Femininitas Ideal“, Wardatun Nadhiroh, Ph.D. student of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham

An article by Ayu Kusumastuti, PhD Student in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

On December 22, 2023, at 1-2 p.m. GMT, Feminism and Development Cluster organized an internal discussion inviting Wardatun Nadhiroh (Warda), a Ph.D. student of the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. Warda initiated the discussion by explaining gender identity and gender expression within the continuum of feminine and masculine, a concept deeply ingrained in gender stereotypes.

Contrary to the independent, analytical, and active behavior implied by masculinity, feminine traits are associated with passive, submissive, nurturing, and emotional behavior. Projecting on the perspectives on femininity, which have been constructed by socialization, self-concept, and social classifications such as class and ethnicity, Warda’s research project captures young hafizas’ (female Quran memorizers) experiences related to Islamic tradition and pop culture.

One of the adagiums spread among hafizas is Madrasatul Ula, which means that mothers are their children’s first madrasa or school. This known phrase sums it up: “If you prepare them, you will prepare the best generation”. Warda collected narrations from her fieldwork, unstructured interviews, and social media posts intertwined with the Hijra movement.

 Upon preliminary analysis, her analysis yields five narratives, as outlined below:

  1. The recruitment ads, which target young Hafizas, implicitly convey the goal of preparing a good Muslim generation from the first madrasah, a mother. Being a hafiza means setting them up to be pious women early on.
  2. The matter of which is the best first teacher for children comes to a man as he chooses his future wife.
  3. A wife is a teacher to the children. If a husband could educate his wife, their children would be an excellent Muslim generation. Implicitly, a man’s position is superior.
  4. A man rules a woman. Then, women must find a future husband who will allow them to pursue an education, as the woman’s knowledge is crucial to her children.
  5. Education is essential for women to educate their children.

 Within the five narrative elements mentioned above, the counter-narrative refers to the social construction of ideal ‘Madrasatul Ula’ femininity, which tends to affect women’s self-identity. As a result, it urges women to make intentional efforts to attain goals that originate not from themselves but from motivations caused by their husbands, family, or others, thus implying that women depend on every decision.

In this sense, based on analysis and observational methods conducted on this data, the main argument of this finding demonstrates that the narration of pious women remains controlled by men constructing women’s domestication through dallel. Social media also carries this narrative by framing pious women as those with access to the public sphere, with their central role remaining taking care of family. Women’s responsibility remains the same: to be a wife and a mother in patriarchal values.

 Following the presentation, the audience asked three questions. The first issue was: to what extent might gender inequality influence the household division of labor, and why is this study focused on young hafizas? The second question explored why there is a slight variation in religious interpretations of the gender division of labor. Finally, the third question asked about young hafizas’ social and economic status.

 Warda highlighted that Muslim feminism in Indonesia had organized the Indonesian Women’s Ulema Congress (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia) with one of the interests to create gender justice, bringing up a concept of Mubadala, or Kesalingan in Bahasa, which refers to the equal relationship between men and women in the gender division of labor within the family. Furthermore, concentrating on young hafizas allows us to learn more about what inspires them and why they are interested in memorizing the Quran, as male dominance develops or frames the social construction of pious women. Furthermore, becoming a Quran memorizer and Quran memorizer teacher has become an option for women to pursue a new professional career with an attractive salary.


Warda responded to the second question by stating that the religious interpretations of gender division of labor within the family may only arise in academic discussions rather than in society. Finally, to answer the final question, Warda described that most female Quran memorizers uphold the notion of Madrasatul Ula having socio-economic status as middle- to upper-class. While the construction of Madrasatul Ula is based on a well-established idea of the art of motherhood and good parenting, Warda concluded the discussion by recognizing that Madrasatul Ula must be critically reworked to understand the power dynamic in the patriarchal tradition.


Artikel ini merupakan aset pengetahuan organisasi dengan nomor registrasi DOCTRINE UK No. 2024-04-25-Articles. Doctrine UK tidak bertanggung jawab atas pandangan yang diungkapkan dalam tulisan dan pandangan tersebut menjadi tanggung jawab penulis sepenuhnya.