The requirements of our age is to make it necessary to examine and weigh once more many matters about which it is no longer enough to accept the old assessments. The system of family rights and responsibilities is one of these matters.
In this age for reasons to be pointed out later, it has been commonly supposed that the basic questions in this area are the liberation of Women and the equality of their rights with men. All other problems are off-shoots of these two matters.
However, in our opinion the most fundamental problem concerning the system of family rights, or at least one which is on the same level as the basic problems is to decide whether the family system is independent of other social systems, and whether it employs a special logic and special criteria different from the logic and criteria of any other social institutions; or whether no kind of disparity exists between this social unit and other social units. Do the very same logic, the very same philosophy, and the very same criteria govern this unit as govern other units and institutions?
The root cause of this doubt is, on the one hand, that the two main parties of this unit are the two different sexes, and, on the other hand, there is the succession of sons and daughters.
The creative process has established the members of this unit with dissimilar and unequal dispositions, and with differing and with differing qualities and temperaments. The social structure of the family is one which is semi- innate and semi-conventional, that is to say it occupies an intermediary position between an instinctive social structure, like that of bees and ants, all of those whose behavioral limits, rights and laws are determined by nature, and a social structure based on convention, like that of human civic society which has a smaller ‘natural’ or instinctive component.
The ancient philosophers, as we know, counted the philosophy of family life as an independent branch of “practical philosophy”, and believed that this department of human life had a separate logic anti criteria. Plato in his Republic, Aristotle in his Politics, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in his ash-Shifa’, has all dealt with this subject from this perspective and from this angle.
As regards the rights or women in society, a doubt and questioning also arises, of course, as to whether the natural and human right of men and women are identical, or not identical. In other words, whether creation and nature, which has granted one series of rights to mankind, has arranged these rights bisexually or unisexual; whether being male or female is relevant to social rights and responsibilities or whether these rights are the same for both sexes in the eyes of nature and in the logic of Creation.
In the western world, subsequent to the seventeenth century, there was a movement in the area of social affairs, which took place in the wake of scientific and philosophical developments, and which wail under the name of ‘Human Rights’. The writers and thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century propagated their own ideas regarding ‘natural, intrinsic and undeniable human rights with admirable tenacity. Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu were among this group of authors and thinkers. Human society in general is deeply indebted to them. It may even be claimed that human society is no less indebted to them than to the great discoverers and inventors.
The basic point to which this group gave their attention was that a human being by his nature and by reason of his birth and disposition, possesses a series of rights and liberties. No person or group can, by any means or under any pretext, deny these rights and liberties to any individual or people. The owner of these rights himself cannot, by his free will and inclination, transfer them to anybody else and strip himself or deprive himself of them. Everybody, whether he is a ruler or ruled, white or black, rich or poor, is equal and alike with regard to these rights and liberties.
This intellectual and social movement bore its fruits firstly in England and then in America and afterwards in France through revolutions, changes in the form of governments, signatures to petitions and gradually these ideas spread to the other countries of the world.
In the nineteenth century new ideas with regards to the economic, social and political rights of human beings sprung up, and other changes took place which culminated in the appearance of socialism and the requirement of an allocation of a share in profits to the proletariat, and the transfer of government from capitalists to those who defended the working class.
Up to the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, what was said about human rights and what practical steps were taken were connected with the rights of the people with respect to governments, or else with the rights of the worker and the proletariat with respect to the employer class and the overlords. But in the twentieth century, the question of the rights of women as opposed to the rights of men arose, and, for the first time, in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, which was drawn up after the second World-war in 1948 by the United Nations Organization, the equality of women and men was explicitly declared.
In all the social movements of the west, from the seventeenth up to the present century all ideas centered around two things: liberty and equality. Keeping in view the fact that the movement for women’s rights in the west followed the same sequence as the other movements, and although the history of women’s rights in Europe was full of extraordinary hardships as far as their liberty and equality was concerned, still in this case also, nothing other than, ‘liberty and equality’ was discussed.
The pioneers of this movement considered the liberty of women and the equality of their rights with those of men to be the completion and fulfillment of the movement for human rights that had been the central idea since the seventeenth century.
They claimed that without securing the liberty of women and establishing equal rights for them and men, any reference to human rights and freedom was meaningless. Moreover, they believed that all difficulties within the family arose from the absence of freedom for women and the inequality of the rights of women and men, and that with the securing of this objective all difficulties in the family would be solved in one swoop.
In this new departure, that which we call “the fundamental question is the system of family rights”, that is the question of whether this system is naturally an independent system with its own logic and standards separate from the logic and standards social institutions or not, was entrusted to oblivion. That which engaged people’s minds was the extension of the principles of the liberty and equality of women with respect to men. In other words, in the matter of the rights if women, also, the only topic for discussion was the “natural, inalienable, irrevocable rights of man”, and nothing more. Everything resolved around the one matter that man and woman are partners in humanity, that woman is a genuine human being, and must therefore enjoy the alienable and undeniable rights of a human being, just as a man, and in equality with him.
In some of the, chapters of this book there is a thorough discussion of the sources of natural rights, and we have proved there that the basic foundation of natural rights is nature itself. If the human being enjoys certain special rights which the horse, the sheep, the bird, and the fish do not share with him, it is due to his nature, origin and creation. If all human beings are equal in natural rights and every one of them must live in “liberty”, it is an order issued in the text of creation itself. There is no other proof. The intellectuals who were supporters of equality and liberty as the natural rights of human beings likewise had other argument than this.
Now let us see why the matter which we have called the fundamental question in the system of family rights has not attracted attention. Has it been discovered in the light of modern science that the difference and variation between man and woman is a simple difference in constituent organs and that this has no effect on their fundamental physical and spiritual structure, the rights which are dependent upon it, and the responsibilities which it engenders? And is this why no separate chapter has been opened for them in modern social philosophies?
It so happens that circumstances are just the opposite. In the light of modern discoveries and advances in the biological and psychological sciences, the differences between the two sexes have become clearer and better documented. In some of the chapters of this book we have discussed this, and have quoted the research findings of biologists, physiologists and psychologists.
It is a cause for amazement that in spite of all this, the basic problem has altogether been left to oblivion.
The origin of this neglect is, perhaps, that these developments took place very precipitately, and the result was that, although it took certain misfortunes away from woman, it brought, as a gift, other sufferings and misfortunes for her and for the whole of society. We shall, in the chapters of this book, see that woman in the west was deprived of even the simplest and most common-place rights up to the early part of the twentieth century, and that only at the beginning of the twentieth century did western man begin to think of redressing the situation; and since this movement was the tail end of other movements in the field of “equality” and “liberty”, they expected every miracle to come from the spirit of these two words.
They ignored the fact that equality and liberty depends on the relations of human beings with one another, and from the fact that they are human beings. In academic terminology: “Equality and freedom are the right of man according to his degree of being man.” Because woman is human being, she is created free like all other human beings, and so she shares in equal rights. But woman is a human being with particular conditions, and man is a human being with other conditions. Man and woman are equal in their being human, but they are two kinds of human being with two kinds of characteristics and two kinds of psychology.
This difference is not the result of any geographical, historical or social factors; rather it is sketched out in the very plan of creation. Nature had a purpose in these two different conditions, and so whatever step is taken against nature and the order of things is bound to produce an undesirable toll. Just as the liberty and equality of human beings, both men and women, has been revealed to us from nature, so we must look to nature to inspire us concerning the uniqueness or the duality of the right, of women and men, and also as to whether the family unit is at least a semi-natural social unit, or not.
One point at least can be sketched out is the bisexuality of animals, including man, merely accidental, or is it a part of the plan of creation? Is the dissimilarity in the two sexes merely on the basic level of constituent organs; or, in the words of the French biologist Alexis Carrel is every one of the cells of a human being a sign of his or her sexuality? Do man and woman each have their own special mission in the logic and language if innate disposition? Are rights unisexual or bisexual? Are morality, and being brought up, uni-sexual or bi-sexual matters? What about punishment? What about responsibilities and vocations?
In this development, it was forgotten that there are other matters besides equality and liberty to be taken into consideration. Equality and liberty are necessary conditions, but they are not sufficient. An equality of rights is one thing, but an identicalness of rights is something else. The equality of the rights of man and woman from the point of view of their material and spiritual value is one thing but their parity, uniformity and identicalness is another thing. In this development, intentionally or unintentionally, ‘equality’ is taken to mean ‘ identicalness’ and ‘equivalence’ or ‘uniformity’, Quality has been eclipse by quantity in the attempt to remember woman’s ‘man-ness’, her ‘woman-ness’ has been, forgotten.
This inadvertence, in fact, cannot be counted merely as a philosophical inattentiveness arising out of undue haste. There were other factors at work also that wanted to take advantage of this ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ of women.
One of those factors was that the aspirations of capitalists were involved in this current. Because factory owners wanted women to be attracted horn from their homes to the factories, and because they wanted to benefit from their economic power, they took up the banner of the rights of women, their economic independence, their liberty, the equality of women’s rights with those of men and it was only these people who could give these demands a legal acceptance.
In chapter nine of his ‘The pleasures of Philosophy’, after quoting some of the contemptuous ideas of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and some of the holy books of the Jews about women and after pointing out that although the liberty of women was also talked about during the French Revolution, without there being any practical change in their position, Will Durant remarks: “Until 1900 or so a woman had hardly any rights which a man was legally bound to respect.” (p.131).
He then writes about the causes for the change in the status of women in the twentieth century: “The emancipation of ‘woman’ was an incident of the ‘Industrial Revolution’. He continues in his own words: They (women) are cheaper labor than men; the employer preferred them as employees to the more costly and rebellious males. A century ago, in England men found it hard to get work, but placards invited them to send their wives and children to the factory gate… The first legal step in the emancipation of our grandmothers was the legislation of 1882, by which it was decreed that thereafter the women of Great Britain should enjoy the unprecedented privilege of keeping the money they earned.1
It was a highly moral and Christian enactment, put though by the factory-owners in the House of Commons to lure the ladies of England into attendance upon their machines. From that year to this the irresistible suction of the profits motive has drawn women out of the drudgery of the home into the serfdom of the shop.” (ibid. pp.131—132)
The development of mechanization and the ever-increasing growth in production at a rate greater than the level of the actual needs of people, the necessity of persuading consumers through thousands of deceptions and frauds, the urgency with which all auditory usual, psychological, sensory, aesthetic, artistic and venal means to transform man into an involuntary agent of consumption, further required that the capitalist should take advantage of woman’s existence; not of woman’s physical strength or her work power as a simple worker sharing with man in production, but rather of her power to attract with her beauty, by trading in her honor and respect, through her power to entice, to captivate minds and wills and to transform them, to impose consumption on consumers. It is clear that all this was done in the name of her ‘liberty’ and her becoming ‘equal’ with man.
Politics also did not lag behind in making use of this factor; one can read the circumstances of this regularly in newspapers and magazines. In all these things, the existence of woman is exploited and woman is used as a means for accomplishing the aims of man: and all this under the cover of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’.
Clearly the young man of the twentieth century did not fail to avail himself of this precious opportunity, He stopped taking on the traditional responsibilities with regard to women, and made the seeking of a partner something cheap and gratuitous, seizing her in his talons. Then they shed more crocodile tears than before over the misfortunate of women and the unjust discrimination against her. And, finally, so as to avail themselves more fully of the pleasures of this world they delay their marriage until they are forty and later; and then even prefer to remain bachelors.
There is no doubt that our century has removed a whole series of misfortunes from women, but the point is whether, it has not actually brought another series of misfortunes as a gift. What is the reason for this? Is woman condemned to one of these two calamities, and forced to choose one of them, or is there nothing to hinder her from banishing her old misfortunes, as well as the new misfortunes?
The fact is that there is no compulsion or inevitability. The misfortunes of the olden days were mostly caused because the fact that a woman is a human being was forgotten, and her modern misfortunes are because, intentionally or otherwise, the womanliness of a woman, her inborn tendencies and nature, her mission, the axis around which she turns, her instinctual needs and her special capabilities are totally ignored.
It is really strange that whenever the dissimilarity in the innate characteristics and nature of women and men is brought up, a section of people interpret this as meaning the defectiveness of woman and the perfection of man, and ultimately as something which necessitates a series of benefits for man and a series of privations for woman, forgetting that defectiveness and perfection is not under consideration. The scheme of creation did not seek to create one perfect and the other imperfect.
After their logical and wise interpretation, these people exclaim “All right, since nature was so cruel to woman, and created her weak and imperfect, should we aggravate the situation and add injustice to injustice? If we consign woman’s natural disposition to the realms of oblivion, will we not make her more human?
The situation, incidentally, is just the reverse. Indifference towards the natural and innate disposition of woman has entailed the violation of her rights. If man confronts woman and tells her: “Now you are one and I am one. All task, duties, profits, rewards and punishments will be alike and equal, and in all difficult, heavy work you will be my partner and receive compensation in proportion to your work force; do not expect any special respect and support from me; be responsible for all your living expenses; share with me the expenses of children; defend yourself against all dangers and perils; spend as much on me as I do on you……”, that is, the occasion for woman to throw in the sponge, because her labor strength and productive power is naturally less than that of a man, and the drain on her earnings is more.
Besides, her monthly period, the inconveniences to her during pregnancy, the difficulties of labor and the bringing up of the child, have all placed her in a situation where she is under the protection of man with fewer responsibilities and more rights. This is not confined to human beings alone: all animals that live in pairs behave like this. In all these species the male instinctively rises up to protect his female partner.
If the natural and innate disposition of both sexes is kept in view, and their equality in being human and in the shared rights of humanity is remembered, then woman will find herself in a very favorable position neither will her person nor will her personality be crushed.
Because of inattention we find that the natural, innate circumstances or the two sexes are forgotten and in the end everything depends on liberty and making things equals; it would be hotter to look at those people who, prior to us, started out on this mute, and have reached the end, and see what they have said and written.
In the magazine Khandaniha (“Things Read” no 79, year 34,4th Tir, 1353) there is an article from Mahnamah Shahrbani under the title of “The Adventures of Women Workers in American Society”. It has been translated from a magazine called Coronet.
This article is detailed and is worth reading. It begins with the grievances of one woman. The writer describes how, in the name of equality between man and woman, the allowances that used to be made for women workers no longer exist. For example, they used not to be required to lift any weight more than 25 lbs (12 kilos) while there was no such limit for men workers. She says: the working conditions in the General Motor Factory, in Ohio State, or, to give it a better name, the place where, at present, 2,500 women are toiling in wretched conditions, have been changed ….” ‘The said woman describes herself attending to a very powerful steam-engine or cleaning a 12 kilogram metallic oven which, shortly before, a strong muscular man had set in its place, looked at it and said to himself: “I am all worn out!” She says that every minute she has to lift up onto a hook a 25 to 50 inch lever weighing over 35 lbs. Her hands are always swollen and aching.
This article afterwards narrates the grievances, anxieties and apprehensions of another woman, whose husband is a sailor in the navy. Recently the Admiral took the decision that a number of women would be employed to work on board a man’s ship. She writes: “Meanwhile the naval authorities sent a ship on duty with 40 women and 480 crew. When the ship returned after her first mixed sea voyage to the port, the excitement and anxiety amongst Crew members was such that an inquiry was held, and it was soon discovered that not only had many love affairs developed during the voyage but that most of women had also had sexual relations with several man, not just one.”
The article continues that in the State of Florida the worry after ‘liberation’ was that widows would suffer, because one of the judges of that State, called Thomas Testa announced that the law that exempted widows from paying income-tax on sums up to 500 dollars was null and void. The judge considered that this particular law amounted to a discrimination against men.
Then it says that Mrs. MacDaniel has aching hands, Mrs. Stone (whose husband is a sailor) is anxious and apprehensive, and the widows of Florida have been fined; all of them have had their taste of freedom. For a large number of them the question arises as to whether women have lost more than they have gained. As of now there is no purpose in further discussion because the game has already started, and the spectators have just managed to find their seats. It has been resolved that this year (1974) the twenty- seventh amendment in the Constitution of America be passed, and according to that amendment the showing of any preference on the basis of sex becomes illegal. Thus the assertions of Dr, Rosku Bavand, Professor of Harvard Law College, that the freedom of women will be the source of regrettable results for the situation of women’s law in America, will come true.
One of the senators from North Carolina, Mr. G. Irwin, after studying mixed American society were rights were equal declared that family laws should all be changed. No man should any longer be held legally responsible for covering family expenses.
The magazine writes that Mrs. McDaniel says that one of the women-workers, because of lifting a heavy weight, became afflicted with inner bleeding. “We want to return,” She says, “to our previous position. We want men to treat us as women and not workers”. She adds that it is a very simple matter for the upholders of women’s liberation to sit in their plush drawing rooms and declare that men and women are equal, because they have never visited any factories. They do not realize that most if the wage-earning women of America must like herself, work and drudge in factories. She further says that she does not want this equality, because she cannot carry out the job which is meant especially for men. Men are physically stronger than women, and if she were called upon to complete in work with them and her work were compared, she would prefer, on her own behalf, to leave the work. The concessions which the women-workers of Ohio have given up are more than the privileges and benefits which they got through the law of protection for workers. She finally says that women have forsaken the individuality of womanhood and that she cannot understand what they have gained since their ‘liberation’. It is possible, of course, she says, that the position of a limited number of women may have improved but working women are decidedly not amongst those.
This was a short summary of the article. From the contents of the article it is evident that these women, because of the troubles that have been imposed on them in the name of liberty and equality, have lost patience to such a degree that they are now the enemies of these two words, little understanding that these two words are not evil in themselves. Woman and man are two stars in two different orbits.
It is not for the Sun to over take the Moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They float each in a heaven. (Qur’an 36: 40)2
The basic condition for the happiness of both man and woman, and, in fact, for the whole of human society, is that each of the two sexes should continue to move in their own orbit. Liberty and equality will be of benefit to them as long as neither of them leaves his or her natural orbit and direction. What has sown trouble in that society is that they have risen up against the natural order, and nothing else?
What we are claiming is that the question of the system of rights for woman in the home as well as in society should once again be assessed and that we should not be satisfied with the assessments of the past. We mean that we should firstly take nature as our guide, and secondly draw the maximum benefit from the experiences of the past and the present centuries, whether good or bad. It is only then that the development of rights for women will, in its real sense, be fulfilled.
The Holy Quran is accepted by its friends and its enemies as the upholder of the rights of women. Its opponents accept at least this much, that the Qur’an in times of revelation took long steps forward for the benefit of women and for their human rights. But the Qur’an never neglected the womanliness of women and the manliness of man in the name of restoring woman to the status of a human being and making her the partner of man in humanness and in human rights. In another words the Quran looked at woman as she is in nature. In this respect there is complete conformity between the decrees or the Qur’an and the decrees of nature. These two great books of God, the one created and the other compiled, coincide with each other. In following articles, if they can do something useful and new, there will be found an exposition and explanation of this conformity and harmony.
What is now before the respected reader is a collection of articles which the author wrote in special circumstances in 1345 (S.H) 1966/7 A. D.; they were published in the magazine Zan-e-ruz under the heading Zan dar huquq-e- Islami (Woman in Islamic Rights). The articles were read with much interest. When those people who do not know the background, and who were not involved at the time, hear that these articles were published for the first time in that particular magazine, they will certainly be surprised that I chose the above magazine for their publication. They may be also surprised that magazine consented to publish these articles without any interference or cuts. It is therefore necessary to mention the circumstances of the publication of these articles.3
In 1345 (H.S.), 1966/7 AD., the climate of magazines and periodicals, especially women’s magazines, saw a sharp rise in temperature caused by the discussion of changes in the Civil Law in connection with family rights. As most of the proposals that were put forward were contrary to the actual text of the Qur’an, they naturally arose uneasy feelings amongst the Muslims of Iran. In the midst or this, Judge Faqid Ibrahim Mahdavi Zanjani caused more agitation than anyone else and added fuel to the fire. He drew up a bill for this purpose, containing forty articles and got it published in the above named magazine. The magazine published the article with blaring headlines and attached what were in those days called “coupons”, requesting its readers to offer their opinions regarding those forty proposals. The said writer, by the way, promised that in the course of a series of articles in the same magazine, he would put forward his arguments in support of his forty proposals.
At about that time, I received a telephone call from a respected and well-known Islamic centre in Tehran who expressed their opinions, and in a meeting with the editors of the Kayhan and Itila’at4 or publishing houses, I made reference to some of the matters published in their women’s publications. The editors stated that if I had anything I wanted to write I could give it to them, and they promised that my articles would be published in entirety.
After they had proposed this, the two, gentlemen made a suggestion. They said that if time and circumstances permitted, I could go through those magazines and make some necessary notes about each issue. I said that I was not ready to write comments on every issue, but that since Mahdavi promised to write a series of articles in defense of his ‘forty articles’ in Zan-e ruz, I was ready, during the publication of that series, to make my comments on those forty articles on the opposite page of the same magazine, so that both ideas could be exposed to the public. The gentlemen asked me to give them time so that they might once again contact the Directors. Once more they contacted me on the telephone and informed me that the magazine had agreed. After this exchange I wrote a letter to that magazine declaring my readiness to defend the Civil law in so far as they were in agreement with Islamic law, and requested them to publish my articles in the magazine alongside the articles of Mahdavi.
I incidentally reminded them that in case the magazine agreed to my suggestions, they should publish my letter, as it was, with their notice of consent. The magazine agreed and printed that very letter of mine along with their notice of consent in their issue no.87 dated 7th Aban, 1345 (H.S.) (29.10.1966), and the first article appeared in issue no.88.
During my previous studies about the rights of women, I had read a book written by Mahdavi, and for some time I had been conversant with his logic and that of others like him. Besides that, I had been deeply interested for many years in the subject of the rights of women in Islam so I had ample material with me on the subject and I was fully prepared. The articles by Mahdavi were published and my articles were given the space alongside his articles. Naturally, I had to start from where he started, but it soon proved too difficult for him to carry on with the articles. It was not more than six weeks later that he died as the result of heart attack and was thus freed from writing the replies for ever. During that period of six weeks these articles had made their mark. Those readers who had been interested in the articles appealed to me and to the magazine to continue the articles. This appeal was agreed to and thirty-three articles appeared in the magazine. These were the circumstances of the publication of these articles.
Although in these thirty-three articles only a part of the matter that I had in mind was dealt with and much remained to be discussed, due to my tiredness and certain other things that diverted my attention elsewhere, I had to stop writing the series. Those who had read the articles with interest have been pressing all the time for the publication in book form. On my part, since I wanted to finish off the task and to publish some where a complete work on the system of women’s rights in Islam, I did not agree to the simple reprinting of the articles. At last, when I felt that I could not expect to complete the work, I decided to be content with what there was.
In this series of articles, the aspects of the problem that have been dealt with are: proposing; fixed-term marriage (mut’ah); woman and social independence; Islam and the modernization of life; the status of women in the Qur’an; self-respect and human rights; the natural foundations for family rights; the differences between woman and man; dowry; maintenance; inheritance; divorce; and polygyny.
Other aspects of the subject that remain to be discussed and for which I have study-notes already prepared are: the right of the man to maintain order in the family; the right of guardianship of a child; the period of iddah for women between marriages and its philosophy; women, ijtihad (competence in Islamic jurisprudence) and ifta’ (giving legal opinions); women and politics; women and the appointment of judges; the education of women and ethics; women’s dress; sexual morality; honor, chastity, modesty etc.; motherhood; women and out-door work, and a number of other matters. If I am favored with an opportunity by God, I shall collect together and edit this part as well, and publish it as the second volume of this book.5
Requesting success and guidance from Allah;
Murtada Mutahhari. 28th Shahriwar 1353
2nd Ramadan-ul-mubarak, 1394 19th September, 1974