Divine decree requires that life continue within all echelons of creatures and animals. This was not feasible with a single sex, rather, pairs were necessary. The two genders were essential for the propagation of the human species. Meaning that some must be ‘male’ and others ‘female’. Thus, women and men were created in conformance with the noble designs of creation with similar human and natural characteristics, but plainly different physical, emotional, and spiritual traits, and accordingly with particular rights and duties.
Islam views both men and women from the perspective of their humanity and regards both as noble and superior beings for whose creation God Almighty has praised Himself. According to the exigencies of human creation and for the continuance of human existence, He has put various responsibilities upon us. However, these differing obligations and the varying rights based upon them have produced some ambiguities for us; such that the minds of some perceive a number of these laws as prejudiced and regard others opposed to freedom.
In the previous section I have replied to these controversies and have discussed freedom, Hijab, marriage and divorce, inheritance, Mahr, nafaqah, and other topics from various aspects. However, in this section I shall employ a different method. Specifically, using questions that were asked of me, I shall directly address the questions of my readers and answer some of their questions regarding the status and standing of women, their social, political, and cultural activities, housewifery, art, freedom, lifestyle, natural and acquired rights, and other issues in the hopes that they will be beneficial.
• Why are most of your works oriented around the character and status of women?
Reply: Basically, my strategy in choosing the subject for each book I have written is twofold: one is societal necessity, which I understand from appraising the society, and the other is the lack of a good book on the subject that can resolve this necessity. It does not happen much that I see a good book on a subject and desire to write a book on that subject. I go after subjects that are needed and do not have books available or if they do, they are somehow incomplete. Almost all my books are such.
The first book I wrote was Dadgustar-e Jahan (The World’s Executor of Justice), which I wrote in the year AH 1346 (AD 1967). In those years, the issue of the Baha’i and the campaigns against them was prevalent. There were questions regarding the Imam of the Age (‘a) which was an especially important issue for youth. I became aware of this need at the time and gathered and read the existing books on the matter. I realized that even though there were good books on the topic, there was no complete work which could answer the needs of youth and seekers of knowledge. Thus I thought of writing the book.
The books I have written on the subject of women include Ayin-e Hamsardari (The Art of the Marriage Relationship), Ayin-e Tarbiyat (The Art of Training and Edification), Islam va Ta‘lim va Tarbiyat (Islamic Education and Edification), Intikhab-e Hamsar (Choosing a Spouse), and Banu-ye Nimunah-ye Islam (The Model Woman of Islam). These books are specifically about women and issues regarding women.
As for my motives for these works, regarding the book, Ayin-e Hamsardari (The Art of the Marriage Relationship), which was written in AH 1354 (AD 1975), it was that while I was a young theologue [talabah] and because of the close contact I had with people, I was witness to the people’s—and my own family and relatives’—marital issues and problems and some came to me with their difficulties.
This caused me to strive to compile the book and communicate various issues in this regard. First of all, I collected books regarding these issues, which were very few. While studying them, I realized that they could not appease the needs of the society. That is why I decided to write Ayin-e Hamsardari. The book had many readers and was useful. Naturally, after that I was consulted much regarding family problems. I did not brush off my consultees; in fact, I welcomed them and I took pleasure from the fact that I could help resolve family problems.
After three to four years, in which I had first-hand experience with these issues, I realized that most family conflicts result from the lack of correct edification of girls and boys within the family. Hence, I thought about writing a book regarding training of children. Regarding this issue also, I collected and studied relevant books and realized that, incidentally, there were no adequate books on this subject either. Of course, there were some books—some that were not based on Islam and others that were too scientific and not suitable for the masses.
Therefore, using the experience I had gained, I employed myself in preparing Ayin-e Tarbiyat (The Art of Training and Edification). Simultaneously, I asked a friend of mine in Tehran who held conferences for women, and explained issues regarding training and edification, to ask the women about their problems and questions. I received over two hundred letters in this manner, which went far in helping me to identify problems and write the book. Of course, in this regard, I also read various magazines and newspapers.
As for the book Intikhab-e Hamsar (Choosing a Spouse), while reviewing family problems, I became aware that a lot of problems also arise from the fact that many young men and women do not marry judiciously and wisely and thus, they are later afflicted by various difficulties. It seemed that knowing the process of choosing a spouse was a pressing need for youths. After considerable investigation, I did not find any satisfactory books on the matter. There were some books that discussed the problem in a very subsidiary manner; however, they were not helpful to young women and men. This prompted me to write Choosing a Spouse.
In the meantime, because I participated in many seminars, I felt that there was need of a more scientific book regarding Islamic education and edification that could satisfy the needs of the academic community. As a result, while writing Intikhab-e Hamsar, I started with another book named Islam va Ta‘lim va Tarbiyat (Islamic Education and Edification). Though, before these books, I had written Banu-ye Nimunah-ye Islam (The Model Woman of Islam).
In this book, I tried to incorporate moral aspects in a behavioral aspect as opposed to historical. At the time, all these books were needed. Even now, besides the work I do in seminars and on television, one of my jobs is resolving family conflicts, which I perform as much as I am able, and I enjoy it. However, I am sorry that I do not have more time to spend in these issues. Even so, I do not refrain from these activities unless I have no choice.
• How can families be made more knowledgeable regarding conjugal relationships?
Reply: I believe that the mass media such as television, radio, newspapers, and magazines must give more weight to the matter of marriage and safeguarding the institution of family. I feel danger for the future of families in Islamic Iran. Of course, the mass media have some programs and writers write about these issues, but it is not enough. There is need of much more than this. Books are one of the important media of information.
However, many couples do not read them. It would be good if charitable people would make books regarding family education available with lower prices, or charity organizations, such as the Imam Khomeini Charity Committee, which holds marriage ceremonies for several thousand young men and women each year, would make these books freely available. I wish that, in addition to the household appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and televisions they donate to young couples, they would also give them a book on morals and behavior. This is easily achievable. The price of a two dollar book is nothing compared to the price of the dowry they donate to the bride.
Additionally, I feel that seminars and workshops must be held in order to prevent family troubles and make marriages more successful. Unfortunately, we are deficient in this area. When a company hires someone for teaching or any other job, they do not let them work until the new employees take part in a period of training and instruction. However, marriage, which is the most fundamental issue in the lives of young women and men, is performed without knowledge of how to consort with one’s spouse.
These issues are neither given regard in study books nor are there classes held for this purpose. If our Islamic government would require all couples who wish to marry to take part in a one month training course, in which family issues were correctly examined and taught and then give them permission to marry, I believe that there would be many fewer problems. Theologues and learned people should especially support this matter and implement it into their schedules. Some theologues have started programs in some cities, but it is not enough. In any event, an extensive program must be started by all those who work in social services, advertizing and publication such as the clergy, writers, television and radio personnel, etc.
• What do you think about the freedom of women in Iran?
Reply: There is no doubt that throughout history, women have been oppressed and their rights have been disregarded. While today European countries give women much ostensible and superficial freedom, their history shows that they greatly oppressed them in the past. This problem caused the advent of the feminist movement in the early 20th century, which was honestly an apt movement because it provoked many intellectuals and public-spirited people into giving women consideration. Needless to say, many women and men gave the movement good reception and propagated the campaign.
The issue they advanced at the time was that men and women must be equal in all aspects and that no difference exists between women and men. Women are human and men are also human. Two humans have equal rights and just as men are free in possession of personal property, work, and other issues, so also women must be free. Anyway, an extensive campaign, which was outwardly a good movement began. They greatly promoted the matter; however, the movement had the following drawbacks:
First, in this movement, the issue of family was disregarded and only the call of freedom could be heard. Unfortunately, what this freedom and equality would do to the institution of family was not regarded in the least!
Second, when they wanted to propound the matter of liberty and equality, no heed was given to the fact that women have a differing genetic and spiritual makeup from men. With the pretext that women are human they asserted that women should have the exact same place as men.
Negligence of these two facts resulted in women entering public work because the defenders thought that if women have financial independence, men can no longer oppress them.
Consequently, at the time, there was the matter of industrialization and development of factories and such, and naturally, they needed workers. The owners of these factories completely used this opportunity with the realization that women would enter the workforce and they could be employed with lower wages. Thus, tycoons and industrialists also welcomed this innovation. Naturally, women felt that they had gained some rights and an income and this made them happy.
Little did they realize that some of these jobs were not suited to women and their special genesis. In short, the proprietors of businesses, those same males who before had exploited women within their homes, again became predominant in exploiting women outside their homes. In addition, men used women to attract customers and gain profit. In this manner, some women were brought into offices, advertising, cinemas, and theaters in order to provide men with pleasure. In the long run, the effect of this so called ‘equality of women and men’ is what we see in the Western world.
In the West, families are truly shattered. Even those that are not completely shattered, have many problems. When I went to Australia, they said that a high percentage of marriages result in divorce. There was a high tally of unofficial offspring. Bachelor life was extensive and there were many other problems. For example, having illegitimate children is something that is no longer considered indecent or improper.
They jest and call one another illegitimate and no one becomes offended! Now, as a result of a movement it has started itself, the West is in very bad shape. Due to rapid communications, countries have become closer and the danger is that something that occurs in one place, quickly spreads everywhere.
Here, I will point out our situation before the victory of the Islamic Revolution. At that time, women were oppressed just like the women everywhere else, and their rights were greatly ignored. Some men abused women. Men would make unjust restrictions for women and unfortunately, they put Islam at fault for many of these restrictions, even though they had nothing to do with Islam. This was until the movement that started in Europe slowly propagated to Iran though various books, writings, and other media of communication.
This produced a parallel movement in Iran with the backing of the former regime with the tag of defending the rights of women. Therefore, an identical movement to the one in Europe stared in Iran. The matter put forth at the time was the equality and liberty of women, like in the West. This movement was the mainspring of perversion among women in Iran, and brought about abolishment of Hijab and other problems.
At the time, some men attempted to preserve the previous state in their homes, and they kept up their bad behavior and solidified bigotry. Others, who were supporters of the new situation ‘did as the Romans’ and perversion thrived and greatly threatened the institution of family until God Almighty did a kindness and the Revolution occurred. Even if the Revolution had not transpired, we might not have become like the West, but the situation of our women and society in general would have become very bad.
Naturally, after the Revolution, without much propaganda or restrictions, the women themselves observed Hijab for a period and the situation had become extremely good. With his wise recommendations, Imam Khomeini (may Allah have mercy upon his soul) bought women into the society. Maybe if someone else was the helmsman of the Revolution, women would not have become active in the society so quickly. In his speeches, Imam greatly encouraged them, such as in issues revolving around the war. Finally, this resulted in severance of traditional chauvinist men, who would not let women enter the society.
This was a good opportunity and wonderful atmosphere because those who previously had unreasonable freedom were now relatively happy that they had freedom to be present and work in the society. Those who were under restrictions because of some men’s narrow-mindedness, for which Islam was sometimes faulted, now entered the society. Ultimately, nearly ideal circumstances were produced for women in order for them to attain their true rights and be saved from their previous problems.
However, this opportunity was not used very well. It was befitting that women enter their true paths; the same path that Islam had set for them. They should have entered the society with foresight and received their rights, but this has not happened in many cases. In the past, many people were prejudiced—they would not let their daughters go to school. Now the path has been paved for them to go to school and enter universities. However, education alone cannot resolve the predicament of women.
Of course, it is good and there is no doubt that women must also learn, vote, become candidates for election, enter the senate and ministries, create works of art, etc. These are all good and well, but are the problems of women limited to these issues? Women are encouraged in sports and the ultimate goal of some women might be to take part in international games and win. Taking part in sports is permissible for women; however, these are not the pivotal affairs of women. Women should have traveled on their true paths and pursued their real rights. Which of the basic problems of women do professional sports solve?
In performing the things we did—many of which were done recklessly—we disregarded two issues: First, we did not reckon whether what we did would cause strengthening of the family or its weakness or whether the number of divorces would plummet or skyrocket. In our plans of action, we did not think of the instability or fortification of the family institution while we should have regarded it in all programs as a criterion. Family is a reality that, through its strength, the society becomes strong.
The endurance of the family is to the advantage of both women and men, and its fragmentation harms both men and women. Regrettably, the tally of divorces not only has not become less, it has soared. Even though in our Islamic regime divorce, which is the most hated of the permissible things in Islam, should reach its minimum, it has sadly reached an all-time high! This is a result of our inexperience and greenness.
Sadly, I see too many people who should themselves be the ones to resolve the family problems of others, but who do not even act correctly with their own families.
Another issue that was tragically disregarded in the plan to bring women into the society was their special genesis. Jobs that were well suited to women wherein they could both fulfill their God-given responsibilities and also have an influence in the society were not well thought out. It is vital to discover what types of work are suited to the needs of women. If we do not contemplate the matter well, I fear we shall be afflicted with the same fate as the West. I sense the peril of this truth.
Unfortunately, we do not have coordinated communication and organization in cultural issues, albeit this deficiency is not specific to women alone, and when communication is not coordinated we cannot arrive at a desirable outcome. In fact, we may even get an opposite result. What I mean by coordination is that all people and organizations must work synchronously in cultural decisions: television and radio, writers, magazines, publishers, speakers, etc. If all walk the same path, all will be very successful.
For example, in the eight year imposed war, we publicized the culture of jihad and martyrdom1 among the people and we were successful. At the time, we were all harmonious, from Imam Khomeini to all administrators, the clergy, and the media. Thus, even with an abundance of problems, we were miraculously triumphant and we were able to defeat all the powers that were behind Saddam, even though we were empty-handed and alone. The reason for this victory was that we spread this culture and because jihad and martyrdom were the greatest of values.
When youths went to the frontlines, they welcomed martyrdom. The tradition of martyrdom could be seen on all fronts. In sermons, speeches, eulogies, and poems there was talk of self-sacrifice, jihad, and proximity to Allah. Back at the Friday Prayer, I addressed eulogists and said that throughout the years of battle against the previous regime, eulogies and poems regarding Imam Hussain (‘a) had a wonderful color and other types of poem were moot.
With the rise of the Revolution, poems changed and addressed the path of martyrdom, jihad, and related matters. However, when the war was over, the poems returned to their previous style and higher values were ignored. Now, look in our newspapers and art and literature media and see what values are prevalent and what is rewarded.
In this turbulence, if someone wishes to spread a tradition, they will not be successful. Changing or spreading a custom requires a common and united movement such that at least seventy percent of administrators and organizations are coordinated and the other thirty percent follow their lead. Unfortunately, we have done no such thing and do not presently have it in our culture.
At the beginning of the Revolution, women willingly accepted hijab along with the flow of the Revolution without intimidation or discipline. However, we should have used this opportunity to vitalize the tradition of hijab with coordinated publicity and educating principles. Women must believe that hijab is in their own interests. When this value came without effort, we did not appreciate it. Women’s acceptance of hijab was truly a miracle considering the situation of the society. We could have undertaken much cultural education, but we did not. Then the surge of the Revolution and the term of the imposed war passed and still we did nothing.
Coordinated cultural education is very important. The truth of the matter is that cultural administrators should have made a united decision about women. What is their correct path? What are exemplary values concerning women? If this had been done, they would have more easily accepted their worthy path. Instead of coordinated work, we undertook scattered and preferential projects and focused attention on cultural scenes such as Friday Prayer, while many newspapers, books, and cinemas became battlefields of the whims. These incongruities and differences in inclination retarded cultural education.
• Is the position of family in the moral and jurisprudential system of Islam an immutable affair?
Reply: The matter of family is one of the difficult issues of sociology and its complete analysis requires extensive discussion. However, in short, I can say that the importance of family is hidden to none and sociologists agree on this. The institution of family is held to be the best and most secure place for the tranquility and ease of husband and wife and for correctly rearing children. If families are healthy, so is the society and if families shatter, there will not be a healthy society.
Islam puts much importance upon family. It has legislated its laws such that the institution of family remains intact and strong. Thus, in Islam, preserving and fortifying the family is considered a chief principle. However, the rules and regulations and the rights and privileges governing families can be adapted and changed with respect to varying prevailing conditions.
• What are the main points of difference in criterion between your views, which are religiously based, and other views?
Reply: The positions some religious persons took regarding the defense of women’s rights did not consist of a unanimous, clearly thought out Islamic strategy. It did not start with regard to the special genesis of women and the necessity for preserving and strengthening the institution of family. It was not coordinated. Among the advocates of women’s rights, differing and sometimes conflicting positions were taken. Some liberalist individuals, who preferred the situation of Western women, propounded the issue of freedom and equality of rights and responsibilities for women and men.
Without giving heed to the special genesis of women and the necessity of upholding and bolstering the institution of family, they endeavor to drag Muslim women down the same path of Western women—upon which Western women have incurred much loss. This is a dangerous task. Conversely, others attempt to keep women in the previous traditional situation and attribute their incorrect ways to Islam. They are not willing to impartially accept the true views of Islam and give women their canonical freedom and rights.
I believe both these parties have gone to extremes. Regarding the positions I take regarding women’s issues, I seek to understand and follow the true opinion of Islam. I take into account the special genesis of women and reinforcing the institution of family. Accordingly, the main criterion for my views is ‘moderation’.
• What is the rank and stature of women in the Islamic perspective?
Reply: The status of women as stated by the Quran and Islam is the status of ‘humanity’. It is very interesting that around one thousand and four hundred years ago, when women were mostly considered a weak and inferior gender and some even doubted the humanity of women, Islam does not even directly address the issue; rather, naturally, it encompasses both women and men when it speaks about humans. Therefore, in order to clarify the status of women in Islam, we must investigate the status of humans in Islam.
Even though this issue requires a comprehensive discussion, in a nutshell, I can say that Islam regards humans as an elect being composed of a body and soul, superior to all material things. Humans are eternal beings that have a lofty purpose for their creation. This purpose is spiritual perfection, and bliss in the anthology of life, especially otherworldly bliss. Islam regards humans as superior life forms, the noblest of creatures [ashraf-e makhluqat] and due to this nobility, various duties have been placed upon our shoulders. Of course, this is a summary of a matter which requires much more thorough discussion. Through this discussion, the status of women may be illuminated.
The Quran and Hadith has put much emphasis on this issue. As an example, this noble verse:
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَ حَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَ الْبَحْرِ وَ رَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَ فَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلاً
In this verse, God Almighty states: ‘Surely We have exalted the children of Adam [meaning that God has promoted humans—both men and women as children of Adam—above other material beings] and We gave them means of transport on land and sea, and We provide them with good and pure things, and We have elevated them much over many of those We created.’2 Of course, many exegetes state that other than material creatures and angels, there may be other lofty creatures over which humanity has been exalted, but Quranic verses and Hadith clearly state that humanity is superior to the angel race.
Thus, it seems that the minority to which humans are not superior are a few specific sublime creatures. In any case, by citing this verse I intended to show the elevation of the children of Adam over many other creatures and that regarding the designation ‘children of Adam’ women and men are equal as humans. If women were not lofty, it would be said: “We have exalted men.”
Again, there is another verse that states:
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
“Surely We have created humanity in the best formation.”3
This means that the spiritual and corporeal formation of humans is the best possible form. Exegetes state that this ‘supremeness’ means that humans can do many things that other beings cannot. Humans can even do things that angels cannot. Here also humans are at issue, not men. Men and women are generic in their humanity. The creation of humans is detailed in the Quran. God Almighty declared to the angels that He intended to create a trustee [khalifah] on the earth. The trustee was not only man, but all humans; the children of Adam and all humans throughout history are the trustees of Allah—men and women are no different in this regard. The rank gained by Adam (‘a), who was able to learn the ‘Names’ God Almighty taught him, was due to his humanity not his maleness. Because he was human, he was able to understand them and answer questions regarding them. Women are also such. When the angels saw that Adam (‘a) could answer when they could not, they bowed and made obeisance to him:
فَسَجَدَ الْمَلآئِكَةُ كُلُّهُمْ أَجْمَعُونَ
“Thereupon, all the angels made obeisance, bar none.”4
In truth, the obeisance of the angels was due to this ability and potential, and women and men are no different in this manner.
Some may argue: Considering the following facts, how can the name Adam be generalized to the whole of humanity? The Quran employs the name of Adam (‘a) in various verses such as وَ عَلَّمَ آدَمَ الأَسْمَاء كُلَّهَا (and He taught Adam the Names, all of them…5) and وَ إِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلاَئِكَةِ اسْجُدُواْ لآدَمَ (and when We said to the angels: prostrate yourselves unto Adam…6). Moreover, the name Adam (‘a), which is a proper noun used as opposed to Adam’s wife such as in the verse يَا آدَمُ اسْكُنْ أَنتَ وَ زَوْجُكَ الْجَنَّةَ (O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the Garden…7), is used specifically to indicate the first man.
In answer, we must say: True, here Adam is the addressee. However, sometimes Adam is addressed as a person and sometimes as a human. Here Adam is addressed as a human. It is not true that God intended to designate a certain man as His khalifah upon the earth. Also, it was his human soul that enabled him to understand the ‘Names’. The angels bowed to Adam because of his humanity not his personage or gender. Additionally, some Quranic verses also use the term ‘the children of Adam’.
Consequently, the understanding the angels voiced in their question regarding this new creation (Why do you want to create a creature that will cause corruption and spill blood on the earth?) was the creation of the human kind as opposed to Noble Adam the person. Their understanding was that because this creature is material, it can cause corruption. The corruption, they presumed, involved both genders. This humanity is where we derive our characteristics.
The fact that Islam has not separated males and females is very interesting; it means that it is an indisputable fact that does not even merit a discussion. Especially in times that some cultures doubted the humanity of women, Islam did not see any need to defend the issue. Islam never says women are also human, because it is taken as a given fact.
It is also interesting that no verse in the whole Quran can be found that regards women as less than men or indicates the possibility of deficiency or weakness in their intellect or social behavior. No part of the Quran reproaches women due to their femininity. It does reproach women, not because of their womanhood but due to their deeds, just as it also reproaches men on account of their deeds.
• What are the common duties that Islam has put upon both men and women?
Reply: Humans are superior beings among the creations of God. One of their responsibilities is that they must preserve their species because the extinction of humankind may cause great harm. They are complete beings who are magnificent and are the purpose of Creation. Thus, the first duty of humans is self-preservation and reproduction.
Of course, God has also implanted the instrument for this, which is sexual desire, in the nature of both men and women. In his exegesis ‘Allamah8 Tabataba’i states: Providing this sexual drive in humans is a veil for the reality that the Creator wants humans to sustain their race; this duty has been put upon the shoulders of both women and men and both are the source of the race’s perpetuation. The Quran has also stated this issue; for example in this noble verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَ أُنثَى...
“O Humans! Verily We have created you from a male and female…”9
First, this verse addresses humans [nas], which comprises both women and men. Then it states, We have created you from one male and one female. Again it mentions them both together and does not differentiate. Near the end of the verse it states:
...إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ...
“Surely the dearest of you to Allah are the most righteous of you…”10
Here also there is no distinction between men and women. Woman can be just as pious as men and both can deviate from the correct path.
The second common duty among humans is to perfect their souls, use this world to gain a better place in the next, and improve and develop both their worlds. This mystical quest, spiritual perfection, and improvement of worldly and otherworldly life are common responsibilities upon all humans, regardless of whether they are male or female. There are many verses on this issue, some of which I shall enumerate.
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى وَ هُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُ حَيَاةً طَيِّبَةً...
“Whosoever performs a good and righteous deed, whether they be male or female, while they are a believer, We shall certainly vivify them with a good and pure life…”11
Good and pure life [hayat-e tayyibah] is congruous in both this world and the afterworld [akhirat]. Life in this world and the next is not separate. One enters pure and good life in this world and continues it in Akhirat. The verse ends thus:
...وَ لَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
“…and We shall recompense them with a reward according to the best of what they used to do.” 12
Again it is made clear that any man or woman that does good deeds shall be given hayat-e tayyibah.
Another verse states:
...أَنِّي لاَ أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِّنكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَى بَعْضُكُم مِّن بَعْضٍ...
“…I shall not waste the work of any agent among you, whether man or woman; you are all members of the same race…”13
The last statement is very interesting: بَعْضُكُم مِّن بَعْضٍ (i.e. some of you are from some others). This can mean some women are from other women; some men are from other men; or that some men and some women are from each other. Regardless, it is saying that men and women are the same in this respect. It seems that it wants to say that you are all together, have to continue this life together, and work together to attain human perfection.
Just as the Quran has praised some men for their faith and righteous deeds, so also it has praised some righteous women. For example, it beautifully eulogizes Saint Maryam (‘a):
وَ إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَ طَهَّرَكِ وَ اصْطَفَاكِ عَلَى نِسَاء الْعَالَمِينَ
“And [remember] when the angels said: O Maryam! Verily, Allah has chosen you and purified you and preferred you above the women of the worlds.”14
This is a great excellence. Or the example of Asiyah, Pharaoh’s wife, who is also thus. She has been extolled in the Quran:
وَ ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اِمْرَأَةَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِندَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَ نَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَ عَمَلِهِ وَ نَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
“And Allah has set forth an example for the believers, Pharaoh’s wife when she said, ‘O Nourisher! Build for me, in your presence, a house in Paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his deeds, and deliver me from the evil doing people.”15
It is interesting that God Almighty has cited Pharaoh’s wife as an example for the believers: لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا–meaning all believers, men and women alike. It wants to say: Look! This is a woman who has gained such rank. It shows great excellence for the Quran to give a model woman as an example for all believers.
Another common merit and duty for humans is gaining knowledge. God Almighty has created humans such that they can acquire both intellectual and empirical knowledge and their greatness is due to this ability. The worth of humans is due to their knowledge, and women and men are similar in this respect. God Almighty has given both men and women the matching ability to learn and acquire knowledge.
The fact that He has given humans this capacity means that we must use it. God has anticipated a purpose and end for everything he has given to humans. If women were not supposed to obtain knowledge, surely God would not give them the capacity to do so. Therefore, they must endeavor to learn and they are completely identical to men in this regard.
Moreover, it is evident that the Quran does not give any special preference to men when speaking of knowledge and women also have these merits. There are many Hadith that instruct us to acquire knowledge, such as this well-known Hadith of the Prophet (S):
«طلب العلم فریضة علی کل مسلم.»
Seeking knowledge is a duty for every Muslim.
As I have said, the term ‘Muslim’ equally refers to both females and males, but some citations also state this Hadith specifically with the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Muslimah’:
«طلب العلم فریضة علی کل مسلم و مسلمة.145»
However, even if it did not contain the word “Muslimah” it would be sufficient for this purpose. Also:
«الا ان الله یحب بغاة العلم.»
Allah loves seekers of knowledge.
Thus, I deem it necessary to succinctly state that if women and men both have the capacity for knowledge and if Islam expects it of both and if the Quran does not differentiate between men and women, then one of the important things to which women must pay attention is the acquisition of knowledge and completing their erudition.
Women must strive to obtain the rights that God has given them. It is with knowledge that humans attain civilization, development, and advancement, and scientists and scholars have delivered humanity to the current state of development and advancement.
Humans are responsible for their own advancement; both men and women—it makes no difference. Women consist of approximately half the population. They should try to become self-supporting because half of the society is women. Naturally, half of universities and schools must be for women and it would be better for them if they governed them, meaning that all the people involved should be women; including the drivers, janitors, teachers, professors, etc. Because half the society consists of women, half of the hospitals, laboratories, and other medical centers must be run by women.
This is due to the fact that women have needs just like men. It is proper that women be independent in these fields; that is, they must have professors, doctors, specialists, nurses, etc. from themselves and be independent of men in this regard. Half of doctors in Iran should be women—no, even more than half; because women usually consult doctors more than men. The wife of one of my students was ready to give birth. He said to me, ‘She was not inclined to let a man help deliver the baby. When I told this to the person in charge, they gave only women responsibility over the necessary tasks and services.’ It is very noble and dignified of a woman to decline to allow a man to examine her. These are truths that women must seek for themselves.
Women also need to learn religious issues, religious jurisprudence, religious precepts, and theology. Half of religious centers must be held by women. Half of preachers must be women. They must hold classes, discussion forums, and lectures for themselves. In fact, they understand each other better and their own words influence other women better. It is very delightful for women to say, ‘We are capable and independent and we wish to be independent in religious issues also. We will train and provide teachers and specialists in this field ourselves. We will do research, write books, make speeches, we will do it by ourselves.’ Why should women not be able to do these things?
Why should we not have enough educated women to teach in schools so that men do not have to teach in women’s high schools?
Why should women be secretaries and men doctors? There should be female specialists with female secretaries and they should perform injections and other services themselves. It is not in a woman’s dignity for her to be a man’s secretary or a male surgeon’s assistant in an operation. A women’s dignity is much greater than this, and they should not be content to be only nurses. True, the work of a nurse is very noble and women are quite competent in such work, but cannot women also be competent as specialists in medicine? We have many talented and brilliant women. They must go after these jobs; this is what gives them greater character.
It would be good if women would reveal the greatness of their character to men. They can if they desire to. I have seen women who are great in various sciences or jobs—even better than men. Unfortunately, the arrogance of men sometimes keeps women from attaining greatness. I have heard that many male specialists do not accept women as their students to become specialists, maybe because they fear that by becoming specialists, women will take over their jobs. I believe that, with regard to statistics, we should lower the number of men that are accepted in medical universities so that more women can enter these fields and the ratio of men to women balances out.
Then woman may say, ‘We have strived for our own independence and now we have really attained it.’ Development and independence is not in sports. Sports are a good thing; however, it is deceiving women to over-promote sports among women because women are similar to men in this respect and can do sports on their own. It is not a merit for which men can hold women under obligation that, ‘we let women do sports’. It would be of much worth if they were to become experts or intellectuals.
I am amazed at women. They sometimes ignore their true rights and dignity and go after inferior things. They say, let us work—but where? They choose second-rate jobs like being a secretary for a male doctor? Women are far more worthy than this. This is also true of the clergy and religious schools. I truly believe that if we want to do it right, if we plan correctly, half of theologues must be women.
However, it is evident that they must learn particular studies that are appropriate to them and hold female-specific specialties, which can help them become more independent. Of course, it is also a matter for debate that even though women have the right to study in any field, is it to the advantage of women and the society in general for women to study in all fields and are not some fields better suited to women? In any event, we should not disregard the femininity of women, the specific situation of women, their families, and even the society.
• Why do you emphasize medical fields so much for women’s employment?
Reply: My stress on medical professions and their dependencies for women is due to the facts that such fields are always needed by everyone and in order to diagnose an illness an examination is necessary, which usually entails observing and touching the body of the patient. Islam has prohibited both men and women from viewing or touching the body of non-mahram persons because this is a preliminary for deviation. Thus, we should strive to bring about the prerequisites for preventing deviation so that we may easily carry out divine commandments and maintain the interests of religion.
A while back, a distressed final year medical student came to me and said, ‘I wish to change my field.’ I asked why and he replied, ‘Because after graduation if I want to not take female patients it would be problematic and if I do accept them, I would have to examine them which would entail a haram act. So it seems that it would be better for me to just change my field now and save myself from this problem.’ Women also have this problem. Those that are religious and wish to observe their Islamic duties cannot see a male doctor save in necessity. As long as there is a female doctor in town who can perform examinations, woman cannot canonically consult a male doctor. Also, under such conditions, male practitioners of medicine do not have the right to examine women. Therefore, I feel that there is an extreme need for women to be more active and become independent in this regard.
Islamic laws engender circumstances in which individuals and society do not deviate from and are not stunted on the path of development, advancement, and the lofty purposes of the human race. Regardless, the nature of men and women is such that they feel attracted to one another. When the seeds of inclination and tendency are sown in a person due to undisciplined association and contact, they may deviate which would be deplorable. If they do not alleviate themselves or are religious and do not desire to perform a sin, they will slowly become mentally or spiritually ill. In addition, the situation may also cause other complications; for instance, the person may lose the affection and love they previously felt for their spouse, which may cause family problems. This is why Islam emphasizes this issue.
Another benefit of women’s independence in this matter is that they may freely prove their worth and virtue in their own regard. Moreover, women who seek medical advice in independent medical centers that belong to women are more at ease, because they look on it as their own and take pride in it and are peaceful there; for example, a patient laying on a bed in such a center is at peace because she knows that no male doctor or nurse will frequently come up to her to examine her or take her readings. Also, men will not be worried or anxious because of their wives’ or daughters’ presence in such environments. This is better and lovelier for the whole community. If these things happen, we can even be an example for other countries and prove the excellence of women.
• Must we accept the separation of men and women that is implemented in some facilities? Does not this separation make men and women more sensitive toward each other? Some say that the sensitivity that women and men have toward each other in Islamic societies is not so intense in Western cultures and this is because of the attitude and restrictions that must be religiously observed. Do you confirm the more intense attraction between men and women in Eastern and Islamic communities and do you believe that this is its cause?
Reply: Women and men are naturally attracted to one another. If this attraction is unrestrained, it usually brings about illegitimate relations, and moral and social corruption. However, in Western cultures, due to complete unrestraint in the relations among men and women, they do not regard these corruptions as corruption. They have become addicted to the immoral by-products of uninhibitedness in morality, spirituality, and the society. It has become normal to them. Sometimes when a person has never seen health and well-being, they become accustomed to their deformity and contortion. However, another related fact is that geographically, sexual arousal is less severe in humid environments as opposed to torrid climates.
This separation is not bias, it is independence and independence does not entail bias. There was bias in the past and we intend to prevent it. If women become self-reliant it is to their own advantage and they can prove their excellence and freely progress. Besides, I do not mean that women must not go to men’s hospitals or vice versa. There is no problem with women being self-sufficient; they can have hospitals, medical universities, and such for themselves and be independent. And if a woman wishes to visit a male doctor and her illness does not require contact or observation of the body, what is the problem?! There is no problem. By separation I do not mean that men and women should not even see each other; rather, it is to prevent interactions that are religiously prohibited.
• What is your opinion about other fields of study?
Reply: Women have the aptitude for all types of knowledge and if they are inclined to choose any field of study, there is no prohibition or proscription. There is no doubt about this and women can study in any field they wish. However, regarding the fact that education is usually for employment, I do not deem some fields suitable for women. I do not say that some fields are prohibited (haram), just that I do not deem them suitable because women will have problems when they wish to go to work. There are some fields of work that are not appropriate for women, such as heavy mechanical fields, mining, seamanship, and so on. First, beauty, exquisiteness, and elegance are great merits of women and the more they are able to retain these characteristics, the more they are successful in life. If a woman wishes to have influence in the heart of her husband she must endeavor to maintain her beauty. Regardless of how much income certain experts have, vigor and cheerfulness have great influence in the family. Hence, Islam emphasizes for women to adorn themselves and apply beauty products for their husbands, wear lovely clothes, and maintain their beauty. We even have a Hadith that states:
«المرأةُ ریحانة و لیست بقهرمانة.»
A woman is a beautiful and fragrant flower [riyhan], not a champion.
Also, various Hadith state that women must not be committed to tasks beyond their endurance.
Thus, women must place sufficient importance on preserving their beauty. There is no problem with women working in the society, though it is good for them to find work that will not harm their beauty. Consider a woman who is an engineer whose work is in the desert where she has to endure the sun and sweat. Or a woman who works in crude oil extraction or similar jobs with all the hardships such jobs have. Her beauty cannot endure. Even though such jobs have good incomes, she may not keep her attraction for her husband. Therefore, I do not consider professions with such conditions in the interest of women and the institution of family.
We regard preserving the family a truly fundamental issue and a societal necessity. The institution of family and rearing children is the foremost role of men and women. Having children is a fact of life and it is a need that both women and men have. Women must have foresight and think ahead about whether their intended field of study is compatible with the cohesion of their family. It should not be a job that shatters the family or makes them unsuccessful in training their children.
It is an undeniable truth that children do not need their fathers as much as their mothers. Fathers mostly provide their living expenses, but it is the affections of a mother, and her patience, forbearance, and method of training that is very important for a child. This is not a shortcoming but a perfection that women have an emotional makeup that can sustain children.
There is a saying in Persian that in ashes (poverty) a mother can manage her children such that a father cannot, even in richness and comfort. Women must choose a field in which they may also tend to their children. If she chooses a line of work in which she must be on a ship for six months of the year or travel for days at a time, naturally, her children will have problems. Therefore, they should choose a job that will not harm their beauty, the solidarity of their family, and training of their children.
In general, I believe that some fields are quite suited to women, like educational and training fields, in which women are usually more proficient than men, such as education, psychology, sociology, mathematics, IT, and other fields that are suited to the nature and situation of women.
I must also state that sometimes if women do not work, the household cannot be managed (their work is necessary for the family’s livelihood). Among nomads or in rural, farming, and animal husbandry communities women work as much as or sometimes even more than men. They also do household tasks and jobs like carpet-weaving. Naturally, help in providing such income is not a problem; in fact it should be considered one of the merits of women.
However, I advise men not to expect women to perform tasks that interfere with the cheerful home atmosphere and the training of their children unless absolutely necessary; because according to Islam, a woman is like a riyhan, a fragrant and delicate flower, and as such they must be cherished and not forced to do taxing jobs. I council men that it is in their own interests to refrain from asking their wives to perform heavy work. However, if women wish to work and are able at the same time to observe religious regulations, there is no problem with them working.
It would be befitting for the government and related organizations to promote a culture in which heavy jobs are not given to women. I see that sometimes very arduous jobs are given to women, in some places of Iran, such as in some northern regions. It can be seen that men are mostly unoccupied while women perform difficult occupations, such as farming, and when they come home, again men do nothing while the women do household duties. Truly women endure many hardships. Women’s hardships should become fewer and men should take care of and accommodate the women.
• Is there any ban, reproof, or criticism regarding the education of women in Islam?
Reply: Essentially, the ability to acquire knowledge is an aptitude that has been given to all humans—whether man or women. In truth, this aptitude gives them license to seek knowledge.
Hence, learning is one of the natural and human rights of women. In addition, Islam confirms this right and there are many Quranic verses and Hadith that emphasize the necessity to learn and women and men are no different in this regard. I shall enumerate several verses:
...قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِي الَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ...
“Say, ‘Are those who know and those who know not alike?’”16
The verse leaves the answer to our inner selves, our human nature and instincts; it is an evident and indubitable fact that a knowledgeable person is not equal to a person without knowledge. Here it is clear men and women are no different. Just as a male scientist cannot be compared to an ignorant man, women are the same.
Or this verse:
...يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ...
“Allah exalts those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge to great ranks.”17
In this verse Almighty God regards those who believe—both women and men—to have high ranks and those with knowledge are even higher. Again men and women are the same in this.
Many verses of the Quran advise people to think, contemplate, and acquire knowledge. Such as:
أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا...
“Have they not traveled upon the earth so as to have hearts to understand with…?”18
Here, the Quran enjoins travel so that our minds open in order that we may better think and understand. Or for example this noble verse:
...وَ يَجْعَلُ الرِّجْسَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ
“And He places uncleanness (sin and unbelief) upon those who think not.”19
These verses indicate that knowledge and the quest for it is a great virtue for a person and women and men are similar in this respect. Elsewhere, God Almighty declares:
وَ سَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَ مَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِّنْهُ...
“And He has made submissive to you that which is in the heavens and that which is in the earth, all these are from Him.”20
All creations are compliant to humans and ultimately humans must subjugate them. There is no distinction between men and women.
From these verses I conclude that Islam regards learning and acquiring knowledge a great virtue in humans due to their humanity. Islam greatly underscores that we must not be ignorant people—on the contrary we must be intellectuals and scholars. We also have many Hadith in this regard. Because learning is a natural and human right, Islam accepts it, emphasizes it, and condemns the contrary.
Therefore, we understand that Islam intends that women also seek knowledge. In opposition to these strong arguments, if one resorts to some narrations with weak credentials [sanad] and denotations [dilalat] it is an inappropriate and useless act. I believe that such weak narrations cannot stand up to the previous strong and secure reasoning.
There do exist around six or seven narrations on similar matters, which do not prohibit women from learning per se, but do seem to prohibit writing; they say not to teach women writing and penmanship. There is no prohibition regarding learning.
Women can seek knowledge, but regarding script there are a few narrations that are either weak or are only attributed to one Infallible (‘a) and do not have strong denotations or credentials. For example, the most clear of them is a Hadith in which the Prophet of Allah (S) declared:
«لا تنزلوا النساء الغرف و لا تعلموهن الکتابة و علّموهن المغزل و سورة النور.»
Do not quarter women in upper stories [ghurfah] and do not teach them writing. Teach them spining and Surah Nur.21
I have investigated the credentials of this Hadith and even though it is clearer than some other similar Hadith, it does have weak credentials. In addition, it says do not accommodate women in upper stories! Has such a thing ever been practiced or has any religious authority ever decreed that women must not live in upper stories?! Then writing has been mentioned. If two things are to be banned in one statement, they should be cohesive and similar; residing in upper stories and writing?!
Maybe if they had detrimental consequences they would be disapproved [makruh] due to their harm and if there is no harm in them, they cannot even be considered disapproved. Also, the following statement is in an imperative mood; does anyone consider learning to spin yarn and mastering Surah Nur to be obligatory in order that we may, based on this dictum, consider the previous injunctions to imply prohibition or haram?!
Anyway, with such narrations, which are indeed few and weak, one cannot stand against our previous strong and solid arguments; especially regarding the fact that writing is one of the definite necessities and preliminaries to studying.
I believe that there is no problem in this matter and some people unreasonably adhere to the forms of these narrations and seek to bar women from studying. In addition, this was never the custom of women from the time of the Prophet (S) until now. In the age of the Prophet (S) there were many erudite women who sought knowledge; such as noble Zahra’ (‘a), and two of the Prophet’s (S) wives ‘Ayishah and Hafsah. Various narrations indicate that in addition to knowing how to read, Hafsah also knew how to write and would narrate Hadith just like many other women who were narrators of Hadith. Therefore, these Hadith cannot inhibit the decree to learn. Hence, I do not deem it necessary to scrutinize each and every one of these Hadith and to inspect their context, meaning, and credentials.
• What is your opinion about Hadith regarding deficiency of reason and weakness of faith in women?
Reply: In books of Hadith there are instances where the faculties of intellect and reason of women are considered weak. First, the numbers of such Hadith are few, maybe around ten. Second, they are both debatable in denotation and credentials. A Hadith that is in a book is not reason enough to follow that Hadith. In the science of Hadith, Hadith are divided into several types. For instance, a ‘correct’ or ‘sound’ [sahih] Hadith is a Hadith whose chain of narrators up to an Infallible consists of only righteous persons. A ‘trustworthy’ [muwaththaq] Hadith is a Hadith whose narrators are not righteous but are trustworthy and a ‘weak’ [dha‘if] Hadith is one that at least one of its narrators is neither righteous nor trustworthy.
Sometimes a Hadith is Marfu‘, which means that it is attributed to an Infallible (‘a) but its chain of narrators is vague and is thus set aside. Also, a Hadith may have no credentials at all; meaning that its chain of narrators is completely unknown. Among these, only ‘correct’ Hadith are considered authoritative. Some people consider ‘trustworthy’ Hadith to be authoritative also. However, other narrations are not proof. Now the problem is that we must go through and inspect these ten or twelve Hadith to see if there are ‘correct’ and ‘sound’ Hadith that can be considered authoritative among them or not.
On the other hand, sometimes we are sure that a Hadith is from the Prophet (S) or an Imam (‘a); for example, we were witnesses ourselves or have definitive evidence that this Hadith has surely been stated by an Infallible (‘a). Such Hadith are surely authoritative and substantive. However, sometimes a Hadith is not definite, and such are divided into mutawatir and non-mutawatir Hadith. A mutawatir Hadith is one that has so many parallel narrators from the Prophet (S) or Imams (‘a) that it would normally be impossible for them all to collectively conspire to lie and forge the Hadith; for instance, a Hadith might be narrated by fifty or one hundred persons who directly heard it from the Prophet (S) or an Imam (‘a).
If a Hadith has so many narrators, anyone would accept that there is no possibility for it to be a lie; especially when the narrators are from different cities and professions. Not many conspiracy theorists could come up with the probability that all of the narrators could come together and forge such a Hadith. Such a Hadith is considered ‘mutawatir’ and, because it brings about conviction, it is considered authoritative.
Sometimes the utterance of a Hadith is not mutawatir, however, the narrators of the Hadith report the same thing using different words from the Prophet (S) or the Imams (‘a) in a mutawatir manner. If such narrations are so numerous that they could not have been forged, they are also considered mutawatir. In addition, there is another type of Hadith that is called a ‘singular report’ [khabar-e wahid]. This does not necessarily mean that there exists only one report of the Hadith; rather, that there are so few reports that they do not cause conviction and certitude as to its veracity; in this case, it is still considered a ‘singular report’. Even so, it must be noted that most of our Hadith are singular reports.
Another method for investigating Hadith is through their content; for example, we can realize from the utterance whether the Hadith is correct or not. The late Ayatullah Burujirdi, God’s absolution upon him, would say: Sometimes we see a Hadith of which the text clearly shows that it is from an Infallible (‘a) and sometimes we see a statement that, even though its credentials seem to be correct and reliable, obviously does not correspond to the dignity and status of the Prophet (S) or one of the Imams (‘a) because they were the most eloquent of people. It is also such in various supplications [du‘a]; for instance, the Supplication of Kumayl, the Supplication of Abuhamzah, or the Khamsah ‘Ashar Supplication–other than an Infallible (‘a) who could form such eloquent phrases?!
Of course, this ability of discernment22 can only be gained by a person who persists sufficiently in studying Hadith and becomes an expert in the field in accordance with their sense of the science of Hadith and their knowledge of other religious disciplines; not through their own personal taste and partiality. In any event, almost all of our religious authorities consider ‘singular reports’ to be valid and authoritative; of course only those that are correct (sound), not those that are weak, obscure, and the like.
Another important point is that we cannot consider all correct reports as proof. Only a report that relays a decree or duty, gives commands or prohibits, proclaims an action as obligatory [wajib], recommended [mustahabb], prohibited [haram], or disapproved [makruh], and in short, assigns a duty to people can be considered proof. Obviously, we have duties that are revealed to us by the Prophet (S) and Infallible Imams (‘a). We must make every attempt to know what our duties are and when there is no way to reach certainty in this regard, the probability we gather from such narrations is sufficient and is proof enough for determining our religious responsibilities.
However, a Hadith whose accuracy is not certain and that Hadith is about belief and doctrine cannot be considered proof and credible unless one can become certain of its correctness because, regarding beliefs, we must reach conviction and certitude for it to be acceptable. Therefore, even though the Hadith may be correct, it is not certain and cannot be followed as a Hadith that reports a truth. Suppose according to a Hadith, an Infallible Imam (‘a) has instructed others to eat such and such fruit because it has a positive effect on the body. Such narrations, even if they are correct, do not cause certitude and are not jurisprudential; they are simply reports of various issues.
Accordingly, some of our Hadith are such. Hadith regarding women that state they are deficient in intellect or faith are of this sort. They are not proofs that bring about a duty or commitment; their issuance by the Infallibles is not certain or mutawatir; there are no sure indications of their accuracy; thus, they do not entail compliance. Hence, we cannot say that they are authoritative and must be put into effect. We cannot absolutely refute them, but we cannot accept them or attribute them to the Legislator [shari‘] i.e. God either. Because such Hadith regarding women are not mutawatir or cannot be credited to an Infallible (‘a) with certainty, we cannot state that Islam believes that women are deficient in intellect or faith. Based on a probability and likelihood regarding this important matter, no one can put such a thing into effect.
In places where we are not certain, we must investigate and research the matter. Thus, we should test women to see whether it is really true whether they are inferior in faith or intellect or not. These narrations can be considered as conjecture and we cannot impute these thoughts to Islam. Were women such as Fatimah (‘a), Khadijah (‘a), Zainab (‘a), Sakinah (‘a), Maryam (‘a), and Asiyah (‘a) who were great and some of whom the Quran has greatly exalted truly so?! Can we say that women throughout history who had greater minds than men and had great influence were weak in faith or lacking in reason?! No, we cannot say this. Therefore, the generality of this statement is impaired. If we wish to make a correct evaluation, we must say that among women there are those of weak minds and weak faith, just as among men.
Another aspect to this discussion is the question regarding the interpretation of ‘reason’ or ‘intellect’ that is spoken of in these Hadith? We have an ‘immanent intellect’ [‘aql-e dhati] that humans possess, but other animals do not, which is the point of excellence of humans over other animals. This intellect is the incorporeal soul of the human being and it provides humanity with the ability to think in abstracts, generalities, and the like. This immanent intellect is characteristic to all humans, both male and female.
Another type of intellect is ‘acquired intellect’ [‘aql-e iktisabi] which is also called the ‘social intellect’ [‘aql-e ijtima‘i]. It is the intellect that a person gains from social interaction. Everyone has an initial intellect that evolves and is perfected throughout their lives. The more a person acquires knowledge or gains experience, their intellect grows and becomes more complete. Acquired intellect is something that all human beings, women and men alike, can cultivate within themselves and perfect.
All humans are more or less equal in immanent intellect; men and women are no different in this; they are both human and sapient. We have previously cited various Quranic verses in this regard. Both can also have acquired intellect. If we keep a man in a closed and restricted environment he will not mature intellectually; however, if we give him responsibilities in the society, his mind will grow. If a man does not acquire knowledge his intellect shall be lacking and if he studies and learns, his mind will mature. Women are the same. If women are not active in the society and live in a restricted environment, it is evident that their minds will not become complete. On the other hand, if they play an active role in the society, their minds will become more complete.
Thus, we can state the case in this manner: Assuming the narration is correct, if for example the Prophet (S) identified women as deficient in mind and religion, he was referring to the women of that time; meaning that those women, due to their deprivation and lack of activity in the society were like that at that particular time. None of these narrations stated that women must stay like this; rather, Hadith encourage people to further their knowledge and faith. Women can become higher than men and experience shows that women who have roles in the society have more mature minds.
Naturally, this does not mean that any type of presence in the society develops intellects. There are many women in various societies that have much freedom and presence in the community; nevertheless, their minds do not develop. Minds develop comparatively in both women and men through social responsibility, acquisition of knowledge, etc.
Of course, there is no doubt that women have stronger sentiments and emotions; however, having stronger emotions is not a point of weakness. They are emotional, but emotions are not in opposition to reason and thought. A person may be emotional and also be very thoughtful. If you keep a woman at home and she only trains her children, her emotions will become stronger, and her intellect might not develop very much. However, if this same woman were to become a scientist or scholar, she will become strong in both fortes. Then she could be said to excel over men.
Regarding the fact of whether there is a physical difference between women and men, in short we must say: Women have no flaw in their genesis. The differences are not such that we can say women are ‘defective in mind’. This is something that is said of someone who essentially is not sane. It also cannot be said that women are weaker in intellect than men because experience has shown that wherever women have performed jobs, they have performed them as well as men.
Regardless, intellect itself, which is the incorporeal transcendent soul of humans, is equal in women and men. The characteristics of intellect which are understanding, reasoning, deduction, and such are possessed by both males and females. We cannot say that one gender is dispossessed of one; doubtless, women may be stronger in some abilities and men weak in the same, and vice versa. Even so, these differences are not reason for being considered flawed. One gender may be stronger in one aspect and the other gender stronger in another. Each gender is also the same among itself. For instance, sometimes a man may have a strong memory and other men may be stronger in intelligence, art, humanities, etc. The same is true of women. We cannot consider diversity in capacities and abilities to be flaws.
• In Islamic texts and references, it seems that women are considered ignoble, second-rate, and subordinate creatures and in genesis and in familial and social life, men appear to be noble and superior. As examples, there are differences between women and men in inheritance, blood money [diyah], etc; women must obey men under some circumstances; as a condition for marriage, a virgin woman must have her father’s or paternal forefather’s permission; a wife may not exit her home without her husband’s permission, and similar issues. Is this understanding correct?
Reply: There are various issues in the above question, each of which requires a discrete discussion and each must be clarified in its own place. There are some issues that cannot be attributed to Islam at all and we cannot judge Islam based on them; for example, there is a narration that claims: “المرأةُ شرّ کلّها” (‘The whole being of women is evil’). Such narrations have no credibility for numerous reasons. There are issues regarding women such as the fact that women need their husband’s permission to exit the house. This needs to be discussed. What does it mean? Under what conditions? Is it conditional or absolute? Inheritance, marriage, and such issues each require a separate and lengthy discussion.
There are narrations regarding the imperfection of intellect; or the verse الرِّجالُ قَوّامُونَ عَلَی النِّساءِ...23 which announces that men are the protectors and supervisors of women. It would not be right to add all these up and come to a conclusion without a comprehensive and in depth review of Islamic teachings and decrees.
Islam does not consider women subservient and second-rate creations and some people’s conjectures in this regard are incorrect. They have ascribed things to Islam that have no proof or they have incorrectly understood various Islamic documents and references. They have judged Islam according to fallacious perceptions. In order to resolve these doubts and misgivings we must explain religious issues all-inclusively, purely, and completely in order to reveal all of Islam’s rightfulness and beauty.
It is wrong to say that Islam is patriarchal. Islam has prorated duties and Islam prefers tasks that have been given to women. For example, training children is a woman’s characteristic and men can never reach a women’s level in this respect. In the society also some jobs are more suited to women and others to men. We cannot deny this suitability, as it is due to the discrete genesis of men and women. However, this does not mean that women must be underlings and men must have the last word. If women utilize well their abilities and the rights and privileges that Islam has given them, they have a fine situation and much dignity both in the society and within their families.
• Some Hadith prohibit men from consulting with women. Are such narrations correct?
Reply: We do have Hadith that prohibit consulting with women and some even say that if you are in doubt, consult with a woman and do the opposite.
Such a Hadith has been attributed to Amir al-Mu’minin (‘a):
«اياک و مشاورة النساء الّا مَن جُرّبَت بکمال عقلٍ فانَّ رأیِهن یَجُرُّ الی الأفن و عَزمهن الی وهن.»
I warn you of consulting with women, except those whose complete intellect you have experienced. Surely their opinions make a person timid and weaken their resolve.24
Regarding such Hadith, of which we have maybe ten or twelve, I must point out several issues:
First, as I have previously stated, all Hadith are not credible. Only sahih (correct or sound), muwaththaq (trustworthy), or hasan (good) Hadith are considered credible. Ḍa‘if (weak), mursal, marfu‘, majhul, maj‘ul and such Hadith are not authoritative proof. Some Hadith are dha‘if and as such are not credible even though some such Hadith may be right. Therefore, we cannot consider them certain due to their numerousness.
Second, among uncertain narrations, we only give credit to those that give us instructions not those that notify us of a fact. For instance as it says: Do not consult with women because it will make you weak. The tone of these Hadith is not instructive such that they entail a religious decree or duty; rather, they are recommendatory.
Another issue is that some of these Hadith are absolute and others conditional; for example, it excludes: «الّا مَن جُرّبَت بکمال عقلٍ» meaning: Do not consult, save with a person whose complete intellect has been proven. If we wish to form a rational conclusion from these Hadith, we must say: At first do not accept the consultation of women, because their opinion is typically weak and makes one timid, except those whose competences have been proven. Thus, it is clear that one may consult with and act upon the opinions of wise women.
There are also similar narrations regarding men. There are narrations that recommend consulting with wise persons and not to consult with injudicious individuals. Thus, the same has been said of men. Ultimately, we can say that if a person wishes to consult with another, whether male or female, they should first get to know the person, whether he or she is benevolent, wise, and righteous and there is no difference between men and women in this respect.
The Prophet (S) and Imams (‘a) themselves consulted with women on occasion. Such as regarding the Peace of Hudaibiyyah when the Prophet (S) signed the peace treaty with the polytheists, he and his followers had already put on their pilgrim’s garb in order to make pilgrimage at Mecca and circumambulate the Ka‘bah. However, according to the treaty, it was agreed that the Muslims would not do the Hajj that year. The Prophet (S) instructed his followers to become muhill (to take off their pilgrim’s garb and withdraw from state of the pilgrimage).
This was very hard for his followers because when a person becomes muhrim (enters the state of pilgrimage) they should only become muhill after they have circumambulated the Ka‘bah. Withdrawing from the state of pilgrimage was not acceptable to them. Thus, even though the Prophet (S) himself clearly instructed them to become muhill, they did not obey him. The Prophet (S) returned to his tent.
Umm Salmah, his wife, declared, ‘O Prophet of Allah! Why are you disturbed?’ He replied, ‘I gave this instruction and the people did not obey.’ Umm Salmah suggested, ‘O Prophet of Allah! Sacrifice a sheep, and transgress by becoming muhill and do not pay attention to what the people do. Thus, the Prophet (S) did this in their presence and everyone followed his lead.
There were also many instances where Ali (‘a) consulted with Fatimah (‘a). Regardless of such Hadith, the Imams (‘a) would consult with women. However, due to the conditions of the time, because women were less active in the society and had less social experience it was advised that people not consult with women, because they were not complete in their social knowledge and understanding; however, these Hadith were not said for the purpose of keeping women from entering the society. The presence of women in the society leads to development of their minds and better judgment.
Another point here is that if we maintain that exceptions contain important meaning, when a narration instructs against consultation with women other than those with proven complete intellects, we can deduce that taking counsel from women with verified wisdom is not only not prohibited, but it is even recommended in Hadith.
Nevertheless, Islam does stress and endorses consultation and it is helpful for a person to consult with anyone who is competent and worthy. In addition, various Hadith advise consultation with women and children regarding their own affairs, because they know more about their own issues. Basically, if we wish to discuss narrations regarding deficiency of intellect and similar issues, we must individually scrutinize each Hadith on this issue.
• In various Hadith there are sayings regarding the undesirability of the presence of women at Friday Prayer, collective prayers, funeral processions, and the like. Is the presence of women in such activities absolutely prohibited or were these Hadith due to the circumstances of the time?
Reply: Such Hadith reject the necessity for women to perform actions that are sometimes difficult and arduous for them; for example, in a Hadith that Jabir ibn Ju‘fi cites from Imam Baqir (‘a) it is said:
«لیس علی النساء أذانٌ و لا إقامةٌ و لا جمعة و لا جماعة و لا عیادة المریض و لا اتباع الجنازة و لا إجهارٌ بالتلبیة و لا الهرولة بین الصفا و المروة و لا استلام الحجر الاسود و لا دخول الکعبة.»
Adhan, Iqamah, Friday Prayer, collective prayer, visiting the sick, escorting funeral processions, saying Talbiyah loudly in Ihram, running between Safa and Marwah, touching and kissing the Black Stone [hajar ul-aswad] (in the Ka‘bah), and entering the Ka‘bah are not obligatory for women.25
Most of the narrations use similar wordings. My understanding of the matter is that because of various complications and preoccupations that women have, such as fostering and training children, Islam sympathizes with them; thus, Islam has released them of various obligations, but has not prohibited those actions. In this way, Islam has shown consideration for women. Consideration is not restriction. It does not say: do not; rather, you do not have to. If you can and it is suitable, you are able.
Of course, some Hadith are not like this. They might say, for example, a woman’s prayer is superior at home. By considering all such Hadith, it seems that they intend to appease women so that they do not feel that they are sustaining loss if they cannot present themselves for collective prayer because it is greatly encouraged. If they had told women not to present themselves for collective prayer, women would surely become upset because they felt obliged to pray collectively.
These narrations wish to console women in that, if they have a problem or reason for not attending collective prayer, they can pray at home and God will bestow upon them the same reward and excellence. My opinion regarding all such Hadith is the same. Of course, I do not consider it unlikely that such Hadith were stated due to prevailing conditions and problems for the presence of women in such affairs.
The credentials of narrations that state that it is better for women to pray inside their homes must be investigated for their correctness and credibility. If their credentials are correct, that it is said to be better for women to pray inside their homes can be considered to be intended for times when women cannot attend collective prayer so that they are not upset because of the excellence and rewards they have lost.
In consequence, the presence of women in cultural and political centers such as mosques and various other assemblies, and their participation in social activities are desirable and advisable, and there is no problem with these things. In fact, they are responsible in these affairs as members of the society and must fulfill their roles. Women must perform these activities, such as participating in communal demonstrations and performing behind the lines support tasks, while observing the terms and conditions of such work.
• What is your opinion regarding social, political, and economic activities of women and their employment in current conditions?
Reply: Regarding social, political, and economic activities of women I should first say that like men, women can be active in all social, political, and economic arenas and there is no religious prohibition in any of these areas. There are however two points of controversy. One is the field of judgeship: some religious jurisprudents regard it permissible for women to be a judge, and others do not. Also there is disagreement as to whether women can hold high government offices such as the presidency. However, they are completely free and without restrictions in all other fields. Of course, keeping their characteristics in mind, women must choose a compatible and suitable job.
One of the characteristics of women that I previously mentioned is their elegance, beauty, and delicateness; these are some of their merits. Not only are these not deficiencies, they are perfections. Preserving these merits is to their own advantage, and to the advantage of their families and ultimately, the society. Accordingly, performing heavy jobs that are not compatible with these characteristics is not recommended, including coarse jobs such as trucking, desert jobs, road and building construction, long and taxing overnight jobs, and jobs in polluted environments that harm the beauty and delicateness of women such as ironworks, mine working, equipment mechanics, etc. Also, laborious agricultural occupations that put health at risk and blemish skin by long hours in the sun are also of this type. It cannot be said that such lines of work are prohibited for women; nevertheless, they are not in their interests.
Another quality in women is their emotionalism and this again is not a weakness but perfection. It can be a source of many beneficial effects. Of course, some men are also sentimental; be that as it may, women are more so. When choosing a line of employment, it is better that women refrain from professions that are not compatible with their emotionalism. A military commander must give the order to attack, kill, and destroy. Naturally, some people will get killed. There will be wails and screams. Hence, an emotional person might be influenced; their emotions will clash with their duties and will harm the well-being of the country. Also, professions that require execution of disciplinary punishment and sentences such as dealing lashes are not compatible with the delicate nature of women. They may violate their duties or suffer the loss or detriment of their emotions and mentalities.
Naturally, there are exceptions. Some women may not be like this, but most are. The Hadith regarding judgeship of women and jurisprudents that regard this profession unsuitable for women effectuate from this truth. It is natural that this profession is not suitable for women because, as a rule, one side will lose. A person who loses sometimes grieves, pleads, weeps, makes threats, sends people to beg their case or intimidate the judge, or exhibits a meek or oppressed attitude. Characteristically, due to their compassion, sympathy, and kindness women take pity and might be influenced. Even though there may be exceptions, the law must encompass the majority of circumstances.
Another attribute of women is that they are more and better prepared for training and edifying children. Of course, men also are fit for this and do have this duty; however, the tenderness and affection of women helps them to be more worthy for this task. Even though training children is a common duty of a father and mother, the important role of women in this affair cannot be overlooked. If there is no husband, a mother can still train her children but the opposite is extremely difficult.
Women must never forget this basic power and merit that they are prepared and able to train children. They must endeavor to choose a job that is not in conflict with this human responsibility and great service. There may be no work more important and influential for the welfare and happiness of the entire society than the profession of training human beings. A pivotal issue that women must anticipate is the perseverance and preservation of the institution of family. The responsibility to uphold the family is for both men and women. Men must choose jobs that do not harm their families. Women also must be careful that their occupation does not clash with the perpetuation of the family.
Another issue is that it is not expedient for women to work in jobs that entail excessive contact and relations among males and females because in addition to causing mental pressure and work delays, immoderate mixture and relations of the sexes may bring about corruption and damage the delicate fabric of the families just as we witness in the West. In my opinion, these aspects necessitate that women observe restrictions in their work. Again, I underscore the fact that it must not be concluded from this discussion that some occupations are forbidden or haram for women; rather, heeding these issues prevents problems for women, their families, and their society while they can still work and have an influential presence in the community.
On the other hand, some jobs are completely suitable and even advisable for women. These include professions in teaching which do not incorporate any of the above hazards. Women can occupy jobs in all tiers of education and training, from the most elementary and rudimentary levels to the highest and if possible in completely independent and self-governed environs. These are the best of jobs which are compatible with their nature and elegance. As I have previously stated, some lines of occupation are necessities for women. Women must endeavor to be self-sufficient in all affairs regarding health and treatment, including education, administration, and implementation. There is no problem with them providing services for men also, but it would be very good if they were independent of men in this area.
Other fields of work that are suitable for women include scientific, literary, cultural, and artistic activities. Work such as scientific research in various fields, writing, painting, sewing, and carpet weaving are all quite appropriate for women. They are also compatible with housework and rearing children. Some people might think that carpet weaving is not an appropriate job—but what is wrong with it? It is a delicate and beautiful undertaking in which a person creates gorgeous works of art with their hands and also helps their own livelihood and their country. Nowadays, women can also do many interesting and useful tasks with a computer in scientific and artistic fields. Regardless, I suggest that women not stay unemployed. I would like to see all women work at their own leisure; however, they must observe the necessary criteria.
• What is your opinion regarding the profession of household management?
Reply: A policy of the previous regime was to annihilate household management as a profession and promote it as a type of unemployment and this lowered its status. Of course, this has changed to some extent after the Revolution. Even so, housewives are not considered as part of the workforce and are not influential in economic growth and development in official statistics and their output is not considered to be part of the gross national product! All in all, we might say that the role of housewives is disregarded in human and social development.
Housewifery is essential for the survival of families. It is not merely the performance of household services—it is a much more significant matter. Maintaining and managing this establishment, which also includes human aspects such as taking care of one’s husband and children which we could call wifecraft and mothercraft respectively, are primary and chief requirements of all societies. It is surely not frivolous or futile but exceedingly valuable and precious. If the internal affairs of a household are not managed well, the family is greatly harmed.
Normally, women take the responsibility of housewifery upon themselves. From a financial point of view, the cost of this occupation is considerable so that if neither the man nor the woman of the house takes it upon themselves to work at home, the management of the household will become crippled and someone else must be found to manage the home. In this case, a large salary must be paid for fulltime management of the household—and even so no hired household staff will make the same efforts as the lady of the house.
The matter of taking care of children is also entirely different. If a couple chooses to send their children to a childcare center in order that they care for them like a mother, the couple must pay a large portion of their salary for this. Therefore, housewifery has economic value and both men and women must keep this in mind. This is why I believe housewifery is a very important and respectable profession and men must appreciate the value of a housewife. Husbands must realize that due to the work of their wives, they are exempt from great expense and it would be good and worthy for husbands who are wealthy enough to give their wives the money that they save them.
In Iran it has been legislated that if a man and woman choose to divorce, half of the wealth the man has gained after marriage belongs to the woman. If we judge righteously, it is evident that this is mostly fair. Women must be optimistic and hopeful regarding their lives; they must know that they are truly partners of their husbands in life. Some women decide to work outside their homes because they fear that if their husbands choose to divorce them they will have to leave his house empty handed. Hence, we must respect women and truly appreciate the value of their work. I advise women to give top priority to the home and household management and, as long as there is no necessity, I recommend that they refrain from choosing occupations that harm the household management.
In general, housewifery can help the society in two other ways. First, the endeavors of a mother at home and her struggle to correctly train her children helps the children grow well in a family full of love and affection. A child that is saturated with proper love and is nurtured with proper training usually does not go after corruption and does not become tainted and can be useful to the society. Truly, housewives manage the future of the society. All the services men do for the society is a result of the endeavors of women. Imam Khomeini (q)26 also stated, ‘Men ascend to heaven from the laps of women’. This means that if men do something important and attain great ranks it is due to the services and training of their mother and this is no laughing matter.
Second, in addition to the fact that the work of women at home is, in itself, beneficial and necessary, it influences the quality of other people’s work. If the husband and other members of the household live in a warm and congenial environment, they can be more successful in the society—in scientific research, political work, economic endeavors, and everything in general. Thus, housewives are full partners in the activities and successes of their husbands.
If it were not for the support, sympathy, and hard work of women, Mr. President, Mr. Minister, or even Mr. Scientist who work outside would not be very successful. In truth, their wives have as much part in their success as they do; both regarding the social value of the activities and their outcomes. It is very delightful and beautiful for ministers to be able to consult their spouses at home on various issues, to gain morale and help from them and to depend on them.
Therefore, even if a housewife does not get out much but is able to have a good effect from her home, she is truly influential in the economics and politics of the society. She must not belittle her existence or think that success and service can only be achieved in jobs outside the home.
When ‘Allamah Tabataba’i’s (q) wife passed away, he wept much. One day I told him in private, ‘We must learn patience and forbearance from you. Why are you so agitated?’ He replied, ‘The truth is that my distress for my wife concerns my feelings and devotion for her. This woman gave me such help and support that I can never forget her.’ After a while he told me of his difficulties regarding the time he lived in Najaf until he got to where he said, ‘In order to write my exegesis, sometimes I would concentrate and work for eight hours straight. Sometimes I would have to contemplate an issue for four hours.
On the one hand, I was tired and on the other hand if someone wanted to come to me and talk my train of thought would be broken. Then I would have to deliberate all over again. My wife understood this. She would always leave the samovar on and when I would go into my room to work in the morning, she would not disturb me. She would manage the house and do the housework.
At the outset of each hour she would bring me a cup of tea and without saying anything she would put it before me and leave. She would do this as long as I was in my workroom. If she had not helped me in this manner I would not have been able to perform my scientific research as I have. She was a partner in my work and that is why I am upset. Because how can I forget her kindnesses?’ The lamented ‘Allamah said this and started to weep.
The great thinker ‘Allamah Tabataba’i considers his great exegesis, Tafsir-e Al-Mizan, indebted to the sacrifices and devotion of his wife who would correctly and wisely manage the household. If this woman was a discordant person how could ‘Allamah Tabataba’i have performed his work?! Doubtless this woman is a partner in all the accomplishments of the ‘Allamah; both in worldly aspects and otherworldly rewards. In a meeting where I was talking about the excellences of the ‘Allamah I mentioned this story and said that we must also respect and be grateful to the ‘Allamah’s wife. May God bless both of them!
Managing the household is not an easy task. It is an art; an art that not all women have. Unfortunately, in our society the value of the profession of household management is not appreciated. This important job must be seen as an independent discipline and requires special research and training.
For example, there must be a class called household management in high school and boys and girls must study this as part of the curriculum. Many women wish to be good housewives but do not know how. I completely endorse that classes be established in high school and even university in which youths, both young women and men, can become experts and authorities on the subject. I have also said this before: it would be good if every man and woman attended a course regarding home management, ‘spousecraft’, and other necessary issues before marriage in order to lessen conflicts and so that they utilize their facilities and capacities in the best possible manner.
Women must observe precepts when choosing an occupation inside or outside the home and they should also be aware of the dignity of every position. For example, even at home it is not in the interests of women for them to do heavy or dirty jobs. The occupational laws of the country must adhere to these points and amenities must be prepared in the interests of women and families.
Some women are inclined to heavy-duty professions and disciplines and if we tell them that these are not in their interests they consider it to be a personal insult. This might be an extreme reaction to past restrictions, which makes them deem it of great value to take on jobs that are more suited to men.
However, the restrictions that we have in mind for women are not for the reason of belittling them or considering them weak or flawed beings. Our reason is that some professions are more suited to the special genesis of women. If a woman is prepared to endure hardships and become, for example, a mechanic of heavy machinery, well, that is her own choice and it is not haram. However, there are better jobs for her to do and they are more advantageous to her and the society.
The truth is women were very restricted in the past and they were prohibited from jobs that were suited to them. This caused an opposite reaction and now some women say that men think that they cannot. So they say: We will do these jobs to show men that we can indeed. In order to resolve this problem, first we must realize the true value of the jobs women do; for example, we must conduct extensive cultural promotion regarding the importance of housewifery. We must encourage, praise, and honor the profession of household management.
Second, as I have mentioned, men must realize the worth of women and consider them full partners in their income and provide them with their fair share so that women sense their true importance and feel secure and so they do not consider jobs suited to them restrictive or undignified.
Regarding the effect of unsuited occupations on the souls of women I must say: It is hard for a woman to preserve her female characteristics, delicateness, and spiritual elegance in strenuous and punishing conditions and coarse jobs and effectively put distance between impersonal work demands and the softness and calm that she must apply at home and in training her children. For this reason, it is better for men to perform jobs that entail such hardships, because they have more endurance in these areas. When each person takes up a part of an undertaking which is more suitable for their mentality and abilities, great works can be completed with the participation of both genders. Everyone has a part in managing the society; however, women in one way and men in another.
If complete facilities are provided for women in areas that are suited to them and they are encouraged to become self-sufficient in these areas, it would be far better for their identity than seeking jobs that are not in their interests. Even though we will not ban these professions, it is not necessary for us to encourage them. If we express gratitude for the positive advances of women, they will think about these things themselves. For example, women can have positive roles in political arenas such as the parliament. They can perform cultural work and have influence although in my opinion there are some cultural jobs that are not in the interests of women.
• In what sort of artistic areas can women become active?
Reply: In general, women have the capability and ability for artistic work; however, every job is different. Some jobs are alright; such as painting, sewing, writing, etc. On the other hand, some jobs may sometimes be problematic for women. For instance, acting and the presence of women in some roles and stages and coming before millions of people can put the stability of their family life in jeopardy. I have seen time and again that the shared lives of such individuals has ended in divorce.
Sometimes actresses call me and talk of such problems. Here, I must advise women that even if their husbands agree with their artistic endeavors, they must completely perceive their husbands’ feelings and when they choose to present themselves on stage, they must accept jobs that do not cause sensitivity. If their husbands are not satisfied, their common life shall be shattered. Their children will become motherless or fatherless. Regardless, great care must be taken in artistic and cultural work so that the talents of women are utilized but no moral, social, or familial problems arise.
These days, the inclination for artistic activities, especially acting, has risen among youth and young women in particular. Acting is one of the professions and fields that receives much attention and has many supporters. On the other hand, due to the points of moral vulnerability in these fields, which sometimes influence the workplace, naturally, religious persons look upon such fields with doubt and seek them out much less. This results in fewer religious individuals in artistic and cultural areas. This is a prevalent problem and under such conditions we cannot be successful in the cultural encounter with foreign countries.
We need films, cinema and television. We must defend the positive aspects of our culture. Many values have been weakened in the West. Modesty is a human value. We must do something to preserve our values while also providing for our needs and requirements. Adhering to religious precepts is very instrumental. For example, if it is necessary for a young woman to play a part in a movie, adherence to religious precepts results in less sensitivity. If moral issues and Hijab are observed, laughter and allurements that are out of place are avoided and matters of mahram and non-mahram are completely observed, it is evident that such acting will not result in calamities and negative effects in families and the society. If moral limits are honored it is both to the advantage of the actors and the society.
Performers must not think that viewers will get only what the actors intend. Viewers perceive more generally. Polite, reasonable, and honorable behavior between male and female actors teaches women and men who are watching the scene to act the same. On the other hand, an undignified and immodest performance between actors also sets a negative example for the society. Thus, we who wish to promote our culture and influence others must realize that film-making and acting are very delicate matters—much more delicate than we think. Sometimes artists pay less attention to such matters and desire more that their work be interesting or entertaining for viewers; whereas, if they conform to these issues, they can greatly help improve the morality of the society.
Naturally, negative roles are sometimes necessary in movies and observance of ethical and religious criteria ties the hands of the artists in fulfilling their roles as desired. Sometimes actors show demeanors that are not typical of the personality of their role; for example, they act tactlessly and perform rude and loathsome gestures in a Chadur and act dignified and pleasant in inappropriate clothing. Nevertheless, it seems that this issue requires special care and original methods and approaches must be formulated.
In this regard, I advise that positive aspects are shown as much as possible because whether we like it or not the negative aspects are influential. Even when the film-maker intends to criticize the negative points by presenting them, some viewers take pattern after these same negative points. The training background of some people is such that, for example, when they see actors swear, curse, and use foul language, they learn, imitate, and take pattern after them even if one’s intention is to criticize this behavior. If a positive character and a negative one is introduced, some people incline toward the good protagonist and set that one as their role model and others, according to their temperament, lean toward the antagonist—the one that was intended to be condemned. Hence, I advise that negative aspects be used as little as possible and only where necessary.
• What is your opinion regarding political activeness of women?
Reply: The presence of women in political arenas can have a decisive role in the society. If women congregate they can be very influential in various orientations. In the demonstrations at the time Islamic Revolution and also arenas after the Revolution such as war and elections, women proved that they are very influential in some areas. When we see the votes of the elected, we see that women had great unity and presence in order to bring about such results and this is very important. Women can have a fateful role in choosing the president and can cause the election of a president other than the one men might have chosen.
This is no small matter. There is no problem with women having more presence than men in the parliament. Their presence on the seats of the parliament has been satisfactory until now. The important thing is: How active are they? If women can bring representatives that truly have authority and influence, and are indeed active it would be very good because all members of the parliament are not so active. Only a minority are truly active, so if women can increase the active members by sending in active and thoughtful women, this can greatly help them defend their rights even though nowadays many men do defend the rights of women, even more than women themselves.
Another issue is the organization of women. Having organization is very good because people work better when organized, especially when they spread their organization throughout the country—they can both select better representatives and better demand their desires from their representatives. This can be very influential and cause men to think higher of them. I believe the organization of women must be thoroughly thought out. First, it should not be like a union or be gender-biased in that they only think about themselves and about defending their own rights because if it is like this it will only restrict them.
Second, in addition to supporting the true interests of women, they should have a hand in the main affairs of the country. Women must know who to choose and they must keep in mind all economic, cultural, and religious issues of the country. If women do not restrict themselves to only women, and work for the whole society, they will have more influence and this organization will cause them to gain power and lead to men counting on them more.
• Can women also hold positions of judgeship or government rule?
Reply: The two issues of judgeship, government rule (women being at the head of the government), and such are religious jurisprudential issues that have been analyzed and explored in books on religious jurisprudence [fiqh]. Jurisprudents have varying opinions regarding these matters. Some declare them permissible, others haram, others makruh. This is a matter of controversy. First we must note that these issues are matters of taqlid (following a religious jurisprudent or faqih).
Our tradition is one of taqlid and religious jurisprudence. In taqlid-related issues we must refer to the religious jurisprudent that each of us has accepted and ultimately they shall give the decisive opinion. Therefore, when it is stated in a speech or magazine that something is permissible or not permissible, some become confused. In effect, all disciplines have experts and the experts of these issues are religious jurisprudents.
The second issue is that my recommendation to religious jurisprudents is that they should see that times have changed and many things are different from the past. Fundamental changes have been made. Iran is not separate from other countries. Women are not apart from other societies. We can no longer govern women like in the past. The people of our society have become acquainted with the conditions and thoughts of other people of the world and their expectations have risen.
We expect the great faqihs to examine women’s issues with a wide-ranging and liberal view and to clarify our responsibilities regarding these matters based on solid and substantial jurisprudential sources of reference so that there is no need for the opining of non-authoritative and possibly unrighteous persons.
Of course, other scholars can, if they are well-versed in religious jurisprudence and heed such issues, discuss these subjects. Such discussions can be useful for religious jurisprudents and might influence their religious opinions. However, the ultimate decision belongs to religious jurisprudents and the bounds of the tradition of religious jurisprudence must not be broken in jurisprudential issues.
- 1. - In Islam, those who go to jihad are considered victors whether they live or die because if they live, it is because they have defeated the enemy and if they ‘die’, they attain the rank of martyr [shahid], which is one of the highest ranks one may attain in Islam. According to the Quran, the shahid is not dead, but lives on even though we cannot perceive them. [trans.]
- 2. - Surah Isra’ 17:70.
- 3. - Surah Tin 95:4.
- 4. - Surah Hijr 15:30.
- 5. - Surah Baqarah 2:31.
- 6. - Ibid 2:34.
- 7. - Surah Baqarah 2:35.
- 8. - Allamah is a title imparted upon only those with extensive knowledge in many diverse fields. [trans.]
- 9. - Surah Hujurat 49:13.
- 10. - Surah Hujurat 49:13.
- 11. - Surah Nahl 16:97.
- 12. - Ibid 16:97.
- 13. - Surah Al ‘Imran 3:195.
- 14. - Ibid 3:42.
- 15. - Surah Tahrim 66:11.
- 16. - Surah Zumar 39:9.
- 17. - Surah Mujadilah 58:11.
- 18. - Surah Hajj 22:46.
- 19. - Surah Yunus 10:100.
- 20. - Surah Jathiyah 45:13.
- 21. - Usul-e Kafi, vol. 5, p. 516.
- 22. - The ability to understand a true Hadith due to its divine eloquence (ed.).
- 23. - Surah Nisa’ 4:34.
- 24. - Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 100, p. 250.
- 25. - Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 103, p. 254.
- 26. - This is short for quddisa sirruhu, which means may his grave be sanctified. [trans.]