Monday, January 07, 2008

Lebanon's Grand Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah's Revolutionary Ruling on Women's Rights

[Lebanon's Fadlallah, controversial among segments of the Twelver Shi'i world, is by far the most progressive on social issues of that group's religious scholars, the 'ulama. This statement on the grand ayatullah's juridical views of the rights of women is by far one of the most "liberal"/progressive opinions of which I am aware amongst either Sunni or Shi'i 'ulama. He has addressed issues such as "honor killings," which are not a serious issue in his native Lebanon, when other senior scholars such as Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, grand rector of the famed Sunni al-Azhar seminary in Cairo, and Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani in Iraq have remained largely silent, despite the fact that "honor killings" are not infrequent in both countries.]
Celebrating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,

Sayyid Fadlullah: The women have the right to defend themselves against Men's violence. (27-11-2007 A.D., 17 Zul Kaada 1428 H.)


The Religious Authority, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, issued a jurisprudential communiqué on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in which he said:

Despite all the progress that the human view towards women has witnessed, and despite all the honouring that women have gained in comparison with their previous states in most eastern and western countries, and although women have climbed the social and political ladder reaching the highest governmental posts, and taking part in the struggle movements side by side with men and even outdoing them, women still suffer from the violence against them that takes several forms.

Moreover, violence against women is not restricted to the east alone, but it is rather universal, although its forms and degrees may vary between one place and another.

Women, whether sisters, daughters or wives, are still subjected to men's domination whether brothers, fathers or husbands, whose violence takes several forms: We have firstly the physical violence in which women are beaten. This form represents the most degrading human practice, since it shows that men are incapable of resorting to reason and logic to prove their viewpoint. It also does not prove that men are strong. On the contrary, it proves that they are weak, for only the weak are in need of unjust violence. This violence could reach its most severe and harsh form when women are subjected to rape which sometimes might lead to death.

Physical violence in which women are beaten, proves that men are weak, for only the weak are in need of unjust violence. It also shows that they are incapable of restoring to reason and logic power to prove their viewpoint.

Then we have the social violence or the so-called "crimes of honour", whereby the community relies on circumstantial appearances to issue a sentence of death or exile. In addition to this, the society does not have the right to issue such sentences or executing them, except through the proper judicially institutions and through the legitimate mechanisms. Another form of social violence would be to impose on women husbands they do not want.

Another kind of violence is the psychological violence which occurs when husbands threaten their wives with divorce, or when they do not treat their wives as such, or when the divorce is used as an element of intimidation and extortion, which makes women live a state of instability in their marriages and hurt their psychological and even physical wellbeing.

Then there is the economic violence, which occurs when fathers or husbands do not shoulder their economic responsibilities towards their husbands and children, or when they pressurize their wives to forgo their dowry which represents – according to Islam a symbolic gift and a token of love and not a commercial exchange.

The educational violence is also another form of violence against women. This form takes place when women are deprived of their right of education reaching to post graduate levels, thus, depriving them of raising their cultural and scientific levels and keeping them in the circle of backwardness and ignorance. To add insult to injury, they would then be responsible for the mistakes they commit as a result of the inexperience that is imposed by violence.

We also have the violence in work, which is represented by not giving women equal pay for equal work. This kind of discriminating violence is practised by the entire society when the laws it sets do not take into consideration maternity or similar rights. Then there are the various kinds of exploitation of the employers to their employees.

The violence against women in work, is represented by not giving women equal pay for equal work. There are also the various kinds of exploitation of the employers to their employees.
Faced by all these forms of violence, we would like to highlight and stress on the following points.

Firstly: In Islam, lenience is the norm that takes priority over violence which should only be resorted to in exceptional cases, as in self-defence or the need for educational punishment. The Messenger of God has said: Whenever leniency has been put on something it would improve it, while it would discredit anything it is removed form. This rule is universal and includes all human relations, with no difference between men and women, old or young.

Secondly: The fact that men maintain women does not mean that they have the authority over them. It merely means that they run their families but not in a tyrannical way, they have to confer with their wives in all the things they both have in common.

Thirdly: The fact that women perform the household work which Islam did not commission them to, but even proposed a salary for such a work, should lead men to appreciate the sacrifices women offer in taking care of their families, and refrain from any act of violence against them.

The fact that men maintain women does not mean that they have the authority over them
Fourthly: Islam has laid a fixed rule for the relations between husbands and wives, as well as the families in general; the rule of equity and kindness. He says in the Glorious Qur'an and treat them kindly, and then keep (them) in good fellowship or let (them) go with kindness. This rule could well serve as a guide for the religious authorities to end marriages if they violate the rule of kindness.

Fifthly: Islam considers that married women are lawfully independent financial entities. Husbands are not allowed to control their wives’ wealth, or to interfere in their private business and financial interests that are not related to them as husbands or the families they run.

Sixthly: Islam did not allow men to practice any violence against women, whether regarding their lawful rights attained through the marriage contract, kicking them out of the house or even using harsh words or cursing, which is sin that God will hold men responsible for and the Islamic law defined certain punishments for such actions.

Islam considers that married women are lawfully independent financial entities. Husbands are not allowed to control their wives’ wealth, or to interfere in their private business and financial interests that are not related to them as husbands or the families they run

Seventhly: If men practice physical violence against women, and the latter have no means to defend themselves except through exchanging violence. This would be permissible as an act of self-defence. It is also permissible for women who are denied of their legal rights such as providing for them or fulfilling their sexual needs, to deny their husbands the rights that the marriage contract stipulates for them.

Eighthly: Islam emphasises that there is no guardianship over physically and mentally mature women who are independent in running their own affairs.

If men practice physical violence against women, and the latter have no means to defend themselves except through exchanging violence. This would be permissible as an act of self-defence. It is also permissible for women who are denied of their legal rights such as providing for them or fulfilling their sexual needs, to deny their husbands the rights that the marriage contract stipulates for them.

No one can impose on these women any husbands they do not want. And any contract convened without their consent is considered null and void.

Ninthly: In the framework of our concern to preserve the family, we maintain that the law that governs women's work should coordinate between women's jobs and the family needs. Any neglect of such a responsibility could destabilize the family, which means that the society would be practicing multiple violence against its own social structures and values.

Tenthly: Islam has emphasized that the women's position goes side by side to men, whether in being human or being rational or in holding responsibility. It instituted familial life on the basis of love and mercy, giving the family a humane dimension in which its members interact away from the legal terms that are emotionally and spiritually dry.

No one can impose on these women any husbands they do not want. And any contract convened without their consent is considered null and void.

Thus giving man as a whole spiritual richness, psychological stability and intellectual progress, be he a man or a woman, an individual or a community.


More information at:
http://www.politicalislam.org/Articles/PI%20525%20-%20Fadlallah-s%20fatwa.pdf

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