Women in Islam: An Interview with His Eminence, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah
An introduction by Sayyed Fadlullah:
You are welcome. I would like to say, from the very beginning, that since I started my Islamic career, I have encouraged the woman to work to develop her mind, her heart, and her abilities. We notice that the common view about the woman is that she is a passionate person; whereas the man is a rational one. We do not agree with this point, simply because the person, in general, whether male or female, represents a unity of the intellect where both the mind and the passions intermarry. We have an equation, which we always repeat: we should give the mind a dose of emotions to emphasize tenderness and softness, and at the same time, we should give the heart a dose of the mind to enable it to balance.
|Like the man, the woman is a complete human being, lacking nothing in her humanity|
We always emphasize the saying that: like the man, the woman is a complete human being, lacking nothing in her humanity.
Most importantly, if she empowers her mind, she would over-excel man. The same happens when the man empowers his mind, he would over-excel the woman. On these bases, we welcome your questions, and you are free to ask any question you want, because we believe that it is the freedom of opinion that makes us reach the truth.
The social attitude towards the woman:
Q: Some of the Lebanese believe that the woman's role is restricted to her children: raising and teaching them, and that she does not have any other outside role. Do you agree?
R: We believe that the woman is a complete human being in the sense that she and the man complement each other physically to produce a human being. She also shares the man the development of the sources that elevate the person's standards of living.
We believe that motherhood is a message in itself. It has the greatest role in the making of a human being, developing him, and preparing him, so that he could be an effective and productive one.
Likewise, fatherhood is a message and a responsibility, and just as fatherhood does not restrict the father's relations to his children, so does motherhood; the mother's relations should not be restricted to her children only, even though her relations with her child are tighter and stronger, due to breast feeding and nurturing.
|Neither the fatherhood relationship nor the motherhood relationship is restricted to the children.|
Therefore, we believe that the woman has the right to learn and to attain the highest certificates. Her education would be a great benefit to her children, for she would raise them according to a methodological approach. Moreover, through her studies and researches and through her participation in teaching, the woman could be an effective participant in the development of knowledge, not only on the academic level, but also on the level of the society as a whole.
In our Islamic heritage, we always narrate how Fatima (a.s.), the daughter of our Prophet Muhammad (p.), acquired the knowledge from her father. She used to learn from him and think about what she had learned, and work on developing what she acquired. Accordingly, Fatima (a.s.) had her own classes in which she used to teach others what she had learned from the Messenger of God (p.). Fatima (a.s.) started from the belief that Islam appreciates knowledge and that knowledge is a value that elevates the humanity of human beings. We believe that the more the person learns, the more human he becomes and thus, his awareness rises. We have a religious saying by Imam Ali (a.s) in which he said: "The value of every person is in what he knows". It means that man's value is in the experience and the knowledge he possesses. Knowledge in Islam depends on two sources: The first is the intellectual contemplation, and the second is the realistic experiment. Therefore, knowledge moves in two directions: The internal, through the intellectual equations that motivate man, and the external, through the movement of researches, induction, and experimenting.
|Islam considers knowledge a value that elevates the person's humanity|
Therefore, I believe that it is the woman's right, just as it is the man's right, to get the highest levels of education. This is mentioned in the Holy Quran: "and say: O my Lord! Increase me in knowledge" (Taha:114).
Therefore, it is the person's responsibility, whether man or woman, to acquire the highest levels of education. Knowledge is limitless, so the person should not stop; he/she has to resume his/her education until reaching the highest levels. The woman's intellectual abilities are not different from those of man's, as primitive people used to think. Her mind is not less than the mind of the man. On the contrary, her mind develops, like the mind of the man, as long as she reads, contemplates, and carries out experiments. If these elements exist, then the woman might exceed man and over-excel him. Everything depends on how she develops herself with knowledge, education, and thinking.
Therefore, the woman, as a daughter, complements with the other members of her family, under the supervision of her father and mother. She is also the wife who complements her husband in the process of building a family. The woman, as a mother, plays an integral role in developing her children and making them effective members in their society. She is a human being as well, who participates with all the human beings in elevating the value of life.
Furthermore, motherhood is not the woman's prison. On the contrary, it is considered one of the elements of giving, sacrifice and dedication; it is also an educational movement that, when added to the previous elements, elevates her humanity.
There is a point I would like to mention: The marriage contract does not make the woman a property of the man and the responsibilities that this contract imposes on the woman are imposed on the man as well.
For example, the marriage contract obliges the man to satisfy his wife sexually; similarly, it obliges the woman to do the same. Moreover, the marriage contract does not force the woman, legally, to either do the house work, raise her children, or breast-feed them. Most importantly, the woman's work and even raising her children are legally considered a paid work.
|Islam considers woman's work to her husband and children as part of her humanitarian personality|
If Islam asks the woman to give from herself to her husband and children, it is because of the humanitarian side of the relation, not because of the legal side. Needless to remind, in this respect, that the humanitarian side must come before the legal side. God says: "And He has put love and mercy between your (hearts)". (Al-Room:21).
It is love and mercy that rule the marriage relationship, away from any legal issue of duties and obligations. Islam confirms that the human relations move in two circles. First, the circle of the law that identifies the duties and obligations among people and between one person and another.
Second, the humanitarian circle which rises from the moral values that motivate the person to give, even if he is not required to, according to the law.
Some people might wonder about the meaning of this verse: "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women". (An-Nisa: 34).
They might interpret it as men are the supervisors over women. The same is mentioned in the Christian teachings, which say that man is the head and the crown of the woman. However, the words "protectors" and "maintainers" mean, in Islam, the "managing"; it is the man's responsibilities to manage the businesses of his home; he is the one who spends. But it is, of course, very natural and normal to discuss home issues with his wife and ask for her opinions. God says: "Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity" (An-Nisa: 19). "Living with them on a footing of kindness" means that everyone should respect the other, respect his mind and respect his opinions in all life's issues as well.
|Maintenance in Islam means Management|
Q: Is this applied to the Fatwa which you recently issued that the woman has the right to defend herself if she is attacked by her husband?
R: In the Fatwa we issued, we intended to clarify the Islamic position towards the right of defence. The Quranic verse says: "If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him". (Al-Baqara: 194).
If the man attempts at exploiting the woman's weaknesses and there is no other way to prevent him from attacking her, then she has the right to face him in the same way to protect herself against his violence.
The man might sometimes feel the pride of his machomismo. So, he might break either her hand or her leg or cause her severe physical damage.
Therefore, in this case, she has the right to face him with the same weapon he is using.
Some men rejected this fatwa, claiming that that it shakes marital life. I replied that it is man's violence that shakes this relationship.
I advise the woman to protect her family; however, if there is no other way by which she can defend herself, she has the right to train herself and to possess the power that enables her to wage a counter-attack.
I believe that self defence is a human right for any person, whether male or female. Just as the woman has the right to defend herself, so does the man, if his wife is stronger than him; for example, if she is a judo or a karate player. I ask the woman to get trained because the man, even in the developed western countries, usually exploits woman's weak body, either to rape her or to deny her rights.
The universal violence against women.
Q: In France, for example, on a daily basis, there is a dead woman due to a violent attack against her. What do you say?
|Defending one's self is a common right for both men and women|
There are also certain cases in the Eastern countries, in general, and in the Arab world, in particular. These cases are known as the crimes of honour. A woman is killed just for an accusation of having an illegal sexual relationship with another person. Even if this accusation has not been proven yet, the father, the bother, or the husband immediately kills her without resorting to the law in a public trial. I have issued a Fatwa prohibiting such acts. Any case like that shall be subjected to the law and we shall take into consideration the surrounding circumstances of the accused, and the accusation might prove to be baseless.
As a result, I have issued a fatwa rejecting the laws of all the Arab countries that lessen the penalty against he who commits a crime of honor.
I have also said in all our Fatwas that it is neither the right of the father, brother, husband, nor any of the relatives to force a woman to marry a person she does not want. If this marriage is forced upon the woman due to certain social pressures, it is an invalid marriage and the woman has the full right to to go and marry the person she wants. The element of choice and agreement is essential in the conclusion of the contract, for both the man and the woman.
In my Fatwas, I confirmed that the adult woman, whether married or unmarried, is, legally, independent financially. Neither her husband nor her children have the right to confiscate any of her money. The same is applied on the father and the brother. She is totally independent financially.
She is also independent in her choice of marriage; she can marry the one she wants. However, we advise her to consult those who have experience, knowledge, and honesty, so as not to be deceived emotionally. The woman is also free in the way she wants to manage her businesses, her property, and her inheritance. Neither the husband nor her parents are allowed to force her to deal with a certain bank unless there are certain legal rules that force her to help her father and mother.
|We have issued Fatwas prohibiting the so-called crimes of honor|
The equality of inheritance between the man and the woman
Q: Sayyed Al-Khou'i issued a Fatwa saying that the woman doesn't have the right to inherit from a land or a building?
R: I believe that the woman can inherit the same like the man. Some jurisprudent authorities exclude the wife, but all the religious authorities do not differentiate, in the case of inheritance, between the daughter, the sister, and the man. As for the following verse: "Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children's (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females " (An-Nisa: 11), it is based on the consideration that the male is responsible for the dowry and for supporting the wife. Thus, this difference between the man's and woman's shares provides a balance with the expenses the man has to pay.
Therefore, we believe that if a person leaves one daughter and there were no father, mother or children, she can inherit everything; the same case is applied on the sister. However, some other religious authorities express reservations:
They believe that the wife can inherit from everything except from a land. If there is a building, she can inherit from the value of the building and not from the building itself. However, our legislative opinion is that there is no difference between the wife and the husband.
Just as the husband inherits his complete share from the wife, whether a land or any other thing, so does the woman; she inherits her share, whether it is a land or any other thing.
|The woman has the right to practise politics and she is independent in her political decision.|
The legitimacy of the political leadership for a woman.
Q: Do you support the woman's work in the political and educational fields, seeking to develop herself?
We consider that the woman is the same as the man, so she can practise politics. She has the right to vote for whoever she wants; neither her husband, nor her father or brother can force her to vote for a certain person. She is independent in her political decision, as well as in her choice to the person she sees good to her country. She also has the right to be elected and to be a candidate and a member in the parliament, and a representative of the people, if she earns the required number of votes. She can also hold any position in the civil service, including the position of a prime minister.
|There is no objection against woman's holding the highest political leadership of the nation.|
Although some religious authorities express their reservations about the woman being the leader of the nation, there is another opinion which we do adopt. We are not against this matter, if the woman is qualified to manage the affairs of the state. She can also participate in the economic and engineering businesses, as well as in all of the scientific fields.
Q: The woman has two personalities; she is the female and the human being at the same time.
R: As to her personality as a female, she is the wife in her marital life, where she can dress whatever she wants, and beautify herself the way she wants. However, outside this sphere, she can not do the same.
She can not go out and mix with other people the way she does at her home. Such behaviour might hurt her and hurt the human side of her, just like what is happening nowadays, especially in the media that pictures women as a means of pleasure and temptation.
There is the personality of the human being in her as well. This personality enables her to perform all life's responsibilities.
In this case, she is like the man who has the personality of the male and the personality of the human being as well.
The role of the personality of the male is restricted to his home and marriage, especially in the sexual relation; whereas the role of the human being covers all life's issues.