Home Archive Interviews Islam did not differentiate between men and women

A dialogue with the religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah about the Islamic view tow
Islam did not differentiate between men and women

Q- What is the Islamic view concerning the women, and what about your personal concern with the issue?

A- A woman is a human being just like the man. Islam did not give the woman a marginal status making her merely a housewife. I believe, for example, that women have the right to learn, because Allah wanted all human beings, men or women to learn and He did not differentiate between the two sexes. He says: Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know (39:9).

I believe that the women have the right to participate in the field of social services, as well as politics, which is not a field restricted to men. Women have the right to become candidates for public offices, and to be elected too of course.

I even have reservations on the Fatwa of several Muslim scholars that women cannot serve in leading posts in the government, especially if there is a woman who is qualified culturally and politically to serve in such a post.

The Muslim usually base their refusal for the women to hold leading posts on what is claimed that the Prophet said when he was told that a woman has succeeded the Persian king that no people will be successful if they are led by a woman. But I say that this is not a negative ruling concerning the woman's holding a leading post in the government, since the Prophet was talking about monarchy, which is a form of dictatorship. He might also be referring to the fact that she inherited the monarchy from her father and consequently she cannot be just.

Moreover, I have always stressed that Islam did not talk about the weakness of women. It talked about the weakness of man in general for man was created weak. And just as Allah wanted the man to strengthen his personality, He wanted the women too to become stronger, for they are both responsible and both have been assigned religious duties to perform.

Allah has provided us with an example of a rational and rise woman, the Queen of Shiba. When Prophet Sulaiman sent her a letter that contained some threatening. She gathered her people and asked them for their opinion, but they said that they were endued in strength and it was left for her to decide.

She said: O chiefs! Surely an honorable letter has been delivered to me.

Surely it is from Sulaiman, and surely it is in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful;

'Be ye not arrogant against me, but come to me in submission (to the true Religion).'" She said: "Ye chiefs! Advise me in (this) my affair: no affair have I decided except in your presence." They said: "We are endued with strength, and given to vehement war: but the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command."

So she decided to send a gift and want to see how he reaches, to see if he is an oppressive tyrant or a Prophet carrying a Message : She said: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest thus do they behave. "But I am going to send him a present, and (wait) to see with what (answer) return (my) ambassadors."  

Thus things developed until She said: I do (now) submit (in Islam), with Solomon, to the Lord of the Worlds." Notice that she said: with Suleiman and not behind him, which means that she was thoughtful and wise.

The Quran also tells us about Pharaoh’s wife who remained faithful to her belief and did not submit to Pharaoh’s call of ascribing partners to Allah and oppressing people. Allah has commanded all believers, men and women, to emulate this woman and take her as a role Model, for she was able to refuse all temptations.

He says:

 And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: "O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong"

He also gave us the example of Virgin Mary who was the strong and believing women who challenged her people having accused her of perversion:

And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).

Thus we believe that the Quran did not present women in a negative way, although it gave us some negative examples: Allah sets forth an example to those who disbelieve the wife of Nuh and the wife of Lut: they were both under two of Our righteous servants, but they acted treacherously towards them so they availed them naught against Allah, and it was said: Enter both the fire with those who enter.  

Although these women held distinguished positions being wives of Prophets, Allah did not give them any advantages as a result of their positions; rather He judged them by their actions.

Thus, we conclude that Islam did not differentiate between man and women whether in their spiritually or in their closeness to Allah.

He says: That I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female.

Therefore we believe that the Quran did not talk about women in a negative way as some Muslims who have accumulated a backward mentality do.

The Right to Divorce

Q- In your books you say that the man is responsible for the house, and thus he is the one who has the right to divorce.  You also say that the woman has many tasks as a housewife which include being a mother that needs a long time. Thus being a mother is a bigger task than that of the father. Why is the man given the right to divorce and not the woman?

A- There is something that should be known. A family is an institution that is based on two aspects, a material one and a spiritual one, for Allah says: And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.

There is the side that has to do with the spiritual value, and there is the side that has to do with providing and sustenance. As for the man having authority over the woman, this is a form of administrative responsibility since he is the one who provides for the family. As for the woman, she does not legally have any responsibility in the house, not even raising her children. Islam considers housework as an ordinary job, the woman could ask to be paid for. She can also ask for money for nursing her child. And if she asks for a lot of money, another woman could feed him.

Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman, just as any contract between two people. According to this contract, the woman has to fulfil her husband's sexual needs. But we also believe that the husband too has to fulfil the wife's sexual needs.

Q: Is not there any moral responsibility in this relationship:

A: Before talking about the moral responsibility, I would like to point out to that the man was given the right to divorce because he is the one who is responsible for providing for the family, but there are legal outlets: The woman has the right to stipulate in the marriage contract that she can represent him in divorcing herself if she so wishes. This is an irrevocable and a binding condition that allows the woman to divorce herself.

As for the moral side, the Prophetic tradition says: "The woman's Jihad is in being a good wife". Islam did not ordain that a woman should practice jihad in war but in the family where she might have to endure certain psychological difficulties and undertake certain commitments which Allah will reward her for and consider them as a Jihad on her part. Moreover, when a woman serves her husband and children, she is actually practicing a spiritual virtue that makes her nearer to Allah, since she is doing that out of mercy and love.

Thus there is a difference between the legal aspects in which the husband feels that he has no authority over the wife to force her to do the housework, and the spiritual aspect where by she performs her house tasks out of charity and compassion, leading the husband to have a profound feeling of gratitude.

Q- Do you think that additional change could be accomplished regarding the role of the woman, knowing that you have stated that with the Fatwa you issued?

A- A Fatwa is not a subjective issue or a personal one that has to do with how the scholar feels. It is the result of studying the Islamic texts of the Book (The Quran) and the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet and his Progeny) in a cultural opened up way, and not in a traditional way that follows the footsteps of the previous scholars. The independent jurisprudent should be free in his understanding of what he reads of what Islam came up with, whether about the woman or any other issues.

The new Fatwa and the Conservative Society:

Q- Aren't you afraid of the reaction of the conservative society?

A- It is quite natural that any Fatwa the conservative society does not accept would be met by a negative and violent reaction.

I have experienced such a reaction, when I issued a Fatwa that states that the woman has the right to defend herself if the man tries to abuse her at home; that is in case she does not have any means from outside the house to defend herself whether legally or socially.

The right of self-defence is a humanistic and religious legitimate right. I even advised women to learn martial arts so that they can defend themselves, and not remain physically weak, since they might be abused by rape, robbery and the like outside the house. I call for the woman to be strong in confronting any aggression whether inside the house or outside it. Thus, it is natural that Islam has given the women the right to defend themselves, just as it has given men the same right. But it also gave them the right to forgive, which is nearer to piety as Allah says in the Quran.

The Female witness

Q- They say that women are more emotional than men, and that this is the basis of some of the rulings that differentiate between men and women like the issue of the witnesses and the government.

A- I do not agree with this analysis. A woman's emotion might appear in motherhood or in love, but in public life the woman can be tougher than the man, which could be seen in some of the experiments in the world whether in the political or social fields where the women have shown that they are stronger than men.

As for the witnesses, the ruling is not based or the emotional side of the women, since the Ayah says:If one of them "Tadul" the other will remind, her. Tadul means to forget or to deviate as a result of other internal factors and not due to her emotionally. It is noticed that if a woman forgets or deviates another woman will remind her; if the woman is too emotional to be a witness how come another woman would remind or correct her? Then there is issue of providing evidence (Bayinah) which needs the testimony of two just men: Is this also due to the emotional factor. The testimony and the evidence is a matter that requires talking every precaution to ensure that justice is done. Adultery, for example, needs the testimony of four men who have seen the entire operation. Then, there are some cases that need the testimony of one woman only such as deciding if a woman is virgin or not. Thus, testimony is governed by the need to serve justice. It does not have to do with emotions, since, as I said, there are some aspects in which men are more emotional than women, especially when they are led by their instincts.

Q- You did not mention in your book the temptation of Pharaoh’s wife to Prophet Yusuf… Should we protect men from women?

A- No, I believe that it is the man when tempts the woman, and not the woman who tempts the man as in the case of Yusuf, and we can see many cases that prove this in both western and eastern societies.

Sexual instinct in found in both men and women, although some women might feel that being desired by men is a praise of their beauty and femininity.