Home Women in Islam A dialogue on women’s issues: guardianship, the veil and woman’s beauty

A dialogue on women’s issues: guardianship, the veil and woman’s beauty

The “Arab and International Solidarity”[1] Magazineconducted a dialogue with the Religious AuthorityH.E. Sayyed MuhammadHussein Fadlallah (ra) in which he touched on most of the issues that have to do with women,such as Wilayat(guardianship) , the veil (Hijab),  woman’s beauty and their relation with  the movement  of the  society . Following is the text of theinterview:

In his writings and thought in general,the R.A. H.E. Sayyed Muhammad   Hussein Fadlullah tries to raise man to a higher  degree …   We had the following dialogue with theSayyedabout the woman’s issues  with  their positive and  negative aspects:

The humanistic value of the  woman

Q: what made you so interested in women’s issues?

A:When I read Islam, and especially the Quran,I found out that the Qurandid not view the woman in the negative waysome of the Islamic mentality views her. On the contrary, I saw that the Quran equates between men and women in their positive and negative sides. I also found that it presents the women as an example to both men and women in their good and bad behavior, and talks about the responsibility of both men and women in their movement (good and bad deeds).“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong[2].This Ayat indicates that womenand men cooperate with each other in all theissues of the world. We also notice that even whenit distinguished between them,it was not in value but in the role they play.

I have readall that, and realized thatit was the Islamic realitythat throughout its history has kept the women away from the movement of life,  neglected themand restricted them to the need of men, thus becoming  on the margin of men, while  in fact they are human beings  wholive their  humanity  beside men and  both men and women complement  each other:“who created you from one souland created from it its mate[3].

That is why Ifelt that it was my duty toclarifythehuman value of the woman and call for reintroducing back their role in the movement of the reality and call upon  her  to reeducate herself, having lost her  self-confidence  as   a result  of  historical accumulations.  When they used to say that she had a weak mind or only a quarter of a mind, she usedtoaccept itand was even satisfied with it.

I believe that the integrity and wellness of the movement in history of any nationlies in that man moves as one in all his variants. I do not wish to downplay the role of motherhood and housekeeping, but this role, just as fatherhood, has to with upbringing the future generations,andjustas fatherhood does not imprison men in its role, motherhood does not imprison them too.Women’s engagement in the community enriches their motherhoodand they in turnwould enrich the society, just as men.  And we have seen,through  the contemporary and historical experience,that the woman wasable to succeed in politics , social affairs and  economy, and that at least they were as successful  as men in certain fields .

Wilayah (Authority) over women

Q: Does the husband and the brother and so,theguardian of the woman, have the right to prevent her fromwork?

A: In Islam, the mature adultwoman,just as the mature adult man, is independent from the point of view ofIslamic law. No one has any authority over her even in marriage. If there are some juristic theories that demand the approval of the guardian for the woman or the virgin to get married, we do not approve them, although we prefer that she seeks the opinion of herfather, mother or grandfather, since they are more experienced so that she would not be deceived or cheated. But we do not believe that her marriage depends on that, since from the legal point of view (Sharia) she is 100 per cent independent. In the end, marriage is a contract and the woman who signs it must abide by the terms she commits herself to. Therefore,she has to stipulate any condition she wants whether with respect to work or other thingsin this contract, for marriage binds both parties and restricts their freedom.

The veil (hijab) and Backwardness

Q: There are many people who link between the Hijab and the backwardness of the society. What do you say?

A: What about if we say that the entire humanity isbackward because they are all veiled, and that all the women in the world are veiled for at least they cover half of their bodies. If we are talking about the Hijab in principle, then what is thedifference between the veil that covers the head and those that cover the breast and the private parts, which men alsocover? That is why we ask: do we believe in nudity or veiling?  Is the nudity associated with certain values or is it the Hijab? And is nudity beautiful? When we ask why the private parts arecovered, the answer is to prevent sexual excitement!But excitement is relative, and some people might feel that the woman’s hair is a beauty she would not have showed in public wereshe, forexample, veiled.

Another point to be discussed in this context is: Is sex inany extentan absolute freedom or is it restricted by certain restraints? If we say, as some philosophies, that man is free with respect to his bodyand that sex is a personal matter, then we have to cancel all restrictions including marriage. And then cheating on one’s spouse is meaningless.

It is true that the husband in the west is sued nowadays if he rapes his wife to satisfy his sexual need, and that the woman is allowed to abstain from having sex with her husband if he cheats on her whichcauses socialchaos, and consequently, we shouldnot talk about chastity or the Hijab. But if we believe that sex should be controlled, then weshould create certainatmospheres that maintain these controls.If we give the woman, who is the sex symbol in man’s awareness regardless if the reasons are subjective or historical, total freedom then the society will unconsciously live in a sexual emergency state.

I am not talkingabout [the controls of] the Quran and the Sunnah, for even in the [sexually]freesociety we find that raping incidents set a record that is not found in the conservative societies . We notice this in the abusing of mangers to their secretaries or employees, and even ministers and heads of states such as President (Bill ) Clinton. Why does this happen, even though they enjoy complete freedom? It is because instinct is not an intellectual issue. It is more like a fire when it encounters a combustible object.

That is why when Islam took notice of this, it wanted to establish controls to sex, and opted to create an atmosphere that helps the man and the woman to add practical means to secure chastity, in addition to the psychological and spiritual ones, so that it will not be claimed that the Hijab by itself does not provide chastity.This is true, but it creates a favorable atmosphere, so that it will not be said, as an Arab poet once did:

Thrown in the sea cuffed and told not to get wet

The beauty of the women and that of nature:

 On the other hand, the woman has two personalities: 1- that of a human being, which means that she is a heart, a mind, willpower and a movement and 2- that she is an active member in the society that the others open to as a human. Then there is the personality of the female, which is naturally linked to her beauty and her feelings, as well as the others’ feeling of this beauty.

It is obvious that feeling a woman’s beauty is different than feeling the beauty of nature, for it involves the instinct and the physical attraction toit. This is quite simple and needs no “philosophizing”, and we notice it in all the relations that are taking place now between men and women, whichwould have taken another direction had it not been for the social barriers.

Therefore, the reasonable Hijab for the woman is to cover all her body except the face and the palms, which makes the woman goes out to the society as a human being that does not arouse instinct in an outright manner.it is true that the face is also beautiful but it is a calm beauty , where by the unveiling whose different forms have been exploited by the contemporary civilization presenting her as a body in novels , short stories,plays , movies , advertisement and the like, makes  the male looks at the womandesirously.

This is what we notice in the [western ]societies , or else what is the relation between the director and the secretaries or the specialized female employees? And why do sexual harassments prevail in mixed departments?

Islam was realistic in this matter. If you want morals[to prevail], you have tocreate suitable atmospheres. And if you do not want them, do not criminalize moral deviation. But we, in the east, joinbetween some moral values and violating (social) restrictions. Thus if the woman deviates, knowing that we are the ones who pushed her to deviate,all the men of the tribe would jump [to restore the conceived  honor]since as the poet said” the only way to restore the honor is  by spilling blood”. This is how we fell in the scandal of the honor- restoring crimes that justify for the man to kill his wife, daughter or sister towipe out disgrace, knowing that he pushed her to do so.

 I live my thought responsibly

Q:Your opening up is not familiar among religious scholars. What do you say? And does not it increase your enemies?

A:I am a man who does not consider that religion limits me. Rather, I consider thatreligion links me to God, opens me up to all worlds including the world of the unseen. I believe that man has to live his thought responsibly and his freedom limitedly and shoulder his responsibility in promoting the thought he believes that it raises man to God. That is why there is no problem if others who do not accept this thought say [whatever they want]. All the methods of insulting, cursing, accusing of misguidance or apostasy (takfir) enriches the thought and strengthens it more than it weakens or cancelsit. since I  modestly consider my battle with all these peopleone of awareness against backwardness ; a battle of the Islam that opens up to all man and the age with their authenticity and civilization and the backward conception of Islam that wants to burry man in the caves.

Lawful and unlawful polygamy

Q:Did you marry more than once?

A:No, I did not. But I do not consider that(polygamy) issomething that is against values, despite its negativities. Since I do not believe that any law does not contain certain negativities,for our world is finite. Although polygamy createsnegativity to one womanit creates positivity to other woman. That is why I ask: why we do, we always try to defend one woman and not the many womenwho would have turned into unmarried women(spinsters) had they not been saved by polygamy.

The issue is that several societies take a one-sided view. Monogamy has many positive sides and some negative ones, and polygamy has positive and negative sides. We shouldnot seesomething thathas some whiteness black, but  should instead see something that has some blackness white. The question that imposes itself is:  there are a lot of social, security and political circumstances that might leave millions of women unmarried. What would we do in this case?

I have heard , (but I am not sure)that after world war  two , that led to the death of alot of men the German parliament discussed the issue of allowing polygamy. This issue needs an extensive discussion. But the problem is that in this Muslim east some intellectuals have closed their eyes and wanted to be seen in the west as progressive, sothey caststones on polygamy and praised monogamy.

If we make a survey in the west, how many mistresses we will find to married men?The west even gave the mistress some of the advantages of the wife. When we wish to caststones on polygamy, we have tocast stones on all its forms. Why do we cast stones on the legal polygamy and not the illegal one. This isthe question that should be directed to a lotof those who dominate the Muslim world in the name of progress.

* An interview with The “Arab and international solidarity” Magazine 6-10 -2002 

[1] Original Arabic name : “Attadamun Al-ArabiWaduwali”


[3]  [4:1]

[4] Original Arabic name : “Attadamun Al-ArabiWaduwali”