Home Women in Islam Equality between men and women in theory and practice (part 2)

Equality between men and women in theory and practice (part 2)

 By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

Translated by: Bayynat editor

The past view that regarded women as bodies has not changed, but rather it was further consecrated in a modern style. Moreover, we notice that the chances of the woman who possesses experience and culture in finding a job are far lesser than the chances of the woman who is beautiful and attractive even in the domains that require experience and culture and not beauty and attractiveness. This means one thing which is that the modern times could not elevate the women's status, for it is not enough for society to provide her with the job opportunities or education to say that the woman's share has recorded an increase in the society's stock market, but rather it should change the whole view towards her, from merely a body that arouses man's instinct into a human being that calls for respect. Once this change happens, we can admit that the woman has reached both the human level and presence that she actually deserves as a human being.

Q: If the media is responsible for confirming the view over women as a body, then in your opinion, what should the media do to set things straight?

A: The media ought to respect both women and men by respecting their humanity, because this and only this can create a sound and balanced society. Using the woman as a media element offends women on the one hand, and on the other hand it offends men, and especially the teenagers. Therefore, as they seek to make high profits in their media policy, they would actually be participating in the collapse of society in certain positions.

Q: Certain sayings that demean women are attributed to Imam Ali (a.s.), such as the following tradition: "The woman is evil, and the most evil in her is that she is indispensable," and: "O' ye peoples! Women are deficient in faith, deficient in shares, and deficient in intelligence. As regards the deficiency in their faith, it is their abstention from prayers and fasting during their menstrual period. As regards the deficiency in their intelligence, it is because the evidence of two women is equal to that of one man. As for the deficiency in their shares, that is because of their share in inheritance being half of men. So, beware of the evils of women. Be on your guard even from those of them who are (reportedly) good. Do not obey them even in good things so that they may not attract you to evils."

How do you interpret these sayings? Does their content conform to the act of recognizing the woman as a complete human being?

 A: As for the saying: "The woman is evil, and the most evil in her is that she is indispensable," we have our reservations to attributing it to Imam Ali (a.s.), because its obvious sense does not conform to our Islamic concepts that deems the human being - whether man or woman - a being that encompasses both evil and good within him, without having the evil dominating over the good, or perhaps vice versa. Man could be stamped with the attribute of good, considering that his instinct (Fitra) leads him towards the good; whereas, falsehood represents an external element that hits man from his surrounding. This is the basis of this noble prophetic tradition: "Every child is born in the (state) of Fitra; then his parents make him into a Jew, a Christian, or a Magian."

Therefore, how could the woman be entirely evil?! If she were really stamped with evil, how then could she be punished for enjoining evil and forbidding good?! Does this conform to the line of justice? If evil was of the nature of women, then is the nature of the believing women different from that of the other women?

Some explain that what is actually meant in this is not that evil is part of the woman's inner self, but rather it is represented by her acts of seduction and luring; however, these acts are not restricted to women, but they could also be characteristics of men. Moreover, this explanation does not conform to the nature and eloquence of the saying.

Besides, what is meant by: "And the most evil in her is that she is indispensable?!" If it implies that man needs the woman in the act of reproduction, then the truth is that the woman also needs the man in this sense. But we do not know if there is another implication that we did not think of.

Therefore, before attributing this saying to Imam Ali (a.s.), we ought to examine its Sanad (source) and content carefully; if the source was Mursal (directly referred to Imam Ali) and the content was contradicting with the Islamic concept, then we ought to reject it, just as the Members of the House have taught us: "Every Hadith that does not conform to the Quran is a forgery."

As for the tradition that says that women are deficient in faith, shares, and intelligence, if we suppose it is valid, then what is actually meant by it is not the apparent meaning. Certain things back in that time represented a state of deficiency for example, or it was generally expressed in that manner. If it were said that women are universally deficient in faith, shares, and intelligence, we would deduce that he is referring to a deeper meaning we do not understand. However, the explanation that women are deficient in intelligence because the evidence of two women is equal to that of one man could be negated, since evidence has nothing to do with intelligence; even though the woman's emotions could make her evidence deviate, yet these emotions do not mean that she is deficient in intelligence. Actually, the world of intelligence is related to the way of thinking, while that of evidence is related to the capacity if the witness to have a manifest view of things, as it is related to integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness.

As for the expression "deficient in shares" based on Allah's saying: (To the male, a portion equal to that of two females,) (04:11), we notice that the legislation has given her in return of what it has taken from her, and has given man in return of what is has taken from him. There is a tradition about the Imams of the Members of the House and it is based on the balance in this matter. In Al-Kafi Book, quoting the Book of Al-'Usul (the principles), it was mentioned that Ibn Abi 'Awjaa said: how come the weak woman gets one share while the man gets two shares? He said: "Some of our friends mentioned that to Abi Abdullah, Ja'afar As-Sadiq (a.s.), who said: "Man's share is double that of the woman's, since for women Jihad is not obligatory and her maintenance should be covered by him. He should pay for her dowry, and, in some cases, the blood money of a person killed should be covered by the man."

In Al-Fakih, it was mentioned that Muhammad Bin Sannan said that Imam Ar-Rida (a.s.) once wrote to him about the reason behind giving women half what is given to men of the inheritance: because in marriage, the woman takes and the man gives, that is why Allah dedicated more of the inheritance to the man. Another reason behind giving the male double what is given to the female is that: the woman is sustained by the man if she demands so, and he has to sustain her and provide for her; whereas the woman does not have to sustain the man or provide for him, that is why Allah has dedicated more of the inheritance to the man, for Allah says: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property." (04:34).

As regards the expression "deficiency in their faith", it is their abstention from prayers during their menstrual period; however, the woman abstains from performing the prayers as an act of obedience to Allah, since as He should be obeyed in what He ordains, He should also be obeyed in what He forbids. Had the woman not been forbidden to pray during her menstrual cycle, she would have prayed, but the truth is that she does not pray as an act of obedience to Allah, so how could this be a deficiency in her faith? If we travel, and as a result, we have to shorten the prayers and even break our fast if we were fasting, does that make us deficient in our faith? Therefore, we say that we would better not interpret the Hadith on our own because the justification given does not lead to the conclusion expressed in the tradition.

As for the Hadith: "Do not obey them even in good things so that they may not attract you to evils," it confirms that the relation between man and woman is usually an emotional one that does not stop at a certain limit. If the man makes the woman used to the fact that he totally surrenders to her in the reasonable issues, in the sense that he obeys her in everything, this might lead her to feel greedy and to ask to be obeyed in what is evil, as if Imam Ali (a.s.) wanted to say to the men: make balance in your relations with the women, so as not to completely succumb to them, but rather you ought to make them used that you might refuse certain things so that they would not exert pressure on your emotions and seduce or lure you to succumb to their demands in what is evil.

As for the Hadith: "Beware even from good women," it is actually a call to be cautious from any sudden deviation, meaning that man should always be cautious, even from good women. The Imam (a.s.) also called for being cautious in al kinds of relations as his saying mentioned in the explanation of NahjulBalaghah which says: "Do not trust your friend perfectly, because the knockdown of the trustful is incurable."  

Q: You say that Islam does not discriminate between the man and the woman, knowing that the Quran was revealed in the Arabic language; one of the most discriminating languages between man and woman in the world - as alleged by some researchers in oriental affairs. This discrimination would be represented by, for example: restricting feminism to the feminine plural pronoun (Nun Al-Niswa), and making the masculine plural dominate over the feminine plural…etc. To what extent has Islam been influenced in its judgments by this lingual barrier between the two sexes?

A: Any language expresses the movement of the society it lives in, and since feminism and masculinity are different - at least at the level of the form - in the outer reality, then pointing out to this difference by using the feminine and masculine pronouns is very natural and harms neither the man nor the woman. As we use the feminine plural pronoun (Nun Al-Niswa) to pluralize feminine nouns, we use the masculine plural pronoun (Waw Al-Jama'a) to pluralize the masculine nouns. Moreover, highlighting the singularities of each does not tend to place any barriers between them or undermine the singularity of one to the detriment of the other.

Deeming the usage of the feminine and masculine pronouns a kind of discrimination against women is a childish view coming from the sensitive reactions and the refusal of the woman's oneself, because the discrimination between man and woman in the literal expression is based on the physical discrimination, and this sexual difference between them does not hold any negative significance that call for not expressing it in our language.

However, the source of dominating the masculine over the feminine in the plural is the social culture from which the Arabic language has emerged; for it is a culture where men come before women and that prefers males over females. However, this issue is not restricted to the Arabic language, but rather it is found in many other languages, since this preference is not restricted to the Arab society in the Pre-Islamic era only, but rather it is a general reality found in most peoples.

But even if Islam was revealed in the Arabic language, its rulings were not subjected to the rule of making a gender dominate over the other except expression-wise, for Allah addressed men and women alike, since He addressed both with: "O ye people," and: "O you who believe!" Moreover, Allah did not discriminate between men and women at the level of the rights and the general human obligations, except in certain particularities that are imposed by the gender difference between the two; which is revealed in its law system.

Q: Parallel to this positive view of the woman, there are certain expressions in the Quran that contradict with the fact of respecting her as a human being, such as the expression "under someone". What is your opinion about using such expressions when referring to the relation between the man and the woman?


A: The expression "under someone" was expressed in the Quran, as Allah says: "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." (66:10). In this Ayah, being under does not mean inferiority which makes a human being of a higher position than the other, but rather it reflects the natural position of the sexual operation where normally, the man is on top of the woman. The term surpassed the meaning it literally suggests to a more general one; therefore, the usage of the Quran for such expressions is never meant to demean women.

Q: Is not the usage of the term "prefer" in the Holy Quran a proof on its preference of a certain sex over the other; meaning it is a proof on the inequality between the two sexes in the Quran?

A: Preference is a general term whose meaning depends on the context of the sentence in which it is used. Allah has talked about the preference of people over others in certain verses: "Allah has bestowed His gifts of sustenance more freely on some of you than on others," (16:71), meaning that Allah prefers people over others in matters pertaining to the grace He has bestowed on people and not to their position. Preference was also indicated in another Quranic verse in which Allah talks about the Children of Israel: "Allah Who hath endowed you with gifts above the nations?" (07:140), meaning that He prefers the Children of Israel in terms of the grace He has bestowed on them and not in terms of their position, since Allah also says: "And gave you what He had not given to any other among the nations." (05:20).

Therefore, we conclude that the verse: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others," (04:34), indicates that this preference is in terms of a certain job that the man carries out; which is managing the marital life, and the rest of the verse confirms this fact for it talks about what men spend out of their property to manage the marital life. Therefore, as we have previously mentioned, preference is a general term that handles the grace bestowed by Allah, the role, the position, and the job; however it does not necessarily refer to all of these gathered but rather to one of them; which the Quranic proof reveals.

Q: Islam has preserved many pre-Islamic customs in its rulings, such as the dowry, kinds of divorce, although it introduced certain modifications to them. How could this be justified, knowing that Islam's view on women differs from that in the pre-Islamic era?


A: Not all the pre-Islamic customs were the result of the pre-Islamic reality itself, but rather the source of many of these customs was the previous Divine Messages; however, they were deviated from their main human meaning. Therefore, Islam preserved some of these customs considering them to be general human issues, and modified the meanings of other customs, such as the dowry that Islam changed from being a price of the woman into something that the man offers her, as is the case for other issues.