Women, Islam & Equality

The National Council of Resistance of IranForeign Affairs Committee

A publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.Correspondence address: B.P. 18, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, France

Chapter Three - Islam: Beacon of Women's

As a Muslim woman, let me proclaim that the peddlers of religion who rule Iran in the name of Islam, but shed blood, suppress the people and advocate export of fundamentalism and terrorism, are themselves the worst enemy of Islam and Muslims. The day will come when they will be forced to let go of the name of Islam.
Maryam Rajavi, June 16, 1995(1)

The theocracy of the mullahs of Iran, who for 16 years have ruled and issued decrees in the name of Islam and the Islamic Republic, is recognized throughout the world as history's most misogynist regime. For Khomeini and his retinue, gender is the primary distinction. The mullahs' God, like themselves, is a misogynist torturer, constantly calculating human beings' sexual offenses. They view woman as the embodiment of sexual desire, the source of sin, and the manifestation of Satan. She must be kept out of the public view at all times, reserving her for use, under the absolute domination of men, for sexual pleasure and reproduction. In this system of values, a woman is never considered a human being, although as a concession, she has been described on a par with children and the mentally imbalanced.2 At other times, to discredit her views and testimony, she is classified among thieves and "those who wage war on God."3

In his most famous book, Tahrir-ol Vasileh (Instrument of Writing), a collection of his views and fatwas, Khomeini carefully degrades women to a level less than that of slaves, and bordering on that of animals. In the chapter on cleanliness, he declares women najes (filthy), meaning that if men need to wash only once to cleanse themselves, women must do so twice.4 In his view, the multitudes of women who gather for prayers cannot hold collective prayers unless a man leads them.5 Although Islam emphasizes praying collectively in the mosque, Khomeini recommends that women pray at home, and even there, it is better that they pray in the closet.6 Women do not have the right to leave home without the permission of their husbands. Men have to provide for their living expenses, but husbands are not required to pay for their wives' serious illnesses.7 Denied independent means, the wife must tolerate her condition, and await death.

From this perspective, everything finds meaning in the context of the wife's attractiveness. If a woman refrains from creating an environment which provides pleasure to her husband, he has the right to beat her, and to add to the beating every day to force the wife into submission.8 In such a situation, the husband need not even provide for his wife's expenses. All these affairs are unilateral, and are the husband's prerogative. The wife has but one responsibility: total submission. The husband can divorce his wife in absentia: "In divorce, it is not necessary for the wife to know, let alone agree."9 Khomeini has also sanctioned "temporary marriage," legitimizing prostitution, specifying that a sum be paid to the woman for use of her body.10

If we add to this collection Khomeini's fatwa sanctioning the rape of virgin girls before their execution, and the fatwa permitting executions of pregnant women, we arrive at a general understanding of the views of the mullahs' mentor.

His disciple, Rafsanjani also calls for gender apartheid: "Equality does not take precedence over justice... Justice does not mean that all laws must be the same for men and women. One of the mistakes that Westerners make is to forget this.... The difference in the stature, vitality, voice, development, muscular quality and physical strength of men and women shows that men are stronger and more capable in all fields... Men's brains are larger... These differences affect the delegation of responsibilities, duties and rights."11 Rafsanjani describes an equitable division of labor as follows: "Women are consumers, but men are to manage.." Even in the home, he does not accept women as managers: "Running the affairs of the household and financial matters are the responsibility of the husband."12

The Majlis deputies have similar views. They believe, for example: "Women must be kept unaware..."13 "Women must accept that men rule over them. The world must also realize that men are superior."14 The head of the regime's Judiciary says: "Your wife, who is your possession, is in fact your slave."15

These are glimpses of the misogynist mullahs' thinking, upon which their all-encompassing, appalling suppression of Iranian women is based. The have imparted a flavor of Islam to their views, and in the name of Islam they advocate despicable hostility, a ploy unambiguously condemned in the Quran: "And who does greater evil than he who forges against God falsehood, when he is being called unto surrender?"16

The extent of Khomeini and his regime's distortion of Islam is unprecedented in the past 1,400 years. In justifying their views on the women's issue, the mullahs have ironically inverted the teachings of the Prophet and Holy Quran on one of the most brilliant and appealing aspects of Islam. One of the most telling features of the Age of Jaheliat (ignorance)17 against which the Prophet of Islam arose was the practice of burying baby girls alive. In other parts of the world, women fared no better than in the Arabian Peninsula. The emergence of Muhammed is inseparable from the dawn of women's liberties in this period.

Islam is a far cry from what Khomeini and the mullahs would have us believe. It is the religion of Towhid, or oneness, and worship of one God. From Abraham to Muhammed, the leading women of the religion of Towhid have shone forth, from Hajar (Abraham's wife), Asieh (Pharaoh's wife who raised Moses), and the Virgin Mary, to Khadijeh (Prophet Muhammad's wife) and Fatima (his daughter). The ideology of Towhid, which is the basis of the Islamic worldview, opposes all discrimination. Towhid makes a passionate call for the equality and oneness of women and men. The Holy Quran says: "O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely, the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most god fearing of you."18

Islam is an invitation to all human beings to liberate themselves. Throughout the Quran, women and men have been addressed in equal terms. In not a single case is the criteria for women differentiated from that for men. To stress the issue of equality, verse two of the chapter Nisaa (Women) refers to the origins of women and men: "Mankind, hear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, whether male or female, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women; fear God by whom you demand one of another."

In verse 194 of Al-i-Imran (House of Imarn) it adds: "I waste not the labour of any that labours among you, be you male or female - the one of you is as the other."

These verses clearly reject any distinctions between men and women. Women and men play an equal role in society, and there are no differences in their spheres of responsibility. For the Quran, the yardstick is one's actions and sense of responsibility. "... no soul laden bears the load of another, and that a human being shall have to his account only as he has laboured."19

Verses 72 and 73 of Ahzab (The Confederates), "We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth; and the human being carried it", hold women and men equally responsible, and reiterate that the element of responsibility is the criteria for judging women's and men's actions "That God may chastise the hypocrites, men and women alike, and the idolaters, men and women alike; and that God may turn again unto the believers, men and women alike."

Verse 36 of the same chapter says women and men have equal opportunities to excel: "Men and women who have surrendered, believing men and believing women, obedient men and obedient women, truthful men and truthful women, enduring men and enduring women, humble men and humble women, men and women who give charity, men who fast and women who fast, men and women who guard their private parts, men and women who remember God often - for them God has prepared forgiveness and a mighty reward."

The next verse unequivocally warns: "It is not for any believer, man or woman, when God and his messenger have decreed a matter, to have choice in the affair. Whoever disobeys God and his Messenger has gone astray into manifest error." One must ask Khomeini and the mullahs where in the Quran and Islam is there talk of inequality between women and men, of discrimination? How dare they call for the confinement of women to their homes?

Pioneers in Conversion to Islam

It is not without reason that women flourished with the coming of the Prophet of Islam, in an era when slavery and patriarchal tribal societies were intertwined. Distinction, discrimination and inequality are alien to the spirit of the Quran and Towhid. The first believer in Islam was a woman, Khadijeh, the Prophet's wife, who devoted all her wealth and her entire life to Islam. Her effective support played a prominent role in the advancement of the religion. The second Muslim was the Prophet's cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the third a woman, Fatima bent As'as, a renowned woman from the Quraish and the mother of Ali. Umar, the second Muslim ruler after the death of the Prophet, was converted to Islam by his two sisters. Tradition tells us that when Umar went to see his two sisters, he found them secretly reading the Quran. The shocking encounter humbled this famous combatant of Arabia, and within a few moments, he had converted to Islam.

The first martyr to the cause of Islam was also a woman, Somaya, wife of Yasser and the mother of Ammar, one of the Prophet's great disciples. Tortured along with her husband and son by Abu-Jahl, to the very end Somaya urged them to remain steadfast.

By the sixth year after the Be'that 20, at least 23 of the first 63 Muslims were women. Many were slaves, who endured much torment and hardship. Of the first ten Muslims, a group which includes Ali and Abu-Bakr, the first caliph, four were women: Khadijeh, Fatima, and two freed slaves, Lobaineh and Zonaireh. Both women had been the slaves of Umar, the second caliph, but were recognized as equals when they converted to Islam. The fifth Muslim woman, Ghozaiyeh, was a nomad. Her purity and bravery was an inspiration to other women.

The hijrat (migration)21 by Muslim women marked a major step in the path towards the liberation of women, at a time when the tribal system dictated punishments of death or slavery for a wife who left her husband. The ratio of migrant women to men is also significant. The first group of Mohajerin, who left Mecca for the Red Sea and Ethiopia five years after the Be'that (two years after the call to convert became public), was comprised of 15 Muslims. The names of at least four women, Leili, Um-Salameh, Sahleh and Roghieh, the Prophet's daughter, have been recorded in the pages of history.

In a society where being female was itself a source of shame, and girl children were buried alive by the thousands; a society which considered woman as property which was inherited, and whose human dignity was not recognized, the Prophet of Islam performed Bei'at (the oath of allegiance) with each of his women converts, and insisted on their participation in the most important decisions that affected the Muslim society. Then he set about providing for women's civil rights and formulating a constitution of their human rights.

His teachings abound in expressions of admiration for women, and exultation of their status. Little girls found peace at his side. Many times he was criticized by other men for "hugging goats and seating them at your side," but he replied by referring to Fatima, his daughter, as a part of his own being, and called her his mother.22 Inspired by the Word of God, he described her as Kowthar (the fountainhead of continuity).

Women converts to Islam left their husbands and families in Mecca and after much torment, migrated to Medina to join Muhammed. They were with him in all arenas, including on the field of battle, where they fought alongside the men. The young society of Medina founded by the Prophet suddenly came face to face with women whose rights were without precedent. On occasion, the men opposed and resisted these changes, which included the right to choose one's spouse; the ban on women's inclusion in a deceased man's inheritance; the ban on accusing women of improprieties without due process; the right to hold property, independent of men, and recognition of contracts and business deals entered into by women independent of their husbands or male family members; the right to seek recourse against their husbands and male relatives; the right to travel and migrate; the right to inheritance; the right to a share of war booty; the right to guardianship of children; the ban on isolating women and various other arbitrary forms of divorce; the right to teach, learn, and advocate their views; the right to vote; freedom of expression; the right to take part in all social decisions; and finally, and most importantly, the right to leadership and directorship of the society.

The Right to Leadership

The Iranian mullahs say: "Regardless of a woman's knowledge, know how and wisdom, she cannot lead."23 The clerics start with denying women the right to be judges, and then deny them a leadership role. Mohammad Yazdi, the head of the Judiciary, states: "Women cannot be judges; that is, they cannot issue a verdict and cannot run the court in such a way as to make the final decisions themselves."24 In Khomeini's view, mothers have no jurisdiction over their children. A women cannot even open a bank account for her child, let alone interfere in his or her affairs. She has no rights concerning her daughter's marriage. All these rights belong to the father or the guardian whom he designates25 "Woman's testimony in questions of defense, inheritance, divorce..., leadership, justice, punishment and the appearance of the new moon, have no credibility."26

In a statement issued in 1963, Khomeini opposed giving women their rights and their election to public office. He described voting rights for women as blatant "aggression" against "the Quran's unequivocal decrees," and characterized advocacy of equality between women and men as formal opposition to Islam.27 Contrary to Khomeini's false claims about Islam, the Quran urges society to "consult with them," and it was the Prophet's tradition to do so.

Citing eyewitnesses in his book Al-Maghazi, Vaqedi notes that in the affair known as the Hodaybieh peace treaty (with the leaders of the Quraish), which the Quran describes as a great victory, when the Prophet finished the work on the treaty, he told his disciples: "Rise, sacrifice a lamb and shave your heads" (as Muslims did when going to Mecca for the Hajj). Not understanding the strategic importance of this brilliant political maneuver by the Prophet, they did not obey his order. This angered the Prophet, who returned to the quarters of Um-Salameh, his wife who was traveling with him. When Um-Salameh heard the story, she advised the Prophet to go ahead and perform the sacrifice, and said his disciples would follow suit. The Prophet took her advice, and when the Muslims saw him, they rushed to join him.

Islam does not stop short at merely consulting with women. Verse 73 of Towbah (Repentance), ignored by the mullahs, refers to the equal rights of men and women: "And believers, the men and women, are leaders one of the other, they bid to honour, and forbid dishonour; they perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and they obey God and his Messenger. Those - upon them God will have mercy; God is All-mighty, All wise."

Verses 98-102 of Al-i-Imran stress the need for vanguards and leadership (whether male or female) for the furtherance of the Islamic movement and the unity of the lay society: "And hold you fast to God's bond, together and do not scatter; remember God's blessing upon you when you were enemies, and He brought your hearts together, so that by His blessing you became brothers. You were upon the brink of a pit of Fire, and He delivered you from it; even so God makes clear to you his signs; so haply you will be guided. Let there be one nation of you, calling to good, and bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour; those are the prosperers. Be not as those who scattered and fell into variance..."

Society of Equality & Fraternity (Qest)

The Quran describes the aim of social development as the establishment of Qest, justice. Within society, Towhid, or monotheism (oneness), means establishing social justice. In terms of human relationships, it means equality, including between women and men: "Indeed, We sent our Messengers with the clear signs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that human beings might uphold justice."28

Thus, establishing social justice is the primary objective of Islam, and women and men are equally called upon to work towards its realization. This is a general law, that determines the relations between women and men and between social groupings. It is hence the responsibility of the leadership of any society in any given time, namely the enlightened women and men of that society, to strive for social justice and human equality, consistent with the social context and historic period in which they live.

It can be said with certainty that what was considered to be the most radical implementation of social justice and Qest during the Prophet's time - an era of tribal economic and social relations, and of a patriarchal slave society - cannot be considered sufficient in later stages of social and historical development. There must be change, in the same way that social justice took on new form and meaning in the decades after the Middle Ages, when capitalism surfaced, and especially after such great developments as the French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and independence of the United States. On the threshold of the 21st century, when the world in many ways is taking on a totally different look, social justice must attain new heights, and the equality between women and men must enter the most progressive phase of its evolution. This is the meaning of the enduring Qest, called for in the Quran and true Islamic thinking.

It is, to put it mildly, naive to expect that the Prophet of Islam could have implemented all the social and humanistic ideals and objectives of Islam in the society which he ironically led.29 The reality is that the society of his time consisted of a set of economic and social relationships based on slavery, the level of social consciousness was quite low, and his contemporaries could not tolerate more than what was accomplished. Even those values and rights which the Prophet introduced, reflecting the depth of his thinking and justice-oriented radicalism, were met with bewilderment, opposition and resistance by his disciples. The society was not ready for more, as best attested by the fact that after the Prophet's death, it regressed.

One can conclude from the absence of women in the Saqifeh Council30, which decided on the issue of leadership after the death of the Prophet, from their non-existence in the social and political arenas after the Prophet's demise, and to history's silence on this matter, that the succeeding patriarchal system never followed the Prophet's example. After the Prophet, we have only glimpses of the activities of the leading women of their time: the profound protests of the Prophet's daughter, Fatima, to the politics of her contemporaries; and the rebellion of Zeinab, Fatima's daughter, after the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the Prophet's grandson. Subsequent women's movements, for several centuries, were clandestine.

Muhammed's Revolution & Women

Although some believe that among some early Arab nomadic tribes, a matriarchal system was dominant, they nevertheless acknowledge that the ruling system was patriarchal. Human rights and an independent identity for women were not recognized. The most important short-term objective of the Prophet was to establish social institutions and a civil constitution giving women an independent human identity, so that they would be recognized in the same way that men were, and no longer defined as slaves, cattle or a man's property.

The Quran says: "... to men is allotted what they earn And to women whath they earn..."31, that, "It is not lawful for you to take of what you have given them....,"32 and that, "O believers, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; neither debar them, that you may go off with part of wha you have given them..."33 These are examples of the steps taken to create an independent identity for women. It is significant that the last verse was revealed in Medina, after the formation of a civil society. Previously, it had been impossible for the Prophet to actually implement such bans. What meager property a woman might have was considered fair game, and no safeguards protected even her own body. Taken as a whole, the historical evidence indicates that sexual exploitation dominated the culture of the day, and prostitution was well established in the economic and social system. A verse in the Quran delivered the first blow to this status quo: "But force not your young wives to prostitutions when they desire chastity."34

In offering an interpretation of verses 151, 152 and 153 of An'am (Cattle), the book, Ad Dar Al Manshur... , quotes Ebadeh ibn As-Samet, the renowned disciple of the Prophet, as saying: "The Prophet of God addressed his selfless disciples who had helped him during the difficult years in Mecca and the Hijrat, asking them: `Which one of you will swear allegiance (Bei'at) with me on these three verses.'" The first part of this passage, on which the Prophet asked for and received a solemn oath, says: "Come, I will recite you what your Lord has forbidden you: that you associate not anything with Him and to be good to your parents, and not to slay your children because of poverty; We will provide you and them; and that you not approach not any decency outward or inward, and that you slay not the soul God has made sacred..."

It is understood that when the Prophet requested a special oath from his disciples, it meant that the issue was difficult for even his closest followers to accept and uphold. The children murdered on the pretext of poverty included daughters. The pretext was also applied to girls who were thought to bring shame upon the family, or daughters who might be coveted by someone incompatible with the family's stature. These were serious matters, and the victims were buried alive. Historians write that some men prepared a small ditch prior to the birth of their children, and in the event that the baby was a girl, they put her in the ditch and poured dirt on her until she died."... and when any of them is given the good tidings of a girl, his face is darkened and he chokes inwardly, as he hides him from the people because of the evil of the good tidings that have been given unto him, whether he shall preserve it in humiliation, or trample it into the dust..."35

Therefore, the first order of business for the Prophet was the fight to eradicate this inhuman tradition, ensuring women and girls' right to life. The issue had not been totally resolved even by the last days of the Prophet's life, when some Muslims were still complaining about his practice of putting his female grandchildren, (including Zeinab, born to Fatima five years before the Prophet's death) on his lap and kissing and caressing them. Clearly, the society in which he lived could only take so much, and the Prophet faced serious obstacles in changing the status quo of women.

A glimpse of the situation of a mature woman at the time is provided by Abol Fotouh Razi in his book interpreting the Quran. Discussing verse 23 of the chapter Nisaa, Razi writes: "During the Age of Jaheliat (ignorance) and early Islam, it was customary when a married man died, for one of his male heirs to place a piece of cloth on the widow or on her tent, thereby becoming her owner. The woman would be left on her own, without any rights or income, until such time as the man wished to sleep with her. If this was not the case, the man would seek compensation from the woman for letting her go, or would keep her as a slave until she died."

Under such circumstances, it is clear that the mere mention of independent legal rights for women would be met with resistance. The Prophet, however, realized the equivalent of a bill of women's rights. His male contemporaries were put off by what they considered his bizarre practice of taking women so seriously as to accept their conversion to Islam, let alone the conversions of slave women, a subject of ridicule by the powerful men of the time. But not only did the Prophet of God accept women, the Message of God revealed to him addressed women. Gradually, verses were revealed which spoke of women's status and rights in the family and society, and finally verses about the equal status and rights of women and men.

Women's Dignity in Islam

Women whose human status had gone unrecognized in the savage patriarchal society, arose during Muhammed's great revolution. The Quran declares that rights must be taken, and not given: "God changes not what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves..."36 The Prophet, therefore, was preparing the ground for women to part take in their own liberation and fashion their destiny. The revolution which began by banning the burying of live children, subsequently recognized women's civil and economic independence, "... to men is allotted what they earn And to women whath they earn..."37 and opened new frontiers. Muhammed's revolution had to simultaneously move forward in the cultural realm, creating basic social institutions and contracts to safeguard women's human dignity and honor. In an era dominated by sexual exploitation and insecurity, strengthening familial relationships and the rights of the family was an important step forward. In the absence of such safeguards, sexual exploitation would undermine the realization of women's new bill of rights.

The Prophet steadily tightened the restrictions against exploitation of women. One of the most radical policies was to protect women from the charge of adultery, very prevalent at the time. If the slightest suspicions were aroused, women would be murdered outright. The Prophet accomplished this in a three-staged approach, where, finally, falsely accusing someone of adultery was recorded among the eight mortal sins.

The first step was to ban the hurling of the charge. On the eve of the Hijrat to Medina and the creation of the new society, the Prophet signed a number of agreements, known as the Aqabeh agreements, with those who had come from Yathreb (Medina). In these agreements, the Prophet focused more than anything else on the rights of women, specifying that the Muslims would "Refrain from adultery, not kill their girl children, not hurl accusations, not steal, and not commit improper deeds."

During the sixth year after the Hijrat, the campaign against violations of women's dignity entered a new phase. Previously, there was no specific punishment for accusing and defaming women, although owing to an unprecedented guarantee, that is four credible witnesses, the charges themselves were rejected. A woman's reputation and honor, nevertheless, were still at risk. Verses 23-25 of Noor (Light) rectified this problem: "Surely those who cast it upon women in wedlock that are heedless but believing shall be accursed in the present world and the world to come; and there awaits them a mighty chastisement." Verse four of the same chapter states: "And those who cast it up on women in wedlock, and then bring not four witnesses, scourge them with eighty stripes, and do not accept any testimony of theirs ever; those - they are ungodly,..."

The importance of this punishment can be better understood when compared with the punishment for adultery, which is specified in verse two of the same chapter: "The fornicatress and the fornicator - scourge each one of them a hundred stripes..." This punishment would, it should be recalled, only be administered after four witnesses had testified to the occurrence of the act, as previously mentioned in verse 15 of Nisaa. In this chapter, however, the punishment of the accuser had not yet been specified, nor had the punishment for the woman. Her life had been spared from revenge by her relatives, and she was banished and confined to the home, but there were no punishments for men who committed adultery.

Thus, from the time of the call to Islam and the pact on the eve of the Hijrat to refrain from adultery and accusing women, until the revelation of Noor, three other protective steps were taken: The arbitrary punishment of women by their relatives was banned, but since this was a matter of family honor, the falsely accused woman had no protection. Men who committed adultery were not held accountable. The second step was to make the punishment proportionate, and to equalize the punishment of convicted men and women. In the third stage, punishment for the accuser strengthened the ban on falsely accusing women of adultery, a prevalent practice aggravated by tribal vengeance.

There were many obstacles to the progress of the new legal institutions on women's rights. Newly converted Muslims, who readily sacrificed their property and their lives in the path of the Prophet, adamantly resisted the change in age- old values and ruthless patriarchal traditions. An example is to be found in one of the Prophet's disciples, named Sa'd ibn Ebadeh. He was the chief of the Bani Al-Khazraj tribe, one of the two great tribes in Yathreb, renamed Medina. Akrame ibn Abbas writes that after the prohibition and punishment for unsubstantiated charges of adultery were revealed, a furious Sa'd ibn Ebadeh went to the Prophet and protested: "If I were to find my wife while another man is on top of her, do I not have the right to set her free before I can find four witnesses? I swear to God that I cannot find four witnesses before the man has finished and left the scene. And if I reveal what I have seen, I will be lashed 80 times." The Prophet turned to the Ansar (residents of Yathreb who had converted to Islam) and said: "Did you hear what your leader was saying?" They replied: "Do not blame him. He is a possessive person." Then Sa'd told the Prophet: "I swear to God that the verses are God's words, but I am baffled."

A short while later Sa'd's cousin, Helal ibn Omayeh arrived. He had found his wife with a man who had been working in his garden. He rushed to the Prophet and said: "When I went to my wife at night, I found a man next to her. I saw this with my own two eyes and my own two ears." So appalled was the Prophet by these words that he became visibly angry. Helal went on: "I see the signs of anger on your face, but God knows I am telling the truth and I am hopeful that God will provide an opening." It was thought that the Prophet wanted to have Helal punished. The Ansar were saddened that Helal shared the same view as Sa'd, and they were wondering whether he would actually be punished. Then another verse was revealed: "And those who cast it up on their wives having no witness except themselves, the testimony of one of them shall be to testify by God four times that he is truthful, and a fifth time, that the curse of God shall be upon him, if he should be of liars. It shall avert her the chastisement if she testify by God four times that he is of the liars, and a fifth time, that the wrath of God shall be upon her, if he should be of the truthful. But for God's bounty to you and His mercy and that God turns, and is All- wise...."38

This new form of irreversible divorce, which the Prophet implemented, became known as reciprocal damning. Women were given several concessions. First, the woman's life was spared. Second, the element of shame in the accusation was rejected, and the honor of the woman upheld. Third, in a question involving honor, of tremendous importance, a woman was given the right to challenge her husband, to save her life and honor, and to be free forever of the influence of a husband who had accused her of adultery.

This was only one aspect of the great revolution which the Prophet of Towhid embarked upon to establish a code of freedoms for women. Muhammed had not come to institutionalize the whip, execution and stoning; the Prophet of God had come to show human beings the unlimited prospects of mercy and compassion, and to remove the shackles of ignorance, oppression and tyranny from their minds and bodies. In Muhammed's religion, falsely accusing women of adultery was designated as one of the eight mortal sins, considered far more important than not performing prayers or other religious rituals. Islam put the punishment for false accusations of adultery on a par with the punishment for adultery. What is more, it made conviction conditional upon the testimony of four witnesses. Was this approach, adopted by the Prophet, intended to expand the punishments, or to eliminate, once and for all, such complaints' referral to the courts?

After Islam instituted the charter for women's freedoms, it set about safeguarding these gains by preventing male tyranny in the family, prohibiting various unjust methods of divorce, and limiting polygamy with an eye toward monogamy.

Independence in Economic Affairs

Earlier in this chapter, we saw that after the death of the husband, the wife or wives were inherited. A deceased man's property was taken over by his tribe. The little that history has recorded suggests that the situation of women in Iran and the Byzantine Empire was no better, with the exception of concubines of the kings and nobility. A woman's right to inheritance, set down in the Quran, was unprecedented. It came about in the second half of the third year of the Hijrat, after the end of the difficult Battle of Ohod. When the verses concerning inheritance for daughters and women were revealed,39 there was an uproar and men began to protest. Ibn Abbas, the renowned disciple of the Prophet, said: "When the verses about inheritance came, a number of people were upset about them, saying they give the wife one- fourth and one-eighth, and the daughter half, and the son his share, even though none of them fight with the enemy and capture war booty." Ibn Abbas adds: "In the Age of Jaheliat, inheritance was given to the fighting man only. They would give it to the eldest."

Writing about the events after the Battle of Ohod in his book Almaghazi, Vaghedi quotes Jaber ibn Abdollah as saying; "We were talking with the Prophet about the Battle of Ohod and remembering the Muslims who had been killed, including Sa'd ibn Rabi'. The Prophet told us to get up and leave. There were 20 of us when we arrived in the neighborhood where Sa'd ibn Rabi' lived and the Prophet spoke to us about him and asked God to give him peace. The wife of Sa'd got up and said `O Prophet, Sa'd was killed in Ohod and his brother came and took his inheritance. Two of his daughters are left without any wealth. And you, as the Prophet, know that women are taken as wives on the basis of their dowries.' The Prophet prayed for them and said, `Nothing has been revealed on this matter.'" Jaber adds: "When we returned, the Prophet went to his home. We saw him assume the position [he was known to take] when the message of revelation would come, and he was sweating on his forehead. Then he called for Sa'd's wife, and when she came, he asked her, "Where is your daughters' cousin? Ask him to come." The Prophet then sent some one to bring Sa'd's brother. When he arrived, the Prophet told him, `Give two-thirds of your inheritance to the daughters of Sa'd, and one eighth to your brother's wife. You can do what you want with the remainder of the inheritance.'"

It is obvious how progressive it was to thus divide wealth among women and men in a male-dominated society where women had no economic standing. It should be recalled that this was an era of slavery. It is also evident that the loyalists to the former system would strongly oppose such radical reforms. The significance of this recognition of women's economic independence can hardly be over-stated, in light of the fact that today, 14 centuries after the advent of Islam, in some western countries, women are in certain respects still economically and legally dependent on their husbands, and do not have exclusive rights to their own property.

Furthermore, the dynamism of Islam's teachings leaves no room for doubt that hundreds of years after the emergence of the Prophet, Islam bears a message of comprehensive economic equality between women and men. It is on the basis of these teachings that the Mojahedin, a democratic Muslim movement, not only call for equality between women and men, but believe that for a certain period of time, affirmative action must be taken to compensate for the economic and social oppression of women.

Women in Social Struggle

Despite the general absence of women in history books, we come across the names of more than 150 women during the time of the Prophet. Previously we spoke about the right of women to take part in the leadership of a society, a right affirmed in the verses of the Quran. Nowhere in the Quran are women denied the opportunity to hold any position of responsibility in any area of the society. In the young society designed and built by the Prophet, it appears that women's entry into the turbulent social scene began with their inroads into the most "masculine" sphere of activity, namely battle.

Um Sanan, one of these women, says: "When the Prophet chose to go to the Battle of Khaibar, I went to him and told him, `O Prophet of God, I will accompany you to your destination. I prefer to provide water and treat the ill and the wounded, if there are any, and I hope there will be none.' The Prophet replied: `With God's blessings, you may come along. You will be accompanied by other women, from your own tribe and from others, who also sought permission to come. You can accompany them or us.' When he conquered Khaibar, the Prophet gave us a share of the war booty. I returned along with his wife, Um Salameh. When we entered Medina, I was riding on a camel that belonged to the Prophet. Um Salameh told me that the Prophet had given me the camel I was riding."40

In the same book, Vaqedi writes: "The Prophet left Medina for Khaibar. He was accompanied by 10 Jews, with whose help he fought at Khaibar and whom he gave war booty equivalent to that of the Muslim fighters. There were 20 women in his entourage which left for the battle scene, including Um Salameh and Safieh (the wife and aunt of the Prophet)." He quotes Umayeh Ghafari (bent Gheis) as saying, "Along with a group from the Bani Ghaffar tribe, we went to see the Prophet and told him, `We will accompany you in the direction you are going, and will treat the wounded and help as much as we can.' The Prophet accepted and said, `With God's blessings.'"

At the time, his decision was probably all the more unfathomable, because women who did not appear capable of accomplishing much were also allowed onto the field of battle. Omayeeh Ghaffari adds: "I was only a young girl and the Prophet put me on board a four-legged animal on top of some equipment." In her old age, she also described this incident to another women, named Um Ali Bent Al Haakam. She referred to the particular difficulties that go along with adolescence, and said that the Prophet's attention to her condition amid the fighting had been astounding. She said that after the end of the fighting, which lasted for a week, the Prophet gave her a necklace from the war booty which she kept until the last days of her life.

Khaibar, the wife of Abdollah ibn Enis, was also among the mojahedin women. She was pregnant and gave birth during the fighting. When the child's father brought the news of this unusual and problematic birth to the Prophet, God's Messenger gave him some instructions about his wife's nutritional needs and care. The daughter of Assem ibn Odai was also born during a battle. They named her Sahleh (easy).

Obviously, the Prophet's intention in encouraging these women, especially the young and pregnant, to go to the scene of battle was other than to advance the cause. He sought a higher goal, namely the struggle and victory of these women over the stereotype of being the weaker sex oppressed by a patriarchal society.

Khaibar may have been the high point of women's active presence in their society, but not the beginning. The turning point had come with the Battle of Ohod, which occurred during the third year of Hijrat. During the battle, a lack of discipline by some men had turned a victory into a defeat, and many renowned men fled the field. More than 70 out of a force of several hundred were killed. At the height of defeat and despair, a number of women rose to the occasion. Among them were 14 relatives of the Prophet, including his daughter Fatima, who was only 10 and carried water and food on her back for the combatants and treated the wounded. More importantly, the women took up arms and fought, especially to defend the Prophet's life.

On the eve of the Prophet's Hijrat to Medina, when the people of Medina secretly signed a pact with Muhammed, two women, Nosaibeh and Esmah, were among them and, like the men, pledged to defend him with their property and lives. Nosaibeh took part in the Battle of Ohod. She took charge of defending the Prophet, and killed two enemy soldiers with her own hands. She received 13 wounds in this battle, which took a year to heal.

Price for Women's Liberaty

The attractions of the new religion had caught the eyes of many in Mecca, who kept their religion a secret. Others were so enthusiastic that at their first opportunity, they left Mecca and migrated to Medina. This threatened the sense of security among the leaders in Mecca, who were afraid of losing their relatives and especially their slaves. Thus, in the Hodaibieh peace treaty, in return for their promise not to attack the Muslims and their allies, they included the provision stipulating that the Prophet would return to them those who had escaped from Mecca. The Prophet accepted this condition, but the treaty had just been signed and the Prophet had not yet returned from Hodaibieh when a major incident put the whole treaty at risk.

As the Prophet's great disciple, Ibn Abbas, recorded it, Sa'bieh, the daughter of Hareth Eslemi, had joined with the Muslims. Her husband, from the Bani Mahzzom tribe, went to the Prophet and citing the agreement which had just been signed, demanded that his wife be returned. Giving refuge to this woman was a critical decision for the Prophet. Verse 10 of the chapter Mumtahana (The Woman Tested) settled the matter: "O believers, when believing women come to you as emigrants, test them. God knows very well their belief. Then if you know them to be believers, return them not to unbelievers. They are not permitted to unbelievers, nor are unbelievers permitted to them. Give the unbelievers what they have expended..." To take care of the matter of the agreement, Muhammed replied: "We have agreed to return all men, not women." In the agreement it says, "any man who came to you must be returned." In accordance with the verse, the woman's dowry was returned to her husband, but she stayed with the Prophet and was not sent back.

For the next two years after Sa'bieh's migration, when the Meccans violated the pact and the Muslims conquered Mecca, other women left Mecca for Medina. They included Omayeh, daughter of Bashar; Um Kulthum, daughter of Aqabah; and Zeinab, the Prophet's eldest daughter from Khadijeh. Except for Zeinab, whose husband later joined the Muslims and converted to Islam, the other Mohajerin women remarried in Medina.

Migrating despite great dangers, letting go of the old religion and traditions, leaving husbands and family, and remarrying within the new set of relations were truly giant strides undertaken by the women inspired by the message of Islam. It was a unique opportunity to make great progress toward women's emancipation. For his part, in accepting them and especially in sanctioning their unilateral divorces from former husbands, the Prophet took great risks and paid a heavy price for their liberation.

Oath of Allegiance with all Women

After the conquest of Mecca, in the eighth year of the Hijrat, the Prophet of Islam performed the oath of allegiance with all the women in Mecca. Many women were still enemies of Islam, but Muhammed nevertheless made a pact with them, the provisions of which are stated in verse 12 of the chapter Mumtahana: "O Prophet, when believing women come to thee, swearing fealty to thee upon the terms that they will not associate with God anything, and will not steal, neither commit adultery, nor slay their children, nor bring a calumny they forge between their hands and their feet, nor disobey thee in aught honourable,..."

According to the prevailing tribal system, Bei'at by the head of the tribe sufficed, and there was no need for each and every member to perform the oath of allegiance. Individual pledges by leading figures had political significance. Therefore, the Bei'at with the women of Mecca was meant to change these women, who were subordinate to the system, into independent, emancipated women. Independent of their husbands, fathers or their tribes, they individually made pledges and thus accepted responsibility. This opened their path to progress. The provisions of the pact also attest to the Prophet's attention to the liberation of these women. The Prophet himself, and not the Muslim society, were the reciprocal party to this oath. To encourage women to make commitments and become emancipated, the greatest moral capital of Islam and the new system, the Prophet himself, had entered into the fray.

A review of the history of Muhammed's movement leaves no doubt the Prophet of Islam took the women's issue very seriously, an approach later emulated by his direct descendants.


1. The Lion and Sun, the Iranian Resistance's Journal, July 1995, p. 8. Maryam Rajavi, addressing live via satellite a 15,000-strong audience of Iranians in Dortmund and milions of Iranians inside the country on 16 June 1995.

2. Ruhollah Moussavi al-Khomeini, Tahrir-ol Vasileh (Instrument of Writing), a collection of Khomeini's views and fatwas, (Iraq: 1963), vol. 2, p. 494.

3. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 492.

4. Ibid., p. 18.

5. Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 237 - 238

6. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 151.

7. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 316.

8. Ibid., p. 305.

9. Ibid., p. 327.

10. Ibid., pp. 289, 313. 11. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, interview in Ettela'at, 7 June 1986.

12. Hashemi Rafsanjani, interview in Kayhan, 26 April 1984.

13. Ibid., 3 May 1984.

14. Abbas Abbasi, parliament deputy, Jomhouri Islami, 8 October 1994.15. Mohammad Yazdi, Head of the Judiciary, Ressalat,

15 December 1986.

16. The Quran, interperted, by Arthur J. Arberry, (Qum: 1962, Centre of Islamic Studies), Sura LXI, Saff (Ranks), Verse 8, p. 581.

17. Jaheliat is the Arabic word for ignorance, referring to era in the Arabian Peninsula before the rise of Muhammed in 611 A.D.

18. Ibid., Sura XIIX: Hujurat (Apartments), Verse 13, p. 538.

19. Ibid., Sura LIII: Najm (Star), Vesre 41, p. 552.

20. Be'that is a reference to Muhammed's designation as the Prophet of Islam in 611 A.D. He was 40 years old at the time.

21. Hijrat is the Arabic word for migration which Muhammed and his disciples undertook in 624 A.D. from Mecca to Medina after it became impossible to spread the word of Islam in Mecca and following an invitation by the Jewish tribes in Medina to the Prophet to set up base in that city.

22. In Arabic the expression "Umm-e Abiha" (the mother of her father) reflects the Prophet's respect for his daughter, Fatima and her stature in the eyes of Muhammed.

23. Yazdi, op. cit.

24. Ibid.

25. Khomeini, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 13.

26. Ibid., p. 447.

27. The views of the Marjas (religious leaders) in Qom in February 1952, Saheefeh Noor (The Book of Light), vol. 1., p. 31.

28. The Quran, op. cit., Sura LVII: Hadid (Iron), Verse 25, p. 567.

29. The mandate of the Prophets is essentially an invitation to the religion and far beyond leading the society. But the Prophet of Islam had the mandate to establish an Islamic society.

30. Saqifeh Bani Sa'edeh was a council formed after the Prophet's death to determine the leadership succeeding him. 31. The Quran, op. cit., Sura IV: Nisaa (Women), Verse 32, p. 77.

32. Ibid., Sura II: Baqara (Cow), Verse 229, p. 32.

33. Ibid., Sura IV: Nisaa (Women), Verse 23, p. 75.

34. Ibid., Sura XXIV: Noor (Light), Verse 32, p. 356.

35. Ibid., Sura XVI: Nahl (Bee), Verse 58,59, p. 264.

36. Ibid., Sura XI: Ra'ad (Thunder), Verse 11, p. 240.

37. Ibid., Sura IV: Nisaa (Women), Verse 32, p. 77.

38. Ibid., Sura XXIV: Noor (Light), Verse 6-10, pp. 352-353.

39. Ibid., Sura IV: Nisaa (Women), Verse 11, p. 73.

40. Abridged from the Book Al-Maghazi by Muhammed ibn Umar ibn Vaqedi.

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