Woman and her Rights
Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahheri, born 1920, was one of the most versatile Islamic scholars and prolific writers of recent times. He was deeply rooted in traditional learning and enamoured of its exponents. He was a thinker who had fully absorbed a rigorous philosophical training. His work is marked by a philosophical clarity that particularly qualified him to deal with the fundamental problem of religious thought that forms the subject-matter of this book.
Ayatullah Mutahhery received his elementary education in theology from his father, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn in his home town, Fariman. When the Ayatullah was twelve years of age he joined the Educational Centre at Mashad and pursued his studies there for five years. Then he proceeded to Qum, the great centre of Islamic education. He stayed there for fifteen years and completed his education in Islamic Beliefs and Jurisprudence under the supervision of the renowned philosopher Allama Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, Imam Khomayni and many other distinguished scholars. Then he migrated to Tehran.
During the period of his education the Ayatullah felt that the communists wanted to change the sacred religion of Islam and destroy its very spirit by mixing their atheistic views with the Islamic philosophy and interpreting the verses of the Qur'an in a materialistic manner. Of course, communism was not the only thing which received Ayatullah's attention. He also wrote on exegesis of the Qur'an, philosophy, ethics, sociology, history and many other subjects. In all his writings the real object he had in view was to give replies to the objections raised by others against Islam, to point out the shortcomings of other schools of thought and to manifest the greatness of Islam. He believed that in order to prove the falsity of Marxism and other ideologies like it, it was necessary not only to comment on them in a scholarly manner but also to present the real image of Islam.
Ayatullah Mutahheri wrote assiduously and continuously from his student days right up to 1979, the year of his assassination. Much of his work has been published in and outside Iran. He has written a number of books not in accordance with his personal interest or predilection but with his perception of its need. Wherever a book was lacking in some vital topic of contemporary Islamic interest Mutahheri sought to supply it.
The activities of the Ayatullah were intolerable for the followers of the atheistic schools and they, therefore, decided to remove him from the scene by terroristic methods. Eventually they succeeded on the 1st of May, 1979. His martyrdom was a great tragedy. When the sad news was conveyed to Imam Khomayni he could not control his tears. In his condolence message he said: "I have been deprived of a dear son of mine. I am lamenting upon the death of one who was the fruit of my life."
Thousands of Muslims escorted his funeral. He was laid to rest in Qum in the precincts of the Holy shrine of Lady Fatimah Ma'sumah.
Ayatullah Mutahhery was a popular figure in the religious and literary circles of Iran. He served in the Tehran University as the Head of the Department of Theology and Islamic Learnings.
At the time of his martyrdom he was the president of the Constitutional Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran and was performing his duties in a very befitting manner.
His works have been translated and published in French, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and English. The Islamic Seminary has had the honour of publishing some of them.
In the Name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful
The requirements of our time make it essential to re-evaluate many vital questions and not to be content with their former appraisal. The system of conjugal rights and family responsibilities is one such question.
For certain reasons, to which we will refer later, it has been presumed that in this age the basic question in this field is that of woman's liberty and the equality of her rights with those of man, all other questions being the by-products of this main question.
However, according to our view, the most fundamental question, or at least one of the most fundamental questions, in respect of family rights, is whether the domestic system is independent of all other social systems and has its own special criteria and logic, or it is just one out of many social systems and the same criteria and philosophy apply to it as are applied to all other social systems.
The basis of the doubt is that, on the one hand, in this system the main parties concerned belong to two opposite sexes, and on the other, it involves the propagation and procreation of the progeny. Nature has made the physical characteristics as well as the reproductive organs of the two parties dissimilar. Domestic society is semi-natural and semi-contractual. It is a middle way between an instinctive society like that of bees or termites, whose rights and duties are pre-determined by nature, with no possibility of breaking any rules, and a contractual society like a civic society of human beings, which has a natural or instinctive aspect.
As we know, the ancient philosophers regarded family life as an independent branch of practical wisdom, and believed in a separate standard for this part of human life. Plato, in his book, The Republic, Aristotle in his book, The Politics, and Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna), in his book, Al-Shifa have also dealt with this subject from this very angle as well.
It is a controversial question whether the natural and innate rights of man and woman are similar or dissimilar; in other words, whether the rights, accorded by nature to human beings, are mono-sexual or bi-sexual, and whether male or female sexuality in any way, affects, or does not affect, human rights and obligations.
In the Western world, a movement for human rights emerged in the 17th century, in the wake of scientific and philosophical movements. The writers and thinkers of the 17th and the 18th centuries made commendable efforts in giving currency to their ideas regarding the natural, undeniable and inalienable human rights. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu, who belong to this category of writers and thinkers, are great benefactors of human society, and it may be said that their services are in no way inferior to those of the great inventors and discoverers.
Their basic idea was that human beings have a series of natural and inborn rights and freedoms which are absolutely inalienable and untransferable and cannot be renounced by anyone under any pretext. All people, including rulers and subjects, white and black, rich and poor, are equal.
The result of this social and intellectual movement first manifested itself in England, then in America and afterwards in France. Revolutions were brought about; systems were changed and charters were signed. Gradually, the movement spread into other countries.
In the 19th century, new economic, social and political ideas emerged in the field of human rights. New developments led to the appearance of socialism, the participation of workers in industrial profits, and the transfer of government from the society of capitalists to defenders of labour class.
Till the end of the 19th century, all talks and whatever practical steps were taken in human rights sphere, were mostly confined to the rights of the nations as regards the governments and the employees versus the employers. In the 20th century, the question of women's rights was raised and for the first time in ~948, the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the equality of rights between man and woman in clear terms.
All social movements in the West since the 17th century had revolved around liberty and equality. As the movement for women's rights was the latest in the series, and the history of women's lot in Europe, from this point of view, was extraordinarily bitter, the UN's Declaration of Human Rights talked of nothing but liberty and equality.
The protagonists of this movement maintained that it was complementary to the movement for human rights. They held that without ensuring women's liberty and equality it was meaningless to talk of human liberty and human rights. They further asserted that the main cause of all domestic troubles was that woman was deprived of her liberty and equality with man, and that all domestic problems would be solved once this aspect was taken care of.
What, in this connection, was overlooked was what we have described as 'the fundamental question regarding the system of family rights', that is, whether this system is, or is not, independent of other social systems, and whether it has or has not, different criteria and logic. Attention was concentrated only on the general principles of liberty and equality, and the only point taken into consideration was that of natural and inalienable human rights. It was argued that woman, as a human being, was entitled to all the rights enjoyed by man.
In certain chapters of this book, we have adequately discussed the question as to what are the sources from which natural rights are derived. There, we have shown that the basis of all natural rights, is nature itself. If man has special rights, which a horse, a sheep, a bird and a fish does not have, that is due to his nature and the way he has been created. If all human beings are equal in the matter of natural rights and all must live a free life, that is because that order is a part of their very making. The intellectuals, who support the idea of liberty and equality being an inborn right, have no argument other than this. Hence, in the matter of family rights also, we should be guided by nature itself.
Now, let us see why due attention was not paid to the question which we have described as fundamental. Has it been established in the light of modern scientific knowledge that the difference between man and woman is simply organic, and does not affect their basic physical and spiritual beings or their rights and obligations, and that is why it has been ignored in the modern social philosophy?
In fact, the case is quite contrary. In the light of scientific research and biological and psychological discoveries, it has been proved that significant differences exist between the two sexes. In this book, we have discussed this question and have quoted the views of the biologists and the physiologists in this respect. It is surprising that in spite of all that, this fundamental question was ignored. Perhaps apathy on this vital question is due to the hasty development of the women's liberation movement. That is why, while this movement has redressed certain grievances of women, in certain other respects it has caused calamity to them as well as to the human society as a whole. We shall see, later in this book, that the Western woman, till the end of the 19th century, was denied the most elementary human rights. It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that the people of the West thought of making amends for the past. As this movement came in the wake of other movements
for equality and liberty, they expected every miracle from these two words. They forgot that equality and liberty related to the relations between human beings, as human beings only. No doubt, woman, as a human being, is born free like any other human being and in that capacity she has equal rights. But woman is a human being with certain peculiarities, as man is a human being with certain other peculiarities. The traits of their characters are different and their mentality is distinct. This difference is not the result of any geographical, historical or social factors, but lies in the very making of them. Nature has purposely made them different and any action taken against the intention of nature would produce a disastrous result. As we have taken inspiration from nature, with regard to the liberty and equality of human beings, in the same way we should seek guidance from nature itself to decide whether the rights of man and woman are of the same kind, or of two different kinds, and whether domestic society is, or is not, at least a semi-natural society. It is, at least, a point worth considering whether the bisexuality of animals, including human beings, is accidental or a part of their creative design i.e. whether the sex differences are only superficial and organic or, as Alexis Carell has pointed out, every cell of the human body is stamped with sex, whether man and woman have, or have not, separate missions to perform and whether rights are monosexual or bisexual. The same question may be asked about morals, education, punishments, responsibilities and missions.
During the women's liberation movement attention was not paid to the point that, besides equality and liberty, there existed other questions also. Liberty and equality are no doubt essential, but they are not all in all everything in entirety. Equality of rights is one thing, but the similarity of rights quite another. The equality of man's and woman's rights from the viewpoint of material and moral values is quite different from the uniformity or similarity of their rights. During this movement, intentionally or unintentionally, equality has been used in the sense of similarity and thus quality has overshadowed quantity. It was stressed that a woman is a human being, but it was forgotten that she is a woman too.
In fact, this indifference was not the outcome of mere haste; there were other factors also, which impelled the exploitation of woman in the name of liberty.
One of them was the excessive greed of the industrialists, who wanted to lure woman from her house to a factory, in order to exploit her economic potentiality. For this purpose, they advocated woman's rights, her economic independence and her liberty and equality of rights with those of man. It was they who secured official recognition to these demands. Will Durant, in chapter IX of his book, "The Pleasures of Philosophy", after mentioning certain humiliating theories about woman advanced by Aristotle, Neitzsche, Schopenhauer and some Jewish scriptures and referring to the fact that during the French Revolution, though there was some talk about woman's liberty, there was practically no change, says that till the end of the 19th century woman hardly had any right to respect, to which man could he legally bound. Then he discusses the cases which led to the change in the situation in the 20th century. He says that the liberty of woman is a by-product of the industrial revolution.
He adds that female workers were cheaper and the employers preferred them to strong-headed and costly male workers. A century ago, it was hardly possible for men to get a job, but there were advertisements asking them to send their women-folk and children to the factories. The first step towards the emancipation of women was taken in 1882, when a law was enacted according to which the women of Great Britain acquired an unprecedented privilege of keeping with themselves whatever money they earned.(Dr. Ali Shayagan, in his commentary on the Iranian Civil Code, writes that the independence, in respect of property, which a woman enjoys now and which has been recognised by the Shi'ah law from the very beginning, did not exist in ancient Greece, Rome, Germany and till recently in most of the other countries. She, like a minor and a lunatic, was interdicted from the disposition of her property. In England, where previously her personality was completely merged with that of her husband, two laws were enacted, one in 1870 and the other in 1882, which removed inhibitions regarding the ownership of property by a married woman.) This law, described to be in keeping with high moral values of Christianity, was passed by the mill-owners and the House of Commons, to lure the women of England to the factories. Since that year, an irresistible desire to earn money has forced them to labour in stores and factories, and has relieved them of labour in household chores. (The Pleasures of Philosophy, pages 155 - 159).
With the development of machines and the ever-increasing growth of production it became necessary for the capitalists that, in order to impose their surplus products on the consumers, they should employ all audio-visual, intellectual, emotional, artistic and sexual means. To convert the consumers into consumption factors and to make them as powerless tools in consumption market they utilised the services of women, but not as simple workers participating in the process of production along with men. They, on the other hand, exploited their beauty, charm and sexual attraction and persuaded them to stake their honour and self-respect to be able to pervert the consumers and force their own will on them. Obviously all these things have been done in the name of freedom for women and their equality with men.
Politics also did not lag behind in utilising this factor. You regularly read such reports in the newspapers and magazines. Woman is exploited and her services are used to fulfil the objects of men under the cloak of liberty and equality.
Obviously the youth of the 20th century could not miss this valuable opportunity. In order to allure her, without shouldering conventional responsibilities, and to prey upon her freely, he, more than anyone else, shed crocodile tears for women's helplessness and the undue discrimination against her. To be able to make a greater contribution to this 'sacred cause', he went to the extent of delaying his own marriage till the age of 40 or even remaining single for ever.
No doubt, the present century has rectified many grievances of woman, but it has also brought many misfortunes to her. Why? Is she doomed for ever and has she no way out of this vicious circle? Is it not possible for her to get rid of all her old and new misfortunes at one and the same time? Are women condemned to one of these two sufferings and must be compelled to choose one of these two ways?
In fact, it is not at all necessary that she should continue to suffer. She suffered in the past, mostly because it was forgotten that she was a human being. She is suffering now because her womanhood, her inborn requirements, her natural rights and demands and her special capabilities have been ignored, intentionally or otherwise.
What is more surprising is that whenever there is a talk of natural and inborn differences between man and woman, some groups have tendency to regard such differences as a mark of imperfection of woman and the perfection of man. Many such presumptions lead them to believe that men have certain privileges, whereas women are deprived of them. They do not seem to know that there is no question of perfection and imperfection. It was not the intention of the Creator to make one of them perfect and privileged and the other defective and deprived.
These kind of people, basing their arguments on their such amazing logical and wise presumptions, assert that, as nature has been unkind to woman, we should not add insult to injury and, as such, it is more human to ignore her womanhood! But, in fact, it is the disregard of woman's natural position which mostly leads to her being deprived of her rights. If men form a front against women they say: "As both of us are equal, our work, responsibilities, rewards and retributions must be similar. You must share with us in our hard and heavy jobs, take wages according to the amount of the work you perform and must not expect any consideration, respect or protection. Bear your own expenses and share the maintenance of the children with us and make your own arrangements for defending yourselves against all perils. You should spend on us as much as we spend on you".
If such a situation arises, women may be the losers, because by nature they have a less productive capacity, while their consumption of wealth is more than men's. Their menstrual cycles, hardships of pregnancies, pains of childbirth and the nursing of children place them in a position in which they require men's protection. They are in need of more rights and cannot afford to have less commitments. This position is not peculiar to human beings. It applies to all animals living in pairs. In the case of all such animals the male instinctively protects its female partner.
Due attention to the natural position of man and woman and to their equality and common rights as human beings place woman in such a comfortable position that neither is her person injured nor her personality affected.
To have some idea of the results of ignoring the natural position of man and woman, let us see what those, who have gone the whole hog on this path, say and write.
Some time ago an interesting article appeared in the American magazine 'Coronet'. It is worth reading. It tells the story of a woman who, in the name of equality between man and woman, lost the concessions which she enjoyed previously. Previously, women were not required to lift weights of more than 25 lbs., whereas no such limit existed in the case of men. She says that now the working conditions in the General Motors Factory, in the State of Ohio, where nearly 2500 woman workers toil, have undergone a change. Now she finds herself maintaining a very powerful steam engine or cleaning a 250 lb. metal oven, placed there a few moments earlier by a strongly built male worker. She feels completely exhausted and knocked out. She further says that every minute she has to hook a 25 to 50 inch handle, weighing 35 lbs. Her hands are always swollen and aching.
This article later narrates the anxiety and anguish of another woman whose husband is a seaman in the Navy. Recently, the Admiral decided to detail a number of women to work along with men aboard the ships. She writes that one ship, with a crew of 40 women and 480 men, was sent on duty. When the ship returned after her first voyage the worst fears of the wives of the seamen were confirmed. Soon it was known that not only were there many romances aboard the ship, but most of the women had had sexual relations with more than one individual.
The article says that in the State of Florida the widows are very worried since the liberation of women, because a judge of this State has declared the law, visualising a subsidy of up to 500 dollars to widows to be unconstitutional on the ground that it was discriminative against men.
The article adds that the widows of Florida are the first to suffer. Others too will, in their turn, have a taste of liberation. For many the question is whether the women have lost more than they have gained. But it is no use crying over the spilt milk. The show has begun and the spectators have occupied their chairs. This year the 27th amendment to the constitution is scheduled to be passed and according to it, all privileges arising out of sex will be declared illegal. Thus, the fears expressed by Professor Ruscobound, of the Law College, Harvard, that Women's liberation is the origin of the regrettable consequences of the legal position of woman in America, will come true.
G. Irvin, a senator of North Carolina, after studying the American society, where men and women have equal rights, proposes that all family laws should be amended and men should no more be held responsible for maintaining the family.
According to this magazine, one Mrs. Macdaniel says that, on account of lifting heavy weights some female workers of her factory suffered from internal haemorrhage. These women want to return to their previous position. They want to be treated as women and not as mere workers. For the supporters of equality it may be a simple matter. They sit in their luxurious apartments and talk of equality, but they have never been to the factories, where most of the wage-earning women of this country have to work. Mrs. Macdaniel says that she does not want this equality, because she cannot do manly jobs. Men are physically stronger than women. She would prefer to give up the job rather than compete with men. The privileges which the working women of Ohio have lost, are far greater than the benefits they have gained under the protection of the workers' law. The women have lost their personality. It is not known what they have gained after emancipation. The position of a few women might have improved, but not of all.
This was the gist of that article. It is clear from its contents that these women are so fed up with the discomforts which have been imposed upon them in the name of liberty and equality that they have become allergic to these two words. They forget that the words are not to be blamed. Man and woman are two stars with their distinct orbits within which they should move. "It is not given to the sun to overtake the moon, nor can the night outpace the day.. Each in its orbit floats" (Surah Yasin, 36:40). Their happiness, as well as the happiness of the whole human society, depends on the condition that they move in their respective orbits. Liberty and equality can be useful only if both the sexes follow their normal and natural courses.
When we say that the question of women's rights at home and in the society should be re-evaluated and should not remain limited to previous evaluations, we mean that we should be guided by nature and should take into consideration all the bitter and sweet experiences of the past, especially of the present century. Only then will the movement for women's rights be reasonable in the real sense.
It is admitted by every friend and foe that the Holy Qur'an revived the rights of women. Even the adversaries admit, at least, that the Holy Qur'an at the time of its revelation took a long step towards improving the condition of women and restoring their human rights. The Qur'an revived the rights of woman as a human being and man's partner in humanity and human rights, but did not overlook her womanhood or man's manhood. In other words, the Qur'an did not overlook woman's nature. That is why complete harmony exists between the dictates of nature and the dictates of the Qur'an. The woman in the Qur'an is the same as the woman in nature. These two great divine books, one created and the other compiled, fully conform to each other. The main aim of our book is to highlight and explain this harmony.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The Problem of Family Relations
The problem of family relations in our times is not so simple that it may be resolved by arranging opinion polls of young boys and girls, or by holding seminars. It is neither confined to any one country, nor has any country so far claimed to have solved it successfully.
Will Durant, the well-known philosopher and author of "History of Civilization", says: "If we suppose that we are living in 2000 A.D. and want to know what was the biggest event of the first quarter of the 20th century, we shall notice that it was neither the First World War nor the Russian Revolution. It actually was the change in the position of women. History has seldom witnessed such an exciting change in such a short time. The home, which was the basis of our social organisation, the conjugal system, which prevented debauchery and gave stability to family life, and the complex moral law which helped us in advancing from barbarism to culture and orderly social behaviour, all have been upset by this revolutionary change".
Even now, when we are living in the third quarter of the 20th century, we, more than ever, hear complaints that the domestic system is collapsing, the basis of matrimony is weakening, the young men are evading marriage, the young women are hating motherhood, the relations between the parents (especially mothers) and the children are deteriorating, modern woman is getting vulgar, love is being replaced with cheap sensuality, cases of divorce are ever growing, the number of children born of unregistered wedlock or marital ties not formally legalised is on the increase and sincerity, respect and cordiality between husband and wife are becoming rare.
Should We Imitate the West or be Independent?
It is regrettable that some of the misinformed people think that the questions related to family relations are similar to the problems of guiding tourists, taxi-driving, bus-driving and laying the network of water-pipes and electricity, which were solved by the Europeans long ago and if we, because of our inefficiency or incompetency, still face any difficulties we should follow their example as soon as possible.
This is a mere illusion. The Europeans are the worse victims of the domestic problems than we are. They are suffering more and their intellectuals are more outspoken. Leaving aside the question of female education, they are in a mess in respect of all other questions. Their family life is far less happy than ours.
Compulsion of History
Some people think that the deterioration and corruption of the family system is due to women's liberation which, in turn, is the unavoidable result of industrial life and the progress of science and civilisation. It is a question of compulsion of history. We have no alternative but to submit to this corruption and chaos, and to forget all about the domestic happiness which we enjoyed before.
This way of thinking is very superficial and childish. We admit that industrial life has affected family relations and is still affecting it, but the main factors, which have disrupted family life in Europe, are two:
One of them consists of the foolish and cruel customs, usages and laws which were prevalent in Europe till a century ago. It was only at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that women in Europe secured the right of ownership of property. The other factor is that those who undertook to improve the position of women chose a wrong path: They intended to beautify her eyebrows, but deprived her of her eyesight!
More than the industrial life, the old laws of Europe and the reforms of the modernists are responsible for the present chaos and confusion. Hence, there is no compelling reason for us, the Muslims of the East, to go the way they have gone and fall into the morass into which they have fallen. We should be cautious about western life.
We should look at the western life cautiously. While utilising and acquiring their sciences, industries, techniques and some commendable and imitable social regulations we should refrain from imitating their customs, usages and laws which have brought so much miseries to them - for example amending civil laws and family relations and conforming them to the western laws.