Jumuah lecture on Friday 9 August 2019 (7 Dhul Hijja 1440)

National Women’s Day

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

Today, 9th August, reminds us of a great stance taken by the brave women of this country in 1956, where almost 20,000 women took to the streets of Pretoria, in front of the capital of the Apartheid regime and stood firmly, shouting “strike a woman, strike a rock”.

This occasion is of course very, very important and significant in our calendar and reminds us of the great, pivotal role played by women in the struggle for freedom in our country, and their continuous role in our democratic society and upholding the values they fought for against the oppressive Apartheid regime.

It also provides us the opportunity to reflect on the teachings and values and principles taught by our religion regarding the role of women in the socio-political life of a society. Over the years, we have discussed issues quite extensively from different angles, pertaining to the rights of women, the status of women, abuse and violence against women etc. Naturally, these discussions receive our primetime focus in the month of August and on days such as the Milad and birthday of Lady Fatima (s.a) and days such as International Women’s Day.


Today I would like to draw your attention more specifically to the question of the political role and its legitimacy from the point of view of the Holy Quran, Prophetic Sunnah, teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and Islam as a whole. How important is this role? 

In fact, there is a perception amongst a very big number of Muslims and academic circles that women have no role in the in socio-political aspects of society. According to them, a woman’s role is confined to the home and domestic issues, and serving the husband and grooming the children, and taking care of the family and her chastity and purity and being pious and devoted in that regard.

There is absolutely no doubt nor debate about this pivotal role of women, at least from the Islamic point of view. There is a well-known Hadith which says that the Jihad of a woman is to take care of the family, and to be an ideal wife and the most essential pillar of the family. 

That being said, in no way does it mean that when we reflect of the Holy Quran, history and the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), is a woman’s role confined and limited to this domestic aspect of life, without any role and responsibility in the broader socio-political sphere of society. 


Let us look at the Holy Quran, as the prime source of understanding the position of Islam. The Quranic approach does not bring gender into the equation in addressing the socio-political aspects of society. We will study evidence from the Holy Quran in this regard.

As we all know, in Islam, the usul’uddin (the roots of religion) pertain to our ideology. These are 5, namely:

  1. Tauheed – belief in one God ie. Monotheism
  2. Nubuwwat – belief in Prophethood and that Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is the final divine Prophet
  3. Imamat – belief in the divine successorship of Imam Ali (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) after the passing of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)
  4. Qiyamah – belief in the final day of accountability
  5. Adl – belief in the justice of Almighty Allah (SWT)

Now, in Islam, we have the furu’uddin (branches of religion) in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s), which is commonly referred to as the pillars of Islam by our Sunni brethren. These are salaah, fasting, khums, hajj, etc. Amongst these, we have Amr bil Ma’roof wannahi anil munkar – enjoin good and forbid evil. This highlights our prime social responsibility to call people towards good and forbid them from evil.

Amr bil Ma’roof wannahi anil munkar – enjoin good and forbid evil. This is the headline when it comes to our social responsibility. The Holy Quran introduces the nation of Islam as the nation of enjoining good and forbidding evil. Verse 110 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran) refers:

كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ

“Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.”

Now, important to once again note that the Holy Quran does not apply this primary social responsibility to a particular gender. No distinction is drawn between men and women in this regard. 

Let me cite another verse of the Holy Quran in this regard, namely verse 71 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9):

وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.”

This verse establishes believing men and believing women as guardians and protectors of each other. Now, this itself is a discussion of its own, under the chapter of Wilayah, which we in the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s) understand as the issue of guardianship. This verse is very clearly explaining that amongst believing men and believing women, some have leadership (Wilayah/guardianship) over others. 


After establishing guardianship in the first part of this verse, it then goes further to explain that it is these people who enjoin and invite people towards good and forbid evil, and they are the ones who establish salaah and pay zakat. The first then explains that they are the ones who obey Almighty Allah (SWT) and His Rasul (SAWA), and are under the mercy of Allah (SWT).

So, this primary responsibility on enjoining good and forbidding evil is the primary responsibility of Mu’mineen and Mu’minaat ie. Both believing men and believing women. The foundation of this social responsibility towards others is coming from the spirit of Wilayah, and there is no distinction between believing men and believing women on this subject.

Let us look at another very important issue in the Holy Quran, which is the issue of Bay’ah ie. Oath of allegiance. Bay’ah in simple terms means to vote and give confidence in the leadership. It is an expression of loyalty to the socio-political leadership in a society. 

So, we are supposed to pay the oath of allegiance to the leadership and commit our loyalty, which is purely political and social. Again, the Holy Quran does not place this responsibility purely on one gender. It does not commit men to this without making it incumbent upon women too.

I would like to cite verse 12 of Surah Mumtahina (chapter 60 of the Holy Quran) in this regard:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِذَا جَاءَكَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتُ يُبَايِعْنَكَ عَلَىٰ أَنْ لَا يُشْرِكْنَ بِاللَّهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَسْرِقْنَ وَلَا يَزْنِينَ وَلَا يَقْتُلْنَ أَوْلَادَهُنَّ وَلَا يَأْتِينَ بِبُهْتَانٍ يَفْتَرِينَهُ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِنَّ وَأَرْجُلِهِنَّ وَلَا يَعْصِينَكَ فِي مَعْرُوفٍ ۙ فَبَايِعْهُنَّ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُنَّ اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ

“O Prophet! If believing women come unto thee, taking oath of allegiance unto thee that they will ascribe no thing as partner unto Allah, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised between their hands and feet, nor disobey thee in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”

There are 2 very important political concepts in Islam. Firstly, bay’ah and secondly, hijrah. Bay’ah refers to the commitment to the socio-political leadership, and hijrah refers to the migration. The role of women exists strongly in both!


The third evidence from the Holy Quran is not only about the role and influence of women in the socio-political spectrum of a society, but rather, that the Holy Quran does not have any reservation about the leadership of women when it comes to socio-political affairs. 

I would like to draw your attention to a very beautiful and interesting story which the Holy Quran has narrated in Surah Naml (chapter 27) from verses 22 – 44, about the Queen of Sheba.

This particular Surah narrates events from the life of Nabi Sulayman (a.s), who asked for the particular bird which was not in his court and then quickly return. This bird was the hoopoe, which is a light, graceful bird, with a yellow crest on its head.

Nabi Sulayman (a.s) asked the bird where it was, and the bird replied he has news of a queen ruling on the land in Saba, in Yemen, where she is operating a huge system and has everything in abundance. This is reported from the bird in verse 23 of Surah Naml (chapter 27 of the Holy Quran).

The bird continues to explain in verse 24 that he found this woman and her people worshiping the sun instead of worshiping Almighty Allah (SWT). 

In verse 28, Nabi Sulayman (a.s) asked this bird to take his letter of invitation (da’wah) to the Queen of Sheba.

Verse 30 explains that this letter was very brief, and his invitation to the queen to worship one Allah (SWT) ie. Tauheed. We note that this is the specific verse in the Holy Quran noting the Bismillah.

إِنَّهُ مِنْ سُلَيْمَانَ وَإِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

“Surely it is from Sulaiman, and surely it is in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

Verse 31 explains the contents of this letter from Nabi Sulayman, requesting that the queen come back and surrender in worship before one Lord (SWT). So, this is the letter which reached the Queen of Sheba.


The great, renowned commentator of the Holy Quran from our time, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, has presented a great analysis explaining that people narrate fabricated Hadith narrations which have no basis, since they are in complete contradiction of the Holy Quran. An example of such fake Hadith is the one which claims that women have a deficiency when it comes to intellectual capacity.

Now, Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli refutes this by saying that the very clear invitation by Nabi Sulayman (a.s) to a woman tells us that even if we were to claim that women are intellectually not capable and they get stuck on this chapter of theology and philosophy, it is because they are above men, because they speak about Tauheed not only through the intellect, but rather, through the heart and the path of Irfan ie. mysticism – understanding the hidden secrets of this world through spirituality.

Why? Remember that the Queen of Sheba was worshipping the sun instead of one God. Despite this, we read in verse 29 how amazingly beautiful she defines this letter to her camp. This letter from Nabi Sulayman (a.s) is challenging her faith and ideology, but she refers to it as an honorable letter!

قَالَتْ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتَابٌ كَرِيمٌ

“She said: O chief! surely an honorable letter has been delivered to me.”

Again, what we understand from the commentary of Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli on this verse is that perhaps it did not get through to the queen’s intellect (aql), but she surely got the message through her heart.

Now, to give us a glimpse of the intellectual capacity of the queen, we read in verse 33 that her party claimed that they are mighty and powerful and that she is in command. What she tries to relay is that it is not an issue of power. 

This is very, very important, as it shows the vision of this woman. On the one side she says we are the people with power and can make others afraid, and therefore do not need to be afraid of someone far away who is claiming to be the Prophet of Almighty Allah (SWT). The kingdom of Nabi Sulayman (a.s) can be wherever, but the Queen of Sheba’s kingdom is in no way small or weak.

You see, what the Queen of Sheba is doing is distinguishing between courage and recklessness. It is quite important to comprehend this distinction. Therefore, she did indeed claim that they are powerful, but she then states that she would still like to discuss this issue with her camp, who respond by saying to her that the matter is hers to take further. This is all explained in verse 33:

قَالُوا نَحْنُ أُولُو قُوَّةٍ وَأُولُو بَأْسٍ شَدِيدٍ وَالْأَمْرُ إِلَيْكِ فَانْظُرِي مَاذَا تَأْمُرِينَ

“They said: We are possessors of strength and possessors of mighty prowess, and the command is yours, therefore see what you will command.”


Numerous commentators of the Holy Quran explain that the people in this story are not condemned for handing such an important matter about their ideology to the queen for her to decide whatever she wants. They explain that the Holy Quran would have condemned if it was wrong, but instead, the Quran indirectly acknowledges and condones this approach by them. It was OK, because she was much better than many of the men who were around. 

Hence, we find that the Holy Quran narrates this story in fine detail. So what happens next? The Holy Quran explains that she (the queen) decides to test whether this prophet (Nabi Sulayman (a.s)) is genuine or not. She presents beautiful criteria for this test, saying that if this Sulayman is genuinely claiming to be the prophet of God (SWT), then he would not be interested in worldly pursuits (dunya). So she decides to send lots of gifts to Nabi Sulayman (a.s), as explained in verses 35 and 36.

She sent lots of gifts to test how Nabi Sulayman (a.s) would react, but he returned them all. By returning the gifts to the Queen of Saba, Nabi Sulayman (a.s) proved that he is not driven by this dunya. He is a genuine prophet. 

Based on this successful test, she decided to come and see Nabi Sulayman (a.s) and that arsh of Saba was already there when she had reached ie. The throne of the queen had arrived, with minor changes. There are many details narrated in these verses, and then verse 44 explains that she then surrendered, repenting to Almighty Allah (SWT) for having wronged herself by worshipping the sun:

قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي وَأَسْلَمْتُ مَعَ سُلَيْمَانَ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ 

“She said: My Lord! surely I have been unjust to myself, and I submit with Sulaiman to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”

Again, I would like to draw your attention to this beautiful, thought-provoking point which Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli brings forth when explaining this amazing verse. He says that the Queen of Sheba has an amazing vision, because she did not say that she surrenders to Almighty Allah (SWT) BECAUSE of Nabi Sulayman (a.s). Instead, what she says in this verse is that she surrenders to Almighty Allah (SWT) WITH Nabi Sulayman (a.s)! There is a big difference and there are lots of academic discussions on this point.


So this is our discussion today, emphasizing the great socio-political role of women in Islam. Numerous scholars have concluded after this story in the Holy Quran about the Queen of Sheba, that if she is acknowledged as the leader, and the Holy Quran does not criticize this, but rather praises indirectly, then it means that not only is the political role for women permissible, but also that the political leadership for women is in no way a problem.

Of course, the opinion of the majority of Ulama is not in favour, as they cite verse 34 of Surah Nisaa (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran) which refers to men being the managers of women:

الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women”

Even one of the great Quranic commentators of the 20th century, Allama Tabataba’i explains that this managerial position of men over women is not confined to the family circle, but includes the socio-political sphere as well. 

But then again, the students of the same Allama Tabataba’i disagree, because the following excerpt of the same verse explains this verse to refer to the financial responsibilities of men over women, and therefore is not extended to the socio-political sphere. 

وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ

“and because they support them from their means”

Therefore, according to these students of Allama Tabataba’i, this verse cannot be used as evidence for socio-political leadership being confined to men only. 


Now, if we study the Hadith narrations from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), we find some narrations supporting this leadership role of women, and other narrations not supporting. However, if we look practically at history, we will realize that the whole history of Islam is one of partnership between men and women. 

Islam started with our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and the second person is none other than Lady Khadija al-Qubra (s.a). It continues with Imam Ali (a.s) and Lady Fatima (s.a). It is sustained by Imam Hussain (a.s) and Lady Zainab (s.a)!

Referring to the point I made earlier, there are 2 very important political headlines in Islam, namely bay’ah (allegiance) and hijrah (migration). We discussed earlier what the role of women is in both concepts. Numerous migrations occurred in the history of Islam. The first and second migration was to Ethiopia. This party comprised of 11 men and 4 women in the first migration, and 83 men and 18 women in the second migration.  Yes, men and women embarked on this migration together. 

The main hijrah was the migration of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) to Madina. In this party we have esteemed women such as the mother of Imam Ali (a.s), Fatima bint Assad, and Lady Fatima (s.a), amongst others. The leading female role players were a critical part of this migration. 

So, this discussion certainly explains that in Islam, there is no limitation or restriction, or reservation when it comes to the roles and responsibility of women in society. In fact, women have a very significant role directly.

The role of women in the socio-political aspect of society is dual. One is a direct involvement where women should be present, like Lady Khadija (s.a) or like Lady Fatima (s.a) who comes before the court to demand her rights and challenge the power by speaking truth. Or like Lady Zainab (s.a) who stands next to Imam Hussain (a.s) as an equal shareholder in the revolution of Karbala.

Then there is an indirect role which is a much deeper role ie. the training and grooming and developing generations with the vision of a complete message of Islam, which indeed includes the socio-political aspect of society and the associated responsibilities. 


7TH Dhul Hijja reminds us of the martyrdom of our 5TH Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s). Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) initiated the greatest academic movement and cultural revolution in the history of Islam, and teaching and training thousands of students, regardless of their religious or scholastic background. 


This week we also saw an unsavory turn of events in Kashmir. We have spoken many times about the suffering of the people of Kashmir, who are fighting for their rights which have been acknowledged by the United Nations and through its resolutions. Unfortunately, we have seen how this Hindu-extremist regime of India have taken away the special status of this region by scrapping Article 370. 

Under Article 370, this region of Jammu and Kashmir was granted autonomy as a Muslim state, with a Muslim majority and some sort of independent rights. This has now been taken away by the Indian government scrapping Article 370. We see now, that the whole of Kashmir is under curfew and blackout. They are cut from the world. No phones, no internet, with political leaders, business leaders and leaders of civil society all arrested. 

People are shouting for their rights to live as Kashmiris. Today, the United Nations observer said that there is no match in history for the extent of the shutdown in Kashmir over the last week. We have seen how these people have been completely isolated and brutally tortured for raising their voice. A big number of their young men and women have become blind from the torture by the Indian military. Similarly, this Indian military is responsible for the torture of women and children in the streets and in prisons. 

This issue is as serious as any other issue, to raise our voice of support and solidarity now, for the people of Kashmir. Like the situation in Yemen, Gaza, Bahrain and other parts of the world, Kashmir is bleeding! Kashmiris are suffering and under oppression and occupation. There is absolutely no doubt about it.

Amazingly, things are imposed on these people of Kashmir, and the headline which is given is that scrapping Article 370 is better for them, while Kashmiris have not been asked what is better for them! They have not been asked which way they want to go. 

It is being said that this is the end of the governance of a few families, but instead of dealing with this issue of these few families being the problem, the whole state is completely frozen! If these few families are the problem, then why is every leader on different levels of Kashmir society placed in jail? Similarly, why the torture and killing of youth, and attacking on their peaceful protests? It is important for us to raise our voice without reservation, against this injustice committed against this occupation and illegitimate stance by the Indian government. 


I would also like to quickly add the very good news in Nigeria, where the court in Kaduna granted conditional permission for Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky to travel for medical treatment. It was good news, because in all this time, the government of Nigeria had not done anything to act upon this court ruling. 

They are still trying to find all kinds of avenues to ensure Sheikh Zakzaky dies in this situation and prolonging this agony, while the court has declared that the health of both, Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, is in very serious, life threatening danger.

This shows that Buhari’s regime has no regard for the court of law or judicial system. We have seen in this situation, who is breaking the law and opposing the courts, and who is breaking the civil order and discipline in the society. The people of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria or the Nigerian government???


I would like to conclude with reflecting on our own situation in Cape Town, where killings and murders are continuing, and I would like to add one important point here, which we discussed previously. We see that there is relative peace in the townships with the arrival of the army. But we all know, this is not the solution. Perhaps this is an opportunity to address this cancer of gangsterism and drugs, and lawlessness from the roots.

When the crime situation is extraordinarily high, then naturally, this civil work to address the issue at grassroots level is not possible, because there is no security to work with people. However, with the relative peace at the moment, I think it provides a window of opportunity for our authorities to address the root causes of this challenge in our local communities.