Transcript – Jumuah lecture on Friday 15 January 2021 (1 Jamadi al-Thani 1442)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
One of the very important questions which is commonly debated is regarding the approach of Islam towards the socio-political role of women in society. Does Islam believe and acknowledge any socio-political role for women, or no, the major contribution of women is in the boundaries of the home? In other words, a woman is a wife, mother, sister, and trainer of generations inside the chastity and protected environment of the home.
Is a woman’s role confined to being the greatest support for the husband, father, brother and sons behind the scenes? But in the public sphere, women do not have any real role? This is one approach which is quite a common approach adopted directly and indirectly by a big number of scholars and in practice too, it has somehow been the practice of Muslim communities across the centuries ie. a very limited role.
Contrary to this approach, when we look at the prime source of understanding of Islam and the message of Almighty Allah (SWT) and the religion based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and similarly in the form of the practice of the purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) we find something completely contrary to this approach.
QURAN ESTABLISHES SOCIO-POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR BOTH GENDERS
Let me draw your attention to the most authentic and reliable source for understanding Islam, namely the Holy Quran. Let us review verse 71 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9 of the Holy Quran):
وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
“And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
Honestly talking, in my very humble understanding of this verse, it draws a picture of a believing community and sketches the different role players in this society. This verse explicitly addresses both the believing men and women, which is itself unique, as the Holy Quran generally addresses the masculine form in reference to both genders. However, there are certain places where the Holy Quran becomes more explicit by mentioning the masculine and feminine separately, categorically like in this verse.
WILAYAT THROUGH ENJOINING GOOD AND FORBIDDING EVIL
Without going into an extensive discussion on Wilayat or guardianship/authority which this verse makes reference to, this verse expresses that believing men and believing women are guardians (auliya) of each other. In other words, they have a contribution towards each other, in the form of Wilayat ie. leadership and authority.
After explaining this crucial role, we find that the Holy Quran explains this Wilayat through enjoining good and forbidding evil (amr bil ma’ruf wan nahi anil munkar). This institution of calling for good in society and resisting against evil is symbolic of the social responsibility of every believer.
“Amr bil ma’ruf wan nahi anil munkar” says that we are not only responsible for our own Imaan (faith) and good deeds, as we are also responsible for the society in which we love. Yes, we are responsible towards “ma’ruf” and “munkar”.
SOCIO-POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY THROUGH ACTS OF WORSHIP
This verse goes further to explain that they establish Salaah (wa yuqee moonas salaah). Again, the Iqamah of Salaah is not individual acts of worship and establishing an individual connection with Almighty Allah (SWT). Rather, the Iqamah of Salaah is a social responsibility when it comes to spirituality. It is the manifestation of the deep connection of our relationship with Almighty Allah (SWT) in the form of spirituality and its reflection and effect on society – as a mutual, collective action.
This verse then goes further to explain that they establish Zakat, which is again a social responsibility (wa yu’toonaz zakat).
“Wa yutee oon Allaha wa Rasulah” – they are the ones who obey Almighty Allah (SWT) and his Rasul (SAWA).
“Ulaa-ika sayarhamu humullah” – they are the ones who will receive the mercy from Almighty Allah (SWT).
“Innalaha azeezun hakeem” – indeed Allah (SWT) is the Almighty, all Wise.
This makes it very clear, that when it comes to social responsibility, the institution of “Amr bil ma’ruf wan nahi anil munkar”, which is the symbolic headline of social responsibility, makes the believing men and women guardians for each other.
QURAN SPECIFICALLY EMPHASIZES SOCIO-POLITICAL ROLE OF WOMEN
When we look at numerous other verses discussing various socio-political phenomena in society, we do not find women being left behind anywhere. I would like to briefly highlight three of those areas:
1. Bay’ah (paying allegiance), which is purely a socio-political phenomenon. Verse 12 of Surah Mumtahina (chapter 60 of the Holy Quran) refers:
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.”
The whole issue of Bay’ah of women in this verse clearly spells out that a woman’s role is not confined to the boundaries of the house. Else, this verse explaining to Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) would not make any sense.
2. The second issue is that of Hijrah (migration), which is one of the very important issues referring to the socio-political aspect of society. The Holy Quran explains that there is no distinction between men and women on the matter of Hijrah.
3. Economic/financial independence is one of the socio-political pillars in society. You cannot really play any form of socio-political role until you have financial and economic independence. Verse 32 of Surah Nisaa’ (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran) refers:
لِلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا ۖ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ
“Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn.”
QURAN PRESENTS NOTABLE EXAMPLES OF WOMEN’S INFLUENTIAL ROLE IN HISTORY
The approach of the Holy Quran is to establish principle positions and explain divine traditions in the history and then provides examples to convince people more conclusively, be it examples of good and bad. So, the Holy Quran has given many examples of the women in history.
Now, those examples which are acknowledged and praised in the Holy Quran as the ideals, all display a great socio-political contribution to society. An example is the Queen of Sheba, where the Holy Quran presents her as a great leader.
These discussions in the Holy Quran about the socio-political responsibility of women are very thought-provoking, presenting numerous lessons to reflect on. What we can however conclude is that the manner in which the Holy Quran praises this Queen of Sheba explicitly reaffirms that women are capable of leadership, management, and rational interaction even with Prophets (a.s).
We learn this from the narration in the Holy Quran of the interaction between the Queen of Sheba and Nabi Sulaiman (a.s). We read in the verses of Surah Naml (chapter 27 of the Holy Quran) how the Queen of Sheba responds to the message of Nabi Sulaiman (a.s), after consulting the people around her. Also, interesting to note from this story in the Quran is that the people around the Queen of Sheba are not condemned for being humble before her!
Again, the Holy Quran explains how she analyses the message of Nabi Sulaiman (a.s), and ultimately surrenders herself to the Lord (SWT) of Sulaiman (a.s), as described in the last part of verse 44 of Surah Naml (chapter 27):
وَأَسْلَمْتُ مَعَ سُلَيْمَانَ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“and I submit with Sulaiman to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”
Another beautiful narration in the Holy Quran is that of the daughters of Nabi Shuaib (a.s).
And then, no discussion on the socio-political role of women can be complete without mentioning Aasiya, the pious wife of Fir’oun, and also Maryam, for the way that she interacted with the Jews of her time. Her status is emphasized in verse 42 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ
“And when the angels said: O Mariam! surely Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the world.”
This is how the ideal women are explained in the Holy Quran.
AYATOLLAH SHAHEED MUTAHHARI (R.A) EXPLAINS HIJAB THROUGH A REVERSE APPROACH
When we look at some of the very special ahkam regarding women in the Holy Quran, they also indirectly say to us that these Ahkam are to allow women to be part of society.
Ayatollah Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari (r.a) makes a very interesting point regarding Hijab. The common understanding and interpretation of Hijab is that women should be kept at the back. In other words, Hijab means a restriction to women having access to society.
Now, Ayatollah Mutahhari (r.a) argues contrary to this logic, in light of Surah Noor (chapter 24 of the Holy Quran) and verse 59 of Surah Ahzab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran). If women were supposed to be confined to the boundaries of their houses and only be in the proximity of Mahram men, then there was no need of such a great emphasis on Hijab.
The argument of Ayatollah Mutahhari (r.a) is that the establishment of Hijab is a reason that she should able to play an influential role in society! This Hijab itself highlights the special and precious quality of women, namely their chastity, and based upon this, how the socio-political role for women is established through Hijab.
According to him, when Almighty Allah (SWT) speaks about different acts of worship, including Hajj, it does not distinguish between men and women. Women must be part of these different responsibilities, due to the influential role they play.
SURAH KAUTHAR PRESENTS LADY FATIMA ZAHRA (S.A) AS THE EMBODIMENT OF ALL THE IDEALS
Today I would like to also draw your attention to another very important chapter of the Holy Quran, where Almighty Allah (SWT) introduces a woman from the nation (Ummah) of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Almighty Allah (SWT) addresses our Rasulullah (SAWA) in Surah Kauthar (chapter 108) by saying:
إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ
1. To thee have We granted the Fount (of Abundance).
فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّكَ وَانْحَرْ
2. Therefore, pray to your Lord and make a sacrifice.
إِنَّ شَانِئَكَ هُوَ الْأَبْتَرُ
3. Surely your enemy is the one who shall be without posterity.
This Kauthar granted by Almighty Allah (SWT) to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is none other than a woman by the name of Fatima Zahra (s.a). This woman is Kauthar (abundance) and the embodiment of all the ideal women in the history.
The verse of Mubahila, namely verse 61 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran) establishes this fact, when Almighty Allah (SWT) commanded Rasulullah (SAWA) to bring his women, and he brings his one daughter Fatima (s.a) to represent ALL the women in the world!
This is a message, that this woman is the manifestation of ALL the greatness of ALL the women in the history of humanity.
If we want to see Taqwa, then Fatima (s.a) is the ideal. If we want to see spirituality, then Fatima (s.a) is the ideal. If we want to see a mother and sister, then Fatima (s.a) is the ideal. If you want to see a daughter, then Fatima (s.a) is the ideal, as she reaches the status of being referred to by Rasulullah (SAWA) as being the mother of her father (Ummu abiha)!
Similarly, we see Fatima (s.a) as being the greatest example of the role of women in society, especially in the struggle for justice in society and opposing oppression. Indeed, she is the IDEAL!
LADY FATIMA (S.A) PRESENTS A COURAGEOUS STANCE IN HER HISTORIC SERMON IN COURT
The Hadith from our 11th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s) is a reality, when he says that they, the Ahlul Bait (a.s), are a Hujjat (proof) over the people, and their mother Fatima (s.a) is the proof of Almighty Allah (SWT) on the Ahlul Bait (a.s)! This means that Lady Fatima (s.a) is the ideal example to be followed, even by the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
What we have now proven is that you can still be a great, active role player in society, with the extreme chastity, piety and Hijab. Lady Fatima (s.a), by courageously demanding her rights of inheritance in the court of the ruler, proclaimed to the world that women do not need men to fight for them. Fatima (s.a) made a headline statement with this courage, by saying that women can stand up for themselves and fight their own battle.
By delivering that extraordinary sermon in the presence of such a large number of grand personalities from the early history of Islam, she proved that women of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) of Rasulullah (SAWA) are the most knowledgeable people about Islam, the Holy Quran and the message which was propagated by her father.
She said everything in the following statement – “I am Fatima (s.a) and my father is Rasulullah (SAWA)”.
She challenged those grand companions of Rasulullah (SAWA) who spent their whole life in his service, sacrificing for his divine message and mission. She challenged them by reminding them who she is, Fatima (s.a), the daughter of the same Rasulullah (SAWA)!
COURAGEOUS STANCE OF LADY FATIMA (S.A) CONTINUES TO INSPIRE GENERATIONS OF TRUTH-SEEKERS
We read in history what a great challenge she presents through her arguments in the court of the ruler. Taqwa, spirituality, chastity, resistance and standing for justice is all there, where she challenges the dead conscience of the people!
She reaches the point in her sermon where nobody wants to really stand up. She then turns towards the Ansar. These were the indifferent fence-sitters! They neither supported truth (haqq) nor did they join falsehood (baatil). She challenges them asking what is the reason for their silence regarding her divine rights? She challenges them asking where is their voice and moral courage to oppose the injustice committed against her.
This is the challenge of a woman from the house of Rasulullah (SAWA) to the grandest personalities of the history of Islam seated in the court of the ruler. This is the path of courage and resistance which Lady Fatima (s.a) showed, which her daughter Lady Zainab (s.a) and the ladies of this purified Ahlul Bait (a.s) followed, where they established that speaking truth in the face of an oppressive system is the greatest of Jihad.
This is the Jihad which Lady Fatima (s.a) and her daughter Lady Zainab (s.a) pursued, and their followers continue to advance.
We pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant us all, men and women, the Taufiq to follow the path of Lady Fatima (s.a), the path of Taqwa, the path of chastity, the path of Ibadah, and the path of fighting for the guardianship (Wilayat) of truth, justice and the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
We pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant us that special intercession of Lady Fatima (s.a). We seek His favours, mercy and blessings, for the sake of this greatest Lady Fatima (s.a), to be merciful on the whole of humanity which is facing this serious challenge with Covid-19 and to liberate us from this challenge.
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