Women's Rights in Islam

The issue of women's rights has always been a matter of dispute. Some economic experts relate growth to female participation in production.

The contribution of women in certain fields of life is not banned in Islam, provided that physical conditions have been taken into consideration and their working conditions are suitable. Women have indeed contributed in every field of life (throughout history). For instance, they were allowed to participate in battles; their education was not only desired, but also actively sought and encouraged. Our mothers Aisha, Hafsa, and Umm Salama were among the jurists and mujtahid s (the highest rank of scholarship and learning) of the Companions. Moreover, the women who were among the household of the Prophet were a source of information (not only for other women but also) for men for learning religion. Many people from the Tabiin (the next generation after the Companions) consulted the Prophet's wives.

This situation was not only restricted to the Prophet's wives; in the periods that followed, qualified women were teachers to many people. In Islam there is no such thing as limiting the life of women or narrowing their fields of activity. Things that appear negative to us today must be analyzed with respect to the conditions of the time in which they were experienced and to the policy of the respective states in which they happened.

It should also be noted that pre-Islamic traditions in some societies and regions have been preserved, and Islam should not be held responsible for any faults inherent in them. What really matters is the consideration of women's physical abilities and working conditions; for instance, should they be employed in heavy labor like coal mines? Should it be compulsory for them to perform military service like men? Should they be trained with heavy weapons? If these are considered as being necessary and feasible, I do not think that there would be anyone who would disagree.

What should be the position of women in the public sphere and what roles can they assume in today's world?

Women can assume any role. Perhaps it is not easy to prove this by making reference to today's sources, yet the historical experience reveals that according to Abu Hanifa women can even be judges; Abu Hanifa did not speak merely to gratify himself, therefore we can infer that sources grant this permission (to women). The Directorate of Religious Affairs (in Turkey ) has started a marvelous policy of recruiting female officers in various departments so that women can comfortably ask for information. Women can be anything, a soldier or a doctor. The most important thing is to make sure they can fulfill their faith. There may be some women who can fulfill their faith while employed in the public service, while others at home may fail in observing the faith fully.

Is there no such idea as a woman should be imprisoned in the home?

There is no such limitation.

It is also claimed that there is some information in books on Islamic practice that depict women as being inferior. Is this perspective related with historicism?

The responsibilities and fields of activity for women have been different than men to a certain extent when physical conditions are taken into account; for instance, heavy physical work and responsibilities outside the home are shouldered by men. During tashri (time of the Prophet and the four Caliphs) and tadvin (the period in which books and systems of jurisprudence were formed) interpretations developed in this direction in parallel with the culture of the time. We cannot call this historicism; perhaps it is more correct to say that particular physical and emotional aspects of both men and women were examined, and this examination affected the result.

(But) there are some people who consider women as being inferior.

A woman is a woman and a man is a man; when one of them is positive, the other is negative; when they unite they form a whole. We should not look into the matter on terms of inferiority or equality. In some issues women are more to the front. For instance, the Prophet indicated the leading role of women in some of his sayings, like " Paradise is under the feet of mothers"; he did not say such a thing for fathers. To a person who asked, "For whom do I have responsibilities?" he said "To your mother; and then to your mother; and then to your mother; then to your father." Said Nursi draws attention to women being "heroes of affection and significant teachers." If women are told to stop in certain situations, like "you are not supposed to keep watch at the battlefield or fight the enemy with arms" this should not be understood as depriving a woman of her rights, but rather of protecting her. The Prophet did not discriminate in this respect.

Another issue is that during salat the line for men is in front of that for women (prescribed daily prayers).

First of all we have to remember that salat is a prayer that requires thinking of God only, with full submission as if in His presence. The position of our body during prayer is as important as the fact that are imaginations are not busy with anything other than God, ensuring a straight direction and concentration for our heart and soul. Keeping these factors in mind, let's ask ourselves: why can we not see some realities?

I think, if a man notices a beautiful woman even during the circumambulation around the Ka'ba, he cannot say that he did not feel anything. If such a man says he did not, then I would tell him "Please, God sees, God hears, please let's not lie here."

The headscarf issue continues to be a problem in Turkey . There are proposals to allow the wearing of headscarves after the age of 18. Do you have any suggestions for a solution?

Some time ago, when there were attempts to prevent children from studying, I had expressed my views about the headscarf by approaching the matter from the " usul " (essentials) and " furuu " (issues connected with the essentials but relatively secondary in status) of the religion. I then said that wearing headscarves was not as crucial as the essentials of belief and five fundamentals of Islam, and people should decide for themselves to choose between the headscarf and the school. My opinion in that issue then was to choose studying. I thought this approach was important to comfort people from diverse walks of life and for the future of Turkey .

It sounds like a conjectural opinion; what are your real thoughts?

If only women's rights were considered together with freedom of thought and expression, as in western countries. I think if alterations had not happened in the essentials sources of Christianity and if the clothing of women, like the nun's covering were mentioned in their present sources, they would not oppose headscarf. I never forget when we went to the Vatican , Ms Ozcan from Milliyet, was with us. She was not admitted, for the Pope does not meet with women. Imagine a similar situation in Turkey ; the Head of Directorate of Religious Affairs meets only men, he does not accept women . . . this would be headlines.

I wish people could observe all their religious duties, including the secondary topics, provided that there is no intervention with the administration, and that they were free as far as their conscience and religion were concerned. Instead of expanding the public sphere—which is limiting people's field of activity—why don't we highlight the rights of individuals and the freedom of conscience so that we can prepare opportunities for people to live both the essentials and secondary topics of their religion. Setting things free even after a certain age is a positive step. Let everyone do as they like, and no limitations. If the shape and style of the headscarf are perceived to be a symbol of a certain philosophy or a movement, then it is not necessary to insist on those shapes and styles. I tell those asking me about this issue to consult to the Directorate of Religious Affairs or the High Committee of Religious Affairs. It is our duty to protect the reputation of this institution for they represent the reputation of the religion. Parameters for clothing should be referred to this institution. If there is something lacking in their answer, notable and careful scholars can send their thoughts to the Directorate and thus such deficiencies are solved and errors corrected.

Last Modified: 2012-09-15 10:30:28
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