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Women's Liberation through Islam

By Ali Unal



Today people think that women are liberated in the West and that the women's liberation movement began in the 20th century. Actually, the women's liberation movement was not begun by women but was revealed by God to a man in the seventh century by the name of Muhammad (peace be upon him), who is known as the last Prophet of Islam. The Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith or Sunnah) are the sources from which every Muslim woman derives her rights and duties.


Islam, fourteen centuries ago, made women equally accountable to God in glorifying and worshipping Him - setting no limits on her moral progress. Also, Islam established a woman's equality in her humanity with men.

In the Qur'an, in the first verse of the chapter entitled "Women," God says, "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it its mate and from them both have spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom you claim (your rights) of one another, and towards the wombs (that bore you). Lo! Allah has been a Watcher over you." (4:1)

Since men and women both came from the same essence, they are equal in their humanity. Women cannot be by nature evil (as some religious believe) or then men would be evil also. Similarly, neither gender can be superior because it would be a contradiction of equality.


In Islam, a woman has the basic freedom of choice and expression based on recognition of her individual personality. First, she is free to choose her religion. The Qur'an states: "There is no compulsion in religion. Right has been made distinct from error." (2:256)

Women are encouraged in Islam to contribute their opinions and ideas. There are many traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) which indicate women would pose questions directly to him and offer their opinions concerning religion, economics and social matters.

A Muslim woman chooses her husband and keeps her name after marriage. A Muslim woman's testimony is valid in legal disputes. In fact, in areas in which women are more familiar, their evidence is conclusive.


The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Seeking knowledge is a mandate for every Muslim (male and female)." This includes knowledge of the Qur'an and the Hadith as well as other knowledge. Men and women both have the capacity for learning and understanding. Since it is also their obligation to promote good behavior and condemn bad behavior in all spheres of life, Muslim women must acquire the appropriate education to perform this duty in accordance with their own natural talents and interests.

While maintenance of a home, providing support to her husband, and bearing, raising and teaching of children are among the first and very highly regarded roles for a woman, if she has the skills to work outside the home for the good of the community, she may do so as long as her family obligations are met.

Islam recognizes and fosters the natural differences between men and women despite their equality. Some types of work are more suitable for men and other types for women. This in no way diminishes either's effort nor its benefit. God will reward both sexes equally for the value of their work, though it may not necessarily be the same activity.

Concerning motherhood, the Prophet (pbuh) said: "Heaven lies under the feet of mothers." This implies that the success of a society can be traced to the mothers that raised it. The first and greatest influence on a person comes from the sense of security, affection, and training received from the mother. Therefore, a woman having children must be educated and conscientious in order to be a skillful parent.


A right given to Muslim women by God 1400 years ago is the right to vote. On any public matter, a woman may voice her opinion and participate in politics. One example, narrated in the Qur'an (60:12), is that Muhammad (pbuh) is told that when the believing women come to him and swear their allegiance to Islam, he must accept their oath. This established the right of women to select their leader and publicly declare so. Finally, Islam does not forbid a woman from holding important positions in government. Abdur-Rahman Ibn Auf consulted many women before he recommended Uthman Ibn Affan to be the Caliph.


The Qur'an states: "By the creation of the male and female; Verily, (the ends) ye strive for are diverse." (92:3-4)

In these verses, God declares that He created men and women to be different, with unique roles, functions and skills. As in society, where there is a division of labor, so too in a family; each member has different responsibilities. Generally, Islam upholds that women are entrusted with the nurturing role, and men, with the guardian role. Therefore, women are given the right of financial support.

The Qur'an states: "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend of their wealth (for the support of women)." (4:34)

This guardianship and greater financial responsibility is given to men, requires that they provide women with not only monetary support but also physical protection and kind and respectful treatment.

The Muslim woman has the privilege to earn money, the right to own property, to enter into legal contracts and to manage all of her assets in any way she pleases. She can run her own business and no one has any claim on her earnings including her husband. The Qur'an states:

"And in no wise covet those things in which Allah hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others; to men is allotted what they earn, and to women, what they earn; but ask Allah of His bounty, for Allah hath full knowledge of all things." (4:32)

A woman inherits from her relatives. The Qur'an states: "For men there is a share in what parents and relatives leave, and for women there is a share of what parents and relatives leave, whether it be little or much - an ordained share." (4:7)


The Qur'an states: "And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may live in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between you; Verily, in that are signs for people who reflect." (30:21)

Marriage is therefore not just a physical or emotional necessity, but in fact, a sign from God! It is a relationship of mutual rights and obligations based on divine guidance. God created men and women with complimentary natures, and in the Qur'an, He laid out a system of laws to support harmonious interaction between the sexes.

"...They are your garments and you are their garments." (2:187)

Clothing provides physical protection and covers the beauty and faults of the body. Likewise, a spouse is viewed this way. Each protects the other and hides the faults and compliments the characteristics of the spouse.

To foster the love and security that comes with marriage, Muslim wives have various rights. The first of the wife's rights is to receive mahr, a gift from the husband which is part of the marriage contract and required for the legality of the marriage.

The second right of a wife is maintenance. Despite any wealth she may have, her husband is obligated to provide her with food, shelter and clothing. He is not forced, however, to spend beyond his capability and his wife is not entitled to make unreasonable demands. The Qur'an states: "Let the man of means spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him." (65:7)

God tells us men are guardians over women and are afforded the leadership in the family. His responsibility for obeying God extends to guiding his family to obey God at all times.

A wife's rights also extend beyond material needs. She has the right to kind treatment. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "The most perfect believers are the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are best to their wives." God tells us He created mates and put love, mercy, and tranquillity between them.

Both men and women have a need for companionship and sexual needs, and marriage is designed to fulfill those needs. For one spouse to deny this satisfaction to the other, temptation exists to seek it elsewhere.


With rights come responsibilities. Therefore, wives have certain obligations to their husbands. The Qur'an states: "The good women in the absence of their husbands guard their rights as Allah has enjoined upon them to be guarded." (4:34)

A wife is to keep her husband's secrets and protect their marital privacy. Issues of intimacy or faults of his that would dishonor him, are not to be shared by the wife, just as he is expected to guard her honor.

A wife must also guard her husband's property. She must safeguard his home and possessions, to the best of her ability, from theft or damage. She should manage the household affairs wisely so as to prevent loss or waste. She should not allow anyone to enter the house whom her husband dislikes nor incur any expenses of which her husband disapproves.

A Muslim woman must cooperate and coordinate with her husband. There cannot, however, be cooperation with a man who is disobedient to God. She should not fulfill his requests if he wants her to do something unlawful. A husband also should not take advantage of his wife, but be considerate of her needs and happiness.


The Qur'an states: "And it becomes not a believing man or a believing women, when Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) have decided on an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His Messenger, he verily goes astray in error manifest." (33:36)

The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today, even in the West. These are from God and are designed to keep balance in society; what may seem unjust or missing in one place is compensated for or explained in another place. Islam is a complete way of life.


In the 19th century religious leaders of France, after long discussions, decided: "woman is a human being, but made to serve man." It was not until recent years that women in European lands had any rights to own property. In England it was not till about AD 1850 that women were counted in the national population census. It was in 1882 that a British law, unprecedented in the country's history, for the first time granted women the right to decide how their own earnings should be spent, instead of handing them over direct to their husbands immediately. Until then, even the clothes on their back had been their husband's property. Henry VIII had in his day even forbidden women to study the Bible when the first English translations began to appear.

Fourteen centuries ago Islam had decreed women's total financial independence, their right to own and dispose of property without the surveillance or control of any man, to conduct business, trade and all the transactions concerning their profit and loss, including the execution of deeds of gift, without having to check with anyone. As it is written in the Sura IV Nisa'a-"The Women" verse 33: "In no wise covet gifts bestowed by God seemingly more freely on some than on others. Whatsoever a man earns is his own. Whatsoever a woman earns is her own. Pray to God for the bounty of His Providence for He knows all things."


Besides property rights Islam bestowed dignity, liberty and freedom on women. This is not least true in the matter of marriage. Marriage is the most important and sensitive step in a woman's life. Islam did everything to secure her in it, and to enable her to consider the financial as well as all the other matters concerning the situation before she accepted him in wedlock.


Thus the rights and privileges which European women extorted after bringing forceful pressure to bear on the societies in which they lived, and only recently achieved, Islam bestowed upon all women voluntarily without any form of revolt or pressure many centuries back. Indeed there is no moment of a woman's life, and no problem she is likely to face, for which Islam has not made beneficent and wise provision.


It is true that today far too many women are condemned in the East to an unsatisfactory way of life. But this is not due to Islam's regulations. It is due to the neglect of religious precept in political, social and financial institutions.


Poverty is one important reason for the bad conditions under which Eastern women have to live. A few are too rich; but the majority far too poor, victims of hunger and wretchedness. The resultant weakness has deprived people of the strength to rise up and insist on a change in their environment, for the sake of their families and children. Nor have the women the power in such a situation to make use of their legal rights and to take the men to court for the violence and tyranny of their behaviour. Women fear the difficulties of having to live without a male companion in a man's world.


The same economic needs cause a diminution in morals and in human affections. Violence and injustice replace moral values.


Although Islamic lands are amongst the worst sufferers from these modern disasters, it is not Islam itself but the deliberate neglect and abandonment of Islamic principles by Muslims and their leaders which has brought these tragedies upon us. For Islam is the very acme of the counterforces to poverty and injustice, and insists that wealth must be fairly divided amongst people of all classes, declaring that it is wrong for people to have to live under the torture of indigence and its pressure on hearts and souls, not least those of women and children.


Have we not men wise and just enough to eradicate these wrongs? To cure the bitterness which they produce? To re-enact sound Islamic measures? To restore respect for the dictates of piety and reverence for God and men? Should not that same Islam which once rescued woman from degrading depression, now raise her again by instituting a new society?


What is the situation in the West? Women have fallen victims to the bestial passions to which men have abandoned themselves under the influence of subversive propaganda of all kinds, in which the massmedia, particularly cinema and TV, and the advertisements that disgrace the hoardings of our great cities, play so tragically fateful a part.


Nowadays a woman's good reputation and dignity does not come, as it used to, from her possession of moral excellences, education and knowledge. Too often women of piety and learning are left in obscurity. Respect, reputation go too much with the name of " artiste" which some women arrogate to themselves. They perform no useful function in society. They do not help the men forward. The name "artiste" seems to cover a multitude of sins of incontinence and debauchery, which are the very opposite of that virtue and chastity in which the honour of women once resided. How many earn a shameful living as "models"?


An American sociologist writes that the modern stripteaser can earn a million dollars a year: a fellow who is able to knock out another man with one blow of his fist gets half a million: a man who has spent a lifetime in the service of his fellows, in his white hairs finds hardly enough to live on.

Professor Albert Connolly writes: "In 1919 England's women fought for the right to be elected to Parliament, and in their battle went to prison and suffered physically in fearless vindication of their sex. What use are their grandchildren making of the privileges gained for them by these courageous women pioneers? And what would their grandmothers think of them? Maybe they are actually turning in their graves at seeing the liberties they fought for perverted to shameless licence. This last half century has taught us that the liberation of women is not enough. Besides all their other sacrifices for their cause, women seem also to have connived at the sacrifice of the respect and the ancient realities, the moral dignity and the devotion to mankind's uplift which in former days brought honour to the name of 'woman' and 'mother'." (Quoted from "The Enlightened Thinkers' Magazine", No. 829).




Islam has done a great service to women. It not only put an end to the absolute control of the fathers, but gave women freedom, a personality and independence of thinking and opinion.

It officially recognised her natural rights. However, there are two basic differences between the steps taken by Islam and what is happening in the West and is being followed by others.

The first difference concerns the psychology of man and woman. Islam has done and revealed wonders in this respect. We shall further discuss this question in the subsequent chapters.

The second difference is that, while Islam made the women aware of their rights and gave them an identity, a personality, freedom and independence, it did not instigate them to revolt and harbour malice against the male persons.


The Islamic movement for women's liberation was white. It was neither black nor red; neither blue nor violet. It did not put an end to the respect in which the daughters held their fathers and the wives their husbands. It did not upset the basis of the family life and did not make women suspicious of their responsibilities in regard to their fathers and husbands. It did not provide any opportunity to the unmarried men who are always after enticing women. It did not snatch away the wives from their husbands and the daughters from their parents and did not hand them over to the sensual executives and the moneyed magnates. It has done nothing similar to what has caused a hue and cry across the oceans that the sacred family system has broken into pieces. There the paternal protection has vanished. No one knows what to do with all the corruption that is rampant, with the ever-growing cases of infanticide and abortion, with 40 per cent illegitimate children and with those new-born infants whose fathers are not known and whose mothers do not want to have anything to do with them, because they were not born in lawful wedlock. The mothers of such children simply hand them over to some social organisations and then never come back to inquire about them.


No doubt, we in our country are in need of a movement for women's liberation, but what we need is a clean Islamic white movement and not a movement of the European brand with a dark and gloomy taint. We want a movement in which sensual young men should have lesser part and which should spring directly from the lofty teachings of Islam and be based on the deep and logical study of the Muslim society.



The question, which needs examination from the point of view of the authority exercised by fathers over their daughters, is whether the father's consent is essential in the case of a maiden's first marriage.

From the Islamic point of view certain things are indisputable.


The boy and the girl both are economically independent. Every sane adult is entitled to have full control of his or her property, provided he or she is mentally mature, that is, capable of taking care of themselves. A father, a mother, a husband or a brother has no power of supervision or intervention in this respect.


Another point, which is indisputable, relates to marriage. The adult and mature boys have full liberty in this respect and nobody else has any right of intervention. The position of the girl, who has been married once and is now without a husband, is the same. But the case of a maiden, who wants to marry for the first time, is a little different.


It is beyond any doubt that the father cannot force even a maiden to marry any person against her will. We already know what the Holy Prophet told the girl whom her father had given in marriage, without taking her consent. The Prophet said that if she was not happy, she could marry someone else. But there exists a difference of opinion among the jurists as to whether a maiden can contract a marriage without the consent of her father and whether the validity of her marriage is in any way conditional to the consent of her father.


There is one more point about which there is absolutely no dispute. If the father withholds his consent without a sound reason, he loses his right. The jurists are unanimous that in such a case the daughter is free to contract a marriage with anyone of her choice.


But otherwise, as we have pointed out, the jurists differ on the point, whether the validity of the marriage of a maiden depends on the consent of her father. Most of the jurists, especially the later ones, are of the view that it does not. But still there are some who are of the opinion that it does.

This being a disputed point, it is not possible to discuss it from the Islamic point of view. Anyhow it can be discussed from a social point of view.



Of all the religions Islam alone is more concerned with all the aspects of human life. Its teachings are not confined to acts of worship and prayer and to a set of moral counsels. As Islam has dealt with men's relations with God, it has also given the broad lines of men's relations with each other. It has, in various forms, dealt with individual rights and obligations, too. That is why the question whether its teachings are applicable or not to the ever-changing circumstances is more valid in the case of Islam than in that of any other religion.


Incidentally, many non-Muslim intellectuals and writers have studied the social and civil laws of Islam and have commended them as a body of progressive laws. They have paid rich tributes to Islam, as a living and everlasting religion, and have recognised the applicability of its laws to all times and circumstances.


The well-known liberal minded English writer, Bernard Shaw has said: "I have always held the religion of Muhammad (P) in high estimation, because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capability to the changing phase of existence, which can make itself appeal to every age. I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow, and the signs of this are becoming apparent even now. The medieval ecclesiastics, either through ignorance or bigotry, painted Muhammadanism in the darkest colours. They were, in fact, trained both to hate the man, Muhammad, and his religion. To them Muhammad was anti-Christ. I have studied him, the wonderful man, and, in my opinion, far from being anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the leadership of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness".


Dr. Shibli Shama'il is an Arab materialist of Lebanon. He, for the first time, translated Darwin's 'Origin of Species' into Arabic, along with the German scientist Boucher's commentary on it, giving it the name of 'A weapon against religious beliefs".


Though he is a materialist, he does not feel shy of admiring Islam and its great founder. He appreciates Islam as a living religion, applicable to all times.


This man, in the second volume of his book "Philosophy of Evolution", which he has published in Arabic, has written an article under the caption "The Qur'an and Civilisation". He has written this article to refute a non-Muslim who had travelled in the Muslim countries and had expressed the opinion that Islam was responsible for the decline of the Muslims. Shibli Shama'il has tried to prove that actually the cause of the decline of the Muslims is their deviation from the social teachings of Islam. Those Europeans who attack Islam, either do not know it or criticise it with the bad intention of making the people of the East sceptical about their laws and their system with a view to keeping them under the western tutelage.


During our time the question, whether Islam is compatible with the present age, has become a burning question. We meet a cross-section of people, especially those belonging to the educated class and we find that this question is asked more often than other questions.



Sometimes these people give a philosophical turn to their query and say that everything in this world is subject to change. Nothing is static and stationary, human society being no exception. Then, how can a body of laws remain unchanged through the ages?


If we look at this question from a purely philosophical point of view, the answer is simple. It is the material things of the world which are ever changing; which grow and decline, and which are subject to evolution and decay. As for the universal laws, they do not change. For example, all living things have evolved and continue to evolve according to certain laws which have been set forth by the scientists. The living things themselves are, no doubt, ever changing, but the laws of their evolution and development are not subject to any change. And we are at present talking about the laws. In this respect it makes no difference whether the laws are natural or have been framed and compiled, for it is possible that the laws which have been framed might have nature as their source and be in conformity with the evolutionary process of the individuals as well as the human society as a whole.


Anyhow, the queries in respect of the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam with the requirements of the time do not have a general and philosophical aspect alone.


The question, which is more often asked, is that when the laws are framed to meet human requirements which are not constant, how can social laws be constant and unalterable?


It is a good question. Incidentally, it is a miraculous characteristic of Islam that it provides constant laws to meet all constant requirements of the individuals and the society, and flexible laws for the temporary and changing requirements. This is its characteristic of which all judicious and knowledgeable Muslims are proud of. We propose to explain it further to an extent appropriate to the present occasion.



Before going into this question we should like to bring forward two points:

The first point is that most of the people who talk of progress, development and change in a situation suppose that any social change, especially if its source is in the West, is the consequence of progress and development. This is one of the most erroneous ideas entertained by the present generation.

These people are under the impression that as the means of life change from day to day, and the imperfect ones are replaced by the perfect ones and as science and industry are constantly advancing, all changes in human life are a sort of progress and advancement and should be welcomed as such. Not only that, they think that such changes are inevitable and have to come with the passage of time.

In fact, all changes are not the direct result of the advancement of science and industry, nor are they inevitable. While science is progressing, the selfish and animal nature of man is also not idle. Knowledge and wisdom carry man towards perfection and the selfish and animal human nature pushes him towards corruption and perversion. The animal nature of man always tries to utilise knowledge as a means of attaining its base desires. With the passage of time, as progress and development takes place, corruption and perversion also grow. We have to march forward with the advancement of time, but at the same time we must fight corruption also. The reformer and the reactionary both fight against time, with the difference that the reformer fights against the perversion of time, and the reactionary fights against its progress. If we regard time and its changes as the criterion of all good and evil, then what is the criterion to judge time itself? If everything should conform to time, then what should time conform to? If man should follow time and its changes with folded hands, then what will happen to the constructive and creative role of the human will? Man is riding the vehicle of time, which is in motion. He must not be negligent of guiding and controlling his vehicle. Otherwise, he will be like a person mounted on horseback, who leaves himself to the will of the horse.



The second point worth mentioning here is that some people have solved the difficult problem of 'Islam and the requirements of time' in a very simple and easy way. They say that Islam is an everlasting religion, and it can be adjusted to every age and every time. But when asked how this adjustment takes place and what its formula is, they at once say that when the circumstances change, the existing laws are repealed and replaced by other laws. They argue that the temporal laws of religion must be flexible and in harmony with the progress of knowledge and science and the expansion of culture and civilisation. According to them, such flexibility and adjustability to the requirements of time conform to the spirit of Islam and are not against its teachings.


They hold that, as the requirements of time are always changing, every age demands a new set of laws. They further hold that the civil and social laws of Islam are in conformity with the simple life of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and are mostly based on their customs and usages. As they are not compatible with the present age, they should be replaced by modern laws.


Such people should be asked: If adjustability means capability of being repealed, which law does not have this type of flexibility? Is there any law which is not compatible with time in this sense?


This interpretation of flexibility and applicability to all times is exactly like saying that books and libraries are the best means of enjoying life, because whenever one wants enjoyment, one can sell them and spend the money so obtained, on the gratification of one's desires.


An Iranian writer says that the teachings of Islam are divided into three parts. The first part consists of basic doctrines, such as Divine Unity, Prophethood, Resurrection etc. The second part is related to the acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, ablution, ritual cleaning, pilgrimage etc. The third part consists of the laws concerning the life of the people.


According to him only the first two parts are an integral part of religion, and something to be preserved for ever. As far as the third part is concerned, it is not an integral part of religion, for religion is not concerned with the daily way of life of the people. The Holy Prophet himself did not prescribe these laws as a part of religion, for they were not related to his mission as Messenger. It was only a chance that, as the Head of the State, he had to give some laws also. Otherwise, religion has nothing to do with the worldly life of the people.


It is hard to believe that a person living in a Muslim country should be so ignorant of the precepts of Islam.


Has not the Qur'an described the aim of the Prophets and the Apostles? Does not the Qur'an expressly say: "We have sent Our Messengers with clear proof and We have sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that people may rise with justice" (Surah al-Hadid, 57 : 25). The Qur'an describes social justice as the main aim of all the Prophets.


If you like, you may not act on the teachings of the Qur'an, but why do you commit a bigger sin by bringing a calumny against Islam and the Qur'an? Most of our misfortunes are due to the fact that our morals and laws have lost their only source of strength, viz. religion.


It is only during the past half a century that we have come to hear the cry that Islam is good, provided it remains confined to the places of worship, and has nothing to do with the society. This cry has burst forth from across the frontiers of the Muslim countries, and has been propagated throughout the Muslim world.


To make the purpose of this cry clearer, it may be said that the idea behind it is that Islam should stay as a force to withstand the spread of communism, but when it clashes with the interests of the West, it must go. From the viewpoint of the West, the devotional rites of Islam must continue so that the Muslims, whenever need be, could be stirred up against the atheistic and godless system of communism, but the social rules of Islam which provide a philosophy of life to the Muslims must go, for these rules give the Muslims a sense of independence and separate identity, and prevent their being swallowed up by the greedy West.


Unfortunately, the exponents of the thesis that Islam is not concerned with the daily practical life, have ignored certain basic facts.


Firstly, Islam, 1,400 years ago, depreciated the principle of, "We believe in certain things (some of the teachings of Islam) and reject the others", and proclaimed that the rules of Islam are irreversible.

Secondly, we believe that the time has come, when the Muslims should not be misled by such deceptive slogans. The critical sense of the people has now, more or less, been awakened, and gradually they are beginning to differentiate between the manifestations of progress and advancement, which are the outcome of the blooming of the scientific and intellectual forces, and the manifestations of corruption and perversion, though their source be in the West.


The people of the Muslim world have now, more than ever, become conscious of the value of the teachings of Islam, and have realised that they can lead an independent life only by following them. They are not going to give them up, at any cost.


The vigilant Muslims know that the propaganda against Islamic laws is nothing but an imperialistic fraud.


Thirdly, the exponents of this thesis should know that Islam, when powerful, withstands any other system, whether it is atheistic or not. Islam wants to dominate the society as a philosophy of life, and does not want to be confined to the 'masjids' and other places of worship. The Islam which will be restricted to the places of worship, will vacate the field, not only for the Western ideas, but it will vacate it for the anti-Western ideas and doctrines as well.


The penalty which the West is paying, in certain Muslim countries, is the result of its not realising this fact.



Man is not the only living being which leads a social life. Many animals, especially insects, are gregarious. They follow sensible but fixed rules of co-operation, division of labour, production and distribution, and giving and receiving orders.


The bees, and certain kinds of ants and termites enjoy such superb systems, that it will take man, who considers himself to be the prince of creation, years, even centuries, to reach that level.


Their civilisation, contrary to the human civilisation, has not passed through such periods as the forest age, the stone age and the atomic age. They, from the very beginning, have had the same civilisation and the same system as they have today. It is man who started his life from a scratch: Vide Surah al-Nisa, 4 : 28 "Man was created powerless" and is marching forward towards infinity.


For the animals, the requirements of life are always the same. For them, modernity and new fashions have no meaning. The ancient world and the modern world do not exist for them. So far as they are concerned science does not make new discoveries everyday. The latest products of light and heavy industries do not come to their market; why? Because they live by instinct, and not by reason.

But the social life of human beings is always subject to change. Every century, the world is changed. There lies the secret of man's being the prince of creation. Human being is the mature and worthy child of nature. He has reached a stage, where he does not require the direct guidance of that mysterious force which is called instinct.


Nature recognises that man is mature, and that is why it has left him free. What an animal accomplishes by its instinct and by following inviolable natural laws, human beings should accomplish by one's intellect and knowledge, and by following the viable enacted laws.

Man, being the master of his own destiny, can always deviate from the path of progress, and there lies the secret of his slips, setbacks, lapses and failures.


Just as the way to progress and advancement is open to him, the way to corruption, perversion and failure is also not closed.


Human beings have reached such a stage that, in the words of the Qur'an, they can shoulder that trust which the heavens, the earth and the mountains could not carry. In other words, they can lead a free life and can accept legal, professional and other responsibilities. That is the reason why they are not immune to mistakes, selfishness, ignorance and injustice.


Where the Qur'an refers to this wonderful human capacity, it also immediately describes man as 'unjust' and 'ignorant'.


These two human capacities - the capacity of evolution and the capacity of deviation, are inseparable. Man is not like an animal which, in its social life, goes neither forward nor backward. It turns neither to the right nor to the left. On the other hand, man, in his life, sometimes goes forward and sometimes backward. In human life if there is motion and speed, there is halt and pause also. If there is progress and evolution, there is corruption and perversion, too. If there is justice and virtue, there is injustice and aggression also. If there are manifestations of knowledge and wisdom, there are manifestations of ignorance and base desires, too.


It is possible that the changes which take place and the new phenomena which appear, may be of the latter category.



It is one of the characteristics of man that he sometimes overacts and sometimes underacts. If he adopts the middle course, he endeavours to differentiate between the changes of the right type and that of the wrong type. He endeavours to push time forward with the help of his knowledge and creative power, and to identify himself with the manifestations of progress and advancement. He also tries to arrest perversion, and not to associate himself with it.


But unfortunately, man does not always adopt this course. He is liable to be afflicted by two dangerous diseases, the disease of rigidity and the disease of ignorance. The first disease results in stagnation and abstention from progress, and the second in perversion and ruin.


The rigid is averse to everything new and cannot reconcile himself with anything, except the old. On the other hand, the misinformed regards everything new to be modern and progressive and considers it to be the requirement of time. To the rigid, every new development means corruption and perversion, whereas to the misinformed, all new developments indiscriminately mean the expansion of culture and knowledge.


The rigid does not distinguish between husk and kernel and between the means and the end. In his opinion the duty of religion is to preserve all that is obsolete and antiquated. He thinks that the Qur'an has come down to arrest the motion of time and to nail down the world conditions as they were.

According to this view, old and outdated customs, such as to begin reading, from the last part of the Qur'an, writing with a reed-pen, using a cardboard inkstand, washing in the tank of the Turkish bath, eating with the hands, burning an oil lamp, and remaining illiterate, are religious rites which must be preserved. In contrast, the misinformed keeps his eyes fixed on the Western world to be able to imitate every new fashion and every new custom. He calls this modernity and the compulsion of time.

Both the rigid and the misinformed suppose that all old customs and usages are a part of religious rites, with the difference that the rigid wants to preserve them, whereas the misinformed may conclude that religion is tantamount to stagnation and inertia.


During the past few centuries, the question of contradiction between religion and science has been much debated among the people of the West. The idea of contradiction arose from two developments. Firstly, the Church had accepted some ancient, philosophical and scientific notions as religious beliefs, but the progress of science has proved their falsity. Secondly, science has changed the form and the conditions of life.


The rigid, who are apparently religious, want to make the external form of the material life a part of religion, just as they have unnecessarily given religious colour to some philosophical questions.

The uninformed and the misinformed people are also under the impression that religion has prescribed a particular form of material life, and as science has decreed a change in this form, religion should be abolished.


The rigidity of one group, and the ignorance of the other, have brought into existence the fictitious idea of contradiction between science and religion.



Islam is a progressive religion and wants its followers to be progressive. The Qur'an has employed a parable to persuade the Muslims to keep marching forward, under the light of Islam. It says that the followers of Prophet Muhammad (P) are like a seed which is sown in the soil. First, it shoots out in the form of a tender seed leaf, then it grows stronger and stronger till it stands on its own stalk. It grows so rapidly that it causes great surprise to the farmers.


It is an analogy of the society which the Qur'an aims at. What the Qur'an desires is growth. The Qur'an wants to lay the foundation of a society, which should always be growing, developing and expanding.

Will Durant says that no religion has called upon its followers to gain strength as Islam has done. The history of early Islam shows how powerful a force Islam is to rebuild a society and to push it forward.

Islam is opposed to both rigidity and ignorance, and regards both of them as dangerous. The intellectual sterility of the rigid and their clinging to the old customs having no connection with Islam, have provided a pretext to the misinformed to consider Islam to be really opposed to modernity. On the other hand, the following and patronising of the latest fashions and modes of the West by the misinformed, their belief that the prosperity of the people of the East depends on their complete westernization, both physically and spiritually, their acceptance of the habits, manners and traditions of the West, and the blind adaptation of their own civil and social laws to those of the Western nations, have provided a pretext to the rigid to look at everything new with suspicion and to regard it as a threat to their religion, to their independence and to the social personality of their community.

In the meantime, Islam has to pay the penalty for the mistake of both the parties.


The rigidity of the rigid has left the field open to the misinformed to play havoc, and the ignorance of the misinformed has made the rigid more stubborn in their beliefs.


It is surprising that these so called cultured, but really ignorant people, think that time is infallible. The fact is that all changes are brought about by man, and man is not infallible at all. Then how can it be presumed that the changes of time must necessarily be free from error.


Just as man has scientific, moral, aesthetic and religious inclinations, and constantly takes new measures for the benefit of humanity, he has certain negative tendencies also. He is selfish, power- hungry and pleasure-seeking. He loves money and exploitation. Just as he is capable of making new discoveries and finding better ways and means of doing things, he is liable to commit mistakes also. But the misguided and misinformed do not understand these things. They simply go on harping on the same tune and repeating that the modern world is like this, and like that.


What is more surprising is that they compare the principles of life to such things as a shoe, a cap and a dress. As these things are sought after when they are new, and thrown away when they get old and worn out, the same, according to them, should be the case with universal truths. To them, good and bad has no sense other than that of new and old. Feudalism is bad only because it has become old and has gone out of fashion. Otherwise, it was quite good when it was first introduced into the world.

Similarly, exploitation of women is bad only because it is disliked by the modern world; otherwise, till recently, these same people had not given her a share of inheritance. They had not recognised her right of ownership, and had not respected her will or views.


According to such people in the present age, being the space age, just as it is no longer possible to ride a donkey and leave aside the aircraft, light an oil lamp and not to use electricity, use a hand-spinning mills, and to write with hand and leave aside gigantic printing machines, it is not possible not to attend dance parties, swimming-costume parties and barbecue dinners, not to take part in merry-making, not to play poker and not to wear mini-skirts, for all these things are the phenomena of the present century. If they do not indulge in such things, they fear that they will go back to the days of donkey-riding.

They assert that this is the atomic age, the age of science, the age of the artificial moons and the age of ballistic missiles. That is very good! We also thank God that we are living in this age, and wish that we may be able to enjoy the benefits of science and industry to the utmost. But have all the springs, except that of science gone dry in this age? Are all the phenomena of this century an outcome of the modern scientific progress? Does science claim that it has brought nature under its complete control?

Science makes no such claim. The tragedy of our century is that a group of scientists, with good intentions, applies itself to making new discoveries, but another group of selfish and power- hungry opportunists and money-worshippers misuses the fruit of the scientists' labour to achieve its own questionable ends. Science complains constantly that it is misused by stubborn human nature and this is the misfortune of our age.


Science moves forward in the field of physics and discovers the laws of light and reflection, and an opportunist group uses them for the preparation of blue films of a hostile and destructive nature. Chemistry makes progress and discovers the properties of various substances and their combinations. Then certain individuals exploit this discovery for the preparation of heroin, which is a curse to humanity. Science found its way into the inside of the atom and brought a wonderful source of energy under its control, but before it could be used for the benefit of mankind, the power-hungry people hastened to make the atom bomb, and to drop it on innocent people.


When a reception was arranged in honour of Einstein, the great scientist of the 20th Century, he himself mounted the rostrum and said: "Do you honour the man who has been instrumental in the making of the atom bomb?"


Einstein himself did not exercise his knowledge for its making. It was others, who harnessed his discoveries for this purpose.


The use of heroin, the atom bomb and the blue films cannot be justified on the ground that they are among the phenomena of the present century.


If the latest type of bombers are used for throwing the most perfect bombs on the people of another country, and the most highly educated people are employed to perform this job, can all this modernity reduce the inherent barbarity of the act?



The main argument of those, who say that in the matter of family rights we should follow the Western system, is that times have changed, and the requirements of the 20th century demand that we should do so. We propose to make our views on this point clear, because without doing so, the discussion of any other point will remain incomplete, though, owing to the limitation of space, it is not possible to discuss the question from all its philosophical, legal, social and moral angles. For the present purpose, it is enough to make two points clear:


The first point is that the harmony in and conformity to the changes of time is not such a simple question as some misinformed people think. The changes, brought about by time, are sometimes progressive and sometimes retrogressive. We should march forward along with the progressive changes, and should fight the retrogressive tendencies. To distinguish between these two kinds of changes and to determine their nature, we should find out the source of the new developments, and which way they are directed to. We should see what human tendencies have brought them into existence, and which classes of society are behind them. We should see whether they have been motivated by high human tendencies or by low animal propensities, and whether they have come into existence as a result of selfless investigations of scholars and intellectuals, or have been motivated by the base desires of self-seekers and the corrupt elements of society.



The second point, to be made clear, is that the Muslim thinkers believe that Islam has certain potentialities which have made it applicable to all times. According to these thinkers, Islamic teachings are in harmony with the progress of time, the expansion of culture and the resulting changes. Let us see what is the nature of the potentialities which Islam has. In other words, let us see what devices have been put into the structure of this religion, and whether they have given it the characteristic of being in harmony with all the changing situations, without there being any need of dropping any of its teachings and without any conflict taking place between its teachings and any situation arising out of the expansion of knowledge and civilisation.


Although this question has a technical aspect, in order to remove the misunderstanding of those who doubt that Islam has any such characteristic, we briefly deal with it here.


For further discussion of the subject, the readers may refer to Tanbihul Ummab by the late Ayatullah Naini, or to the Marjaiyyat Wa Imamat by the great contemporary scholar, Allamah Tabatabai. Both the books are, however in Persian.


There are many points, which form the secret of Islam being in harmony with the expansion of knowledge and civilisation, and the applicability of its firm and stable laws to the varying circumstances of life. We mention here only a few of them.



Islam has not dealt only with the external form of life, which depends upon the degree of the development of human knowledge. Islamic teachings are concerned also with the spirit and the goals of life, and determine the best way to reach these goals. Science has neither changed the spirit and the goals of life, nor has it suggested any better, shorter and safer route to reach them. It has only provided better means and facilities to traverse the way to those goals.


Islam, by keeping only goals within its domain and leaving the form and means to the domain of science and technology, has avoided any clash with culture and civilisation. Not only that, but by encouraging the factors helping the expansion of civilisation, namely, knowledge, labour, piety, will, courage and perseverance, it has undertaken the role of the main factor working for the cause of the expansion of civilisation.


Islam has set up traffic signposts all along the route of human progress. They, on the one hand, indicate the route and the destination, and, on the other, warn against pitfalls and dangerous spots. All Islamic laws are posts, either of the first kind or of the second.


The means of life in every age depend on the degree of the sum total of human knowledge. As human knowledge expands, more perfect means of life come into existence, and automatically take the place of the imperfect ones.


The external and material forms of these means have no sanctity in Islam, and the Muslims are not bound to preserve them forever.


Islam has not said that such and such tools are to be used for the purpose of tailoring, weaving, cultivation, transport, war or any other jobs. Hence, there can be no question of any conflict between science and Islam, in case any tools or implements become obsolete. Islam has not prescribed any particular design of shoes or dress, nor has it suggested any particular style of construction for buildings. Similarly, it does not insist on any particular methods of production and distribution.

This is one of those aspects of Islam, which have facilitated its applicability to all the developments of time.



Another characteristic of Islam, which is of great importance, is that it has envisaged stable laws for the stable human requirements and varying laws for the varying requirements. A part of the human requirements, both individual and collective, is of a permanent nature. They do not undergo any change with the change of time. The principles of the systems regulating human instincts and social relations always remain uniform.


We are aware of the theories of the "Relativity of Morals" and the "Relativity of Justice" which have their supporters, and would express our views with regard to them, later.


Another part of the human requirement is of a varying nature and this demands varying laws. Islam has visualised such requirements, and has linked them with certain principles which have subordinate laws for every changed situation.


To elucidate this point, I give a few examples:

Islam has laid down a social principle which has been stated in the Qur'an thus: Provide force against them (the enemies) to the utmost possible extent (Surah Anfal, 8 : 60). At the same time, a number of traditions of the Holy Prophet handed down to us, are mentioned in the books of Islamic law under the heading 'Horsemanship and Archery'. The Prophet directed that the Muslims should learn the arts of horsemanship and archery and teach them to their children. These arts were a part of military science in the ancient days. It is quite obvious that the basic order is 'to provide force'. Bow and arrow, sword and lance and mule and horse are not important. What is important is to be militarily powerful against the enemy. To acquire skill in horsemanship and archery is only a form of acquiring military strength, or a way of implementing the basic order. To provide strength is a standing law which has sprung from a permanent need.


However the necessity of acquiring skill in horsemanship and archery is a temporary requirement, which varies with the change of time. With the changed circumstances, skill in firearms etc. has taken the place of skill in archery.


Another example is the social principle concerning the exchange of wealth, mentioned in the Qur'an. Islam has recognised the principle of individual ownership. However, the ownership as recognised by it is different from that found in the capitalist world. A characteristic of the individual ownership in Islam is the principle of exchange.


In this connection, Islam has laid down certain rules. One of them has been enunciated by the Holy Qur'an in these words. And do not consume each other's wealth in vain. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2 : 188). In other words, in the case of business transactions, money must not pass from one hand to another, except in exchange for some lawful return which has a recognised value. Islam does not admit that ownership is equivalent to absolute authority.


It is specified in the Islamic law that the sale and purchase of certain things is forbidden. Such things include blood and human excreta. The reason is that these things do not have such a value that they should be considered to be a part of human wealth. The underlying principle is the same as contained in the above quoted verse. The invalidity of the sale and the purchase of blood and human excreta is only an instance of the application of that principle. Even where no exchange is involved, money or property belonging to someone else cannot be appropriated and disposed of gratuitously.


The law forbidding the appropriation of another's property gratuitously is a firm principle which is applicable to all time, and has emerged from a permanent social need. But the rule that blood and excreta are not to be regarded as wealth and are not saleable is related to time and the degree of civilisation. This rule is subject to modification with the change of conditions, the progress of science and industry and the possibility of the correct and useful utilisation of these items.


Another example: Imam Ali (peace be on him) never dyed his hair, though it had become grey during the last years of his life. One day a man said to him: "Didn't the Prophet order grey hair to be covered with dye?" 'Yes, he did", Ali replied. "Then why don't you dye your hair?" the man asked. Ali said "At the time the Prophet gave that instruction the number of the Muslims was small, and there were many aged people who used to take part in the battles. The Prophet ordered them to dye their hair to conceal their real age, for if the enemy could see that he was faced with only a bunch of old men, his morale might have been raised. With the spread of Islam to the whole world, that situation has changed. Now every body is free to dye, or not to dye, his hair".


In the opinion of Imam Ali, the Prophet's instruction was not a basic and permanent law. It was only a way of implementing that law, which says that we should not do anything which might raise the morale of the enemy.


Islam attaches importance to the external appearance., as well as to the inner spirit. But it wants the husk only for the sake of the kernel, and the garb only for the sake of the body.



Recently in Iran, there has been a controversy about the change of script. This question can be considered from two angles from the point of view of the Islamic principles, and in two forms. The first is whether Islam favours any particular alphabet and discriminates against others. Does it regard the present alphabet, known as Arabic, as its own and others such as Latin as alien? Islam which is a universal religion considers all the alphabets of the world as equal.


The second form of the question is how far the change of script will lead to the cultural merger of a Muslim nation with the other peoples, and what effects will it produce on the culture of this nation? After all, during the past 14 centuries, the Islamic and scientific literature produced by Iran has been recorded in the present script. With the change of script, will not all connections with this literature be severed? Another question is: "Who are the people who propose this change, and who will be the people who are going to implement it?" All these questions are relevant.



People like me are often faced with such questions, asked contemptuously and sarcastically. "What does Islamic law say about eating food while standing?' "What about eating food with a spoon and a fork?" "Is the wearing of the European hat forbidden?" "Is the use of a foreign language forbidden?"

Answering such questions, we say: Islam has not given any particular instructions in this respect. Islam has not directed its followers to eat food with the hand or with a spoon. It has directed them only to observe cleanliness. Islam has not prescribed any particular design of shoes, cap or dress. From the Islamic point of view, the English, Japanese and Persian (languages) all have just the same status.

However, Islam has said something else also. It has said that to lose one's identity is forbidden. To be over-awed needlessly by others is forbidden. Mimicry is forbidden. To be merged with others is forbidden. To be charmed by others, as a hare is charmed by a snake, is forbidden. To consider an alien dead donkey to be a mule is forbidden. To import their perversion and immorality, in the name of a phenomenon of the 20th century, is forbidden. To believe that the Muslims should be westernised internally and externally, physically and spiritually, is forbidden. To go to a Western country for a few days and on returning, to start pronouncing our own words in their way is forbidden.



Another aspect of Islam which makes it compatible with the requirements of the time is the conformity of its teachings to reason. Islam has proclaimed that its laws are based on considerations of higher interest. At the same time, Islam itself has given out the degree of importance of these interests. This facilitates the work of the experts of the Islamic law in those fields where various interests appear to be in contrast with each other.


In such cases, Islam has allowed the experts of Islamic law to weigh the relative importance of the various interests, and keeping in view the guidance which Islam itself has provided, to determine the more important interests. In Islamic jurisprudence, this rule is called the question as 'important and more important'. There are many instances where this rule of high and higher interests has been applied. Anyhow, for lack of space we skip over them.



Another aspect of Islam which has given this religion the characteristic of mobility and applicability to varying circumstances, and has kept it as a living and everlasting religion, is that within it there exists a body of laws whose object is to control and modify other laws. They are called by the jurists, 'the governing rules'.


The rule of "No harm" and "No loss", that a law will not apply to those cases in which it may cause hardship or harm the interests of an innocent person, pervades the entire legal system. The object of such rules is to control and modify other laws. In fact Islam has given a veto power to these rules which change other rules.



In addition, there is a further series of checks and balances which has given this religion the characteristic of finality. Ayatullah Na'ini and Allama Tabatabai have, in this respect, mostly relied on the powers delegated by Islam to the righteous Islamic Government.



The Pakistani poet and philosopher, Iqbal, says that Ijtihad (the deducing of laws from their original sources) is the motivating force of Islam. He is right in saying so. But what is more important is that Islam has a special quality of being amenable to Ijtihad. No other religion possesses this quality in the same manner. The internal structure of Islam has been so designed that, with the aid of Ijtihad, it can always cope with the ever-changing pattern of the requirements of life.


Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna) in his book, Al-Shifa, has based the need of Ijtihad on this very principle of ever-changing requirements. He says that conditions of life change constantly. New problems frequently crop up, but the fundamentals of Islam are constant and unalterable. Hence, in these circumstances, there should be some people who, with their full knowledge of all the points of law and precepts, may be able to answer all the questions which may arise from time to time, and thus meet the needs of the people.


The constitution of Iran provides that a body consisting of not less than five Mujtahids (eminent scholars of theology, capable of practising Ijtihad) should keep a watch on the laws enacted by the State from time to time.


The idea is that such people, as are neither rigid and opposed to the modern developments, nor uninformed, blindly following others, should keep a watch on the legislative activity of the country.

It is worth mentioning that Ijtihad in the real sense means specialisations and requires a deep insight into the fundamentals of Islam and a thorough knowledge of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, which naturally cannot be claimed by everyone who might have passed some time in an Islamic academy.


No doubt, it is a lifetime job to specialise in the principles and precepts of Islam, and it requires Divine help besides a taste, a talent and a special aptitude.


Apart from specialisation and Ijtihad, some people may acquire knowledge to the extent that their views may be regarded as authoritative. Such people must be pious and God-fearing to the utmost extent possible. The history of Islam mentions those people who, despite their vast knowledge and high morals, were cautious and fearful when they expressed their opinions, on points of law.