Islamic Feminism & Iranian Women Movements
Islamic Feminism is a term nowadays becoming very common, especially in Islamic Countries insisting Islam is complete and there is nothing out of it happening, but just a few people think how can one have it both ways, i.e. be a Muslim and be a feminist? This compound noun is so contradictory that words cannot describe it. It is formed by adding “Islamic” to “Feminism” that will be scrutinized briefly in this article to prove why these two words cannot stand together and it is an absolute “no way”!
In the 18th century, Feminism became popular in France and the Netherlands and the early twentieth century, it reached the USA. This civil movement first aimed to gain some civil rights for women but amongst all, “the right to vote” became bold. The second movement began in the 70s and 80s and then activists did not just demand “the right to vote” but to gain civil and economical rights. What Feminists are demanding is equal rights regardless of gender on all grounds. Some critics point out to the physical differences between men and women and try to whitewash and keep Patriarchal system, but assuming only men existed, even men are physically different and for instance in a factory that only men work, even they are different from each other, some are thin and some are muscular, some are handsome and some rather ugly, some are strong and some weak, so the salary of them must be differentiate based on appearance! This is not a fair theory. We should note that some have exceeded feminism and believe women are better than men, they are extremists and this article is not related to them. According to article 1 of the International Declaration of Human Rights: “all human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights.” And article 2.1 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it is mentioned: “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status” and amongst all in the article 1 of Convention of Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is mentioned: “Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made based on sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Thus, talking about Feminism is talking about equal rights and stand against any law that forbids or limits some rights based on gender and for instance, we cannot deprive women of studying a particular major because they are “women”.
But what are women’s rights in Islam? Maybe 1400 years ago, when Arabs buried their daughters and it was a shame if a man had a daughter, some rights have been given to women, but this does not mean yet, there is no need to change those rights that in our era are mostly violating international documents. These changes are inevitable and the end of the day is doomed to be removed. In Iran there are shreds of evidence that there was a “matriarchal” period which lasted up to Alexander attacked Persia, this attack ended in taking over our land and replaced “matriarchal” system with “patriarchal” up till Sasanian Empire when once again women gained their rights but this was temporary and by Islamic forces invading Iran, women lost all their rights and were amounted as the property of a man. For instance in the Quran 2-223 indicates: “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers”. In a case in family court, I was advocating a woman who was blaming his husband because he was only interested in oral sex and asked the court to issue a sentence to force the husband to pay more attention to her needs as well, but surprisingly the court by indicating the aforementioned verse of Quran did not accept the case and dismissed it, while if the claimant was man, the woman was sentenced on the grounds of being disobedient and forced her to do whatever her husband asks for, and if she declined her daily allowance was suspended and issued permission for the man to get married again. In 4-34 it is mentioned: “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them, guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], beat them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever exalted and grand”, many commentators tried to define this and for example, they said this is the third step, but domestic or intimate partner violence is not acceptable in any way and “beat them” is an order in the imperative form, so it is not an option, but a “must be done”. Women in Islam have no power at all to choose
And are always under custody of a man, either her father of grandfather from father side before marriage – regardless of her age – and after that her husband. A girl cannot choose who she wants to marry with unless her father approves him and gives permission (article 1044 Civil Law); or cannot study or work unless they give permission, so a husband can intervene and force his wife not to work if he assumes it against his dignity and prestige (article 1117 Civil Law), that all are adopted from Islamic Jurisprudence. On the other hand, Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, fourth Caliph of Sunnis and first Imam of Shi’as in the book mentioning his speeches, in the 80th speech assumes women as “wanting in reason” and make it clear why 1 male witness equals 2 female witnesses or inherits half of a man in the same position.
Other right feminists have fought for is the “Divorce Right” and “Child Custody”. The first one according to article 1133 of Civil Law, and incompetence with Islamic jurisprudence is a right dedicated to men and the second one according to Islam is always dedicated to the father or his father, thus in article 1169 in a divorce case, a mother has custody only up to the time the child becomes 7 years old and after that, they must live with their father until they reach to Islamic mature age, i.e. 9 lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys, and in this case considering omitting article 1209 – which has been recognized as incompetent with Islamic Law and was deleted – which indicated 18 years is the age an individual is considered mature and discerning, first a case must be filed to approve child’s discerning and another case should be filed for the child to choose with whom he or She wishes to live. Although tutorship remains always in hands of the father of his father, in article 43 of Family Protection Law the custody is given to the mother in case the father is dead, yet if the child’s grandfather is alive he will be the tutorship.
Women’s movements towards gaining equal rights began with the revolution known as “constitutional revolution” in which the revolutionaries asked Muzafareddin Shah Qajar to give up the power and constitutional law was written and a parliament formed. Famous authors including Kasravi, Malekzadeh, Adamiyat, Nezam Mafi, Mohit Mafi, Nazemolislam kermani, safaee, Dowlat Abadi and Rezvani marked out unions formed by women during the mentioned revolution: Unions such as Free Women Union in 1907, Women of Country in 1910, Patriot Women, etc. challenging the traditions and culture of that moment. However, only a few of these women who supported Constitutional revolution were considering women’s rights, but the first women taking actions for women’s rights were either a constitutionalist or one of the civil movement of 1280 solar year, namely, seddighe dolatabadi, Banou Amir Sehi Mah Sultan, or were from the open-minded families with nationalistic ideas like Mohtaram Eskandari. After the constitutionists earned what they asked for, “a lot of uneducated women returned to their former places in their homes” and only educated and open-minded women continued their way and insist on gaining women’s rights. At this time, constitutionalist men like Mirzadeh Eshqi, Malekoshoara Bahar, Iraj Mirza, etc. also supported women’s movements and what they proposed, especially the right to study and remove Compulsory hijab. For instance in 4th of August 1911Haj Mohammadtaghi Vakilolroaya, an MP, talked about equal rights and proposed the pass a law to give the voting right to women in parliament and caused the parliament a great discussion and one of the mullahs in the parliament disagreed with it and mentioned it is against Islam. Although these supports did not end in any result comparison to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 was more emphasizing women’s rights.
Overall it can be said that although constitutionalist Revolution profited from women but with disagreements of mullahs at that time had no good consequences for women and inaction gave them no specific success for them and no rights were recognized by law for women. The constitution law contained absolutely no right for women which caused them to react and since then different unions or associations were formed under different titles and focused on women’s rights.
During Pahlavi Era, Reza Shah ordered to remove Hijab and criminalized wearing Hijab. Notwithstanding all criticisms against this “unveiling”, no one mentions it caused half of Iranian society to come back to the stage and gain their rights. In 1959 after Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi gave a speech in Ministers meeting, the media covered the issue that Shah wants Women to have the right to vote and everyone was talking about it. In media, it was mentioned that Shah is standing against those who disagree with this right alone. After all these fights and disagreements Shah declared “the white revolution” also known as “Shah and People Revolution” 26th of January 1963 the election law was amended and according to the 5th principle of the mentioned revolution’s declaration for the first time, women were allowed to take part in elections either by voting or becoming a candidate and in the same year women participated in the election. The consequence of this principle was that women also had the right to decide on their future and play a vital role in the future of the country. Afterward, a law was passed under the name of The Family Protection Law on the 16th of April 1963according to which women gained the right to file divorce and custody of children. Lots of women after these reforms and took part in national events and became minister, Member of Parliament or Senate, University Instructors, Judges, Lawyers and Attorneys, managers of companies and even employed by Governmental or non-governmental organizations and companies.
During that year Ruhollah Khomeini sent a telegraph addressing Shah that these are all against Islam and asked him to step down and overrule them, but Shah did not and so this was the first time a mullah who has published his theory of religious leader was published began his disagreements, and finally in a coalition with lefties 1979 revolution happened. As soon as Khomeini gained power, he first killed all opposing him, including lefties to whom he promised he would not get the power and does not want to be a leader. Then Hijab became compulsory by Hassan Rouhani, the current president of the Islamic Republic, suggesting and Khomeini signed it. On the 8th of March 1979 women demonstrated while shouting “we did not make revolution, to go backward” but it was not efficient and since then all women have gained are demolished. In politics, by using the term “political-man” –an Arabic compound noun – they prevented women to become candida and remove their right to file divorce or custody as mentioned above.
To sum up, two words “Islam” and “Feminism” cannot form a single compound noun and a person can’t be “Muslim Feminist”. Those advertising this theory are giving wrong and fraudulent interpretations from Islam, while bearing in mind all Abrahamic religions are masculine and patriarchal, now the third wave of Feminism is criticizing Simone de Beauvoir used the patriarchal literature and ask for removing gender base words be eliminated and languages are amended, while in Farsi, the language spoken in Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan there is no gender and for instance, there is only one-third person singular subject form “OU” and the gender of the person has no role to play in it. Anyway, “Islamic Feminism” is more like a dirty joke rather than a serious term because Islam never agrees to equal rights for women because it is mentioned in Quran and Islamic jurisprudence and it is like a weird alien to accept equal rights while believing in Islam.
Attorney-at-Law and University Instructor in Iran