NCRI, August 31 – A Conference entitled "Islam, women and equality" was organized by the NCRI’s Women’s Committee on Saturday, August 27, at the residence of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian Resistance’s President-elect, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, with a large number of academics and experts on Islam and activists of gender equality movement.
Speakers shared their latest findings on the threat posed by fundamentalism against the equality movement.
In her speech, Mrs. Rajavi focused on the issue of democratic Islam and gender equality in Islam. Excerpts of her speech are as follows:
The rising wave of terrorism, carnage and destruction emanating from Islamic fundamentalism sheds light on the dangers it poses to human society. The threat to women and the achievements of the equality movement, however, is far greater and would have dire consequences for humanity, because this reactionary force in its ideological roots rests on misogyny.
Let us look at Iran, where the ominous calamity has had a devastating impact on the Iranian people and particularly women for nearly three decades. In recent years, it has affected other Islamic nations.
In order to impose and consolidate its supremacy, fundamentalism employs the most extensive and inhuman suppression and misogyny. It does not accord women their human value. From an economic and a social standpoint, it has formally declared that women enjoy half the rights men do. And in such things as the competence to lead, govern and sit on the bench has absolutely denied women those rights.
The reactionary mullahs who rule Iran and are the godfather of all Islamic fundamentalists have set new records in misogyny in Iran. Perhaps you have heard about the kind of despicable relationships they have been promoting. For example by legalizing polygamy and temporary marriage they have promoted prostitution and victimized oppressed women.
They have institutionalized gender apartheid throughout society. This has made the oppression of women and an assortment of discriminations against them systematic practice.
The fundamental question as regards this catastrophic oppression that needs to be answered is what objective do the fundamentalists pursue in such conduct and outlook? Do they intend to lend credibility to their backward interpretation of Islam? Is this their objective or are they pursuing other goals?
The Iranian experience under the mullahs’ rule makes it clear that the fundamentalists’ main objective has been and continues to be the preservation of their rule. They have shown clearly that misogyny provides them with the dynamism to suppress and serves to preserve the ruling theocracy.
Yet, in diametric opposition to this medieval system, there is ample experience that has proven in practice that Islam is committed to the ideal of gender equality. This is what the Resistance movement has experienced.
Iranian Resistance’s leading women, who have carried out the most sensitive responsibilities in the ranks of a liberation movement, have received their inspiration from an Islam that believes in equality, namely a democratic Islam. They have been capable of leading this movement in its fight against the most barbaric religious dictatorship of our age. They have succeeded in overcoming the spell of lack of faith in themselves and the weaker sex syndrome and, what is more, liberated, not only women, but also men from the bondage of exploitation. They have also succeeded in paving the way to defeat the fundamentalists who rule Iran.
This experience has had many accomplishments. In a nutshell, I would say that the effective response to fundamentalism is democratic Islam. Here, an important question arises before us: which one is the correct interpretation of Islam? The democratic Islam, which rejects backwardness and misogyny and presents itself as the true message of Islam, or the fundamentalists, whose claims and actions rest on an Islam which says that Islamic teachings and traditions justify misogyny.
To respond to this question I will raise the fundamental issue of the dynamism of the Quran.
I believe it is clear to all of us that fundamentalists are identified with religious dogmatism and a reactionary interpretation of religion. The end result of this approach is misogyny. The fundamentalists deliberately confuse Islam’s utopian ideals with some practical tactics. By practical tactics I mean those tactics in Islam that were compatible to the historical capacity of early Islam. The fundamentalists confuse these temporal regulations with fundamental principles.
Let me give an example. It was quite obvious that in early Islam, when humanity was still in the age of slavery, gender equality, as we know it today, was impossible to implement. The reality of a backward society prevented the establishment of gender equality. Thus, to realize the ideals of Islam, a transitional period was necessary. By that I mean middle-of-the-road and temporary solutions. These solutions were the early phases which society has to pass through one by one to reach higher phases. Those with reactionary thinking take these intermediate stages as Islam’s fundamental values.
This is a distorted interpretation of Islam. Nevertheless, this approach gradually became very complicated. In other words, the regulations to which I referred earlier, such as the accepted difference in the right of women to inheritance, or the conditional respite for polygamy, were taken by the reactionary forces as Islam’s utopian ideals and values. They themselves set some precedents under the name of Islam and derived from it a theory: a man equals two women.
For its part, the democratic Islam has rejected these ploys and any reactionary interpretation of the Quran and Islam. In verse 7 of Chapter Al-e Imran (The Family of Imran), the Holy Quran states that there are two sets of verses, mohkamat and motashabihat. Mohkamat are the fundamental principles of Islam, definite and unchangeable. They contain the philosophical essence of Islam’s worldview on humankind. Motashabihat are relative, dynamic and flexible. They relate to the methods and rules of conduct in everyday life. As such, they are never rigid and they can and must be adapted to human progress, technological advancement and the social norms of the times, while preserving the same monistic essence and spirit of Islam. Otherwise, they would become a useless and rigid set of canonical laws.
It must be noted that a dynamic understanding of Islam is based on Islam’s methodology and not a newly created understanding. Islam possesses a kind of dynamism that opens the way for society’s advancement and progress.
In Al-e Imran Chapter, the Quran denounces any attempt to confuse solid principles with transient rules. It warns that clinging onto the allegorical verses is like being drawn into a whirlpool in which those with weak minds and evil hearts will drown. But those who are firmly grounded in knowledge would be spared from such pitfalls. They prosper who consider the teaching and message of Islam in its totality and separate lasting principles from passing rules.
This modus operandi is the most fundamental criterion to distinguish between backward-looking values and the true Islam that the Prophet of Islam left behind.
To avoid dogmatism and insure the longevity of this school of thought in social leadership, the principle of ijtihad exists in Islam that guarantees the compatibility of edicts with the specific set of societal conditions.
The other issue is recognition of the place of the masses in political power. This is one of the foundations of Islamic thinking. This is one of the most fundamental differences between democratic Islam and fundamentalism. This difference is over the way we look at political power, politics and law.
The fundamentalists impose the kind of laws on social and political life which they purport to be divine. In their view, there must be absolute submission to these laws. In the view of fundamentalists, the vali-e faqih (or the supreme leader) of society is God’s vicegerent on Earth and enjoys unlimited authority and is not accountable to any worldly being.
Fundamentalism considers the people as minors who lack responsibility. It does not recognize free choice for the people and rejects the notion of human responsibility. When assuming power, this mode of thinking, as we experienced in Iran, quickly installs a bloody theocracy.
But democratic Islam believes that political power belongs to the people and it is they who enact laws. Of course, the Quran, which introduces itself as “the interpretation of every phenomenon”, has put forth some edicts in a limited number of areas. But the main issues which the Quran has addressed relate to the interpretation the Universe, philosophy, evolution and the liberating essence of historical advancement under human beings’ responsibility in the path of attaining freedom, equality and building a society around human values. Therefore, the determination of social and political relationships has been bestowed on human beings themselves who will do so inspired by those very principles.
Chapter Al-Qessas (The Stories) underscores that God has wished that those who have been oppressed in the land should rule, lead and inherit the Earth. This right is inalienable, unconditional and without restrictions. True Muslims believe that God’s will in social realm would essentially and historically be realized through people’s power.
Another fundamental difference between democratic Islam and fundamentalism is the issue of man’s exploitation of man. Islamic fundamentalists have given theoretical basis to an assortment of discriminations and inequalities, including gender inequality under the name of Islam, the foundation of which is exploitation.
Democratic Islam believes in Towhid (monotheism), rejection of exploitation and the realization of equality and liberation from all forms of discrimination and bondage. In Chapter Hadid (Steel), the Quran says that the prophets were chosen to establish justice and equity. In Chapter Al-Anbiya (The Prophets), human beings have been heralded with being liberated from oppression and discrimination. Verse 104 states, "My righteous servants shall inherit the earth."
A dynamic understanding of Islam is inherently an ally of man in his struggle for freedom and justice and an ally for women’s equality movement. This thinking is respected by all progressive human beings.
It does nevertheless raise a question, which is whether a dynamic interpretation of Islam has its roots and foundations in Islam itself or whether we plan to engage in a revision of Islam and correct it.
The answer is that this dynamic interpretation is Islam’s true identity. This thinking is directly based on the Quran and Prophet Mohammad’s traditions and teachings. This vision does not look at women as second rate. It is a vision that is not affected by distortion and misuse by oppressive rulers and reactionary peddlers of religion or the interests of the male-dominated system of fourteen centuries ago. We call this thinking democratic Islam. But this is not a new religion. It is an Islam that when made rid of that tainted interpretation, would bring about a qualitative change in the destiny of Muslims, and particularly women in the Islamic world, and would make it dramatically capable of pushing aside fundamentalism.
The reality of Islam’s history, religious scripture and most importantly, the Quran itself, advocate Justice for all mankind and gender equality.
Considering this principle, we must reply to the question that if gender equality is one of Islam’s utopian principles, what changes it has gone through after the advent of Islam.
In reality, from the outset, Islam has confronted oppression and discrimination against women. During the complex circumstances fourteen centuries ago, Prophet opened the way for women, particularly the most oppressed women, namely the women slaves, to participate in political and social struggle. Not before too long, he succeeded in bringing to the fore a large layer, including hundreds of pioneering women, whose names have been recorded in history. You may have heard that the first person who died under torture for defending was a woman slave, named Somayya.
From day one, women held positions of responsibility that were until then generally not routine. I mean women’s participation in political and social affairs. At the time, hundreds of leading women organized themselves around Prophet . According to credible Islamic sources, all of them, more than 600, had personally signed a pledge of allegiance with the Prophet free of the influence of their husbands or other men. This pledge was called "bey’a" and historical texts have referred to these women as "mobaye’a," meaning those who made " bey’a."
what Islam has promoted in the early years as far as women’s human dignity, social, economic and political rights for women were concerned, amounted to a great revolution. Giving a share of inheritance to women and recognizing their right to ownership was a major undertaking, because they were completely out of the production cycle. Moreover, recognizing the right of testimony, judgeship and leadership for women was a great leap that was unprecedented at the time and even in many centuries beyond.
What is genuine is the human message of Muhammedan religion that women and men are equal. But, if this is true, then we must experience it in practice with specific accomplishments. Here, the question is what are those accomplishments?
Our Resistance movement has significant achievements in this regard. We have seen through our own experience that a development which carries with it new human values is for a generation of women to be in leadership. But this is not designed to guarantee women’s equality only. It is a development that liberates both women and men. It casts aside their sense of alienation and allows every one to realize his or her own human essence and achieve perfection and oneness.
When a pioneering generation of women and men at the height of their awareness and volition choose some one as their leader who has historically not occupied the position of an equal human being, this choice is tantamount to passing through from the world of patriarchy and its backward values to the world of humanity.
It is in essence a change in culture that brings to fore human gem in every human being. Women and men in this movement have emerged successful from this test and have been persevering in this path for several years. They have been swimming against history’s spontaneous direction and rejected the thousands-years old gender-based and exploitative culture.
One of the most important outcomes of this path is that everyone humanizes how he understands, comprehends, looks and listens or better said feels and as the Quran says, enlightens his or her heart.
Thus, he or she can see and grasp all that is good, clean, all that is God’s mercy and kindness. In such a world, human beings’ shortcomings and vices are not genuine. But it is the relationship of each human being with the other and the extent of sacrificing for the other that prevail.
Attaining women’s equality has been achieved through women’s unsparing sacrifice in the front lines of a difficult, bloody and long struggle against the most ominous, medieval dictatorship.
In the past 24 years, out of the 120,000 victims of political executions, some 40,000 have been women, among them 13-year-olds such as Fatemeh Mesbah to elderly mothers to pregnant women, all of whom were brutally executed by the mullahs’ henchmen.
In one word, they demonstrated that they represent the necessary response to fundamentalism and theocracy and that without their presence in political leadership, nothing would remain steadfast and no prospects for victory would exist.
Of course, the mullahs have held their grip on power through the most violent oppression. But, the reality is that the Resistance’s leading women have defeated their misogynist ideology and have removed the stain of inequality from the face of Islam.
One must say with utmost pride that these resistant women have proven in action the real visage of Islam, its human essence, its belief in gender equality and its message of tolerance, forgiveness, mercy and emancipation.