November 10, 2013

Women's Rights in Islam

This is a part of an interview with Fethullah Gulen by Mehmet Gundem of Milliyet Daily in January 2005.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no such limitation.

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

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

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

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