Monday, March 31, 2008

Ali Shariati's "Expectations from the Muslim Woman"

Category: WEAK

Here's a rare political/philosophical addition. Dr. Ali Shariati is an interesting figure. An Iranian sociologist inclined to Socialism yet also prominent in the field of contemporary Islamic political theory. He drew inspiration from the last major political thinker of the Sunni world, Allama Iqbal and the famous Sufi poet, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (the former also being heavily inspired by the latter).

Here is the Wikipedia article on him:

There are two things to take into account.

1) He was inclined to Socialist views. Wikipedia: "Shariati's worldview was shaped by the Marxism and Third Worldism he encountered as a student in Paris - ideas that class war and revolution would bring about a just and classless society. He sought to translate these ideas into cultural symbols of Shiism that Iranians could relate to."

2) He was Shi'ite. However, his forays into historical politics are usually kept seperate from his modern political views even within a work, he just uses Ahl-ul-Bayt as role models. As such, one can take his preoccupation with the Prophet (saw)'s family and easily include most of the Sahaba with mentions of Hazrat Ali (ra), Fatima (ra), and their family to further reinforce his original ideas even better.

These two points while also being weaknesses, wind up serving as strengths. The political orientation that Socialism gave him let loose his amazing mind on Western capitalism/civilization in awe-inspiringly, potently meaningful words that still hold a transcending sort of spiritual grace. To call these reflections of his sociological imagination simply "enlightening" would be an understatement. Keeping that in mind, I have pasted relevant excerpts from his lecture, Expectations from the Muslim Woman here, carefully excising any Shi'ite-Sunni political conflicts (which weighed down most of the latter half of the work). I have grayed the paragraphs which I felt were leaning too much towards either socialism or Shi'ite beliefs. I made the font slightly larger to distinguish where the good stuff starts.

Prior to beginning my lecture, I would like to propose some practical suggestions. Just speaking about women's rights, women's personality and Islam's view of women is very different from realising the actual value which Islam gives to human beings, and to women in particular. Most often, we are satisfied by pointing out that Islam gives great value to science or establishes progressive rights for women. Unfortunately we never actually use or benefit from this value or these rights. We could benefit from these if we were to act according to the understanding which we could acquire of them.

A great many people are acquainted with Islamic views of society, social relations, women's rights, children's rights and family rights, but these same people then actually follow non-Islamic, ancient cultural traditions and do not dare to base their lives upon Islamic values. That is, they do not practice what they preach. Thus we always remain at the stage of talking. We must complete Islamic views and intellectual discussions with practical solutions. We must find a way whereby we reach these values and rights in practice. After proposing my views, the question should be asked as to how we can actually put them into practice. Throughout history, the problem of women's rights and their role has always been considered to be an intellectual problem. Thus, various religious, philosophical and social systems have reached varying views in this respect.

Unfortunately the crisis of the problem of women's liberation which began in the West and has been strengthened by the ruling superpowers in the 20th century has influenced all human societies, even closed traditional and religious societies. There are only a few cultural, traditional and even religious societies which have been able to properly stand against this flood. Such societies have frequently been confronted by a particular kind of modernism, which they have adopted under the guise of the liberation of women, either by rejecting old traditions or by undertaking reckless struggles. None of them have succeeded in standing against this attack. In such societies the newly-educated class, the pseudo-intellectuals, who are in the majority, strongly and vigorously welcome this crisis. They themselves even act as one of the forces that strengthen this corrupting and destructive transformation.

In traditional religious societies, including Islamic communities, neither group could stand against the attack of the modern view of the liberation of women as announced by the West. The pseudo-intellectual and modern class of Islamic and non-Islamic societies in the East considered a modern style of dress to be the symbol of modern civilization, progress and awareness. The old, traditional group passed through and confronted this crisis with non-scientific and illogical tactics due to their lack of experience. It is a general law that when there is a fire resulting from a spill of oil, if someone tries to hurriedly and unskilfully put the fire out, it only spreads more rapidly and more vigorously! Thus such unskilled struggles against the West have frequently been carried on in a manner that has created complex and differing reactions inside such societies. In this way they have paved the way for acceptance of Western ideas and innovations. There are very few societies who have been able to stand against, to adequately resist, and to show an effective reaction to the modern West by consciously selecting their own manner and type of lifestyle.


Then suddenly the phenomenon of sexual liberation appeared. Women realized that under the banner of sexual liberation, all of the inhuman limits, restrictions, and bonds which restrained them could be destroyed. Women welcomed this change wholeheartedly to the extent that sexual liberation entered the arena of science! What is normally designated as the scientific understanding of religion is not a pure scientific and scholastic understanding. It is rather a bourgeois cognition. After the Middle Ages, Science, which had been in the service of religion and the Church, was made to serve the contempory ruling bourgeois system. If nowadays Science appears to oppose religion and moral values, it is not really Science that opposes these, but it is the ruling bourgeoisie which does so, just as in the Middle Ages, it was feudalism which defended aristocratic social-moral traditions in the name of religion. It was Christianity which was, in fact, defending feudalism, and now it is Science which, in fact, defends the bourgeoisie. It is intellectuals - those who believe that economic and materialistic social foundations are the basis of all social transformations - who will more easily accept my argument and logic. Up to the appearance of Freud (who was one of the agents of the bourgeoisie), it was through the liberal bourgeois spirit that scientific sexualism was manifested. It must be taken into consideration that the bourgeoisie is always an inferior class. Although feudalism was an inhuman system, it nevertheless relied on an aristocratic elite and their moral values, even though these moral values led to a decline. The bourgeois mentality denies all of the elevated, exalted human values, and believes in nothing except money.

Therefore, a scholar or scientist who lives, thinks and studies during the bourgeois age, measures collective cultural and spiritual values (the sacrifices of mankind, the martyrdoms, struggles, literature, art etc.), with only the scale of naked economy, with production and consumption and with nothing else. One who studies psychology or anthropology, looking at all the dimensions and manifestations of the mystic spirit of human beings, that which religion believes to be the spirit of God and the manifestation of metaphysical virtues, sees only unsatisfied sexual appetites. Belief, culture, mental illnesses all are related to the struggle to release an imprisoned and condemned sexual complex. The bourgeois social scientist looks at all of the delicate human sensations and feelings (even a mother caressing her child, or the worship of the beloved by the lover, and all other issues) in relation to sex. Freud, a modern bourgeois, armed himself against all moral and human values, against all elevated and exalted manifestations of the human soul, and called it "realism". Freud's realism was not that of the bourgeoisie, but rather that of the scientist, scholar, philosopher, psychologist, and anthropologist who serve the bourgeois class, for all of these bring the human being down to the level of a sexual and economic animal! Thus, the bourgeoisie, by alienating all values and virtues, made only one religion, one school, one temple and one messenger for all the miserable men of this age; a religion for which all must be sacrificed. This messenger was named Freud. His religion was sex. His temple was Freudianism, and the first to be sacrificed on the threshold of this temple was woman and her human values.

We who live in the East always speak about Western colonization, but I would like to explain that this does not mean that Western colonization only colonizes or exploits the East. It is a world-wide power representing a class of people that exploit and colonize both the East and the West. If I had the opportunity, I would explain that this power has alienated the European masses even more than the Eastern masses. The European has been overtaken by colonialism's legacy of unemployment and misery and will continue to be in the future. They will continue to be victims of anti-colonialism. This ruling colonial power influences Eastern people in many ways, such as placing emphasis upon unimportant, sensational and emotional matters; spreading rumors, discrimination, and hypocrisy; and sowing discord and pessimism, to keep Easterners occupied with mundane and unimportant issues. By these means Easterners are kept in a state whereby they are unaware of what Western colonization is doing to them, unaware of their fate and destiny. These conspiracies then cause young Europeans, likewise, to become alienated and destructive, and commit more deception and crime. All of these actions are taken in the name of the colonization of Eastern countries without the Easterners realizing it...

For example, we all know about the widespread international police network and the extensive intelligence services which observe even the minutest movement anywhere in the world. And yet there are tons and tons of narcotics which are freely transferred from the East to the West. They are distributed and sold by huge international organizations and transferred through their factories, planes, ports, ships and offices. Why is it that the international police cannot prevent the distribution of narcotics among the younger generation in Europe and the U.S.A.? Why? Because the ruling powers prevent the young generation from understanding what is going on in Europe and the U.S.A. The ruling powers prevent them from caring about who rules the destiny and fate of humanity. These are the same ruling powers which colonize both West and East; only their methods and relationships differ. At any rate, in both East and West, human beings are victims of this inhuman world-wide power.

One of the most important tools that has been created by this ruling power from the intellectual, social, economic and moral point of view, is Freudian sexualism. This has become the communal social spirit of our age and has become the substitute for all values, virtues and liberties. It is not accidental that Freud's view of sexuality came to prominence after the Second World War and became the fundamental basis and foundation of art. Most motion pictures are based on only two elements; violence and sexuality. Both of these are legacies of the war. Motion pictures are one of the most important examples of the relationship of art to Western capitalism because film production is the only art which cannot exist and develop without the aid of capital. Thus it differs from the arts of painting, literature, poetry and music. A poor painter, writer, poet or musician can create the greatest work of art, but a film producer must have capital of millions of dollars to create a saleable film. Thus, this art is unconsciously supporting capitalism. The pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-scholars of the third and fourth worlds suppose that Freudism is really the science of the present age. Modern scholars research and record Freud's works in a special way. It is interesting to note that in underdeveloped countries, under the guise of intellectuality and modern scientific psychology, scholars and scientists serve these universal powers free of charge. In the name of Science, they freely propagate inhuman ideas among the intellectuals and the younger generation. How miserable are these thinkers and intellectuals who serve the capitalistic ruling powers! They really believe that they are serving humanity, freedom, liberty and science!

Thus, in order for the superpowers of bourgeois scientism to dominate, both the East and the West must be sacrificed. They must become the victims of narcotics as well as Freudianism. From Scientism's point of view, every young person who is still human and who still shows sympathy and sensibility towards the destiny of his or her nation and other nations, must be caused to change his or her mind, must be made indifferent to his or her destiny and the destiny of others. In order to accomplish this, any means is permissible and advisable, whether it takes the form of science, art, sports, literature, history, tradition, or religion. It does not make any difference. One must be amused by any form. One must be removed from the scene so that one takes notice of nothing. The best way is scientific and mental stupifaction and the strongest factor, particularly among the younger generation, is sex! Why sex? Because it can be logically explained. It is new. It can easily and freely be accepted. It is the most important factor that can attract the young generation, who, in turn, are the most important victims of Freudianism. Thus all of their intellectual, human, artistic, social, political and financial investments must strengthen this School of thought. It is not strange to see how rapidly it progresses and develops.

It must be noted that there is another group who co-operates, albeit unconsciously, in a most effective way with this world-wide power, to achieve the aim of attracting the younger generation, particularly women, to Freudianism and to sex. This group unskilfully fights Freud's innovations by relying on old, strict, illogical and inhuman traditions to create restrictions and produce psychological complexes in the young generation, particularly women. You may want to know how they co-operate in this inauspicious endeavor.

They co-operate by pushing the young generation towards pessimism. While Freudianism invites woman out of the house, this old group tries to hold her inside by creating bonds, obligations, and restrictions, and by depriving her of all her human and religious rights, thus unconsciously preparing the way for Freudianism. It is in this way that they co-operate with Freud. Statistics show that the insidious invitation of Freudianism has been most successful in traditional societies and countries where women have been most deprived. Thus we cannot fight and confront this universal illness and danger only by relying on ancient traditions, customs, restrictions, bonds, etc. which deny rights to women. There is only one solution; to give human and Islamic rights back to women. Yes! This is the only way! If the human and Islamic rights of woman are given back to her, you have armed her with the weapon whereby she can personally resist and confront Freudianism. But if you deprive her of her rights, you insure that this satanic invitation will ensnare her. You have pushed her towards it.

The essential and important problem, which we have confused, is the distinction between culture and religion. Culture and religion have mixed with each other throughout history. They make up the collection of ideas, tastes, behavior, feelings, customs and legal relationships which are sacred and honored in a society. For example, in Islamic societies, Islamic rights, values, precepts and laws relating to the economy, the family, the community and even the social system have been mixed with local and tribal traditions formed over the centuries. These are certainly not related to Islam. They are only ancient tribal and local traditions and customs supported and protected by society. Thus an intellectual wishing to be released from such ancient, local, tribal traditions, must fight a combination of religion and custom in order to be free of both. Thus, both groups who defend religion and those who do not, must defend the mixture of ancient customs. Those who fight against traditions also confront the living and uplifting values of Islam. None of these groups, neither the progressive modern intellectuals nor the old traditional religious group, can distinguish between religion and culture. Why should they be separate and distinct from each other? Because we Muslims believe Islamic rights and laws are derived from the essence of humanity and the essence of nature, and are made by the Will of the Creator of the laws of nature. The laws of nature are stable and never grow old. Thus laws which are based on the general dignity of creation never grow old. On the contrary, social traditions based on production and consumption (in cultural systems where they are not fixed laws) have to change.

Religion, a living, permanent phenomenon which could be effective in the present age, can no longer play an effective role in the social life of a community, a society or a generation, because Religion has been captured by ancient, declining, ossified, deviated traditions, and thus can no longer effectively confront the danger of the superpowers. An aware intellectual is a historian, traditionalist, Islamologist, chronologist and sociologist whose most important cultural mission and responsibility is to distinguish Islam as a living faith, removed from the old traditional moulds which are not Islam but rather tribal customs, and to put the true Islamic ideas and faith into new moulds which match the necessities of the present age. The everlasting, living, moving, progressive Islamic contents must be protected, and put into new moulds which meet the challenges of each age. Based on my own experience, I have to say that even the most progressive, intellectual, rebellious and revolutionary thinker, when confronted by pure Islamic values and virtues, (once these values have been separated from inherited, tribal, ancient, ignorant customs), will be attracted to them and submit easily to them.

The visage of Fatima; the visage of the woman who existed, who spoke, who lived, who played a role in the mosque, in society, in the home training her children, in her family's social struggles and in Islam; a woman whose role should be made clear in all its dimensions to the present generation (not only to Muslims, but to any human being, man or woman, who has human feelings, who believes in human values, and who is faithful to real freedom) should be accepted as the best and most effective role to be imitated by the present generation. I myself have experienced this. I have seen so-called religious histories which lack religious feelings, which have no idea about religion, which even deny and oppose religion. When a proper picture of the Prophet's family, all of whom showed humility and submission, emerges, we feel that they are really living personalities. When I say that Islam is living, I mean it is a collection of living thoughts and ideas. It is alive because of its living social laws and rights. It is alive because exemplary, living personalities have been trained by it.

When the beautiful image of Hossein is presented, no human society, no matter what form of production it may have, no matter what social system it may use, no matter at what cultural stage it may be, can deny his unique and exceptional personality. No one can deny he is an eternal human symbol who should be followed, admired and praised. All accept him.


Such people are living. They are symbols of Islam. To be alive means to be effective, to show the right way, to guide humanity in whatever stage it may be, in whatever land it may live, and to whatever race it may belong.

But, unfortunately, customs and religion have been mixed together. This mixture of customs (which are changeable, and vary from one social, tribal, and local system to another, and which are related to and produced by economic and social relationships), and Islamic values (which are unchangeable, eternal and related to inspiration, revelation and the prophetic mission) is defended in the name of religion. The intellectual, seeing the deprivations and abuse of women on one hand and the semblance of social freedom, class advantages and sexual liberty on the other hand, becomes confused. When the religious group in a community (who are acquainted with religion and believe it), are unable to distinguish between the religion and the local, tribal, cultural customs, how can we expect young, modern intellectuals (who are willing to fight against ancient customs) to make a distinction between religion and customs? If the distinguished scholars of Islam, who are acquainted with Islamic truths, do not perform this task, then what organization, what power, will do so?

The Prophet of Islam, who was such an elevated personality and one before whom history is humbled, when he entered his home was kind, lenient and gentle. When his wives quarrelled with him, he left his home and made a place for himself in the storage area without showing any harsh reaction against them. This behaviour of the Prophet of Islam must be considered as an Islamic example, in contrast to the behaviour of a supposedly religious, but in reality an abusive, man. Such un-Islamic, abusive behaviour was based on an ethnic, cultural tradition. Therefore, distinctions should be drawn between ethnic, cultural customs and Islamic religious instructions. The Prophet's behaviour was so humane that it amazes us....

In the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, there was a porch used for social affairs. Each corner of it was devoted to a different social purpose. In one corner was the tent of Ruqiya who, at the Prophet's command, had established a tent inside the Prophet's mosque, Islam's place of prayer, to hospitalize, care for, and nurse the war-wounded. Sad ibn Maaz (the Islamic chief officer who was wounded in the Battle of Khandaq by a spear) was hospitalized there. This tradition of looking after the sick and nursing them, continued for many centuries afterwards in Islam. I personally read about this in Ibn Yamin's book in which he praised Aladdin, the governor of Sabzevar, and mentioned that Aladdin built a hospital in a very large paradise-like garden in a village near Sabzevar. Describing the hospital, Ibn Yamin says that there were beautiful girls, like angels, who looked after the patients and nursed them.

When there was such a hospital, with such staff, in a remote village near Sabzevar in the 7th and 8th Islamic centuries, there must certainly have been more important and well-equipped hospitals in larger cities like Rey, Tus, Balkh, Bukhara and Baghdad. But we see that our ethnically-oriented intellectuals announce that a European or American woman serving in the First World War established Nursing in the world. They deny and denigrate the nurses who worked in the early phase of Islam, because it is a religious tradition. Therefore, you can see how facts may be confused, how rights are abolished, how great talents are sacrificed in the name of religious traditions, and how many great religious values and Islamic virtues are forgotten in the name of intellectualism and opposition to traditional religious beliefs!

Thus the responsibility of those who understand both present society and Islam (and who live in the present century) is very heavy. They must bear the burden of many centuries of emotions, ideas and faith. It is not an easy task to travel such a long distance and discover the truth which exists beyond it.

As I mentioned, one of the most important factors that enables Islamic communities to stand against and resist the insidious invitation of pseudo-scientific Freudianism and its dreadful use of sexuality is the presence of exemplary religious models in a humane culture. In the same way that Western world-wide colonialization stupefies the minds of its own youth through narcotics, Western colonialism designs and promotes Freudianism and sexual liberty for Eastern countries. Western colonialism exports sexual liberty to the Eastern countries in exchange for their raw materials. In return for the oil, diamonds, gold, rubber, etc. which the West takes from the East, it gives them sexual liberty. When a young man or woman is introduced to sexual liberty, he or she will become pre-occupied with it and will not think about other things, such as the problems of freedom. And when such young people have matured, they will be so involved with installment payments, sexual obsessions, etc. that they will never come to look at or think about other problems! The most important weapon of Islamic youth against this insidious invitation from the West is the possession of symbols leading the mind to genuine spiritual experiences. The spiritual symbols made available to the present generation, which is unwilling to be enslaved either by hollow, conservative, anti-human, anti-Islamic ethnic traditions or by the stupefying culture of indecent Western modernism, are the best weapons against the West's attack.

The woman of the Third World must be one who selects, who makes a choice. She is the woman who neither accepts the inherited mould nor the imported novelty. She recognizes both of them. She knows and is aware of both of them. The one which is imposed upon her, in the name of tradition which she inherits, is not related to Islam at all but is related to the ethnic customs of the period of paternalism and even slavery. And the one which is imported from the West is not science, not humanity, not freedom and not liberty. It is not based on sanctity and respect for women at all. Rather it is based on the low tricks of the bourgeoisie, stupefying consumerism and mindless self-indulgence. She wants to select, to choose, but what role-model should she choose? She wants neither the model of the traditional, strict woman, nor the model of the modern degraded woman. She wants the face of a Muslim woman. Fortunately both the material and history are available to construct this third figure. And even more authentic than history, more logical than scientific arguments are the objectively exemplary personalities who are symbols from our Islamic history....


Thus it is sufficient for any intellectual woman to read a book about Fatima (or about other distinguished Islamic women like Khadija or Zeinab), to know these figures and compare them with figures who are introduced in the name of modernism. When the Prophet migrated to Madinah, Fatima bore the difficulties of the period of migration. Even in marrying Ali, she showed social commitment. Any women comparing Fatima with women who are introduced through modern magazines will recognize significant differences and reach the proper and inevitable conclusions. Therefore the most important duty of the aware, responsible, writers and preachers is to introduce these figures clearly, enthusiastically, responsibly and accurately, to the present generation, thus holding up the most efficient, responsible, humane role-models, to defend against and resist the West's attack.


Thus when a woman, a thinking and responsible, committed woman, sees such heroics from a woman who belonged to Fatima's family, she understands where she must look, how she must be. She realizes that a woman of any epoch and any century can emulate this model. These are the values that will not change or grow old, nor do they depend upon the customs of the social, cultural or economic systems. These are stable and permanent values which will be destroyed only when there is no longer any humanity in existence.

At this point, I'd recommend reading the previously posted Stories of Sahabi Women.

1 comment:

Mohd Asif Ali said...

Get the Dr. Iqbal Sahab Shayari and Quotes, poetry collection online in Urdu and English. Beautiful Shayari and Quotes of Dr. Iqbal Sahab.
Beautiful Quotes