Women's Participation in public life
Doesn't Islam keep women away from public life and confine them to the kitchen?
When we consider the physical nature of woman, the most suitable centre of activity for women is home, and the noblest work, the motherhood. However Islam has not forbidden women's participation in public life. On the other hand involvement in public life is allowed to women; and even encouraged in essential circumstances.
Right from the time of prophet women have been active in studies and teaching. Like other men they came in the presence of the prophet and learned things from him and also taught others. This is the reason for the large number of women reporters who have reported the tradition of the prophet.
The scholarship of Aysha, who was the wife of prophet, is well known. Imam Zuhri tells about her: ''Aysha was the most learned of all people. Even the eminent followers of the prophet used to learn from her.'' Urva, the son of Zubair, tells about her. ''I have not met any one more knowledgeable than Aysha in the Qura'n, laws of inheritance, poetry, jurisprudence, laws regarding what are permitted and prohibited, medicine, the Arab myths and tribal history.''
Mahmood, the son of Labeed says that "all wives of the prophet had learned hadeeth by heart. But none could learn them as Aysha and Ummu Salma had learned'.
Among the wives of the prophet, Aysha alone has reported 2210 hadeeths. Ummu Salma has also reported a lot of hadeeths. Apart from women, many men also used to learn from them. As in the field of knowledge, women had also their active participation in the propagation of Islam. So like men, they too had been subjected to severe oppression. The first martyr in Islam is a woman named Sumayya. When life became unbearable in Makka, prophet, along with his followers, had to migrate to Madeena, and among these migrants there were many women.
Women had been not exempted from public life during the time of the prophet and or caliphs. They were an active presence even in the war front. It was Aysha, wife of the prophet, who gave leadership for supplying water to the soldiers, and also for nursing the wounded at the battle of Uhud. Ummu Sulaim and Ummu Saleeth also participated in this risky job.
After the battle of Khyber the prophet distributed a portion of wealth acquired from battle among women who had prepared food and nursed the wounded soldiers. During the battle of Uhud the wounded and the martyrs were transported to Madeena under the leadership of Rubayya, - daughter of Muawwid and her colleagues. Ummu Athiyya participated in seven battles. Ummu Sulaim, mother of Anas bin Malik, accompanied the prophet on several battles. During the battle of Khandak Safiyya killed an enemy, who had come to attack women and children. During the battle of Uhud, one of the prominent persons who fought for the protection of the prophet was a woman named Ummu Ammara. She had several wounds on the body. In the Yamama battle fought during the period of Caliph Abu Bakr, Ummu Ammara had twelve wounds. The Islamic history has introduced many such heroic women who put up brave fights in the battle field.
There are several instances from the contemporary world, of women who made their active presence in the war front. Women participated in the mass movement led by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran against the oppressive rule of Riza Sha Pahlavi, and in the liberation of Afghanistan from the Russian occupation. The presence of women in the battle front was so strong that even the western media could not afford to ignore it.
The events mentioned here show that Islam does not object to women going out of the house for jobs, or their involvement and participation in public life. It is also worth mentioning that during the caliphate of Umar the supervision of shops and markets was entrusted to a woman named Shifa binth Abdilla. This was a post equivalent to the present - day director of consumer protection department.
Muslim women, in the present world too, are very active in social service and public life as they had been active in the propagation of Islam. The Iranian women have been contributing their commendable service to the fields of science, education and technology. About forty percent of the university professors and other employees in Iran are women. Right from the kindergarten upto high school, the teaching is completely done by women. A large number of women have their own business establishments. Many women are well-placed in private institutions and government offices. Many women are engaged in other professions such as doctors, engineers and advocates. There are more than one million women employed in the health and education departments. In media jobs too women are well represented. Thirty five percent of the total staff under the television department is women.
In Egypt, Sudan and other Muslim countries millions of women are active in public life, observing complete Islamic customs and codes. It must be mentioned that the religious scholars or Islamic movements of these countries do not oppose the women's participation in public life. At the same time, while allowing her participation in public life, Islam has emphasised that the first and foremost duty of woman is the care of her home and children. It has also reminded women that neglect of the home and children will be dangerous, and it will have for reaching consequences detrimental to the society.
Aren't women allowed administrative & political participation?
Does Islam object to women's participation in politics and administration? Is it true that women are not allowed to be administrators?
As an answer to this question it will be appropriate to quote the explanation given by Sheikh Muhammad al Ghazzali, one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the twentieth century. He writes: ''Umar had entrusted the control and arbitrations of the market in Madeena to Shifae. There she prevented violations of law, made judgements and implemented justice among all irrespective of male or female. The caliph had not imposed on her any restrictions.
Personally I do not belong to those people who would like to see administration and leadership of the state trusted upon women. Yet I desire one thing. The most suitable person among the people must assume leadership of the nation as well as of the administration.
Some may ask: there is a hadeeth that ''the people who entrust administration to women are defeated,'' and they may also doubt that entrusting any sort of power to women will become a cause of failure. Here I would like to ponder a little on this hadith. The hadeeth is acceptable. But what actually is its meaning?
At a time when the Persian Empire was falling steadily before the onward march of Islam, the system of rule that existed in Persia was accursed monarchy and dictatorship. The religion they followed was based on idolatry; the royal family did not consult each other; there was no freedom of opinion; criticism was punishable by death; royal families fought one another, ambition for power made the son kill his father, and brother to kill his brother; above all a suffering and passive people who didn't react at all. This was the picture of the Persian society.
The Persian army could not resist the onward march of Muslims. They retreated and the boundaries of the empire dwindled. Still the Persians could not entrust their rule to an able person. So at last as continuation and part of the monarchical rule, they put an unthinking woman on the throne. This was a step that heralded that the empire is disappearing forever. The above mentioned hadith that ''the people who entrust their administration on woman are defeated'' was the prophet's estimation of the situation. The prophet had the wisdom and farsight to make the correct prediction.
The prophet might have made a different estimation, had the Persian administration been based on consultation, and had its woman ruler been (as able) as Goldamir or had its strategy military decisions been taken by responsible people''.
Dr. Gamal A. Badavi writes about the above mentioned Hadeeth: "Though this hadeeth is interpreted as proof to keep women away from the administrative leadership, many scholars do not agree with it. The Persian rulers of the prophet's period had bitter enmity towards him and his messenger whom he had sent to them. So this hadeeth is prophet's response to the news of Persians appointing Khusroo's daughter as their ruler. It is not an explanation to the gender issue related to the leadership of administration. The prophet's words may be taken as a prediction about the imminent fall of the oppressive empire. His prediction later came true...... So this hadith is not a proof to keep women away from administration's leadership.
There is no definite and clear verse from the Quran or hadeeth prohibiting women from taking up leadership of administration. Yet it is better to avoid it, unless there is an unavoidable situation. Dr. Gamal Badavi writes: "Al Qasimi has observed that Abu Ya'la, a well known legal scholar and an expert in interpreting the political system of Islam, has not included the condition ''to be male'' anywhere among the merits required for the head of the state. But one thing must be specially noted here. The head of the state in Islam is not a mere customary head. He leads prayers and sometimes travels continuously and holds discussions with leaders of other countries, who are almost always men. Sometimes these discussions are secret in nature. It is certain that such relations and obligations will be troublesome and difficult for women to perform. Besides, they do not agree with the guidance of Islam regarding the relationship between man and woman''.
The above view is applicable only for the supreme position of the state. Islam has not prohibited women from holding any position below the supreme one, or her participation in active politics. Of the five vice presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran one is a woman, and there are also fourteen members of parliament. The situation is not much different in other Muslim countries.
Yet it should not be forgotten that the first and foremost duty of a woman is towards her home and the true accomplishment of her motherly duties. The moulding of future generations and bringing them up properly is not viewed by Islam as a matter of less importance. Rather it is considered a very important job, and for the same reason motherhood is the noblest and most respected of all positions.