IslamToday correspondent Mîrhân Muhsin speaks to Dr. Aminah Nasîr, a professor of Islamic Doctrine at al-Azhar University, about the participation of women in politics and in the field of Islamic Law.
Dr. Aminah Nasîr is recognized as one of the foremost scholars in the field of Islamic Work, and one who is able to reach the hearts of the masses. She has well-respected views and opinions on most of the major problems and issues facing Muslim society today. She offers a distinct perspective on many Islamic issues that come into general discussion in the Muslim world from time to time. Among these are the role of women in politics and Islamic jurisprudence, and the viability of the modern practice of issuing on-the-spot fatwâs
over the airwaves
IslamToday: The question of what role Muslim women should play in the politics of her nation is always a source of contention. How do you see this matter?
Muslim women have been participating in the political life of the Muslim Ummah since the earliest times. The oath of allegiance that the Prophet (peace be upon him) took from the women after the conquest of Mecca in the year 7 AH is a document attesting to political rights of women in Islam. It is the best testimony to the woman’s role in Muslim society in the Prophetic Era and to her practice of her political rights which are enshrined in the Qur’ân.
Allah says: “O Prophet! When believing women come to thee to take the oath of allegiance to you that they will ascribe no thing as partner unto Allah, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised between their hands and feet, nor disobey you in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [Sûrah al-Mumtahanah
The oath of allegiance that was taken by the women – as well as the open dialogue that took place between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the women on that occasion – shows us the establishment of a constitution on both a religious and political plain. It shows the high level of actual participation that women exhbited in their exercise of their political rights. This oath entailed the willful transfer of political allegiance from one nation founded on pagan and polytheistic principles to another nation founded upon Islam. The taking of this oath was both a religious and a political act. It was through this oath of allegiance that the stable political existence of the Islamic society was formed.
Islamic teachings repeatedly emphasize and clarify to us that the basic responsibilities imposed upon men and women in the political sphere are the same.
The political activities of the women in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were not limited to that oath of allegiance. It extended back to the Second Oath of `Aqabah which established the permission for the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Muslims to emigrate to Madinah. This oath was a covenant that entailed upon those who entered into it that the people of Madinah (then known as Yathrib) would afford protection to the Prophet (peace be upon him). There were women who participated in this oath, and this event attests to their political involvement in the very founding of the Islamic state, on a level of equality with men.
The involvement of the women did not stop there, with their verbal oath. Their participation continued in their striving for Islam and to establish the principles of its message.
IslamToday: What do you say regarding women engaging in juristic reasoning – practicing ijtihâd in matters of Islamic Law?
In Islam, women are the full partners of men. There are no differences between the man and the woman in the vast majority of Islamic rulings – in both religious and worldly matters – except where Allah, in his wisdom, explicitly sets forth rulings for the woman that conform with her feminine nature.
History attests to how women in previous ages – from the era of the Companions onwards – were participating just like men in all fields of endeavor. Along with caring for the home and raising children, women engaged in the dispensation of knowledge and the defense of Islam. Women were permitted just as much as men to engage in juristic activities.
This was the case in the time of the Pious Predecessors. We see it in the Mothers of the Believers and other female Companions who were scholars from whom other scholars – who had often originally been their students – took their knowledge. When we look at the biographies of the scholars, we see that people of the caliber of al-Bukhârî and Muslim had women among their sheikhs and teachers.
As for the dearth of women scholars who reached the level of independent juristic reasoning (ijtihâd
), this was because such a status was only attainable by someone who devoted their entire life to the pursuit of knowledge and to the considerable amount of travel that it had entailed. Few women were afforded such opportunities.
This does not mean that Islam ever prohibited women from the field of Islamic Law or from the practice of juristic reasoning. Indeed, women are equally obliged to seek the essential knowledge of their faith. There is no distinction whatsoever between men and women in this matter. Likewise, women equally have the right to express their opinions and apply their faculties of reason wherever the exercise of reason is allowed in Islamic Law.
This is in accordance with the dictates and principles of Islamic Law. Islam is innocent of the threadbare customs and false traditions that seek to confine women by prohibiting them form expressing their opinions and exercising their judgment. Islam does not seek to prevent women from the practice of juristic discretion. Whenever a woman, fulfills the conditions regarding her knowledge and circumstances to be qualified to engage in ijtihâd
, she is entitled to do so.
IslamToday: What is your opinion about the recent proliferation of programs where sheikhs answer questions on the spot and issue fatwâs live on television?
I am opposed to these “take-away” fatwâs
. I have repeatedly petitioned for the establishment of a multi-disciplinary academic society for Islamic Law that will bring together authorities in all the Islamic and contemporary fields of knowledge – from hadîth, tafsîr and history to medicine and the empirical sciences. This will provide an environment where scholars cancontribute their valuable insights to the questions under investigation.
There are numerous issues where the Islamic ruling is a matter of confusion for the general public. This is especially the case when the matter being asked about is one about which people have little knowledge.
We need to rely upon what our predecessors have given us, so as not to be cut off from our roots. When we engage with the issues and developments of our day, we need to discuss them within the framework of our Islamic methodology, so that we do not to become estranged from the ways of our Pious Predecessors.
As I see it, each issue needs to be studied with full care and singular attention, looking at it from all possible angles. In this way, we will be able to restore to the institution of fatwâ
the respect and confidence of the people, and the reverence in which it should be held. In this way, its effectiveness and guiding role in society will be reestablished.
These televised fatwâ
programs are causing a lot of chaos and confusion. I describe type of fatwa
given on these programs as “fatwa
shots” – fired out as quickly as the questions are asked. The consequence of such hastily given fatwâs
on the air is that people become confused and uneasy. The answers given often put people into great difficulty.
Therefore, it is necessary to have a complete multi-disciplinary fatwa
research council that can bring together scholars of various specializations and disciplines. The resolutions arrived at by this council should be broadcast on television and by other means. This is better than the confusion we are presently seeing.