Prof. Mohammad Hadi Mofatteh
Associate Professor, University of Qom
Monogamy is widely considered to be the most common form of married life. Other forms of marriage, such as polyandry and polyamorous relationships, are relatively rare and predominantly found among certain primitive groups, like those in Tibet (Durant, 1:49-50). These alternative forms of marriage are practiced extinct. However, polygyny, where a man has multiple wives, continues to exist in certain parts of the world.
The practice of polygyny predates Islam and can be traced back to various cultures and religions. In ancient Iraq, for example, the Hammurabi law permitted a man to take a second wife if his first wife was ill. Polygyny was also prevalent among Assyrians. Similarly, it was common in other great civilizations like Iran, Egypt, China, and India (Ibrahim Bajuri, 1:143-144). Pre-Islamic Arabs also practiced polygyny (Mahmud Abdelhamid Muhammad, 147,149). Therefore, the notion that polygyny was solely an invention of Islam and its prophet is incorrect, as some Orientalists suggest (Gustave Le Bon, 496).
Polygyny was also accepted and practiced in earlier divine religions. In Judaism, for example, polygyny was allowed based on the man’s capacity, although the Talmud restricted laypeople to a maximum of four wives (Mahmud Abdelhamid Muhammad, 150-151).
In the current gospels, there is no explicit prohibition of polygyny, and certain texts in Paul’s epistles even suggest its permissibility (Abdulghani Abud, 144-145).
Polygyny was officially practiced in the Christian world until at least the seventeenth century, with many European kings having multiple wives. However, the Church later implemented a ban on polygyny. Various reasons are cited for this prohibition, none of which have a religious basis (Abdulghani Abud, 145-146).
Polygyny is reported to have been practiced by some early prophets, including Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon (Ibrahim Bajuri, 1:142).
Polygyny in Islamic Jurisprudence
Reflection upon Islamic texts and the practices of religious leaders reveals that Islam primarily promotes monogyny. However, it recognizes that certain social circumstances may necessitate polygyny. In such cases, Islam allows this practice under specific conditions that must be met.
Polygyny is mentioned in numerous Quranic verses. The most important among these is the following: “If you fear that you may not deal justly with the orphans, then marry [other] women that you like, two, three, or four. But if you fear that you may not treat them fairly, then [marry only] one, or [marry from among] your slave-women. That makes it likelier that you will not be unfair” (al-Nisaʾ, 3).
Quranic exegetes like Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Zamakhsharī, and al-Tabrisī believe that the following verse also pertains to polygyny: “You will not be able to be fair between wives, even if you are eager to do so. Yet do not turn away from one altogether, leaving her as if in a suspense. But if you are conciliatory and Godwary, Allah is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful” (al-Nisaʾ, 129).
There are numerous hadiths in both Sunni and Shiite sources that implicitly or explicitly permit polygyny. These hadiths often elaborate on the rules and regulations surrounding polygyny, and sometimes they mention the wisdom behind its permissibility.
Muslim scholars have adopted three approaches to the issue of polygyny:
- Absolute permissibility: Polygyny is allowed for men even if it is not desired by God, but it has certain prerequisites.
- Absolute impermissibility: Despite the religious evidence permitting polygyny, it is considered completely forbidden due to social circumstances and potential repercussions.
- Emergency permissibility: Polygyny is considered prohibited by default, but under specific emergency conditions, it may be permissible.
The first position, which allows polygyny under certain conditions, is widely accepted among both Sunni and Shiite jurists and exegetes. The latter two positions, which prohibit or restrict polygyny, were primarily advocated by Muslim intellectualists.
Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), a prominent Egyptian jurist, jurisprudent, and mufti, advocated for the second view. He was widely recognized as one of the most distinguished students of Sayyid Jamāl al-Dīn al-Asadābādī and played a key role in advancing religious intellectualism in the Islamic world. Among his notable works are Tafsir al-manar and Sharh Nahj al-Balagha.
Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935) was a prominent advocate of the third view. He was an early reformist within Salafi Islamism and his ideas had a significant impact on the political philosophy of reviving the Islamic caliphate in the twentieth century. As a student of Muhammad Abduh, he was greatly influenced by him and even supplemented and published his teacher’s Quranic exegesis, al-Manar.
Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (1943-2010) was a prominent advocate of this view in contemporary times. He was an Egyptian scholar of the Quran and an intellectualist theologian in Islam. Abu Zayd is renowned for his human interpretation of the Quran, which challenged traditional approaches.
Each of these three views provides substantial interpretations of the relevant Quranic verses and hadiths, presenting themselves as aligned with the true divine legislation for humanity.
Prohibition of Polygyny in the Laws of Developed Countries
The reason for the prohibition of polygyny (and polygamy in general) in developed and progressive countries significantly impacts our analysis of this issue.
It is noteworthy what Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida quotes from certain British female writers and intellectualists: they argue that lifting the ban on polygyny and promoting this practice would be the solution to the challenges faced by women in their lives (al-Manar, 4:359).
To evaluate and analyze these approaches, it is crucial to consider whether polygyny is demeaning to the first wife and if it compromises women’s human dignity. In addressing this, we should take into account the perspectives of psychologists and examine historical evidence from various societies. The evidence supporting the permissibility of polygyny should be reevaluated in light of the principle of human dignity.
Prof. Hamid Parsania
Associate Professor, University of Tehran
The term “s” “e” “x” refers to biological and physical characteristics, which exist in humans, animals, and even plants. On the other hand, “gender” is a cultural, social, and historical construct. It represents how humans navigate the biological dimension, specifically how they understand and interpret the concepts of being a man or a woman.
Mullā Ṣadrā’s philosophy, known as the Sadraean school of thought, draws upon its philosophical principles, such as substantial motion, the unity of matter and form, the physical origin and spiritual persistence of the human soul, human knowledge and will, and the conception of humans as an intermediary species, to offer a distinct perspective on the issue of gender. Additionally, Sadraean philosophy possesses the necessary principles to foster a critical approach to gender.
According to the theory of substantial motion, existence progresses through various degrees, including physical, elemental, mineral, vegetative, animal, and human forms. Each degree serves as a form for the preceding degree and as matter for the subsequent degrees. The combination of matter and form is through unity, where each new degree incorporates the preceding degrees within it.
Organism and labor division are established through the vegetative soul. At this level, biological activities are segregated into male and female categories.
The vegetative soul acts as the matter that embraces the form of the animal soul, and the form of the animal soul is unified with the vegetative degree, granting it animal versions of capabilities such as growth, development, nutrition, reproduction, and the differentiation of male and female functions.
By means of the intensification and substantial motion of the human soul, a new identity is conferred upon the preceding vegetative and animal degrees. In this process, growth, development, sexual function, motion, and perception, which were inherent in the preceding stages, acquire human characteristics under the influence of the human soul.
According to Mullā Ṣadrā’s Transcendent philosophy, humans are considered an intermediary species that undergoes various stages of knowledge and engages in diverse actions and conscious voluntary behaviors. As a result, based on the knowledge and actions acquired, humans develop different approaches to addressing their sexual needs, which are rooted in the vegetative aspect of their existence. Each of these approaches gives rise to a distinct form of gender, which takes on a human identity.
While humans form diverse kinds of life at different levels of knowledge and action and create numerous forms of gender, it should be noted that:
- First: their human reality does not align with all those approaches.
- Second: since humans have cogitative and intellectual powers, they can critically evaluate those approaches. This capability enables an appraisal of different means of fulfilling sexual needs.
The epistemic foundations of Transcendent philosophy offer a valuable opportunity for critical understanding of diverse social phenomena, including gender.
Prof. Mahdi Mehrizi
Associate Professor, Islamic Azad University Science and Research Branch
First: The Quran has addressed the issue of women in approximately 350 of its verses, either directly or indirectly. These verses are found in 64 different surahs, with 44 of them being revealed in Mecca and 20 in Medina. Furthermore, these verses were revealed over a span of 23 years during the period of Quranic revelation and the Prophetic mission.
Here are more details about how many surahs and verses were revealed during the span of 23 years during the Prophetic mission:
- The first year of the Prophetic mission: 5 surahs (Qalam, Masad, Takwir, Layl, Falaq), 8 verses
- The second year: 4 surahs (Najm, ʿAbas, Buruj, Qiyama), 10 verses
- The third year: 2 surahs (Sad, Aʿraf), 15 verses
- The fourth year: 4 surahs (Jinn, Maryam, Fatir, Furqan), 23 verses
- The fifth year: 3 surahs (Taha, Waqiʿā, Shuʿaraʾ), 17 verses
- The sixth year: 3 surahs (Qasas, Naml, Israʾ), 32 verses
- The seventh year: 2 surahs (Hud, Yusuf), 21 verses
- The eighth year: 2 surahs (Hijr, Anʿam), 6 verses
- The ninth year: 5 surahs (Saffat, Luqman, Sabaʾ, Ghafir, Fussilat), 14 verses
- The tenth year: 3 surahs (Shura, Zukhruf, Ahqaf), 8 verses
- The eleventh year: 4 surahs (Dhariyat, Kahf, Nahl, Nuh), 14 verses
- The twelfth year: 3 surahs (Ibrahim, Anbiyaʾ, Muʾminun), 7 verses
- The thirteenth year: 4 surahs (Miʿraj, Nabaʾ, Rum, ʿAnkabut), 13 verses
- The first year after hijra (migration to Medina): 1 surah (Baqara), 29 verses
- The second year after hijra: 1 surah (Anfal), 1 verse
- The third year after hijra: 1 surah (Al ʿImran), 15 verses
- The fourth year after hijra: 2 surahs (Ahzab, Mumtahina), 26 verses
- The fifth year after hijra: 1 surah (Nisaʾ), 34 verses
- The sixth year after hijra: 3 surahs (Hadid, Muhammad, Raʿd), 7 verses
- The seventh year after hijra: 2 surahs (Talaq, Nur), 19 verses
- The eighth year after hijra: 5 surahs (Hajj, Munafiqun, Mujadala, Hujurat, Tahrim), 16 verses
- The ninth year after hijra: 3 surahs (Taghabun, Fath, Maʾida), 11 verses
- The tenth year after hijra: 1 surah (Tawba), 7 verses
Second: The most effective approach to understanding and interpreting the Quran involves emphasizing three crucial elements:
- Giving particular attention to specific problems.
- Interpreting the Quran by the Quran itself.
- Taking into consideration the chronological order of revelation.
According to these elements, in order to comprehend a Quranic verse, it is essential to approach the Quran with a specific issue or problem in mind. Initially, we should clearly define our questions and concerns, such as: How does the Quran perceive women? How does it address the dynamics of relationships between men and women? How does it explain the creation of both genders? In what way does it define cognitive powers, as well as the paths and objectives of growth and perfection for both women and men? How does it portray the roles and status of women and men within the family and society? We should consult the Quran by keeping these questions in focus.
In the second stage, it is crucial to rely solely on the Quran itself for understanding its verses. We should refrain from incorporating external elements or factors that may have been influenced by fallible manipulations.
The third element highlights the significance of considering the chronological order of revelation of Quranic verses during the years of the Prophetic mission. This involves examining how the problem was initially addressed in the Quran and the subsequent developments it underwent.
By highlighting these three elements, we can attain a more realistic and accurate understanding of the Quran, enabling us to overcome numerous challenges in its interpretation.
Third: In this presentation, I draw on this model of exegesis to examine the 350 verses regarding women, providing explanations through the specific examples.
Our overall understanding suggests that the Quran underwent four distinct periods in addressing the issue of women:
- Condemning and criticizing pre-Islamic beliefs: This stage began in the first year of the Prophetic mission and extended until the second, ninth, tenth, and eleventh years of the Prophetic mission.
- Explaining the human nature of women and emphasizing their equality to men: This stage also began in the first year of the Prophetic mission and continued throughout the first five years.
- Presenting positive role models and exemplars of women: This stage began in the fourth year after the Prophetic mission and persisted until the later years.
- Modifying, reforming, and establishing specific rulings and laws: This stage commenced in the first year of migration to Medina and continued until the later years.
In this presentation, we will review these verses in accordance with their chronological order of revelation, and then apply them to various issues such as divorce and the issue of men’s authority over women.
Prof. Fatima Tofighi
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, University of Religion and Denomination (Qom)
Modernist exegeses that emerged in the late nineteenth century during the Islamic revival aimed to achieve several objectives, influenced by modern social developments:
- Demonstrating the compatibility of the Quran with modern science and rationality
- Seeking answers to new social issues through Quranic interpretation
- Emphasizing ijtihad (inference) in exegesis while distancing from exegetical hadiths and traditions
- Working towards the construction of an ideal society and state based on Quranic doctrines, with an emphasis on the separation of religion and culture.
Women’s issues and the structure of the family were also of great importance to these Quranic exegetes. This significance arose from both social developments and the complex state of women’s issues among Muslims and non-Muslims, including the works of Orientalists. Social developments consisted in the emergence of modern states, where the traditional dynamics of kings and subjects gave way to a vision that advocated for equality and social participation. Women’s education, initially aimed at training better mothers, gradually prepared them for broader social engagement. Research on modern Iran reveals that, alongside the Constitutional movement, the concept of a housewife with expanded skills began to take shape. Furthermore, the construction of the concept of romantic love led to the perception of the family as a space for love between men and women. Similar developments were observed in other countries within the region. During this period, modern healthcare systems were also established. Governments took on the responsibility of implementing healthcare initiatives, providing education to individuals on implementing healthcare practices at the individual and family levels. Religious physicians also sought to demonstrate how healthcare aligned with religious values. In dialectical works, it was noted that while individuals in the East were often seen as concupiscent, they simultaneously confined their own women to secluded areas of their homes and enforced the practice of hijab. In contrast, intellectualists argued that there were lessons to be learned from the West, as their remarkable progress was attributed to allowing women’s presence outside of their homes. They also emphasized the distinction between religion and culture, asserting that religion never dictated the limitation of women. At times, they went even further, suggesting that Islam afforded advantages to women that were not seen in Western or Christian cultures.
The methodology employed in my research is that of reception history. By examining the evolution of Quranic exegeses over time, we can observe the changes they underwent and gain insights into the audiences and the potentials of the text.
In this study, we explore the modernist approach to the interpretation of Quranic verses related to hijab and men’s authority over women. The following are the verses concerning hijab:
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw closely over themselves their chadors [when going out]. That makes it likely for them to be recognized and not be troubled, and Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful. (Al-Ahzab, 59)
And tell the faithful women to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts, and not to display their charms, beyond what is [acceptably] visible, and let them draw their scarfs over their bosoms, and not display their charms except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slave girls, or male dependants lacking [sexual] desire, or children who are not yet conscious of female sexuality. And let them not thump their feet to make known their hidden ornaments. Rally to Allah in repentance, O faithful, so that you may be felicitous. (Al-Nur, 31)
Drawing on the theory of reception history, we delve into interpretations of these verses and highlight that, prior to the modern era, exegetes did not need to provide justification for the obligation of hijab. In their explanations of the phrase “be recognized,” they simply emphasized the necessity of distinguishing free Muslim women from slave women. However, in the modern period, with the abolition of slavery, the presence of women in the public sphere, and the rise of questions regarding the reasons for the obligation of hijab in interactions between Eastern and Western individuals, exegetes found themselves compelled to offer justifications for head covering. They proposed that this form of veiling aimed to distinguish chaste women from non-chaste women. In other words, in a context where remaining at home was no longer seen as a sign of chastity, covering the head was introduced as a symbol of modesty.
The issue of men’s authority over women is addressed in verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ:
Men are the managers of women, because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others, and by virtue of their spending out of their wealth. Righteous women are obedient and watchful in the absence [of their husbands] in guarding what Allah has enjoined [them] to guard. As for those [wives] whose misconduct you fear, [first] advise them, and [if ineffective] keep away from them in the bed, and [as the last resort] beat them. Then if they obey you, do not seek any course [of action] against them. Indeed Allah is all-exalted, all-great. (Al-Nisaʾ, 34)
This has been one of the most challenging Quranic verses for Muslims to interpret in the modern era. The difficulty arises from the tension between the Quran’s overall message of justice and benevolence for all individuals, including women, and the explicit granting of authority and dominion to men in this verse, which even allows for the punishment of women who disobey men.
What is the basis for men’s authority over women? In the past, exegetes did not delve into elaborate explanations, often attributing this distinction to legislative differences. However, in the modern era, with the emphasis on equality and the acceptance of the theory of social convention, the concept of inherent differences between men and women gained prominence. Consequently, scholars made efforts to compile extensive lists of psychological and managerial differences between women and men to justify and establish men’s authority over women.
When examining modern categorizations in Quranic exegesis, it becomes evident that interpretations of verses related to women are influenced by categories that may deviate from the historical meaning of the text and the exegetical tradition. This study aims to pave the way for a reevaluation of Quranic exegeses. It is important to note that this does not imply avoiding the updating and modernization of scripture. Rather, it highlights the need to recognize how modern notions have been shaped by modern categories, and not the historical categories of the scripture.
Dr. Mohammad Ghandehari
PhD, Quran and Hadith Sciences, University of Tehran (dissertation, “Identifying Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī’s historical identity”)
Sermon 80 of Nahj al-Balagha, which asserts deficiencies of women’s intelligence, faith, and shares, has long been a topic of debate among commentators and scholars of Islamic studies. This debate has particularly intensified in recent times. Among all the sermons in Nahj al-Balagha, none have been debated and discussed as extensively as this one. Until now, nearly all interpretations of the sermon have accepted its attribution to Imam ʿAli without question. Most interpreters and commentators have assumed that there is no doubt regarding its authorship.
It is worth noting that in the last century, several prominent scholars have expressed doubts about the attribution of this statement to Imam ʿAli, either explicitly or implicitly. However, their doubts were primarily based on the weakness of the transmission chain or the omission of certain parts of it. Such doubts, however, are not sufficient to definitively determine the authenticity of this attribution to Imam ʿAli. In other words, while the sermon is included in Nahj al-Balagha without a complete transmission chain, as is the case with other sermons in the book, and the transmission chains for this content in sources other than Nahj al-Balagha are incomplete and weak, no conclusive evidence has been presented thus far to prove its fabrication or false attribution. This lack of historical evidence has left the question of its attribution to Imam ʿAli open, making it difficult for enthusiasts of Nahj al-Balagha, who aim to uphold its content to the maximum extent, as well as other individuals interested in hadiths, to reach a definitive conclusion regarding the validity or invalidity of this statement.
To address this issue, our objective is to examine the compilation process of Nahj al-Balagha in order to facilitate a critical analysis of its sources. We will demonstrate that the content found in Sermon 80 of Nahj al-Balagha is a result of combining two independent reports. The first part of this content can be found outside of Nahj al-Balagha, specifically in quotations from a letter written by Imam ʿAli to the Shias in Kufa when he was outside of Kufa, likely in al-Qadisiyya or Dhi Qar. In this letter, Imam ʿAli briefly explains the events following the Prophet’s demise and references the Battle of Jamal.
It appears that Al-Sayyid al-Raḍī, the compiler of Nahj al-Balagha, had access to a report of this letter, which he divided into different sections, citing them in the form of several sermons and letters. Fortunately, this letter has held immense importance and has been recorded and transmitted through various channels, making it available to us today. Upon scrutiny and comparison of these reports, it becomes evident that there are two versions of the letter: a concise version cited in early books like al-Ghārāt and al-Imāma wa-l-siyāsa, and an extended version that includes the brief version along with commentaries and explanations interpolated within fragments of the other version. The latter version has been preserved in al-Ṭabarī al-Āmulī’s al-Mustarshid and al-Kulaynī’s Rasāʾil, as quoted by al-Sayyid b. Ṭāwūs in Kashf al-maḥajja with minor variations.
The first part of Sermon 80, specifically from the beginning to the section discussing “their share in inheritance being half of men,” is exclusively found in the extended version of the letter. In this report, when referring to the events of the Battle of Jamal and mentioning the role of ʿĀʾisha in the battle, Imam ʿAli criticized women in general. Therefore, in order to determine the authenticity of the first part, we must examine the relationship between these two versions of the letter.
The validation of the sermon relies on whether the extended version is authentic, with the concise version being a summary of it, or if the concise version is authentic and the extended version is a result of later additions to it. Further investigation is required to ascertain the relationship between the two versions.
Based on various pieces of textual evidence, it is possible to suggest that al-Sayyid al-Raḍī likely sourced the first section of the sermon from al-Kulaynī’s Rasāʾil al-aʾimma (Letters of the Imams). This is supported by the fact that the text of Sermon 80 in Nahj al-Balagha aligns perfectly with the text found in that book. This 100-percent match between the two texts serves as a compelling reason that al-Kulaynī’s work was indeed the source for Sermon 80 in Nahj al-Balagha. This method of source criticism is also commonly used today to detect instances of plagiarism.
Fortunately, we have access to the original source of al-Sayyid al-Raḍī’s sermon, namely the extended version of the letter with his fragmentations. By independently examining and evaluating the authenticity of the differences between the two versions of the letter, we can determine the validity of the extended version. The most effective approach to establish the authenticity of the extended version is to thoroughly study and compare the full text of both versions. This analysis will help establish whether the extended version was derived from the concise version or if the concise version is a summary of the extended version.
Upon closer examination of the context and content of the letter, it becomes apparent that the extended version cannot be considered historically authentic. The letter was written during times of conflict, with the primary purpose of rallying support and attracting forces to join the army. It was intended to be publicly recited on the streets of Kufa, aiming to motivate people to participate in the battle against the aggression of the people of Kufa or the Khawarij (Kharijites). The additional content found in the extended version deviates from the original objectives of the letter. Instead of focusing on encouraging participation in the war effort, it delves into subtle dialectical, doctrinal, and historical issues.
An analysis of the added content in the extended version reveals that later transmitters, possibly utilizing Sunni sources, introduced inconsistent and dialectical elements into the letter, deviating it from its original purpose. These additions include interpolated dialectical commentaries, references to insignificant individuals, and citations of statements by various people and insignificant historical incidents. It is notable that these additions can also be found in certain Sunni sources. These interpolations have resulted in confusion within the extended version. One such example of an insignificant addition is the fragment under consideration here. The transmitter, or indeed the fabricator, of the extended version appears to have deemed it appropriate to include a general criticism of women after mentioning ʿĀʾisha in the context of the Battle of Jamal. In line with the dialectical approach, the transmitter drew upon the text of a well-known Sunni hadith suggesting the deficiency of women in terms of intelligence and faith.
It is worth noting that the concise version of the letter is not only cited in al-Ghārāt and al-Imāma wa-l-siyāsa, but also in other early sources such as the books of Abū Mikhnaf (d. 157 AH), al-ʿIqd al-farīd by Ibn ʿAbd Rabbih (d. 328 AH), and the works of al-Shaykh al-Mufīd (d. 413 AH). None of these early concise versions of the letter contain any discussion or criticism of women. Additionally, it is evident that al-Sayyid al-Raḍī had separate access to the concise version, which does not include any criticism of women.
In conclusion, it can be determined that the first part of Sermon 80 in Nahj al-Balagha is indeed a component of the distorted extended version of the letter. This extended version was later added to the original version by transmitters who incorporated elements from Sunni sources.
Prof. Seyede Saeideh Gharavi
Associate Professor, University of Qom
The Quran and hadith serve as the primary sources of religious guidance for Muslims, providing insights on how to live a righteous life in all aspects. However, it is crucial to engage in reflection to arrive at accurate interpretations of these sources. While the Quran is an absolute and undeniable authority that is readily accessible to us, it can be challenging to read, interpret, and comprehend its intended meanings. Therefore, in order to truly understand and uncover its secrets, it is essential to diligently search for evidence, contemplate its linguistic and contextual nuances, and consider its literary structure. This approach ensures that we do not impose our personal opinions on the Quran.
The second source, hadiths, is also accessible to individuals and provides guidance on various aspects of human life and needs. However, the challenge lies in determining the authenticity of these hadiths and whether they were truly uttered by infallible leaders. Before granting them holy authority and validity, it is essential to evaluate their authenticity to ensure they have not been fabricated or distorted by enemies of religion. Throughout history, scholars have diligently examined hadiths to distinguish between reliable and unreliable ones. In contemporary times, researchers have specifically focused on assessing hadiths related to women.
In order to illustrate the methodology used in these studies, we will focus on the case of the hadith that states “women are the devil’s traps” as an example of hadiths that reproach women. To begin, we will examine the different versions and variations of this hadith. Subsequently, we will employ a comparative and critical approach to evaluate the chains of transmission and the intended meaning of these narrations.
A Typology of the Hadith “Women are the Devil’s Traps”
Within the Shiite and Sunni traditions of hadith, there exist statements pertaining to the involvement of women in the devil’s schemes. These statements can be categorized into two groups: the first refers to women as instruments and traps employed by the devil, suggesting that they form a substantial part of Satan’s army (see Kulaynī 1407 AH, 5:515; Majlisī 1404 AH, 20:331).
The second category of hadiths asserts that attachment to women presents a challenge for men, similar to attachment to worldly desires, seeking high social status, or succumbing to laziness. These factors can lead to the commission of sins and disobedience towards God. In these hadiths, women are sometimes referred to as “fitna” (tests), either individually or in conjunction with other tests (see Ṣadūq 1362 Sh, 1:113; Majlisī 1403 AH, 2:107; Kulaynī 1407 AH, 2:289; Burujirdi 1386 Sh, 25:118, Qummī 1414 AH, 2:22).
An Analysis of the Sources of this Hadith
A study of the sources where this hadith is transmitted yields the following results:
The hadith is reported with different variations in wording within a lengthy sermon attributed to the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household). In certain sources, the text states “women are the traps (“ḥabāʾil” or “ḥabālāt”) of Iblis,” while in others the term “ḥabāla” is mentioned. Additionally, there are sources that cite the text as “women are the traps of the devil (‘al-shayṭān’).”
The statement “women are the devil’s traps” is also found as part of another hadith attributed to the Prophet. In certain sources, particularly those that categorize hadiths under different themes or in Quranic exegeses, this particular hadith is cited independently rather than as part of a sermon or another hadith.
The diagram below illustrates the Shiite sources that contain different versions of the statement. It is important to note that the order presented is chronological, and the direction of the arrows does not indicate that each subsequent source transmits the hadith from the preceding one.
In Sunni sources of hadith, the hadith is often cited as “women are the devil’s traps (ḥabāʾil, ḥabāla, or ḥabālāt)” as part of a sermon delivered by the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household). It is noteworthy that the hadith does not appear in any of the most renowned Sunni sources such as Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Sunan, and Muwaṭṭaʾ by Mālik. Since these are the most authoritative and reliable Sunni sources of hadith and their hadiths are often deemed reliable, this may indicate that this hadith is not deemed reliable by Sunni scholars. The following diagram depicts some of the early Sunni sources where the hadith is cited.
Evaluating the Signification of the Hadith
While this hadith may not have a strong chain of transmission, it is important to analyze its meaning. It is crucial to understand why women are described as the devil’s traps, which specific women are being referred to in this hadith, and how it relates to other hadiths about women. Furthermore, we need to consider its overall significance based on the criteria set by the Quran. This evaluation is necessary to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of this hadith.
- Women as Traps and the Quranic Perspective
It is important to note that any non-Quranic proposition attributed to Islam must be supported by the Quran or be in line with its teachings. However, there is no verse in the Quran that states women are the devil’s traps. Some Quranic exegetes who incorporate Israelite narratives into their works may include such themes. For instance, regarding the story of Adam and Eve’s fall to Earth, certain Israelite narratives suggest that Eve was deceived by the serpent and subsequently deceived Adam. However, the Quran itself states that both Adam and Eve were deceived by the devil (not specifically the serpent), without attributing any role to Eve in deceiving Adam. Such a perspective on women is inconsistent with verses in the Quran that highlight the virtues of believing women and their rewards. By examining the relevant Quranic verses, we can evaluate the content of the hadith in question:
- Verses expressing women’s sexual attractions
- Verses regarding women’s display of their adornments
- Relationships between this Hadith and Other Hadiths regarding Women
Certain sources of hadith have specific sections dedicated to hadiths about women. For example, early Shiite hadith collections like al-Kāfī and Man lā-yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh include sections that discuss topics such as “Gazing upon women, liking women, the good in women, the most virtuous women,” and more (Kulaynī 1407 AH, 5:320-324; Ṣadūq 1413 AH, 384-385). Many of these hadiths actually praise women and highlight their goodness.
Regarding the apparent conflict between the hadith under study and other hadiths that honor women, there are two possible ways to reconcile them:
- An explanation in terms of instances
- Distinct instances
- The same instances
- Conceptual explanation of the conflicting hadiths.
- The hadith in question is mentioned without a chain of transmission in Shiite sources like Tafsīr al-Qummī and Ma lā-yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh. However, it is not found in reliable Sunni hadith sources such as Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Sunan, and al-Muwaṭṭaʾ by Mālik. In Sunni sources like Ibn Abī Shayba’s Muṣannaf and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal’s al-Zuhd, where the hadith is mentioned, it is cited without a chain of transmission.
- Indeed, there is no Quranic verse that explicitly or implicitly characterizes women as the devil’s traps, although some Quranic commentators may reference similar themes from Israelite narratives. It is important to note that any proposition attributed to Islam must find affirmation within the Quran or be compatible with the Quran.
Dr. Mohammad Haghani Fazl
PhD, Comparative Religious Studies, Christian Theology, University of Religions and Denominations, Qom
Exegetical approaches and Quranic exegetes have divergent opinions regarding the extent to which history should be referenced for understanding the Quran. Many Muslim exegetes and scholars believe that the Quran is a trans-historical text whose core meaning can be inferred without considering its historical context. However, this belief has not prevented traditional exegeses from considering historical or social incidents during the time of the Quran. For example, exegetes often refer to the occasions of revelation of Quranic verses and their historical context to gain a better understanding of the verses.
In the modern world, however, there is another interpretation of the historical view of scriptures. In this interpretation, scriptures and their propositions are seen as products of specific cultural and historical contexts, similar to other written works. As a result, a reexamination of the text within its historical context is considered necessary for a better understanding of scriptures. It is important to note that there is a spectrum of views ranging from a fully historical perspective to a fully trans-historical perspective, encompassing various exegetical viewpoints. Many proponents of a historical reexamination of the Quran do not argue for a purely historical understanding of the text.
As a result, it can be argued that the use of historical methods to understand the Quran is based on the belief that its teachings and doctrines are closely connected to its historical context. According to this perspective, the Quran’s teachings and messages are pertinent to the circumstances of its time, and historical circumstances are important for understanding the content and significance of its doctrines. This viewpoint emphasizes that the Quran’s doctrines and rulings are not detached from the historical realities of that period. Instead, they are relevant to the specific needs, challenges, and issues faced by the community of believers during the time of the Prophet. The historical context of the Quran, including its cultural, social, political, and economic dimensions, played a role in shaping its doctrines.
Scholars who adhere to this perspective draw on methods of historical analysis, including studying the historical context of Quranic revelation, examining information about the life and practices of the Prophet, investigating social and cultural norms in Arabia during that time, and consulting other historical sources. These approaches are employed to gain an insight into Quranic doctrines.
One prominent thinker who employed this method to reexamine Quranic verses related to women was Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd. Through an analysis of the historical and social circumstances surrounding women’s rights in contemporary Islamic societies, Abu Zayd criticized the regressive nature of laws concerning women in Egypt. He argued that this situation resulted from a misinterpretation of Sharia. In the Quran, the term “sharīʿā” originally referred to the path and religion, and this meaning was prevalent in Islamic literature for centuries. However, in most contemporary works, it is commonly equated with jurisprudential laws.
According to Abu Zayd, the solution to this crisis lies in adopting a contextual reading approach, which employs similar tools utilized by scholars of “principles of jurisprudence” (uṣūl al-fiqh) to derive jurisprudential rulings. However, he applies these tools in a broader sense. Instead of relying solely on the occasions of revelation, Abu Zayd considers the entire historical and social context of the seventh century CE to understand the historical backdrop of a verse. By doing so, he is able to distinguish between the original rulings established by Islam and the customary or common practices that existed prior to Islam. In addition to the general social and historical context, Abu Zayd delves into other contextual layers, such as the order of revelation, the context derived from hadiths, philological combinations, syntactical analysis, and rhetorical analysis. For example, analyzing the context derived from hadiths enables researchers to differentiate between legislative verses and dialectical or descriptive verses. Furthermore, employing tools like discourse analysis and textual analysis at the syntactic and rhetorical level reveals more intricate and profound layers of the Quran.
Abu Zayd uses a contextual reading approach to interpret Quranic verses pertaining to women’s issues. He argues that in order to comprehend the authentic Islamic perspective on women’s rights, it is necessary to conduct a historical comparison between women’s rights prior to Islam and the new rights instituted for them by Islam. He describes this process as “reclaiming the original meaning.”
According to Abu Zayd, a common error in the interpretation of Quranic verses concerning women is the tendency to conflate dialectical and legislative contexts. The overall context of the Quranic text acknowledges the equality of women and men in creation (“It is He who created you from a single soul”). Numerous verses emphasize the equal religious responsibilities of women and men, as well as their equal rewards and punishments. Some verses that differentiate between males and females were revealed within a dialectical context. Abu Zayd argues that the hadiths cited by al-Suyūṭī demonstrate that the Prophet advocated for complete equality not only in the hereafter but also in this world. However, considering that his audience was not yet ready to fully embrace such equality, the verse stating men’s authority over women was revealed (“Men are the managers of women”). Abu Zayd applies a similar interpretation to the concept of “advantage” mentioned in the same verse (“because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others”). To elucidate this concept of “advantage” within its context, he cites verse 21 of Surah al-Israʾ: “Observe how We have given some of them an advantage over some others; yet the Hereafter is surely greater in respect of ranks and greater in respect of relative merit.” Based on this, he concludes that the use of the word “advantage” does not imply that God affirms such an advantage. Rather, it is merely a description of the social and economic disparities that exist within society.
After examining Quranic verses about women in dialectical and descriptive contexts, Abu Zayd proceeds to analyze legislative texts concerning women. Many of these texts are found in Surah al-Nisaʾ, which was revealed in the fourth year after the Prophet’s migration to Medina following the Battle of Uhud. This period was marked by the prevalence of widows and orphans due to the martyrdom of numerous men in the battle. Consequently, the surah addresses issues such as remarriage, inheritance, and the care of orphans. Abu Zayd argues that the ruling on polygyny is a temporary measure. He suggests that the first verse of the surah emphasizes the equality of women and men in creation, the third verse concerns the protection of orphan rights, and the subsequent verse permits polygyny within that specific context. By considering the contextual aspects of revelation and the linguistic combination of the verse, it can be inferred that this ruling served as a temporary solution for an emergency situation rather than a permanent decree. Furthermore, it is important to note that polygyny existed prior to Islam, and when considering the context of equality between women and men, this ruling was likely formulated to regulate the disorderly state of affairs regarding polygyny at that time.
In addition to offering a rereading of Quranic verses regarding women, Abu Zayd critiques revivalist Salafi and anti-tradition approaches. Moreover, he challenges the method of reconstructing tradition by reinterpreting it to align with contemporary demands. According to Abu Zayd, the flaw in these readings lies in their disregard for context. As an alternative, he advocates for a contextual reading approach that considers the historical, social, and linguistic contexts in order to comprehend a text accurately.
Prof. Younes Nourbakhsh
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Tehran
Islamic veiling, or hijab, has become a social issue in both Islamic societies and the West over the past few decades. Previously, there were no social or religious challenges regarding hijab in Islamic societies. However, due to demographic and cultural changes, increased women’s literacy, and encounters with the West, issues have emerged in these societies. In the West, the immigration of a large number of Muslims has made hijab a cultural challenge. After years of strict measures against hijab, Western countries are now embracing freedom of practicing hijab in workplaces and social activities.
Until the 18th century, both European women and men commonly wore long gowns and garments, striving to cover themselves as much as possible when outside. However, with the advent of modernization and secularization in Western societies, clothing norms underwent significant changes. As religion’s influence diminished in the social sphere and became limited to matters of theory and faith, other social domains were less impacted by religious norms. Today, the choice of clothing is viewed as an individual right, allowing individuals to express their personal tastes while still adhering to societal norms and common sense.
As fashions and consumerism spread in the West, clothing evolved into a symbol of modernization, with fashionability becoming the primary criterion for clothing choices. This shift led to significant changes in clothing patterns, with short and tight clothing becoming more prevalent. Today, clothing serves as a means to showcase one’s body based on personal taste, as well as a way to express independence and individuality.
Western governments often highlight the extent of freedom in their societies by emphasizing the freedom of clothing and leisure activities. However, some sociologists analyze this phenomenon as the commodification of women and consumerism. As a result, the function of clothing has shifted away from its original purpose of protecting the body from cold and heat.
Individuals use clothing as a symbolic representation of their individuality and autonomy. Through the consumption of fashionable clothes, they can express their personal taste and use clothing as a means to showcase their identity and personality. The styles of clothing vary across different social classes, influenced by economic power and interests. For example, clothing preferences differ between religious and non-religious classes, rural and urban populations, and those belonging to modern or traditional social strata.
Advancements in the weaving industry, modern technologies, and the rise of fashion and clothing industries transformed clothing in the West into a source of leisure, enjoyment, and a display of wealth. This desire to celebrate the body, combined with the growth of feminist movements, further intensified these changes. As boundaries between public and private spheres regarding expressions of pleasure faded, behaviors that were once confined to the private realm are now more accepted in the public sphere.
In recent decades, as Muslim women wearing hijab migrated to the West and sought to express their cultural and religious identities, numerous questions and debates emerged. In Islamic societies as well, three significant factors—demographic changes, globalization, and the diminishing influence of religion in the social sphere—have led to an increased abandonment of hijab, resulting in theoretical, cultural, and legal challenges. Consequently, hijab is widely criticized and supported as a religious, cultural, political, and legal phenomenon, albeit with variations in the challenges faced between Western and Islamic societies.
The form of hijab has not remained constant across different regions and time periods. In Islamic societies throughout history, the style of Islamic veiling has varied, influenced by factors such as the local climate and cultural practices.
With the increasing education of women and their desire to pursue careers, the issue of hijab has become intertwined with these matters. Islamic societies face questions regarding women’s social, economic, and political participation. Are women viewed as secondary to men in society, or are they meant to be equal partners? These challenges have gained momentum as women strive for more than minimal participation, seeking higher economic and political positions and engaging in art and cinema. These developments have led to opposition to previous cultural policies. Alongside the theoretical, jurisprudential, and legal dimensions of hijab, the method of its implementation has also been called into question. Islamic feminists have attempted to provide new interpretations of religious texts to address these challenges and foster a fresh understanding, while other intellectual movements have approached the issue differently. In this presentation, I aim to explore the relevant jurisprudential, cultural, and social developments, investigating the relationship between the issue of hijab and theoretical, religious, and social realms.
Prof. Farajollah Hedayatnia
Associate Professor, Research Institute of Islamic Culture and Thought
While men’s legal capacity and autonomy are often unquestioned, the same cannot be said for women. Throughout history, women’s legal capacity and autonomy have been subject to controversy in all societies. A historical analysis reveals three distinct periods in the struggle for women’s rights: women as possessions of men, women’s legal incapacity, and women’s legal capacity. In the distant past, women were denied freedom and treated as slaves by men. As society progressed, women’s legal capacity was acknowledged, but they were still treated as minors or individuals lacking mental capacity. In our present time, women’s legal capacity is generally acknowledged, but debates persist regarding their legal autonomy.
Islamic law has a notable historical advantage compared to other legal systems in its recognition of women’s legal capacity and autonomy. In the oldest Islamic jurisprudential sources, there is a section on “legal incapacity” (ḥajr) that examines the reasons for such incapacity, but gender is never mentioned as a basis for legal incapacity. However, certain religious propositions appear to imply restrictions on women’s share of political, social, and economic rights. These propositions can be categorized into two sections for further study.
- Gender-Induced Restrictions
In the Quran and valid hadiths, there are propositions pertaining to women’s economic, political, and social activism:
- Economic activism: The Quran highlights women’s right to acquire and possess property, stating, “and to women a share of what they have earned.” Additionally, the Quran references the daughters of Prophet Shuʿayb who worked as shepherds (Surah al-Qasas, 23). Hadiths also contain reports of women engaging in economic activities (al-Kāfī, 5:151).
- Educational activism: Islam promotes learning and values knowledge, giving preference to the knowledgeable over the ignorant (Surah al-Zumar, 9). Additionally, the Prophet emphasized that acquiring knowledge is a duty for both men and women (Kanz al-fawaʾid, 2:107). As a result, women have the same right to education as men.
- Political and social activism: The Quran explicitly acknowledges the social authority of both men and women, stating that believing men and women are allies to one another, encouraging righteousness and discouraging wrongdoing: “But the faithful, men and women, are comrades of one another: they bid what is right and forbid what is wrong” (Surah al-Tawba, 71). Islam takes a pioneering stance in granting women the right to political participation, as evidenced by the Quran’s mention of women pledging allegiance to the Prophet (Surah al-Mumtahina, 12). This act of pledging allegiance in that era can be likened to elections in our time, where individuals actively participated in the administration of society by expressing their views through such pledges.
Despite the presence of Quranic verses and hadiths that support women’s social activism, certain religious propositions imply gender-based limitations on women’s roles. These propositions include the rejection of women occupying political and judicial positions, the prohibition of women learning to write, and similar restrictions. These propositions have been used as grounds for fatwas issued by some Muslim jurists or fuqaha, resulting in certain Islamic countries exclusively reserving political and judicial positions for men. Additionally, restrictions on girls’ education are imposed in some Islamic countries. However, these propositions contradict other explicit hadiths and are inconsistent with the practices of the Prophet’s Household and the historical practices of Muslims. Furthermore, studies indicate that the prohibitions on women’s involvement in political and judicial positions lack reliable chains of transmission and are textually invalid. Therefore, it becomes challenging to adhere to the content of these propositions.
- Marriage-Induced Restrictions for Women
The Quran explicitly states that husbands are the managers (qawwāmūn) of their wives (Surah al-Nisaʾ, 34), but it does not specify the extent of their authority. There are several hadiths that imply men can restrict their wives’ social activities and confine them to their homes. These hadiths have been used as grounds for fatwas, asserting that women require their husbands’ permission to leave their homes. Some interpretations even recommend that men keep their wives confined to their homes (Tabatabai Yazdi, al-ʿUrwat al-wuthqā, 2:801). It is evident that this understanding of men’s authority and women’s rights contributes to the apprehension young girls may feel about marriage, as they perceive a conflict between marriage and their social participation, often prioritizing the latter over the former.
Studies indicate that many hadiths regarding the requirement of men’s permission for women to leave their homes are unreliable in terms of their chains of transmission, and others lack explicitness: “verbal evidence falls short of proving this requirement either with respect to its chain of transmission or its signification” (Mohammad Fazel Lankarani, Tafṣīl al-sharīʿa fī sharḥ taḥrīr al-wasīla, al-nikāḥ, 483). It appears that a husband’s authority to restrict his wife’s social activism is not unrestricted and should be defined within the context of marital duties and commitments (Khoei, Mawsūʿat al-Imam al-Khoei, 20:101). Consequently, a husband is not permitted to prevent his wife from engaging in educational or social activities solely based on his personal preferences, as doing so would lead to her intellectual impoverishment or economic dependency. Excessive strictness and unwarranted prevention of a wife’s social activities by her husband are incompatible with the Quran’s command to treat women with honor: “Consort with them in an honorable manner; and should you dislike them, maybe you dislike something while Allah invests it with an abundant good.”
Dr. Mojtaba Beidaghy
Faculty Member, Islamic Academy of Germany
PhD, Comparative Theology, Paderborn University (dissertation, “A Study of the Human Nature in Catholic and Shiite Theologies from the Perspectives of Ayatollah Motahari and Karl Rahner”)
- Research Deputy, Islamic Academy of Germany
- Academic secretary, International Conference on the Other Prophet: Jesus in the Quran
- Academic contributor, Center for Cultural Studies and Comparative Theology, Paderborn University
- Administrator of the Encyclopedia Section, Research Deputy of the University of Religions and Denominations
One of the significant challenges between Islam and modernity in today’s world is the existence of legal disparities between women and men in Islamic rulings. Some view these disparities as instances where Islamic rulings are incompatible with human achievements in the modern world, such as human rights. In this analysis, I aim to identify and describe the legal differences between women and men in Islamic rulings. Subsequently, I will examine and analyze the origins and approaches to these differences from an Islamic perspective. Lastly, I will evaluate the proposed theories or solutions aimed at addressing the perceived incompatibilities between Islamic rulings concerning women and human rights.
Islamic rulings pertaining to women and men can be categorized into three distinct groups based on the presence or absence of gender differences:
- Gender-neutral rulings where no distinction is made between women and men.
- Rulings where women and men are differentiated, taking gender into consideration, with the difference being in favor of women’s interests.
- Rulings where women and men are differentiated, but the distinction favors men over women.
Over the past 150 years, the Islamic world has witnessed intellectual debates surrounding the disparities in women’s and men’s rights. These discrepancies have been increasingly viewed as instances of incompatibility between Islamic rulings on women and human rights. However, it is important to acknowledge that these debates primarily revolve around the legal differences falling within the third category mentioned earlier.
In response to the perceived inequality or incompatibility between women’s and men’s rights, Muslim thinkers have proposed theories that can be categorized into three main groups: traditional, intellectualist, and modernist. Traditional perspectives attribute these legal differences to the underlying philosophy of Islamic rulings, such as innate human tendencies, the true rights of individuals, and the governing structure of families. Intellectualist approaches, on the other hand, employ reason to uncover the underlying interests behind Islamic rulings and utilize the criterion of justice to derive Sharia rulings, thereby acknowledging legal disparities between women and men under specific circumstances. In contrast to these two groups, some proponents emphasize the importance of human rights documents, arguing that any ruling contradicting these principles is inherently inhumane.
Dr. Rasool Akbari
PhD, Religions and Mysticism, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
Throughout history, gender equality has been a contentious topic, with women’s issues often taking center stage in social movements. In recent decades, Muslim women and activists have raised concerns about the perceived misogynistic tone of the Quran, prompting questions about whether Islam’s scripture, as the primary source of beliefs and practices for Muslims worldwide, supports gender equality and to what extent.
One verse in particular, verse 34 of the Quran’s fourth chapter “Nisaʾ” (women), is increasingly being debated and contested. This verse is considered to reflect the Quran’s stance on gender, and serves as a basis for interpreting and formulating Islam’s gender policies. The multifaceted themes and concepts within this verse have sparked extensive and sometimes contentious discussions among scholars from different exegetical traditions, regarding the Quran’s perspective on gender equality and various relationships. Throughout Islamic history, this verse has been widely interpreted as a foundational source that establishes a specific framework for spousal and gender relations in general.
Men are the managers (qawwāmūn) of women, because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others, and by virtue of their spending out of their wealth. Righteous women are obedient and watchful in the absence [of their husbands] in guarding what Allah has enjoined [them] to guard. As for those [wives] whose misconduct you fear, [first] advise them, and [if ineffective] keep away from them in the bed, and [as the last resort] beat them. Then if they obey you, do not seek any course [of action] against them. Indeed Allah is all-exalted, all-great. (Al-Nisaʾ, 34)
This verse contains two significant elements: “qawwāmūn” (managers) and “iḍrabūhunn” (beat them). These elements have sparked controversies among Muslim intellectuals and activists, with far-reaching and profound impacts on the social and cultural dynamics both within and outside the religious communities involved.
In the long cultural history of Iran after Islam, this segment of the Quran underwent interpretation and analysis primarily by male exegetes operating within the framework of conventional, traditional mainstream exegetical discourse. Their goal was to elucidate and establish what was often perceived as a form of men’s superiority over women. Nevertheless, especially in the transformed context of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, some men and many women, acting as researchers and activists, provided critical readings and alternative interpretations of these Quranic verses. This occurred particularly in elitist and academic dialogues and debates. While predominant male exegeses uphold the superiority of men’s strategic and managerial characteristics within families, women’s discourse emphasizes that such attributes are not exclusive to men. Studies formulated as alternative discourses around this verse often tend to criticize and reassess the prevailing and conventional male exegetical perspectives.
In general, alternative interpretations of Quranic verses by contemporary Iranian scholars have received little attention in the international literature on Quranic studies. This presentation examines critical readings of verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ provided by contemporary Iranian scholars. The study is based on qualitative research, which includes collecting field data and analyzing articles, notes, public speeches, sermons, as well as multimedia and digital content on TV, radio, and social media. The findings reveal how Iranian Muslim intellectuals, both women and men, have attempted to offer alternative egalitarian interpretations of verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ, despite the prevailing mainstream approaches.
The main questions addressed in this presentation are as follows: What alternative discourses have emerged among both female and male scholars in interpreting verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ? How do these alternative discourses intersect or contradict with the dominant mainstream discourses? What sources, approaches, and discursive strategies do these intellectuals and activists employ to articulate their alternative egalitarian perspectives and interpretations of the Quran’s gender policy in both theory and practice? The presentation is divided into three main parts:
- Contemporary Iranian mainstream interpretations
- Alternative interpretations in contemporary Iran
- Sources, meanings, values, activists, and transformations
Contemporary Iranian Mainstream Interpretations
In this part, I address the main themes within the views of certain renowned and influential Shiite exegetes in contemporary Iranian society regarding the verse under study, including Tabatabai, Khomeini, Makarem Shirazi, Javadi Amoli, and Qara’ati.
The prevailing argument is as follows: verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ pertains to the concept of guardianship and authority within the family structure. Despite the family being a small social unit, it requires a single guardian and authority figure. It is deemed impractical for both men and women to share this role, hence one of them must assume the role of guardian while the other acts as a deputy. The Quran designates men as guardians and managers in this context. However, it is essential to note that this message should not be interpreted as oppressing, suppressing, or abusing women. On the contrary, the objective is to establish a structured unit that takes into account shared responsibilities and consultations between the man and woman.
Alternative Interpretations in Contemporary Iran
In contemporary Iran, there is a significant presence of activists and intellectuals advocating for women’s rights, reforms, and human rights in general, which includes women, men, and children. It is worth noting that historically, most Quranic exegetes have been men. However, in recent decades, with the increased participation of women in education and research, female scholars in Iran have also endeavored to reinterpret and reconstruct the meaning of verse 34, particularly from their critical perspectives. In this section, I provide an overview of the perspectives of both men and women who have emerged from the progressive social and cultural context of Iran. These individuals have courageously offered critical responses to the dominant interpretation of the Quran. Their approaches generally involve redefining terms from semantic and philological perspectives, limiting their application to specific circumstances, and reducing or narrowing their scope in relation to the dynamics between women and men.
Sources, Meanings, Values, Activists, and Transformations
In this section, I employ a theoretical framework known as resource cultures to provide an overview of the sources, meanings, values, activists, and transformations associated with alternative interpretations of verse 34 of Surah al-Nisaʾ. This framework allows for an examination of the processes involved in producing, distributing, and implementing new cultural approaches that respond to the diverse societal needs.