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Freedom of women in the Islamic system


Question: You have been accused of being against civilisation and you have turned the accusation against the Shah. That is not necessarily convincing. How do you stand on specific issues like agrarian reform, industrialisation and the status of women?

 

Reply: . . . As for women, Islam has never been against their freedom. It is, to the contrary, opposed to the idea of woman-as-object and it gives her back her dignity. A woman is a man’s equal; she and he are both free to determine their destiny and choose their occupations.

 

But the Shah’s regime is trying to prevent women from becoming free by plunging them into immorality. It is to this that Islam raises objections. This regime has destroyed the freedom of women as well as men. Women as well as men swell the population of Iranian prisons, and this is where freedom is threatened. We want to free them from the corruption menacing them. (123)

 

6 May 1978 (16 Urdibihisht 1357 AHS)

 

Question: Regarding social issues, what is the view of His Holiness the Ayatullah on the presence of women in universities or the workplace? Will there be restrictions placed upon them that do not exist in society today? What is His Holiness’s opinion on birth control and coeducation in universities?

 

Reply: Women are free in the Islamic society and will, under no condition, be barred from universities, offices or Parliament. What will be checked equally among both men and women is moral corruption which is prohibited for both sexes. As far as birth control is concerned, that depends on what decision the government will take on the matter. (124)

 

7 December 1978 (16 Azar 1357 AHS)

 

Both women and men are free to attend university, both are free to vote and stand as parliamentary representatives, that which is objectionable is the way these people (the Shah and his regime) want women to be: a plaything in the hands of men. To quote the Shah “a woman should be beguiling.” We want to get rid of this mistaken idea. We want a woman to be a person like other people, a human being like any other human being, to be free as others are free. (125)

 

11 December 1978 (20 Azar 1357 AHS)

 

Question: In the event of your movement’s triumph and the establishment of an Islamic government, what will your approach to social development and progress be, particularly with regard to women? Will you permit polygamy?

 

Reply: Women are free, just as men are. We will act in accordance with Islamic law. (126)

 

12 December 1978 (21 Azar 1357 AHS)

 

These people you call lawyers have always misguided our women. Today, the Shah’s prisons are filled with our ‘free’ women, yet these lawyers have consistently endorsed the Shah’s crimes. Which of the two is free? (127)

 

28 December 1978 (7 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: What changes do you feel are needed regarding the position of women in Iranian society? How, in your opinion, will an Islamic government change the status of women, for example as regards employment in the civil service and working in different professions such as medicine, engineering etc., and in other areas such as divorce, abortion, the right to travel and compulsory wearing of the chador?

 

Reply: The Shah’s malicious propaganda, along with that of people bought with his money, has obscured the issue of women’s freedom for the people, so that they think Islam has come just to make women stay at home. Why should we oppose women’s education? Why should we oppose them working?

 

Why shouldn’t women be able to work in the civil service? Why should we oppose women being able to travel? Women, like men, are free in all these things, women are in no way different from men. Yes, in Islam women must dress modestly and wear a veil (i.e. have hijab), but that does not necessarily mean she has to wear a chador. Women can choose any kind of attire they like so long as it covers them properly and they have hijab.

 

Islam does not want women to be an object, to be a doll in our hands. Islam wants to safeguard women’s nobility, it wishes to make her a serious and efficient human being. We shall never allow women to be merely men’s sex objects. Islam has prohibited abortion. Women can gain the right to execute a divorce if she adds this condition to her marriage contract. The respect Islam shows woman and the freedom it grants her is equalled by no other system of laws or school of thought. (128)

 

28 December 1978 (7 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: A good many women who have reached a level of freedom and education in Iran are afraid that they will be forced to return to a reactionary religious regime. What have you to say to put their minds at ease?

 

Reply: Islam has given women freedom. It is this government and this Shah that have deprived them of freedom and have restricted them in every aspect. (129)

 

5 January 1979 (15 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: Is an Islamic government a retrogressive one? The Shah wants to create a modern country, the Arab countries too seek progress, but Islam opposes reform and social change such as freedom for women. What is your view on this?

 

Reply: The Shah’s government opposed our social development and gave away the freedom and independence of our country. An Islamic government is not a retrogressive one. It sanctions all the manifestations of civilisation apart from those that disrupt the nation’s peace of mind and are incompatible with the nation’s view of public decency. Islam not only sanctions freedom for women, it is actually the founder of freedom for women in all the dimensions, which exist for a woman. (130)

 

10 January 1979 (20 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: What will be the policy of the government of an Islamic republic on women’s freedom, the fight against illiteracy and the cinema?

 

Reply: The Shah has not done anything positive in Iran, trying to mend the damage he has done will take quite a while. The Shah has given freedom neither to women nor to men, we, however, will give freedom to all. Cinemas under the Shah’s regime have been in the service of corruption, in an Islamic republic they will have to serve the good of the nation. We will fight illiteracy in the best way possible. (131)

 

11 January 1979 (21 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: What will the role of women be in a future Islamic government?

 

Reply: Women are free to participate in many affairs, free in the true sense of the word, not in the sense that the Shah wanted. Some of our women are in prison, and of those who are not, a great number take part in the demonstrations and the struggles. An insignificant number are ‘free’, free in the sense that the Shah wants them to be free. We are most definitely opposed to that kind of freedom. (132)

 

15 January 1979 (25 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: What will be the status of women in your future government?

 

Reply: They will have the status of a true human being and a free individual, contrary to these past periods we have lived through when neither our women were free nor our men. The nation whose men and women were not free [and] were repressed, has now thrown off the yoke and from now on men and women are free. However, if they wish to act immodestly or contrary to the interests of the country, then naturally they will be prevented from doing so. (133)

 

15 January 1979 (25 Dey 1357 AHS)

 

Question: What will be the role of women in the Islamic government? For example, will they be able to get involved in the affairs of state by becoming, say, members of parliament or ministers? That being, of course, if they demonstrate that they are suitable for and sufficiently competent to hold such a post.

 

Reply: The Islamic government will determine the course to be taken in such matters. Now is not the time for me to comment on such things. Women, like men, are participating in building the Islamic society of tomorrow; they can vote and be voted for in elections. Women have taken part in the recent struggles in Iran to the same degree as the men. We will give women every kind of freedom, but we will prevent corruption, and where this is concerned, there is no difference between men and women. (134)

 

23 January 1979 (3 Bahman 1357 AHS)

 

Question from one of the female reporters: The fact that I have been accepted as a woman shows that our movement is a progressive one, even though some have tried to portray it as retrograde. Do you think women must necessarily wear Islamic dress (hijab)? Must they cover their hair or not?

 

Reply: To say I have accepted you means nothing. I have not personally accepted you; you came here without my knowledge. This is not proof that Islam is progressive. Islam did not become progressive the minute you walked in here. Progress is not what some of our women or our men think it is.

 

Progress is determined in terms of human and spiritual perfections and by how useful a person is for the nation and the country, not by whether people go to the cinema or dances.

 

These are things they made you think were progressive so they could drive you into a backward state. Later we must remedy this. In salutary activities, you are free; you are free to go to university and to do any kind of respectable job. The whole nation is free in this respect. However, if anyone wants to do something immodest or harmful to the nation, he or she will be prevented. This is a sign of being progressive. (135)

 

23 January 1979 (3 Bahman 1357 AHS)

 

There is no suppression in Islam. In Islam there is liberty for all strata of society, for women, men, for whites and blacks, for everyone. From now on men should be afraid of themselves, not of the government, they should be afraid lest they do wrong. (136)

 

1 February 1980 (12 Bahman 1358 AHS)

 

Islam has set you free. Islam has declared men and women free; all are free. (137)

 

6 April 1979 (17 Farvardin 1358 AHS)

 

Today you are free, all the brothers and sisters are today free, free to criticise the government, free to criticise anything that goes against the path of the nation and Islam, free to make fundamental demands of the government. This movement has made you free, has liberated you from the bonds, which bound the nation.

 

You have gathered here freely, and freely you are propounding political and social issues vital to the nation, you are not the ladies of a few years ago. Today you are having a say in your destiny. You are propounding political issues and are making demands of the government. This is the meaning of freedom. (138)

 

3 July 1979 (12 Tir 1358 AHS)

 

This freedom that our nation now enjoys, which the women, men, writers and so on, now enjoy, this freedom is in all affairs, which are beneficial to you. You are free to go out and say what you have to say, to criticise the government, criticise anyone who puts a foot wrong, no one is going to ask you why you are doing so.

 

You are free to join the Construction Crusade (Jihad-i Sazandeghi) and help your countrymen. Anything that is involved with the growth of man, the growth of the sisters, brothers and these dear children, is free for you. That which is not free, indeed which Islam prevents, is gambling which corrupts the nation, drinking which corrupts the nation, and all types of obscenities which were made available during the time of that criminal (the Shah). Islam forbids such things. (139)

 

30 September 1979 (8 Mehr 1358 AHS)

 

Question: In the future government, what will freedom for women be like? Will they have to cease attending schools and remain at home or will it be possible for them to continue with their education?

 

Reply: The things you have heard said about women and other issues are all simply propaganda put about by the Shah and people guided by self-interests. Women are free (in Islam), free to study, free in other areas too, just as the men are. It is at the present time that neither women are free nor men. (140)

 

13 November 1978 (22 Aban 1357 AHS)

 

Question: Your Holiness, what do you expect the American government to do in exchange for the release of the female and black hostages that you have ordered?

 

Reply: We released the women and the blacks because women are shown a special regard in Islam and the blacks have been subject to pressure and oppression in America. We do not consider them totally culpable, for perhaps they were pressurised into coming here.

 

We did this out of obedience to the command of Islam and God, we don’t expect anything from Mr. Carter11 and we do not want any reward for what we have done. The issue here is that Mr. Carter must hand this criminal (the Shah) back to us. A criminal who has committed crimes against a people in a country must, according to all international laws, be returned to that country. Yet he (Carter) goes against all the rules of reason. (141)

 

18 November 1979 (27 Aban 1358 AHS)

 

Question: Your Holiness, in Neauphle-le-Chateau12 you promised that not only would freedoms be protected but that they would reach all, whereas after the victory of the revolution we witnessed demonstrations against women, pressure being brought to bear on tribal minorities such as the Kurds and the banning of certain newspapers and political groups. Could you please explain these apparent contradictions?

 

Reply: The women who demonstrated are the remnants of former problems, women whom the Shah brought into the arena as “free women” and whom he led to corruption. They prefer the former situation, which that corruption had brought about, those freedoms that the former regime wanted: freedom for the youth to do anything they wanted, to embrace vice and to act indecently.

 

But they saw that Islam does not consent to indecency and to actions, which drag the country into corruption and drive the nation into a state of backwardness. It was these women who came out onto the streets, with faces made up as everyone observed, and demonstrated. Otherwise freedom most certainly has not been and will not be curtailed. The people are fee, but not to create corruption and drive the nation into backwardness. (142)

 

26 November 1979 (5 Azar 1358 AHS)

 

Today, women in the Islamic Republic are striving shoulder-to-shoulder with the men to rebuild their country and rebuild themselves. This is the true meaning of free men and free women, not that which was promulgated during the reign of the deposed Shah, for freedom then meant prison, repression, persecution and torture. (143)

 

5 May 1980 (15 Urdibihisht 1359 AHS)

 

I ask the youth, the girls and boys, not to sacrifice their independence, freedom and human values, regardless of the trouble and suffering this may cause them, for a life of luxury, pleasure, indulgence and frequenting the centres of corruption which the West and its agents, men without a country, open to you. (144)

 

5 June 1989 (3 Khurdad 1368 AHS)

 

Adapted from: “The Position of Women from the Viewpoint of Imam Khomeini (r.a.)”

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