Women's Social Participation from the View of Imam Khomeini (rh)
Society/Politics < Article <

A lot has been said and written about women’s social participation in various schools of thought, particularly since the beginning of the 20th Century. However, there is a marked fundamental difference between Imam Khomeini’s views on women’s participation and the views expressed by other schools of thought. We shall endeavor to do a brief comparative study between Imam’s views and other viewpoints on the social, political and intellectual activities of women.

The concept of women’s social role and participation in the intellectual world of today is more focussed on their careers and other economic activities. Therefore, the emphasis is on their profession, irrespective of the nature of the profession and its requirements including the educational background. Usually, these days the criteria for judging the status and social participation of women is her professional and vocational involvement in society. A glance at the annual statistics published by the United Nations clearly endorses theirs approach adopted by them to gauge women’s social participation.

Another approach, more prevalent in the west and rampantly creeping into Eastern and Islamic cultures in the past few decades is the gauging of a woman’s status in society by her approach towards lewdness, promiscuity and false freedom.

In fact even in appraising a country’s commitment towards human rights, a woman’s rights to freedom and equality are judged by her outward appearance. So in short, in the other schools of thought, the appraisal of a woman’s status in society is based on her professional involvement or her so-called freedom of freedom of unconditional behavior and dress. Now let us probe into Imam Khomeini’s views, which are based on the Islamic School of Thought.

According to the late Imam, women have a greater responsibility to shoulder in society and so her social participation should be much extensive, not just limited to a career, etc. he exhorts women to endeavor earnestly in acquiring knowledge and skills that help deepen their understanding of their special position and to exploit their potentials as equal members of society. In fact, he demands their active involvement in determining the destiny of society and encourages them to create and spread greater awareness of the unique position granted by Islam to women, and the rights and responsibilities that go hand in hand with it.

According to the divine laws of the order of creation and on the path to perfection referring to the status of women, Imam Komeini (rh) says: “A man gains Ascension from the lap of a woman.” This implies that the overall growth and salvation of a society depends largely on the being and the status of women and a society cannot expect to achieve real development if they ignore or neglect the influence of women on the moulding of a man’s personality and character. In this statement, the Imam considers women as the source of creation and the nurturing of society, through the invisible forces of love and compassion that bind the family and society.

In fact, even within the family, the grace of a woman is the main foundation of compassion and the expression of love and warmth. Especially so, since she firstly accepts a life of partnership as a wife with a complete stranger who then becomes a family member and secondly, through giving birth to children, she creates ties of bonding and relatedness between families. Most importantly, she breathes in the spirit of love, affection and friendship into everyone. Thus, the Noble Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (P) said: “Paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother, which means that the keys to the heaven of love and kindness are in the hands of the gracious mother.

The religion of Islam, the schools of thought, Imam Khomeini (rh) had the honor of following and spreading, has given women a very high and unique status. In fact, Islam determines the age of maturity of girls to be at 9 years, six years earlier than that of boys, thus granting her the permission to participate in obligatory acts, like worship, fasting, Hajj, etc., much earlier than boys. This in turn also reflects on the respectable and responsible status, Islam confers upon women as well as highlighting on her specialness.

Even in the Glorious Quran, we find that every great man had a powerful woman besides him. The wives of Adam and Ibrahim and the mothers of Moses and Jesus are held in great reverence. The wife of the Pharaoh too is described as a great woman, caught in the clutches of a despotic man. Referring to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Quran confirms that she had reached a status whereby angles spoke with her and provided her with heavenly bounties. Spiritually too, she had reached a status so high that even the Prophet of her time, Zakariyya was left bewildered about her unique position.

Besides, in the Quran, the purity or chastity of a woman are considered as great virtues and are Divine rights granted to her by the Creator. And everyone is responsible in protecting this virtue. This is even endorsed in the Islamic legal system and if rape is committed on a woman, the accused has to go through punishment and cannot be pardoned, even if the victim or her husband or family chose to forgive him. This is especially because a woman’s purity is considered to be a Divine right and is not something that can fall under material laws in terms of violation of it. But unfortunately, in the Western civilizations, the chastity of a woman is no longer considered as a virtue and a woman is treated like a commodity. Legally too, a rapist[1] can be exonerated of many charges if the victim or her family choose to withdraw the case against him.

If Islamic laws are studied, they clearly indicate that Islam has equaled the rights of a woman to those of men and has in fact brought women into the social scene. But it emphasizes that in order to positively influence society, she has to express herself through her finer qualities and capabilities and not through her physicality.

Thus, Islam instructs women to step out into society in her Islamic dress or veil so that instead of being a negative or destructive influence in society, she can be an example of love, compassion, affection, creativity etc. the West has however deprived the woman of her veil and her real dignity in order to turn her into a plaything in society. Under such humiliating conditions, camouflaged in the guise of freedom and liberty, she cannot possibly play her natural role of being an expression of mercy, love and compassion. Instead, she becomes a cheap instrument in the hands of vested interests for the spreading of corruption and lusts.

The Western worldview considers the human to be only a physical being and thus focuses largely on the physical characteristics and rights of a human being. This view point is very aptly described thus in the Glorious Quran:

“(They say) there is nothing but our life in this world, we live and die and nothing destroys us but time.” (Chapter ‘the Kneeling’, verse 24)

Thus, we find that in the West, Europe and America, the physical beauty, sex appeal, voice, art, body and soul of a woman have been grossly commercialized – her entire personality is most unfortunately in the hands of Western capitalism. The Western attitude of considering a human being as mainly physical on the one hand equates the status of man to that of an animal and thus ignores or neglects the worthy status of being human. Ironically on the other hand, they issue the Charter of Human Rights and pretend to be guardians of it internationally.

Coming back to out main topic, in Imam Khomeini’s (rh) schools of thought, the woman is encouraged to be active in society as a magnificent human being, endowed with certain special qualities to nurture society. As per her rights, according to him, “Women in Islam have the same rights as men; rights to education, ownership, to vote and to get elected, etc.

It is however important that these rights do not get confused with the right that other schools of thought grant, because there is one major basic different. According to Imam Khomeini’s school of thought, rights and responsibilities always go hand in hand. So whereby lam encourages the woman to purse social and political activities if so chooses to, it also lays upon her the responsibility for her purity and chastity as well as the well being of the society. Her conduct, dress, behavior, etc. expected to be in compliance with high status and responsibility conference upon her. More so since as stated, according to the Imam, a woman plays the most vital role in mounding personality and character of mankind and of course she would not be able thus express herself effectively in atmosphere of lewdness and vulgarity. It is but natural that in a society where a woman’s social presence compels her to display or concentrate on her physical appearance, her human characteristics and potentials are bound to get overshadowed. Moreover, it also leads inevitably to social corruption.

Thus, whereas Imam Khomeini (rh) has emphasized on the positive contribution of women’s presence in the social, cultural, political, and economic areas, it is conditional that it be for the progress and well-being of women as well as society as a whole. The positive impact of Imam’s guidance can be clearly seen in many healthy families of truth-seekers throughout the world, thus bringing about a new order in human relations within society. By following his description of womanhood, the Islamic era has witnessed a great transformation in women’s role in various walks of life. One of the examples was the crucial role played by the courageous women who had come forward to support the soldiers at the battle fronts during the imposed war with Iraq and how through their patience and endurance, these great women encouraged and strengthened the participation of men at the warfronts. Besides, they have also been very active in cultural, political and scientific fields and today we have a large number of women involved in literary activities, both as students as well as teachers.

After the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the literary rate among women has gone up considerably. Statistics show that as compared with the years before the Islamic Revolution, the percentage of literacy has gone up from 35.5% in 1977 to 52.1% in 1987, showing an increase of 17%. Moreover, the literacy movement in Iran has managed to educate over a million elderly women, over a period of three years, between 1987 and 1990.

Other statistics indicate that the percentage of girls of school-going age, studying at the elementary levels has reached 98%.

We can thus conclude that the secret of success of Imam Khomeini’s views on women’s rights, was the revival of the role and participation of women in the development of society. If this view spreads and other governments too, take the responsibility of giving a better and healthy social role to women in the running of affairs of their countries, we would ultimately witness an increasing participation and blossoming of womanhood in various walks of life throughout the world. This would however not materialize unless and until the womenfolk all over the world take it upon themselves to understand and defend their natural rights in creating a social order, based on the undistorted teachings of Divine religion sent to the human society by the Almighty Allah, without any bias or prejudice.



[1] One who physically forces another person to submit to sexual intercourse


source:The guide, Vol. 11, No. 5, Sept-Oct. 2000

Authors: Morteze Beheshti
Content Type: Article
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