Fatima is Fatima, By Ali Shariati – Part 3/5
Posted by Parsin on May 9, 2008
What Role Did Women Play In The Attack?
Women in Islamic countries held a power whereby they could have changed the traditions, social relationships, ethics, spiritual values and, most important of all, the pattern of consumption in the same way that they held a power to preserve all this. Why? Because of the sensitive spirit of the East. It tends to accept the luxuries of civilized life and new products quickly more easily. This is especially true when confronted by bright, new, eye-catching things of beauty especially when opposed to these, they find nothing but ugliness.
During the time of the exploitation of Africa, European impostors would move among the black tribes offering glass beads and fake jewellery (which are usually even brighter than the natural stone). In all of the ceremonies, the better-off among the tribes, the kings, the large farmers and the feudal lords could all be pointed out. This was particularly true of the local ceremonies and weddings because their actions were based one hundred percent upon psychological laws. Those who liked the fake things the most were the most primitive.
We see that today, those who worship luxurious ornaments are the Arab sheikhs, the heads of some African nations, the movie stars and the newly wealthy people. A few of fake lights and glass beads were given to the heads of African tribes and in return the colonialists received a herd of sheep or a great pasture land or the rights to mine diamonds or permission to plant coffee. It is obvious from this how important the role of the newly modernized African woman is.
It is also apparent how sheltered, Eastern women suffer from social rules presented to them in the name of religion and tradition as is done by present day Islam. They are presently denied learning, literacy, human rights, social possibilities and freedom to develop. They are not able to explore and nourish their spirit and their thoughts. Even the rights and possibilities which Islam itself has given to women, have been taken away from them in the name of Islam. Present day Islam has placed woman in the same category as a washing machine. Her human values have been lowered to ‘mother of the child’. She no longer even has a name but is called by the name of her child even if her child happens to be a boy. She is called Hassan’s mother. This is exactly like paralyzing her and then saying that because she is paralyzed, she is deprived of everything. The sorrow lies here.
Oppressors And The Oppressed
Ali said two parties are required in order to bring about oppression. One is the oppressor and the other is the one who accepts the oppression. It is the co-operation of these two which brings about oppression. Oppression cannot be one-sided. An oppressor cannot perform oppression on the air. Oppression is like a piece of iron which is formed by the striking of the hammer of the oppressor upon the anvil of the oppressed.
Not only is oppression a result of corruption, deviation and misery, but it requires two sides working together to come into being. In the defeat of a society, it is not just the victor who breaks. Society must allow itself to be broken. For instance, in the 7th century AH it was not Chengis Khan who defeated us. It was we ourselves who were corrupted from within. From the 5th to the 6th century AH, we were preparing ourselves to be defeated. It was because of this that Chengis defeated us. He only kicked the corrupted states once and they fell down and were defeated. The termites (who had built their homes inside our tree and had begun eating away the body from the inside) left it empty, dry and without roots. These termites caused the tree to fall to the earth and not the strong wind which blew upon the tree. Strong winds always blow in the forest. Why is it that just this tree or that one falls down?
The creation of superstitions, the spreading of ignorant backward beliefs, the inherited systems of cultural servitude the tradition of ‘father power’ in the community, the lack of psychology, all weave themselves together like a spider’s web. And it is this very web which impoverishes the woman within itself. She becomes known as ‘someone who is behind the curtain’. All of this occurs in the name of Islam, in the name of religion, in the name of tradition and worst of all, in the name of ‘similarity to Fatima’.
It is explained to her in terms of chastity and the necessity to nourish her children. I don’t know how a person who is herself incomplete and useless, who is missing a part of her brain and who is excluded from literacy, books, education, discipline, thought, culture, civilization and social manners could possibly be worthy of being the nourisher of tomorrow’s generation.
Most probably they mean fattening their bodies when they say nourishing the children. What can this weak creature of the house, (born to sit behind a curtain without thought or culture), who has not been educated do for the development of her child? How can she develop her child’s sense of completeness? How can she awaken the depths of the spirit within anyone? How can she learn to accept the complicated ideas and feelings of her child?
What can she do other than nurse her child and change her baby’s diapers? In disciplining her child she can only swear at it or use lewd language or cry or curse her fate. If none of these has any effect, she implants the fear of an older brother or the father in the child. If this doesn’t work, she calls upon the jinn and the angel of death or threatens the basement or the well. And if this bad child with a roguish father should die young, if he should be burned in the fire of brawls, there is nothing this hidden creature can do when news of the death of her child is brought to her. She in some measure created this situation. She had unintentionally called forth the dead, dark monsters.
Yes! These are the ways and means of educating and disciplining a child in a system where the only duty of a woman is to nourish her children. It is perfectly natural to think that if she spent her time making use of her cultural and social abilities, if she were to become part of civilization, she would not be able to perform her special mandate which is to bring up children. If she were to develop and nourish her thoughts and her spirit and become aware of the system she is part of, some would obviously conclude that her mandate would suffer.
Thus we see the fate of woman in our conservative society which has had false undertones of religion added to it. She grows up in her father’s home without breathing any free air. She goes to her husband’s home (her second lord and master) in accordance with an agreement which is made between a buyer and a seller. She is transferred to her husband’s house where the marriage license or ownership papers shows both her role and her price. She becomes a respectable servant. A married man means someone who has a servant who works in his house. She cooks food, nurses babies, watches the children and sees to the cleaning and ordering of the house. She manages the inside of the house.
She is a household laborer and a nurse but because she works without any wages, she has no rights. She does the work of a servant in the name of common, ritual, or civil law, but since she cannot be a servant, she is called a lady. Because her lord is her husband, she is called wife. As she acts as a nurse to the children, she is also called mother.
At any rate, she is working for herself. She is an expert at her work, even though the level of work she does is equivalent to the work of a servant or a nurse. It is no more than this because she has not been trained to do more than this. She is uneducated.
We must point out here that our objection is to the well-established fathers and wealthy husbands who condemn their daughters or wives and who do so because they are women. They keep them from an education and from self-completion in the name of religion and faith. There are many women in Islam who reached the level of authorized theologians, established centers of learning and wrote important texts on science and ethics and spirituality.
But girls who do not have the economic means to pursue education and those who work hard in their father’s or husbands houses, are most worthy of praise. Such a girl is the woman of the tribe or the farm who helps her husband, who shares in production (either by taking care of the animals or by helping in the fields) who brings in an income as well as doing the household work. She weeds, gathers spades the earth, gathers grain, grapes and cotton. She gives water to the animals and milks them. She then makes butter, yogurt or cheese for her family’s consumption or for selling at the market. She beats cotton and wool. She spins thread. She weaves cloth. She sews clothes. At the same time, she nurses her child, cooks food, and cleans the house. Often she produces handicrafts within the home as well. She is a wife, a nurse, a mother, a worker, and an artist. She grows as freely as the trees of the gardens. She gives her love with the purity of a turtledove. Like the deer of the plains, she gives loving, motherly birth. She remains faithful in this free house even though no force is applied. She gives freely of her love to her family. Yes! She has the freedom to give-and she has something to give, as well. Her freedom has not been taken from her so that she can no longer move. It is not as if she would want to run away if she were permitted to do so. Finally, she pushes her fingers into the earth of the fields to cultivate it. She plays with her child in her home. In the bedroom of her husband, she removes his tiredness. She creates the most beautiful and colorful andicrafts for the bazaar. She is the woman we praise.
The most bizarre woman, on the other hand, who must be called ‘absurd’, is the lady of the house. She is a frightening creature. This absurd woman is neither traditional nor European. She is not like the European woman who is a member of a household of two partners where the husband and wife are equal, where both work outside of the home and where both do the household duties inside the house. When the European is a girl, she is free exactly like a boy. She is free to grow amidst everything society has to offer. She is experienced from her encounters. She has seen everything. She has come to know all types. She has seen corruption and the correct way. She has seen the right way and the wrong way, the bad way and the good way, treacheries and kindnesses. Finally, she has seen all of the colors, designs and architecture of life and society. She has seen all the things in her own environment. She has sensed them. She has received an education like any boy. Like a boy she has specialized. She has achieved social independence. She has her own economic income. She makes her own choice of husband or partner in life.
But the absurd woman is the woman who sits at home and is good for nothing. As she can afford it, she has a maid, a cook, a nurse, and it is they who actually do the work. She is a woman who stays at home to take care of it, but others actually do the work for her. As she is not a village woman, she does not work and co-operate with her husband in the fields. As she is not literate, she does not read books, nor does she write books. Because she has no artistic talents, she is not productive Because she has a wet nurse, she does not nurse her children Because she has a man servant, she does not do the shopping for the house. Because she has baby sitters, she does not care or her children. Because she has a cook, she does not cook Because she has an F.F. system, she does not even open the door of her house!
What does this living creature do? Nothing. What role does she play in the world? None! Can it be that a woman does not into either an eastern or a western mould, is neither modern or old-fashioned? Neither a woman of the office nor of the factory? Neither a woman of a school nor of a hospital? Neither a woman of art not one of science, not of the pen nor of the book? Neither a woman looking after the home nor a woman looking after the children? She is not even the most common-place woman of women’s magazines.
Really, what is her work? Who is this person? She is the lady of the house, Daddy’s lady of the old days. What is her profession. Consuming and only consuming. How does she pass her time? Her time? As a matter of fact, she is very busy. She is busy night and day. She is a thousand times busier than the village woman. For instance, what does she do? She gossips, she develops Jealousies, objections, affectations, ornamentation, rivalries, pride, false friendship. She complains, grumbles, ogles, has a mincing air, full of coquetry and falsity. This lady of the house is always busy. In her type of society, and in her social relationships, she fills her frighteningly empty life.
The public woman’s bath was a weekly seminar where all of the chaste women, who had nothing to do, who suffered no pain went. They gathered together and each one recounted the biggest and most important event of her life that week, either honestly or dishonestly through insufficient explanation. They sold each other on their pride; they told their stories one after the other; their imaginations took flight; their sweet ignorance implemented their lack of intelligence. Surprisingly, all of them were also aware of these groundless pretensions.
Each one had such a scenario. Each one listened to the lies and exaggerations of the other one with relish, amazement deep understanding and faked feelings. Each would believe the other until it was her turn to be indebted to the others for listening to her. Thus, the others gave her a free chance to speak of all her bruised beliefs, lack of excitement, uselessness and ineffectiveness. Her existence, her inner emptiness and hollow life were spread out to show off her ability, her current price, her fantasies and her revenge.
Now the public women’s bath has been closed to women of this class. Modern living has prevented these women from such social halls of forty columns and forty windows, where one full day a week would be spent. To replace them, they have opened women’s clubs under various names. Absurd women leave their homes and enter these cold women’s clubs-which even lack the steam and water of the previous establishment.
If our women today are crazy and look like foreign dolls (not foreign women), and if we look at the other side of the border, we may see the innocent economics of exploitation, whereas on this side of the border, we will see ourselves working hand in hand with them. We cause our women to run away. We call her the weak one’, ‘broken legged’, ‘servant of her husband’, ‘mother of the child’, and even ‘lacking manners’ and ‘goat’.
We separate her from humanity. We thought that if she had beautiful handwriting, she would write to her lover. With this type of thinking, it would have been better if we had blinded her so she would never see a ‘forbidden’ person. In this way, Mr. Jealous, who feels the weaknesses of his own personality, would not have to worry about the disloyalty of his wife. He would be safe to the end of his life.
The virtue and chastity of woman is preserved by walls and chains. She is not a human being who thinks and who nourishes common sense and comes to know things. We present her as a wild animal, incapable of being disciplined. She will never be tamed. The only thing to do is to keep her in a cage. Whenever you leave the cage doors open, she will slip away. Her chastity is like dew. When it sees the sun, it is gone. Women are placed in a prison which neither leads to a school nor a library nor to society. Like an unclean creature, like the untouchables of India, she is not counted as a human being by society. People who are called human beings are men, social animals. Women are kept apart from society and given no credit for self-control.
It was the Prophet who said, “Education is necessary for Muslims, both men and women.” But it is always men who have had the right to be educated, and women (other than those wealthy women who are educated with private tutors) are denied education. They cannot take advantage of this important Tradition.
Parties centering on old religious traditions are no longer open to today’s young woman. Ceremonies for gaining favor and seasonal lamentations are not interesting to her-nor are the special animal sacrifices, nor the cooking of a special stew on the third day after someone departs on a journey. Wedding activities prepared without the groom and parties hunting for a groom don’t interest her.
The young women sense the loneliness and nothing-to-do-ness of their mothers, a loneliness barely covered over by religion and tradition. This, they know, gives their mothers a feeling of positive action. It gives them a sense of responsibility. They are busy with comings and goings, designs and false plans. But to the young women, these channels have all been closed.
The opportunities which their mothers had to show their beauty and make-up skills are now gone. Younger women no longer force themselves into the falsity of these sessions. If they go, they take on an unattractive, cool, strange appearance, and it 1S obvious that they are looking for a way out.
The daughter of this woman, who belongs to another generation and another season lives in an intermediate world of two meanings. The world of the grandmother is for her a complex of stupidity and structured rites, full of ugly men and restrictions. The grandmothers want to keep their gathering, their circle of friends, their lamentation ceremonies as they were in the olden times. While for the young woman, books, translations, novels and art are important. She has more or less sensed the cultural spirit of the world. She has caught the scents of learning, knowledge and progress in school.
The sermons given for women at their ceremonies-mostly ceremonies of praise or lamentation-are usually given by illiterate lamenters. The exhausting continuation of this is unbearable to the young woman. She wants to fly away. But to wherever. There are hundreds of invitations for parties. There are dancing parties, night clubs and dirty bars which look upon her as easy prey. They pull her to themselves.
But she wants to retain her human characteristics of faith ethics and loyalty. She sees that what her mother, father, uncle and other members of her family, offer her (in the name of religion, ethics, character, chastity and strength) is a collection of, “No, don’t go, don’t do that, don’t sing, don’t see, don’t say, don’t know, don’t write, don’t want and don’t understand!”
We see that the mother lives in a type of comfortable, empty wasteland. She has no direction, no responsibility, no philosophy of life and no meaning to her existence. She has money and no problems and no reason for living. Day and night she turns her house around but there is nothing to fill her life. Out of boredom, she leaves the house to go shopping and then, under a veil, she tries to fill her empty life with amusement, jewellery, make up, and redecorating. She makes expensive purchases of strange things so that she can induce wonder and amazement in others.
But her daughter is not moved by these wonders. She breathes a different air. She is like a doll caught between two children who understand nothing. Each one pulls her towards himself until the doll is torn to shreds. She becomes crushed and steamrolled.
Now, her heart experiences romantic thoughts, the attractions of freedom and love, the whisperings of her budding sexuality, the blossoming of intellectual endeavors and the attractive images of a new world outside her wall. Sometimes she looks through a peep hole or turns to the windows like a thief. Her body is under the influence of the commands of her mother and the advice of her father. She is like a fly caught in the spider’s web of no! no! She remains imprisoned. She feels that the only crime she can be convicted of is being a young girl. She is an illegal, dangerous entity who must remain hidden in a corner of the house until an authorized thief comes and takes her as his mate to his harem. And there, the whole range of her existence will be the space between the kitchen and the bed. It is only the man’s stomach and that which is under his stomach that give her existence meaning! The man doesn’t even allow her to attend religious meetings or entertain religious feelings. Even religion is separated in this system of thinking. Speaking, chanting, the lamentation ceremony and table offerings for gaining favor, these are the religion of women, whereas centers, schools, libraries, lessons, discussions and lectures constitute the religion of men.
The Cries of Exploitation
What has prepared the groundwork for exploitation which cries out, “Free yourself” From what? It is no longer important to know from what. You should be freed. Your breath is cut-off. You have nothing. Free yourself! Be free of all things.
The one who is burdened under the heaviest of loads and is drifting off only thinks about awakening, getting free and rising above her burdens. She does not think, ‘How should I arise?’
They said, a Woman will be freed-not by books or knowledge or the formation of a culture or clear-sighted vision or by raising the standard of living, or by common sense or by a new level of vision of the world, but rather with a pair of scissors. Yes. Putting scissors to the modest dress!” This is how they think that women will all at once become enlightened!
The complexes of Muslim and Eastern women have become the playthings of psychologists and sociologists in the service of exploitation and world economics. They say of her: “A woman is a creature who shops!”
The description such as, “A human being is a rational animal,” is transformed when it relates to women. It becomes, A human being is an animal who shops.” She knows nothing other than this. She has no feelings and essentially, plays no role. She has no spirituality, no beliefs. She is valueless.
In one of these magazines devoted to Eastern women the amount of cosmetics and beauty ads increased 500 times. 500 times is a very great quantity. It is a miracle. It has never happened before in the whole history of humanity. The consumption of economic goods usually increases 8%, 9%, 10%, 20% but not 500%! This is a symbolic consumption.
In present day society, the desire to consume one new item is followed by the desire for more. For instance, as soon as the traditional coat changes, a new coat and trousers replaces it. The old type of shoes are replaced by leather shoes. Traditional styles of hats are replaced by new ones. In homes, carpets are replaced by modern furniture and old houses are replaced by new ones.
Thus, when Europe sends a new product to our society, it paves the way for consumption of further new products. When consumption changes, it is a sign that people are changing because there is a very sensitive relationship between a consumer and the product consumed.
Women in Islamic societies must not only be transformed into consumers of goods exported from Europe and America but they must also become active participants within their households. They must learn to relate according to today and tomorrow’s generations. They must change the form of society. They must have an effect upon ethics, values, literature and art. They must have a deep revolutionary effect upon everything. They should be put to work upon this way.
Time, culture, social possibilities, new economics, changes in social relationships, new thoughts-all of these conditions in an Islamic society, themselves, change the types and traditions. Women become obliged to change internal and external conditions because past modes are no longer practical nor sufficient.
Now that things must be changed, isn’t it logical that capitalists should get busy and prepare their moulds so that as soon as a woman puts aside her traditional mould, their mould can be forced upon her? They make her into a form they want and then place her, instead of themselves, in a position to corrupt society.
What Should We Do?
In the midst of this disruption-which has been imposed upon us and will continue to impose itself upon us what can we do? Who is it that can take up the mandate?
The one who can do something, and, in saving us plays an active role, is not the traditional woman asleep in her quiet, tame, ancient mould nor is it the new woman, the modern doll who has assumed the mould of the enemy. Rather, she is the one who can choose the new human characteristics, who can break old traditions (presented as religion, but in fact, only national and tribal traditions ruling the spirit, thoughts and behavior of society). She is a person who is not satisfied with old advice. Slogans which are given by doubtful sources do not interest her. Behind the pre-packaged slogans of freedom (of the monarchy), she sees ugly, frightening faces which act against the spiritual, and which oppose the human. She sees that they contradict the spiritual, the rational, the human. They are against women and the human reverence of women.
It is such people who know where those things which are forced upon us come from. They know from where they get their orders. What creatures they have sent to the market place! Creatures without sensitivities, without knowledge, without pain, without understanding, without responsibility and, even, without human feelings. Fresh, clean dolls-’worthy ones’. It is obvious what their worthiness is in and for. Their means of support and its derivation are also obvious. This is tossed to our women and they know why.
It is because of them that “Who am I? Who should I be?” is pertinent, since they neither want to remain this nor become that. They cannot surrender themselves to whatever was and is without their own will and choice playing a role.
They want a model.
The Social Customs of The Hejaz
Fatima was the fourth and youngest daughter of the Prophet of Islam. She was the youngest daughter of a household in which no sons survived. She was a girl born into a society in which special value was placed upon a son.
Centuries before Islam, the social order of the Arabs had passed beyond the Age of the Matriarch. During the Age of Ignorance, prior to the mission of the Prophet, the Arabs had established the Age of the Patriarch. The gods had become masculine whereas their idols and their angels were feminine (that is, daughters of the great god, al-lah). The tribes were governed by ‘white beards,’ and the family was ruled by the grandfathers. Essentially, their religion was a kind of ancestor worship. They adhered to whatever beliefs and practices their fathers had maintained.
It was against the religion of ancestral fathers that the great prophets, mentioned in the Koran, revolted. When confronted with these prophetic revolts against ancestor worship and myths of the first fathers, the Arab tribes preserved their masculine traditions. It was a kind of inherited, imitative worship based upon the principle of father worship.
The Prophets brought a revolutionary message. They tried to awaken thought based on the principle of worshipping God. Beyond this, the difficult life of the tribes of the dry desert was filled with mutual hostilities. The basic principles were ‘defend and attack’ and ‘keep your promises’. In this society, the son played a special role based upon the ‘uses and needs’ of the society’s social and military principles.
According to a universal principle of sociology, where profit is substituted for value, being a son is by and of itself of the highest essence. A son embodies virtues, meaningful social and ethical values and human nobility. For this very reason, being a girl or having a daughter is humbling. A girl’s frailness is ‘being weak’. Her ‘being weak’ pushes her towards slavery, which lessens her human values.
She becomes a creature who is a disgrace to her father, the toy of a man s sexual urges and slave of the home of her husband. Finally, this creature always threatens her kinsman’s sense of honor, as she is considered the highest form of shame and disgrace. For the betterment of society and the relief of one s mind, how much better to kill her while still a baby! Thus the honor of her fathers, brothers and ancestors, of all men for that matter, was not stained. As Ferdowsi tells us in the Shahnameh:
It is better to bury women and dragons in the earth
The world will be better off if cleansed of their existence.
An Arab poet tells us, “If a father has a daughter and thinks of her future, he should think about three different sons-in-law: one, the house which will hide her; two, the husband who will keep her; and, three, the grave which will cover her! And the last one, the grave, is the best.”
The saying which refers to the grave as being the best son-in-law has existed in all languages of the wealthiest and most honorable men. All of the honorable fathers and brothers who are bound to and place emphasis upon their male ancestors, all who understand the ideals of name and honor live in anticipation of ridding themselves of their sister or daughter through marriage. A poet reminds his daughter of the most beloved of sons-in-law, “The most beloved son-in-law is the grave.”
This is that very same poet who says women and dragons are both better covered by the earth. “Covering the girls with earth is a way of preserving honor.” This is why the Koran, in the strongest terms, warns of the dangers of this frightening ‘highest honor’ when it says: He hides himself from the people. Should he keep her with disgrace or bury her alive in the dust? Behold, evil is what they decide” [16.59]. As an Islamic commentator on the Quran has shown, this tragedy essentially has economic roots. Society’s fear of poverty was prevalent in the Arab Age of Ignorance.
Girls have been buried alive because of the fear that they might bring dishonor in the future by marrying an unsuitable husband or fall into the hands of an enemy during a war thus becoming slaves in a strange land. All of these are secondary phenomena. But the basic reason is an economic one.
As we previously indicated, in the old Arabic tribal system, people were faced with the hardships of life (particularly in the deserts of Arabia) and the constant difficult relations among the tribes. Such a life required strong and powerful support. Automatically, a son became an important factor in economic and social life as well as in the defense of his family or tribe. He was a necessary social element of the family and the tribe. A son brought bread, but a daughter ate it. It was natural that the sexual differences caused class differences. Men fell into the class of ruling and owning, and women fell into that of the ruled and the owned.
The relationship between a man and a woman was like that between a landowner and a peasant. A man and a woman, as economic entities, had different human and spiritual values placed upon them. A landlord, for example, might embody a noble blood-line and possess inherited wealth and princely virtues. The opposite might be true of a peasant or a woman.
Poverty sends all the male gains or can gain to the four winds. Through poverty, a woman may become the cause of the family losing self respect. The possibility always exists that she will “disgrace” the family by marrying someone who is her social inferior. In my opinion, this fear (although disguised as an ethical phenomenon) is related to economic factors of inheritance law whereby the son preserves the ownership of land and assures the continuation of centralized wealth for the next generation of the family.
In patriarchal societies, when the father dies, the oldest son inherits everything-not only the land, but also the wives of his father, including his own mother! So, if daughters did not inherit, the wealth of the father would not be divided up and distributed to other families through the daughters. This is the reason why in our old wealthy families, there is still a very strong emphasis placed upon the daughter marrying within the family. They pledge an uncle’s daughter to an uncles’ son ‘in heaven’. Thus the uncle’s daughter cannot take her inheritance out of the family as she would if she were to marry a stranger.
This is why ancient historians and modern scholars who write the history of religion have different explanations for the burying alive of female children in the Age of Ignorance. Some of the scholars say, in primitive religions, girls were sacrificed to the gods. But the Koran most strictly and clearly says that the reason for their murder was the fear of poverty. In other words, it was an economic factor. The other explanations are just words. In my opinion, this clear interpretation and description is not only scientifically correct but also emphatically rebuts those who talk about the ethical, chaste and noble responsibility a tribe had in burying new born females alive. This crude, cruel action resulted from baseness, vileness, fear of poverty and love of wealth. It was a direct result of their fear greed, and weakness, although they tried to hide their deed by explaining it with noble words of honor, integrity, chastity, respect. The Koran emphasizes, “Do not kill them from fear of poverty for We will provide for you and your children” [6:151]. It expresses the main reason for the tragedy. It awakens people. It directly and straight-forwardly says that this practice is neither ethical nor noble but rather is one hundred percent economically motivated. It stems from greed and wealth, from weakness and fear.
Before Islam, the public was not aware. The majority of the people believed female infanticide to be a reaction of the public conscience. They believed it showed a brave spirit, and that it protected the family honor. Arab tribal society gave all the human values to a son, whereas a daughter was considered to lack all virtues and human authenticity.
A boy was not only capable of earning his livelihood, but he was also a help to his father, a protector of his family, a tribal hero, the bearer of his heritage, the continuer of society, the spirit of his family, and the flame which lights the family lamp upon the death of his father.
A daughter was a living piece of furniture. After she married, her personality dissolved in a stranger’s house. She became the furniture in another house where she could not even retain her family name. Her children belonged to a stranger. They carried his name and were/inheritors of his heritage.
A boy had the material power to generate capital, aides society and perpetuate the patriarchal system. He had prestige, fame, value and spiritual credit. He supported the authenticity of the family. He was the giver of security and subsistence and the future authority of that family. But a girl was nothing. She was considered to be so weak that she must always be protected.
Like a bird whose foot is tied to a stone that prevents it from flying freely, she prevented a warrior from freely attacking the tents and castles of his enemies. And when defending his tribe, the warrior was always anxious that she not be taken as a slave. His slightest negligence could put her into the hands of the enemy. Then the entire tribe would suffer the shame of her enslavement.
During times of peace, the family must be careful that she didn’t cause them shame by marrying an outsider. After all of these efforts, expenses, and anxieties, a stranger might come and take her away. She was like a field that one cultivates and whose crops another bears off. This was why the best solution was naturally to kill her at an early age. She should be given in wedlock and call the cold grave, ‘son-in-law’.
A man who had no sons was called ‘cut-off’. He had no progeny and no continuation; he was barren. Yet the word kawthar in the Koran means fullness, advantages, blessings as well as progeny and many children. God in answer to the disbelievers who called His beloved Prophet ‘cut-off’ gave the Prophet the good news that he would have many offspring.
In such an environment, the moment was ripe for fate to rend the veil. It was the time to direct the state of things. Life had become a stagnant, spoiled lagoon. It was time for a serious, creative revolution. It was the moment for a strong wind to blow. Suddenly an amazing plan was put into action, sweet but difficult. Two people were selected to carry out this plan, a father and a daughter. The Prophet (the father) must carry the heavy load and Fatima (the daughter) must reflect within herself the newly created revolutionary values.
The Birth of Fatima
The largest Arab tribe was the Quraysh. The Kabah was in their hands which naturally gave them tribal nobility. They were divided into two families: the Bani Umayyid and the Bani Hashimi. The Bani Umayyid were the wealthiest but the Bani Hashimi were the most honorable for they were in charge of looking after the Kabah.
Abd al-Muttalib from the Hashimi clan had died. His son, Abu Talib, was the new leader of the Bani Hashimi, did not have the power that his father had. He had gone bankrupt in trading. He was living in poverty and had distributed his children (to be cared for) among his family.
A very strong rivalry had broken out between the two tribes. The Umayyids were trying to gain control of all of the property and honors of the Quraysh. They wanted to, at the same time, break the spiritual hold of the Hashimis. Among the Hashimi tribe, the family of Muhammad (SAW) had received new credit. The grandson of Abd al-Muttalib had just married Khadija, a wealthy, well-respected widow of Makkah. This gave him a stronger social position.
The honorable standing and personality which Mohammad (pbuh) showed, the trust and credibility which he had among people and, in particular, among all the Hashimis and the leaders of the Quraysh, made everyone see-that he reflected the honor of Abd Manaf and was the protector of the nobility of the Hashimis. People sensed he would be the reactivator of the honor and nobility which Abd al-Muttalib had possessed.
Hamza was a youth, an athlete. Abu Lahab was a man without credit. Abbas was wealthy but without character. Abu Talib honorable but without money. It was only Mohammad (pbuh), who along with his wife, had character. He had youth as well. He and his wife had a respectable amount of wealth and were part of the family tree of the Bani Hashimi. Great developments were expected from this family. Their shadow fell over Makkah.
Everyone was waiting for the sons to be born to this family, sons to bring strength, credit and nobility to the family of Abdul Muttalib. The first child born was a girl, Zaynab. But the family was anticipating a son. The second child was a daughter, Ruqiya. The anticipation grew stronger and the need also increased. The third child was a girl, Umm Kulthum. Two boys, Qasim and Abd Allah were born. They held great promise. But they did not blossom. They died in infancy. Now there were three children in this house, and all three were girls.
The mother had aged. She was over fifty years old. The father, although he loved his three daughters, shared his tribe’s feelings and their anticipation. Could Khadija, who was almost at the end of her life, bring forth another child? Hope had become very dim. Yes! Happiness and hope once again filled the house. The excitement reached a peak. This was the last chance for the family of Abd al-Muttalib, the last hope. But once again, a daughter. They name her Fatima.
The happiness and hope of the Hashimi tribe fell to the Umayyids. Enemies whispered, “Muhammad is cut-off. The man who was the last link in his family chain, had four daughters. Nothing more.”
How sad. What a beautiful and strange game fate was playing. Life passed on. Mohammad (pbuh) drowned in the storm of his mandate and his appointment as the Prophet of God. He conquered Makkah and freed all the Quraysh prisoners. All of the tribes were under his leadership and his shadow was thrown over the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. His sword crushed the Emperors of the world. His song rang through the heavens and the earth. In one hand, strength, and in the other prophecy: the full honors.
And now, Mohammad (pbuh) was the Prophet. In the city, filled with waves of happiness, he had power and greatness the like of which a human being could never conceive. A tree, which did not grow from Abd Manaf nor Hashimi nor Abd al-Muttalib, grow, rather, from a light under the mountain of ‘Hira’. It extended from one end of the desert to the other, from horizon to horizon. Till the end of time, it encompassed (and will continue to encompass) all of the future. And this man had four daughters.
But no, three of them died before he did. And now, he had only one child, a daughter, the youngest, Fatima.
Islam Revolutionizes The Position of Women
The Quranic Word, Kawthar
Mohammad (pbuh) was heir to all of the family’s honors, inheritor of a new kind of wealth based not upon blood, not land nor money but upon the phenomenon of revelation. Born of faith, struggle in God’s Way (Jihad), revolution, thought and sensitivity, he was beautifully woven. He received the highest spirit. Muhammad (SAW) was joined to the history of mankind, not to that of Abd al-Muttalib, Abd Manaf, the Quraysh nor the Arabs. He was the inheritor of Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus (AS). Fatima was his only heir. “We gave you kawthar, oh Muhammad. For your Creator, establish the prayer and sacrifice a camel. It is he, that very hated enemy of yours who is cut-off’ . His enemy with ten sons was cut-off. He was useless, cut-off without the highest form of inheritance. “We gave you kawthar,”-Fatima.’ It was in this way that revolution appeared in the depths of the conscience of time.
Now, a daughter became the owner of the values of her father, the inheritor of all the honors of her family. She was the continuation of the chain of great ancestors, the continuation which began with Adam and passed through all of the leaders of freedom and consciousness in the history of mankind. It reached Abraham (AS) and joined Moses (AS) and Jesus (AS) to itself. It reached Muhammad (SAW). The final link in this chain of divine justice, the rightful chain of truth was Fatima, the last daughter of a family who had anticipated a son. Mohammad (pbuh) had known what the hands of fate had in store for him. And, Fatima, also, had known who she was. Yes! This school of thought created such a revolution. A woman, in this religion, was freed like this. Isn’t this the religion of Abraham and of them, his heirs?
The Honor Bestowed Upon a Female Slave
Nobody had the right to be buried in a mosque. The greatest mosque in the world was the Masjid al-haram in Makkah. The Kabah. This house belonged to God. It was devoted to God. It was the direction to which all of the prescribed prayers were oriented. The house was ordered by Him and Abraham built it. It was a house which the Prophet of Islam honored with the mandate of freedom. He freed this ‘House of Freedom’, circumambulated it and went down in prostration towards it. All of the great prophets of history were servants of this house. But no prophet had the right to be buried there. Abraham built it, but he is not buried there. Muhammad freed it, but he was not buried there. In the whole history of humanity, there was one, and one person only, who had been given this privilege. The God of Islam allowed one person to be buried in this way. Who?
A woman. A slave. Hagar, the second wife of Abraham and mother of Ishmael. God ordered Abraham to build the greatest house of worship of humanity and, alongside it, the grave of this woman. Humanity must forever gather around the tomb of Hagar and circumambulate it.
The God of Abraham chose a woman from among this great human society as his unknown soldier. God chose a mother and a slave. In other words, The God of Abraham chose a creature who, in all systems of humanity, lacked nobility and honor.
The Honor Bestowed Upon Prophet’s Daughter
Yes, in this school of thought such a revolution took place. A woman was freed in this manner in this religion. This is how Islam appreciated the position of womanhood. The God of Abraham has chosen Fatima. Fatima, a girl, replaced a son as the inheritor of the glory of her family, maintaining the honorable values of her ancestors and continuing the family tree and prestige.
In a society that felt the birth of a daughter to be a disgrace which only burying alive could purify, where the best son-in-law a father could hope was called ‘the grave’, Mohammad (pbuh) knew what fate has done to him. Fatima knew who she was. This is why history looked in amazement at the way Mohammad (pbuh) behaved towards his young daughter, Fatima, at the way he spoke with her and at the way he praised her.
We see that the house of Fatima was next to the house of Mohammad (pbuh). Fatima and her husband, Ali, were the only people who lived next to the Prophet’s mosque. Only a courtyard of two meters separated the two houses. Two windows faced each other, one from the house of Mohammad, the other from the house of Fatima. Every morning the Prophet opened his window and greeted his young daughter.
We see that whenever the Prophet went on a journey, he knocked at the door of Fatima’s house and said good-bye to her. Fatima was the last person who bade farewell to him. Whenever he returned from a journey, Fatima was the first person he sought out. He knocked on the door of her house and he asked how she was.
It is recorded in some of the historic documents that the Prophet would kiss the face and hands of Fatima. This sort of behavior was more than just the relationship of a kind father and his daughter-a father kissed the hands of his daughter, his youngest daughter! Such behavior struck a revolutionary blow against the inhumane relationships of that time. “The Prophet of Islam kissed the hands of Fatima.” Such a relationship opened the eyes of important people and politicians. The majority of the Muslims gathered around the Prophet in amazement at the greatness of Fatima.
This sort of behavior on the part of the Prophet of Islam taught humanity to discard bad habits and fantasies of history and traditions. It taught man to come down from his Pharaoh-like throne, to put aside his pride and rough oppression and to bow his head when meeting a woman. It taught women to aspire to the glory and beauty of humanity and to put aside old feelings of inferiority and baseness.
This is why the words of the Prophet not only show the kindness of a father but also bring out his responsibilities and strict duties. He showed his appreciation for Fatima and spoke about her in the following terms: “The best women in the world were four: Mary, Asiyah [the wife of Pharaoh who brought up Moses], Khadija and Fatima.” And, “God is satisfied with her contentment and becomes angry from her anger.” Or, “The contentment of Fatima” is my contentment. Her anger is my anger. Whosoever loves my daughter Fatima loves me. Whosoever makes Fatima content makes me content. Whosoever makes Fatima unhappy makes me unhappy.” And, “Fatima is a part of my body. Whosoever hurts her, has hurt me, and whosoever hurts me has hurt God.”
Why all this repetition? Why does the Prophet insist upon praising his young daughter? Why does he insist upon praising her in front of other people? Why does he want all of the people to be aware of his special feelings towards her? And finally, why does he so emphasize the contentment and anger of Fatima? Why does he so often use the word ‘hurt’ in relationship to Fatima.
The answer to this is very sensitive and important. It is clear. History has answered it all: the secret of these wondrous actions was unveiled, in the few short months after the death of her father.
The Mother Of Her Father
History not only speaks of the ‘great ones’, it also attends to them. Children were always forgotten. Fatima was the youngest child in the family. Her childhood passed in a storm. Her birth date is debated. Tabari, Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hashim give it as five years before the Prophet’s mission. Murravij al-Zahib Masudi mentions it as five years after the Prophet’s mission. Yaqubi says, “After the revelation.” Thus, there is a difference of opinion among the recorders of the Traditions. The Hanafi, Malikis, Hanbalis and Shafiis, say, five years before the mandate of the Prophet, and the Jafari say five years after his mission.
We leave it to the scholars to enlighten us as to the exact date of her birth. We are concerned with Fatima herself and the reality of Fatima. Whether she was born before or after the mission of the Prophet does not concern us here.
That which is clear is that Fatima remained in Makkah alone. Her two brothers died as infants and Zaynab, her oldest sister, who acted as the mother of this beloved child, went to the home of Abi al-Aas. Fatima bitterly accepted her absence. Then Ruqiya and Umm Kulthum’s married the sons of Abu Lahab. Fatima remained even more alone-if we accept her birth as having been before the mission of the Prophet. If we accept the second date, then, essentially, from the time she opened her eyes, she was alone. At any rate, the beginning of her life coincided with the heavy mandate of the Prophet. It was filled with great struggles, difficulties and punishments whose shadows fell upon the house of the Prophet.
While her father bore the mandate of consciousness for mankind upon his shoulders and suffered hatred from the enemies of the people, her mother consoled her beloved husband. Early in childhood, Fatima tasted the suffering, sadness and anger of life. Because she was very young, she moved about freely. She made use of this freedom to accompany her father. She knew her father had no life of his own, had no opportunity to take hold of his child’s hand and walk freely and easily down the streets and into the bazaar. He always went alone. In the sea of the town’s enmity, he swam with dangers on all sides. The small girl, who knew her father’s fate, never let him go alone.
Many times she saw her father standing amidst a crowd of people. He spoke to them softly and they, in turn, harshly sent him away. Their only answers were to mock him and show him enmity. He felt lonely and friendless again. But quietly and patiently he gathered another group. He began his speech all over again. At the end, tired and having achieved no result, like fathers of other children who returned home from their jobs, he also returned home seeking a bit of rest. He then returned once more to his work.
Once when he had gone into the Masjid al-haram, where he was vilified and beaten, Fatima, still a small child, stood alone a short distance from the scene. She watched and then returned home with her father.
One day while prostrating himself in the mosque, his enemies threw the intestines of a sheep at him. Suddenly, little Fatima, reached towards her father, picked up the intestines and threw them away. Then with her small, loving hands, she cleaned her father’s head and face, comforted him and led him to their home.
People who saw this thin, weak girl, alone, beside her champion father, saw how she comforted him. She supported him through his troubles and sufferings. With her pure, child-like heart, she sympathesized with him. It was because of this that she came to be called umm al-abiha, the mother of her father.