Jila Movahed Shariat Panahi: Islam as a Feminist Religion

By Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V. – In the following, my interview with the Iranian feminist, political activist, and writer Jila Movahed Shariat Panah. I would like to thank Jila for her time and her so detailed answers to my questions about Islam and women.

Jila Movahhed Shariat Panahi (born in 1951) had her Science Engineering Degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1973. 

After graduation, she worked for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran as a specialist in Radiation Protection. After the revolution, in 1985, she started her protest against the government for two reasons. First, she reported that for Iran, solar energy was a much safer and better source of energy than atomic energy.
Second, she protested against the scarf obligation of all women at the working place. She discussed and argued that, this so strict obligation opposed to Islam, because in the Quran Hijab is a choice and not a forced obligation. Finally, she decided to resign. Her resignation letter was her first initiative as feminist.
In 1990 Jila was the winner of an award at the law faculty of the Beheshti University with her article entitled Problems of Women in Iran Because of Civil Laws.
After this, she started her engagement as activist for women’s rights in Iran. After about 20 years research, in 1999, she published her first book New analysis on women’s rights from the perspective of the Holy Qur’an.
Her second book entitled The most effective women during the first and second century of Islam was published in 2014.
Now she is member of the One Million Signatures Campaign to change discriminatory laws against women and the National Peace Council as well.
She held many conferences at Universities and NOGs and wrote articles in different newspapers and magazines about women rights.
In 1991,1995,1999, 2003 and 2016, she was candidate for parliament. In 2009 she was also presidential candidate, but the Guardian Council rejected her all the time.
Her two other books are waiting for governmental permission. Shariat Panahi is married and has three educated sons.
Milena Rampoldi: What does Islamic feminism mean to you?
​Jila Movahed Shariatpanah: First, I would like to define the word “feminism”​ from my point of view: ​
Feminism is a doctrine, in which we can define a woman, her abilities and her talents as human being and gender and her needs. Feminism also includes measures to improve female talents and competencies so to obtain a stable development for the woman, her family, and her society.  
According to this doctrine, despite of their differences, women have equal rights with men in family and society. This is the definition of myself as a Muslim feminist. I firmly believe that the Holy Quran has defined women as a gender very well. It also shows us an exceptional path to improve women’s abilities and their talents.
Step by step, the Holy Quran brought equal rights for women and men as human beings in spite of the fact that there are obvious biological differences and roles inside family and social life.   ​ 
MR: Which are the principal obstacles in the Muslim societies when a woman is competent and wants to work in politics?
JMS: The most important obstacles are:
a)     The wrong interpretation of this golden Quranic rule according to which “Men are responsible to pay for all women’s financial needs”.
b)     The wrong conception according to which “the husband has the unlimited right to have sexual intercourse with his wife at any time he wants.”
c)      The wrong belief according to which “the society is not a safe place for women, the only safe place for them is their homes​.”
d)     The following wrong opinion according to which “women do not have the same abilities and talents as men, in particular to work in politics.”
e)     The most important obstacle and one of the roots of all of these obstacles is the power left to Muslim Clerics who are given the official and/or social authority to interpret Islam according to their will and can influence Muslims. One of the best strategies to overcome this obstacle, is to teach Muslims​ to look at the behaviour of their jurists and to check if they earn money when they exercise their duties, since according to many verses in the Holy Quran, the Prophets never wanted many from their peoples (compare: al-Shura 23, al-Hud 29 and 51, Al-Shura 109, 127, 145, 164, 164 and 180 and al-Saba 47).
This means that if a jurist directly or indirectly supports political leaders in power or earns plenty of money by the exercise of his religious opinions and fatwas, the people should be very careful to believe and accept him as a M​an of God.
People should make their own research about their religion as much as possible, because blindly following of such a leader might lead ​them ​to dangerous groups like ISIS.
MR: My opinion is that Islam is a feminist religion, while Muslims are not. What do you think about it?
JMS: ​Yes, I completely agree with you.  ​
One of the best solutions is solve this opposition is to re-translate and re-interpret some basic Quranic verses related to women’s rights which are translated or interpreted even totally wrong or in an obvious deviant way which are in contradiction with the entire spirit of the Islam.   
​​To do​ this, we should exactly consider and focus on the roots of the words in the Arabic language and also look at the other verses in which we can find​ the same word (for example the word Noshooz in Arabic has the same meaning women (al-Nisa, verse 34)​ and men (al-Nisa, verse 128)).
In addition I would like to focus on verses like al- Nisa 3, 34, 127, 128 and 129, al- Baqarah 228, 229, 233, 240 and 241, ​al-Talaq 4 and 6, which are understood, translated and interpreted wrongly (on the basis of masculinity and fabricated hadiths). As a consequence, we should re-interpret them on the basis of humanism, and of the general spirit of the Holy Quran.
 ​MR: Which are the most important things we can do as women at the moment fighting against wrong interpretations of the female role in Islam, on one hand, and against islamophobia on the other hand?
​JMS: Basically, we should start to correct the wrong view of Muslims about Women by a correct translation of Quranic verses focussing on women. This would be a big step to struggle against islamophobia as well.
​Then,​ ​we should change the view of Muslims about men​. ​
​Finally we should change the view about​ human beings as a whole. ​
I believe this is the quickest way to achieve both these goals.​
In other words, as long as we do not change this wrong view of Islam which is in the hearts of many uneducated Muslim believers we would not be able to dismiss islamophobia. However, we always need to keep in mind that this wrong view plays an important role to support educated enemies of Islam who try to show this false view as the real Islam to benefit from it.
With a feminine view of Islam, we would succeed in showing the kind face of Islam, instead of the fabricated rough one. ​
MR: Which are the most important matters of your book about equality in the Quran?
JMS: The most important parts in one of my books are (briefly) the following:
a)     Polygamy should be converted to monogamy by following three steps: In al-Nisa verse 3, the infinite number of wives was converted into a maximum of four wives.
b)     At the end of the same verse 4 of al-Nisa, the four wives becomes 1. Since if the husband himself is afraid of not being able to be just, he should marry only one wife.
c)      To come to the third step: in al-Nisa, verse 129, Allah emphasizes that no men is able to be just to two different wives. So the conclusion is that Allah supports monogamy.  
​This is an essential step to dismiss the discrimination between men and women inside Muslim families for ever.  ​
​In the verse al-Nisa 34, I have retranslated some of the Arabic keywords as follow:    
a)     ​Ghavamon (in Arabic) means: The Men are Responsible for women’s financial needs. If we consider this matter deeply, we will see that it is a golden opportunity for women to have their own time to study, and to care about their emotions and peacefulness. Another important aspect is that ghavam doesn’t mean that men are the chief of the family or the only person who should decide. And it also does not women cannot work outside, but it means that it is their choice to work outside or not.
b)     Salehat in Arabic means peace defender.
c)      Ghanetat in Arabic means: freely obedient to the Allah (and not to the husband)
d)     Hafezaton lelghib in Arabic means to be loyal (nothing else).​
e)     Noshooz in Arabic means a sexual intercourse with another person who is not the spouse. And the term applies to both women and men.
f)       Fa-azrebo-honna in Arabic means a temporary Separation before divorce or reconciliation​.​
By the way, in September 1995, at​ International Women Conference in Beijing, I had a Workshop entitled “How can we increase the role of Women to create a stable peace in the world”, focussing on the following two points:
a)     The most important period of time to form the child’s character is the first 5 years when all children are principally under female influence.
b)     ​The behaviour models of most feminist groups are masculine. The reason is that men are more successful in business, finance, and politics and so women should imitate them. Our world is male-dominated, and female characteristics are disappearing.
So what I recommend to women is to change their mental attitude. They should focus on their femininity, their attractive appearance, their kindness, emotionality, and their motherhood to build a world with a balanced combination of male and female colours. Only in such a world, war will be defeated, and peace will dominate.
To come back to the interpretation of the Quran: it is a fact that its wrong interpreters cause ​so much discrimination against women in Muslim societies.
In conclusion, to focus on a special Shiite matter, I would like to tell you my opinion about the temporary marriage (muta’a) stilling practised in Shiite communities. It existed until the 21th year of Revelation, but in that year the practice was abandoned because the laws of Islamic permanent marriage had been completed. ​
​​MR: How is your political vision for the future of Iran?
​JMS: If the Iranian Women can overcome the actual obstacles to enter parliament, and if we have enough female members to create strong ​parliamentary factions, then they can prepare some ​legal bills to dismiss discrimination against women.
Under such a condition,​ I see a positive future coming for all Iranians.