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.

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
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.
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
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:
The wrong interpretation of this golden Quranic rule
according to which “Men are responsible to pay for all women’s financial
The wrong conception according to which “the husband
has the unlimited right to have sexual intercourse with his wife at any time he
The wrong belief according to which “the society is
not a safe place for women, the only safe place for them is their homes
The following
wrong opinion according to which “women do not have the same abilities and
talents as men, in particular to work in politics.”
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
​​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.
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:
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.
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.
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:    
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.
Salehat in Arabic means peace defender.
Ghanetat in Arabic means: freely obedient to the Allah (and not to the husband)
Hafezaton lelghib in Arabic means to be loyal (nothing else).
Noshooz in Arabic means a sexual intercourse with another person who is not the
spouse. And the term applies to both women and men.
Fa-azrebo-honna in Arabic means a temporary Separation before divorce or reconciliation.
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
The most important period of time to form the child’s
character is the first 5 years when all children are principally under female
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
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
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. 
Photo Credit: CNN