After a 15-day break, there may be some points that I will need to repeat. Our discussion was concerning the verse [12:28] of Sūrah Yūsuf. The phrase Indeed, it is of the women’s plan. Indeed, your plan is great, has been the reason why women have been considered condemned in the words of many. Why are they considered all evil, or their advice should not be acted upon? Because their plan is great, even greater than Satan’s.
We have narrations that say women prevent people from worship, engaging in conversation with them kills the heart, they occupy the most inhabitants of hell, and many other narrations that we have already alluded to in earlier lessons. Even if we critique the chains of transmissions of all these narrations, they will all still be valid from the perspective of their content, because they are in line with the meaning understood from the verse, and its analogy witht Satan.
This whole discussion is based on the premise that the verse is condemning women to begin with. Is it not possible for this verse to be generally inclusive of both praise and condemnation, or just praise? Why is our first understanding that of condemnation. You find scholars, presuming condemnation from the perception they have regarding women, to the extent that you have someone like Jawād Mughniyyah in his Tafsīr al-Kashshāf, vol. 4, pg. 305 writing:
فأكتفى بقوله لها إنّ كيدكن عظيم وهذا الوصف يعجب النساء لأنه شهادة بذكاءهن وان الرجال لا يفطنون لمكرهن وحيلهن
These narrations therefore would be considered mu’tabar (reliable) – also note reliable doesn’t necessarily mean they have been uttered by the Prophet or the Imām. It just means that its content is correct and in accordance with the Qur’ān, not that it is necessarily uttered. It could be fabricated for all it matters, but its content could be true and reliable. That is why our first focus in science of narrations is to determine if a narration was uttered or not, then we resort to terms like reliable or unreliable.
We mentioned there are 4 discussions we need to have over here. We already went through the first discussion which concerned the comparison between women’s plots and Satan’s plot and whether this comparison is valid or not. We said this comparison is not correct, and if there is any evil in women, it is secondary and subordinate to Satan.
The second discussion we had was whether this verse is condemning all women for all times or not. We showed that this is not concerned with all women, rather it is for a limited type of women. Furthermore, it is not even the words of God, it is a quoted statement of the ‘Azīz.
The third discussion that we need to have today is that, let us presume it concerns all women and it is a general rule. Before I explain any further, there is a preliminary I want to allude to here. The Qur’ān mentions a lot of different characteristics and qualities. Sometimes these qualities are those that are rooted in the nature of a thing, and in its ontological reality. An example of a negative quality are the qualities ascribed to Satan, such as the fact that he whispers and misguides. These qualities are essentially part and parcel of the existence of Satan. A positive example is when Allah (swt) says in (30:30) So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. The difference between خلق (khalaqa) and فطر (faṭara) is that the former is mere creation, but the latter is creation in specific state. The verse uses the latter, and it makes it clear that Allah created humans with an inclination towards truth, and that this quality will never change.
The second type of quality is when a thing is attributed with it, it is simply due to the various variables surrounding it, these could be economical, social, education, cultural etc.
With this premise in mind, we need to ask now, when the Qur’ān says, her kayd (plot) is great, is this from the first type of quality or the second type. The simple answer is that the verse says, such an action was committed by a woman. Does this imply that this is now the very nature of women, they were created in such a way that such an action should be expected from them, and that it is unchangeable and so on? Or is it a quality that can alter through education, culture, society, law etc. We can now ask this question about other narrations too – for example if it says they are evil, or they are deficient in their intellect, does it mean they were created this way, or was it due to their living conditions that forced them to commit certain actions that such words could have been said about them.
Those who presume this verse to be a condemnation of all women for all times under all living conditions, need to come and prove that this verse is from the first category of qualities mentioned in the Qur’ān. We will be hardpressed to find any decent discussions on this amongst our scholars, because such a way of looking at the world and humans did not even exist more than a 50 years ago. This is why it is important to study subjects like anthropology and sociology – before these subjects, we would not even have thought of the question whether this quality is ontological or accidental.
There are 3 opinions on this – the first opinion is a view that its holders have not claimed explicitly, but that is what is apparent from their words, is that this is a part and parcel of the existence of women. Therefore, they have considered it a condemnation of all women.
The second opinion is that this is an accidental attribute, not part of the existential nature of women. The third opinion says the verse is silent on this matter and we must establish the answer to this question from external context and evidence.
I have not found the second opinion explicitly in any places except in Mahdī Mahrīzī’s Farsi work, Shaksiyyat wa Ḥuqūq Zan Dar Islām. Apparently, there was a conference on Sūrah Yūsuf itself, and the book refers to it on page 558 and says:
گفته شد عامل رو آوردن زنان به كيد وضعيت اجتماعي انهاست
And it has been said, that the cause for women to resort to plots is due to their societal conditions.
Sayyid Faḍlullah has also alluded to this view in his Tafsīr, volume 12, where he says some people maintain this view. I don’t know whether this was his own view and did not want to express it, or whether someone he knew actually held this view. If you have time, please go and research, and if you do research then try to look into contemporary works, because you will not find this view in any older works. In any case, he explains the views of these people as follows:
إلى أن التاريخ البشري الذي عزل المرأة عن النشاط الفكري والعمل الجدي الواسع في حركة الحياة وحبسها في دائرة البيت … جعلها تتجه إلى تفجير طاقات في التخطيط للدفاع عن نفسها… بالتآمر والكيد والحيل في أجواء الخفاء… فابدعت في هذا المجال… وبهذا فإن الحيل والمكيد لا تمثل حال طبيعية في المرأة بل تمثل لوناً من الوان النشاط الذهني والعمل الذي تحركه أجواء معينة يمكن للرجل أن يقوم به أيضاً في أجواء مماثلة إلا أن ما يمايز المرأة في هذا الشأن أن موقعها الضعيف أمام الرجل والحواجز الذي تحول دون حصولها على ما ترغب تجعل الكيد اسلوباً تحتاجه إلى الوصوف لما يريد خلافاً للرجل… وإمكانات الوصول إلى ما يريد من اقرب طريقٌ بشكل مباشر دون حاجة للحيلة الكبيرة والفكر الدقيق
The verse however is silent on the matter, it neither tells us if it is from the first category of qualities or the second. Nevertheless, we have to study this matter in a lot more depth and really understand what role gender has to play in these qualities, if any at all. If all qualities that describe men and women are accidental and not essential, then all these qualities are changeable and can be altered.