The title ‘Ayatollah’ holds negative connotations in minds of most non-muslims. When the word is mentioned, first thoughts will be of violence, female oppression and hatred. We have the media to thank for this. The truth is that our greatest Ayatollahs (learned scholars) were paragons of kindness, love and devotion to God. Their stances against oppressors and immorality came from a deep love of God, which imbued within them a strong determination to oppose all forms of corruption. Intense love of God was their principle driving factor, not hatred. The following short stories will give you an insight into how these personalities lived their lives, in particular how they acted towards women.
A philosopher, mystic and one of the greatest exegetes of the Holy Qur’an in Shia Islam.
Love of Wife
‘Allāma’s family life was extremely warm and pleasant. When his wife passed away he shed so many tears and was so saddened and moved that one day we asked him, “we should be learning patience and endurance from you – why are you affected such?”
Death is inevitable. Everyone must die. I am not crying for the death of my wife. My tears are for the kindness, housekeeping abilities, and the love my wife had. I have had a life full of ups and downs. In the holy city of Najaf when we were faced with many difficulties, I was not even aware of the needs and the administration of our life [because she took care of them so well]. Managing our life was in the hands of my wife, and throughout our life not once did my wife do something that I said I wish she hadn’t done that, even just to myself. Nor did she ever not do something that I said I wish she had carried that out!
Throughout our life together never once did she say to me why did you carry out that particular act, or why didn’t you do something! For example, you know that I work at home and am continually occupied with writing and studying. As a result I get tired and occasionally I need to rest and to renew my energy. My wife was aware of this. She would always have the kettle on and tea ready. Although she was busy with housework, she would pour me one cup of tea every hour. She would place it in my study and would return to her work until the following hour…how can I ever forget such love and kindness?!
Ayatullah Ibrāhīm Amīnī (author of self building)
Like two friends
His [‘Allāma’s] behavior with my mother was incredibly respectful and friendly. Through his actions it seemed as if he was always eager to see my mother. We never saw them order each other to do or not do anything, nor did we see any discord between the two of them. They were loving, loyal and forgiving to each other to such an extent that we thought they never disagreed. The two of them were truly like two friends with each other.
Prior to her death, my mother was ill and confined to bed for 27 days. During this period my father did not leave her bedside for a single moment. He left all his work to take care of her.
At the same time my mother was an exceptional woman. She was patient when faced with difficulties and a meager lifestyle. She managed all our household affairs. She took care of our academic and social life and handled all our concerns. She worked with such efficiency and wisdom that my father was able to pursue his academic work with complete ease of mind.
My partner in all that was good
“It was this woman who allowed me to reach this position. She has been my partner and whatever books I have written, half [of the credit] belongs to her.”
This one sentence from ‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī is sufficient as an indication of his enlightened view of women. At another time he said:
If a woman did not have importance, God would not have placed the lineage of the 12 Imāms in the progeny of Hazrat Zahra (a). Truly if a woman is noble and good she can make the entire world a rose-garden, and if she is bad she can make the world a hell…Women and men are partners, and after looking after the raising of her children, a woman must become aware and familiar with the affairs of her society.
Most know Imam Khomeini as the leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, but there was much more to him than this. He has authored many books on ethics and spirituality, and is recognised as a great mystic and philosopher. His two most famous works are Forty Hadith and Etiquettes of Prayer
Observance of the rights of a wife:
Imam always offered me the better place in the room. He would not start eating until I came to the dinner table. He would also tell the children: ‘Wait until Khanom comes.’ He maintained respect for me and was not even willing that I should work in the house. He would always tell me: ‘Don’t sweep.’ If I wanted to wash the children’s clothes at the pond, he would come and say: “Get up, you shouldn’t be washing.”
On the whole, I have to say that Imam did not consider sweeping, washing dishes and even washing my children’s clothes as part of my responsibilities. If out of necessity I sometimes did these, he would get upset considering them as a type of unjust dealing towards me.
Even when I entered the room, he would never say: ‘Close the door behind you,’ but waited till I sat down and then would himself get up and shut the door.
The Imam’s Wife
60 years of living together and not one request for a glass of water:
Imam had extraordinary respect for his wife. For example, I am not lying if I say that in the period of 60 years of living together, he did not even reach for food (on the dinner table) before his wife, nor did he have even the smallest expectation from her. I can even say that in the period of 60 years of living together, at no time did he even ask for a glass of water, but would always get it himself. If he was in such a position that he could not, he would say: ‘Is the water not here?’ He would never say: ‘Get up and bring me water.’ He behaved this way not only with his wife but also with all of us who were his daughters. If he ever wanted water we would all enthusiastically run to get it, but he never wanted us to bring and give him a glass of water in his hand.
During the difficult last days of his life, each time he would open his eyes, if he was capable of speaking, he would ask: ‘How is Khanom?’ We would reply: ‘She is good. Shall we tell her to come to you?’ He would answer: ‘No, her back is hurting. Let her rest.’
Siddiqa Mustafavi (Imam’s daughter)
Blessed am I that I have such a wife:
Imam was very attached to his wife and had special respect for her, so much so that he placed his wife on one side, and his children on the other.
I remember that once Imam’s wife had gone on a journey, and Imam was missing her very much. When he would frown, we would jokingly say to him: ‘When Khanom is here, Imam laughs, and when she is not here, Imam is upset and frowns.’
In short, however much we teased Imam, he would not stop frowning. Finally I said: ‘Blessed is Khanom that you like her so much.’ He said: ‘Blessed am I that I have such a wife. No one else has sacrificed as much in life as she has. If you too would be like Khanom, your husband would also like you this much.’
Siddiqa Mustafavi (Imam’s daughter)
I have come to wash the dishes:
One day, as it so happened, there were many guests at Imam’s house. After the meal, I collected the dishes and took them to the kitchen. Along with Zahra, the daughter of Agha Ishraqi, we prepared to wash the dishes. However we saw that Imam himself had immediately come to the kitchen.
I asked Zahra: “Why has Haaj Agha come to the kitchen?” I had a right to be surprised because it wasn’t time to perform wudu. Imam rolled up his sleeves and said: “Because there are many dishes today, I have come to help you.” My body started to tremble. My Lord! What am I seeing! I said to Zahra: “I swear by you to Allah, please request Imam to leave. We will wash the dishes ourselves.” This was really unexpected for me.
Marzieh Hadide Chi (Dabagh)