Yesterday, Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid led the parade of freed Lebanese prisoners. Israel seized him in 1989 from the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit, where he was the local prayer leader. Israel hoped it might trade him for a missing airman. I wrote this about him in the New York Times, shortly after his abduction: “Sheikh Obeid was not among Hizbullah’s leading strategists, or one of its smooth and dissimulating ideologues. He personified the zealous local cleric, passionately preaching war and sharing his meals, his home and his guidance with the young militiamen of Hizbullah.” Now he’s being hailed as a returning hero, and the ideas of this once-obscure man will command attention.
In an article I published in 1991, I had occasion to quote Sheikh Obeid. The subject: women suicide bombers. In the 1980s, pro-Syrian nationalist organizations worked to emulate Hizbullah’s suicide attacks against Israelis. It became a kind of competition, just like the present-day Palestinian competition among Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and so on. But the pro-Syrian nationalists, unlike Hizbullah, didn’t hesitate to use women. The Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Safir decided to ask Sheikh Obeid what he thought about that. His answer (issue of July 28, 1986):
One of the nationalist women asked me, does Islam permit a woman to join in military operations of the resistance to the occupation, and would she go to paradise if she were martyred? The jihad in Islam is forbidden to women except in self-defense and in the absence of men. In the presence of men, the jihad is not permissible for women. My answer to this woman was that her jihad was impermissible regardless of motive or reason. She could not be considered a martyr were she killed, because the view of the law is clear. There can be no martyrdom except in the path of God. That means that every martyr will rise to paradise. I do not deny the value of the nationalist struggle (nidal) against Israel, but the jihad of women is impermissible in the presence of men. I do not deny women of the right to confront the enemy, but we must ask whether all of the nationalist men are gone so that only the women are left, or whether their men have become women and their women have become men.
Sheikh Obeid expressed the classic position of Islamic law, and he didn’t hesitate to discourage the woman from taking up arms. Unfortunately, during the years he’s spent in prison, a parade of Islamist “authorities” have chipped away at the limitation on women, simply because any method that kills more Jews is deemed to justify itself. Here, for example, is a man hailed by some in the West as a great Islamist force for moderation, the noxious Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He was asked by the Hamas monthly magazine about whether women could commit martyrdom (suicide) operations:
When jihad is obligatory, as when an enemy invades a country, the woman is summoned to jihad with the man, side by side. As the jurists have said: if an enemy invades the country, its people are obliged to rally to arms. A woman must act even without the permission of her husband…I believe the woman can fulfill her role in this jihad, to the extent she is able. The organizers of these jihad actions have already assigned some believing women to this matter, as they are able to reach places that a man could not reach….I believe that women have a right to a role in the way of jihad, and to share in the way of martyrdom.
And here is Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the very clever Beirut cleric who is a spiritual guide for many Shiites in Lebanon and beyond:
It is true that jihad is not a duty for women, but Islam has permitted women to fight, if the requirements of a defensive war necessitate a conventional military operation or a martyrdom [suicide] operation to be carried out by women. Thus, we believe those martyr women are making a new and glorious history for Arab women. We also express our denial of any reservations concerning the martyrdom operations which have been carried out by women.
Neither of these Islamo-celebrities, who whisk about in limos while preaching jihad against this and that, really addresses Sheikh Obeid’s main point: the jihad of women is impermissible in the presence of men. Obeid, who made his ruling when he was down there on the front lin in south Lebanon, thought that “no motive or reason” could justify an exception, and that “the law is clear.”
One of the charges frequently leveled by Islamist clerics against state-employed clerics is that that latter are too pliable, and that they twist the law to suit circumstances. In fact, the Islamist clerics do just the same thing, as this case perfectly illustrates. If Hizbullah gives Sheikh Obeid a limo, he too might begin to sound like the rest of them. But when it counted, at a time when he guided the local “resistance” to Israeli occupation, he saw the issue with perfect clarity. What we have heard of late, from the leading lights of contemporary Islamism, is deviation.