The first time I heard of Laleh Bakhtiar was at a WISE (Women’s Initiative in Spirituality and Equality) Conference organized by my friend Daisy Khan. We organized several conferences around the world for Muslim women leaders working towards progress for women and girls in Muslim countries. There was no dearth of issues, and each one was bigger than the next. One of the big issues was domestic violence.
Laleh Bakhtiar was the first women scholar to translate the Quran. And to our delight at the conference she shared how the most widely quoted verse from the Quran, 4:34, which has been used to justify violence by a husband against his wife, uses a word “daraba” which has 17 different meanings. The meaning that was being used was “beat her lightly” but Laleh translated it to its more common meaning “walk away”. It was a watershed moment for Muslim women who had suffered violence at the hands of their husbands, who now could challenge it in courts all over the world. Domestic violence is a global issue, and women will have to continue to work hard to shift the many cultures that condone it, and this was a big step.
Today Laleh (at age 82) passed on to another universe, and we all mourn her deeply. Recently, Laleh worked with us on the Muslim Women Zoom into the Quran series, and I always noted her intense analytical brain, her deep spirituality and conviction, and her humble being. I listened tonight to Sami Yusuf’s (my most favorite singer, songwriter, musician and producer) song “Let us not forget”, whose lyrics were written by Laleh’s mentor, Seyyed Hussein Nasr- also an Iranian American- and remembered Laleh, a global citizen, a lover of God and his prophets, of learning and of peace, and asked God to bless her soul:
Let us not forget who we are, whence we came, where we shall go;
Let us not forget that pre-eternal day when we bore witness,
Bore witness to His Lordship with a resounding yea,
Which does still echo under the vaults of the celestial realm.Let us not forget the intimacy of the Beloved’s embrace,
The warmth of Her bosom when we in union were.
We have now fallen and forgotten who we are,
Wandering on earth with no compass in hand.But we can remember, so let us not forget.
Let us not forget that although cast in this lowly world,
Although blinded by veils of neglect and heedlessness,
Although forgetfulness our second nature has become,
We are placed here on earth to remember and can remember.Let us not forget then to remember our Origin and End,
To remember who we really are as we make this journey of earthly life.
And here is an article about her incredibly productive life: