Women’s Status in Hezbollah: A Unique Glance

Hezbollah regards women as an important and inseparable part of the resistance. After all, they send their children to die as martyrs, for Allah’s sake, Istishhad, as part of the Jihad against Israel and also against the infidels, as during the civil war in Syria.

Hezbollah’s perception of women is derived from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s understanding that women are like the Quran regarding their human role in building a just Islamic society. Women participate in defensive jihad only since they are not obligated to participate in actual fighting. Still, they are part of the fight to carry out social and charitable activities, medical, educational, and religious tasks, support and strengthening efforts, and enhance morale among the jihad combatants.

From the establishment of Hezbollah between 1982 and 1985 to the present day, women have played an important role in establishing a Shi’ite Islamic society that supports Hezbollah following the ideology of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Women have many rights, emphasizing family, social, and political activities that, with the benefit of religion, and Shi’ite tradition, emphasize their importance and willingness to sacrifice their husbands, children, and themselves for the sake of the resistance.

In the Shi’ite jurisprudence view, women play a significant role in the foundations of the community. Two historical figures had the most influence. The first is Fatma, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, the wife of Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb, and the mother of the Imams Hassan and Hussein, who was involved and active in ensuring that Imam Ali inherited the Prophet, Muhammad. The second, Zaynab, the daughter of Imam Ali and Fatma and the sister of Imam al-Hussein, who was in the battle of Karbala, resisted surrendering, saved Ali, the son of Imam Hussein, thereby saving the entire dynasty of the Imams. Both presented a decisive narrative in the Shi’ite worldview of female role models upholding the values of the home, Shi’ite identity, and willingness to sacrifice and fight for the righteousness of the way, to fight for God and for the Shi’ite community.

In this context, it is worth noting that many Shi’ite holy sites are in memory of women and are located in Syria: the holiest and most prominent location for Shi’a is Maqam Sayyidah Zaynab, is the tomb of Zaynab, the daughter of the first Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb and the sister of Imam Hussein located in the village of Ruaya (south Damascus). The tomb of Al-Sayyida Ruqayya, daughter of Imam al-Hussein, son of Imam Ali, is located In Damascus. Several Shi’ite figures were buried in the Al-Bab al-Sghir cemetery in Damascus, such as Um Kulthum, daughter of Ali and Fatima, and Fatma al-Saghira, daughter of Imam Ali. The tomb and Maqam of al-Sayyida bin Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb are located in the area of Darya.

Hezbollah women are referred to as “Mahdwiyat” (the reassuring), “Zinbeit” (after Zaynab, daughter of the first Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb and sister of Imam Hussein), and “Akhwat” (sisters) as a word that emphasizes their being part of the Hezbollah family. In addition, Hezbollah women are perceived as a beautifying element to death, with their black robes, the righteousness of jihad and istishhad, martyrdom for the sake of Allah, for Nasrallah, and the resistance.

In Hezbollah’s view, Shi’ite women play an important role in supporting the resistance and Hezbollah combatants. The women provide ideological, emotional, and moral support to Hezbollah operatives, encouraging them to act according to Hezbollah’s ideology, enlist in Hezbollah’s ranks, and boost their determination and resolution to go to war. In addition, women are crucial in establishing and strengthening a society that supports resistance. This role is expressed in raising children, educating them, and instilling ideology: for boys growing up to be a Hezbollah combatant and a daughter to become the wife of a Hezbollah combatant.

Despite the recognition that women should not be part of the fighting force and should be protected, it is believed that women take part in roles and operational activities on behalf of the organization, whether it is actual operational activity, intelligence gathering (even as part of a network of reporters in areas of control), logistics, communications, and the provision of medical assistance. Thus, women are an essential and critical part of the education system and in the religious and cultural support promoting and instilling Hezbollah’s ideology. Nevertheless, Hezbollah opposes the involvement of women in politics at the regional or national level, including members of parliament or service.

Hezbollah marks the Shi’ite Muslim “woman’s day” on the birthday of Fatma al-Zahraa (the glamorous Fatma). On this day, Hassan Nasrallah usually gives a speech to convey messages to Shi’ite women. Nasrallah mentions Fatma and Zaynab as an example and role models, their contribution to Islam in general and Shi’a in particular, their important status in the Shi’ite community, and their belonging to the family of the Prophet Ahl al-Bayit. He emphasizes their firm stance alongside the resistance and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the just struggle, their support for jihad fighters, and the strengthening of the ideology and support of the resistance. He blesses the “sisters,” as he calls the Shi’ite women, accentuating that they are mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of the martyrs, the wounded, the prisoners, the detainees, and of the resistance combatants, who bear the loss and the absence of their loved ones, and the consequences of the war and the conflict. Nasrallah often uses verses from the Quran to empower and link religion and feelings of loyalty to Shi’a.

In his speeches, Nasrallah clarifies that women are at the forefront of the struggle against Western hegemony over the Islamic world in general, Shia in particular, and the attempt to subjugate external culture and traditions. This includes countering the false pleasures of life in the eyes of the West, the culture of competitions (such as A Star is Born, etc.), appearances and reality shows, and the immodesty of women, drugs, and more of the sins of the West and its culture. All these divert the attention of the Arab world and the Islamic youth from the main issue, the struggle against the West, which prevents their future, development, economy, and more. To emphasize their sacrifice, Nasrallah also alludes to the sacrifice of his wife and himself and often cynically uses and mentions the death of his son Hadi in the battle against the IDF in south Lebanon (1997), emphasizing his personal sacrifice. Hence, his subjects and followers can also make the same sacrifice for resistance, jihad, and martyrdom, all in a religious context.

According to Nasrallah, Fatimah al-Zahraa is a role model for the woman’s mother figure and family. According to him, women are the ones who are at the forefront of the struggle to preserve culture, customs, traditions, way of thinking, morality, values, family values, decisions, existence, and abilities. Women prevent the external attempt to corrupt society morally and culturally. All this is in light of the inability of those external elements, i.e., the West, led by the United States and Israel, to defeat Hezbollah militarily, security-wise, and economically.

According to Nasrallah, the great responsibility that women, such as daughters, women, and mothers, have for supporting the resistance and its people is jihad. In light of this, they will gain paradise like the men who fight on the battlefield.

As far as Zaynab is concerned, Nasrallah sees her as a role model of the spirit of battle, determination, fighting, and willingness to sacrifice life, all in the struggle against oppression while being unwilling to accept and show any signs of humiliation or surrender. Zaynab is a woman whose relatives, brothers, sons, nephews, cousins, and friends of her brother were killed. She was captured and defended her nephew while she stood fast at the sight of Yazid bin Mu’awiya beheading her brother Imam Hussein, who fought him in the Battle of Karbala (the Battle of Karbala is a very important battle in the Shi’ite tradition that took place in 680, during which the successor of Imam Ali and Imam Hassan, Imam Hussein, was murdered together with his supporters in a battle against Yazid bin Mu’awiya, the Umayyad Caliph. A battle that is considered jihad, a battle of heroism and the sacrifice of life, istishhad, martyrdom). Zeinab is an example and model for a woman who faced emotional, human, and family difficulties. Thanks to her resourcefulness, she remained hopeful, confident, and looking to the future; when she did not give up, did not succumb to despair, sadness, frustration, and surrender. She was determined, transmitted strength, and defended Imam Ali bin Al-Hussein, a member of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, whom God promised would protect. Shi’ite women must learn from Zaynab that there is no place for surrender, weakness, sadness, or humiliation, but rather to be strong and resilient and to act forward based on the faith, hope, and history of Shi’a.

A prominent example of the Shi’ite woman, as Nasrallah describes, the symbol of sacrifice, is Sa’ada Badr al-Din, who holds the dubious or dignified title – depending on the eye of the beholder. Sa’ada is the wife of the shaheed – Hajj Imad Mughniyeh, the mother of the shaheed Jihad Mughniyeh and the sister of the shaheed Mustafa Badr al-Din, who replaced Imad Mughniyeh and was himself killed in an explosion near the Damascus airport in 2016 (apparently he was eliminated due to internal conflicts within Hezbollah and on the orders of the Iranians).

A prominent example of the Shi’ite woman, as Nasrallah describes, the symbol of sacrifice, is Sa’ada Badr al-Din, who holds a dubious or dignified title – depending on the eye of the beholder. Sa’ada is the wife of the shaheed – Hajj Imad Mughniyeh, the mother of the shaheed Jihad Mughniyeh and the sister of the shaheed Mustafa Badr al-Din, who replaced Imad Mughniyeh and was himself killed in an explosion near the Damascus airport in 2016 (apparently he was eliminated due to internal conflicts within Hezbollah and on the orders of the Iranians). Sa’ada was close to Imad Mughniyeh even at the peak of his operational activity. She testified that during the war in July 2006, she would meet him briefly to bring him food. He would arrive at the meeting points on a motorcycle. During the war, when Mughniyeh arrived on his motorcycle, he introduced his wife to the passenger sitting behind him. It was Sa’ada’s first meeting with Qasem Soleimani…

Above: Imad Mughniyeh’s mother (right), Sa’ada, covered in niqab (middle), and Jihad Jr., who was assassinated in 2015 (left).

Note – there is not a single known photograph of Saada’s face. Either she is covered in a full face-covering niqab or photographed from the back or kneeling at the graves of her shaheed loved ones. A picture of her allegedly appearing on the Internet in search of her name is a picture of the mother of one of the Hezbollah operatives killed in Syria in recent years, but it is not Sa’ada.

Above: Sa’ada kneeling at the grave of her son Jihad.

Fatima (born in 1984), the eldest daughter of Imad Mughniyeh and Sa’ada, makes sure to play the role of “daughter of the shaheed” and appears and is photographed at many events, including with Zainab, the daughter of shaheed Qassem Soleimani, who is married to Reza Hashem al-Din, the son of the head of the executive council (Hashem Safi al-Din) and who, as part of his role in Hezbollah, deals with the smuggling of weapons components from Iran to Lebanon.

Above: Fatima Mughniyeh (right) with Zainab Soleimani

Although women are generally considered staunch supporters, such as Sa’ada Badr al-Din, breaches in her loyalty emerged during the civil war in Syria regarding Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting there. Voices within the Shi’ite society, especially those of women, expressed their dissatisfaction and anger that Hezbollah had sent their sons to be killed in fighting other Muslims in Syria instead of sending them to fight against Israel or in defense of the Lebanese homeland. Of course, Nasrallah reversed this concept. In his speeches, he explained that the fighting in Syria was also for the protection of Shiite holy sites, the Shi’ite population on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and the Lebanese homeland from the infiltration of global jihad elements, especially after there were attacks on Shiite population centers in the Beqaa and Beirut.

Hezbollah’s way of implementing its ideology and perception of women’s contribution towards establishing a Shi’ite Islamic society in Lebanon is also carried out through the woman’s civilian wing. The “women’s organizations” unit established in 1991 is subordinate to Hezbollah’s Executive Council. The unit’s main mission is to instill and indoctrinate Hezbollah’s ideology and worldview among the Shiite community in Lebanon, which, of course, is influenced by the Iranian perception and Khomeini’s path. Hezbollah’s “women’s organizations” unit is perceived as a feminist effort to build an Islamic Shiite society.

Sayyida Afaf al-Hakim, head of the Women’s Organizations Unit (Al-Hayat al-Nasaiya), who has served in her position since the unit’s establishment in 2003 and also serves as its representative in the Executive Council, spoke in a July 2022 interview about how the Islamic Revolution in Iran pushed for a revolutionary spirit in Lebanon among women who joined the men. According to her, the women supported the men’s activities, and thus mosques and husseinias were established in southern Lebanon in the southern suburb and in the Bekaa Valley, and lectures, seminars, demonstrations, and conferences were held to spread the ideology. As part of this, Shiite women from all sectors of the population: housewives, academics, and professionals, began to become more politically involved and active as part of the resistance to the Israeli invasion and the defense of the Lebanese homeland.

As Hezbollah established its social and public status and expanded its cultural, social, communal, medical, and educational activities, women also formed part of the broader apparatus for instilling the organization’s ideology. Afaf al-Hakim claimed that the program for women’s organizations was supervised by Nasrallah after the assassination of Abbas al-Musawi in 1992. At that time, women’s organizations were divided into tasks and organizations according to the areas of residence. Each area was divided into a sector in which a “Rabata” was established, i.e., a sector, and in each Rabata, there were volunteers and paid workers.

The objectives of the “Women’s Organizations” unit are:

  1. Cultural activities – courses, seminars, lectures, and celebrations. The activity includes trips and studies in Iran. In addition, they work to teach courses and educational lessons in the Quran and Sharia, as well as leisure activities for children, including summer camps for children and scouts, and educating in the correct Islamic concept, values, and ethics. All this is based on Hezbollah’s ideology and the narrative of American and western intervention, the Zionist enemy, and the Lebanese people’s dedication to the resistance.
  2. Culturally improving women’s status (such as courses on reciting mourning rituals and condolences by establishing the “Al-Hura’ Zaynab” [dark-eyed Zaynab committee], socially, politically, and educationally, including schooling (such as the establishment of the Institute for the Training of Nurses, as well as preaching and religious activities in women’s seminaries and religious institutes).
  3. Stressing the important status of women in Hezbollah’s ranks in all areas. For example, Razan Barkat is responsible for women’s and family affairs in the Resistance Action Front (Gabha al-Amal al-Maqaum) in the Aklim Al-Kharub area. Barakat established activities, exhibitions, and events. She also leads workshops and educational training in several professions, skills, and handicrafts to help Shi’ite women (“sisters”) cope with the difficulties and economic crisis and thus help their families. Workshops and educational lectures were also held on how to raise the younger generation within the framework of the Islamic approach while dealing with the dangers and problems that have spread in society, such as drugs, homosexuality, and pornography.
  4. Establishing a network of contacts with all the parties backing the resistance that will support and serve Hezbollah’s approach. A “committee in support of the resistance” was established, which holds political meetings and distributes funds for support, establishing various exhibitions and conferences to strengthen women’s organizations and developing ties with parties and associations to support the resistance.
  5. Improving women’s society and turning it into a supportive and meaningful society for Hezbollah in the face of conspiracies hostile to the organization. The women’s organizations established three associations: the Women’s Association for Social Solidarity, the Association of Mothers and Girls, and the Lebanese Cultural Union, and participated in conferences in Arab and Islamic countries as well as international ones.
  6. Contact with the families of shaheeds and combatants because women are the first line of support, raising and educating children towards Hezbollah’s path of justice. (For example, the establishment of the “Support Committee,” which is the central committee that assists the families of the organization’s dead and wounded; the women of the committee make weekly visits to these families under the supervision of the wives of the clerics and commanders).
  7. First aid training so they can assist in the war effort.

A phenomenon that is one of the expectations of Shi’ite women and is part of Shi’ite culture is the matter of “temporary marriage” (“juwez mata“). A widowed Shiite woman may temporarily marry a Shiite man (also married) who will share her bed and help her financially. This beneficial marriage is customary among the Shi’ite community in Lebanon. It ostensibly constitutes an idea of helping the woman, but it also intensifies support for the resistance since the widow also sacrificed her husband and now continues to support the resistance.

There is no doubt that this harms women’s prestige, dignity, independence, will, and status, despite the claim that this is an independent and voluntary step on her part. But she often has no choice because she has no other support.

As noted, Shi’ite women have been excluded from parliamentary elections since Hezbollah entered the Lebanese political system in 1992. In the April 2022 elections, it was claimed that Hezbollah women are considered the main pillars of the Shiite community and Hezbollah; they are part of Hezbollah’s electoral support and are the organization’s disseminators of ideology, and an integral part of the activity during the regional and parliamentary elections. Therefore, it is argued that, based on this, they are in the decision-making roles.

Regarding national politics, Rima Fakhri has been the only member of Hezbollah’s political-statehood council since 2004. She was head of Hezbollah’s women’s sector in Beirut for seven years. She has held a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences from the American University of Beirut since 1990. She also holds a master’s degree in International Affairs from the Lebanese American University since 2012. She has held a Ph.D. with honors from the University of Lebanon in history, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, since January 2018.

Fakhri is an ardent supporter and advocate for women’s participation in the elections and has received positive publicity from the UN in Lebanon.

Rima Fakhri

Hezbollah sees women as a support platform during the general and regional elections. To this end, Hezbollah exploited women’s organizations to carry out cultural activities, hold religious courses, conferences, and everything possible to encourage supporters (women and men) to go out and vote.

In January 2023, at the Conference of Influential Women in Tehran, Zaynab Nasrallah, Nasrallah’s daughter, spoke about the role of women in Lebanon in general and Hezbollah in particular: “Women faced injustice, and during the occupation of our country, Lebanese women played such an important role when they paid attention to raising the children of the resistance, and the main role in this path lies with the women.” She added: “The woman in Lebanon has the greatest influence in raising children since she raises fighting children and submits her children to the resistance, and was patient and part of the resistance even when she received the bodies of her children. Lebanese women did not settle for sacrificing only one son to the resistance. And this is the only point that strengthened the resistance in Lebanon.”

In conclusion, women are a tool in the propaganda and disseminating of Hezbollah’s ideology. Strengthening ties with them, supporting them, and integrating them socially, politically, and socially are critical for Hezbollah to continue strengthening its status among the Shiite community. As long as women feel that they belong and are supported, they will not fear or prevent their sons from joining Hezbollah, and will even encourage them to enlist and even sacrifice their lives for jihad and martyrdom. This is the main goal. There is respect in this from an Islamic and Shiite point of view, and of course, in terms of opposing and standing by Hezbollah’s righteousness.

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Teddy Sapir

Teddy Sapir

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