Malak Jan’s infinite patience and tolerance, coupled with her boundless altruism, reassured those around her of her benevolent intentions and helped people to gradually evolve in their thinking about gender equality in an environment where women were considered inferior to men in every respect.
These inequalities were deeply ingrained in the mentalities of both men and women of the region, where geographic and cultural insulation as well as rudimentary conditions rendered any evolution in the mindset of her community highly improbable. Indeed, her views on gender equality often put her own security in jeopardy as they were in stark contrast to the views and customs of the prevailing religious and political communities, entrenched as they were in an environment of male chauvinism.
Armed only with the strength of her convictions and the depth of her compassion and integrity, this frail, blind woman stood firm in her belief in the rights of all human beings, until her efforts eventually succeeded in securing equal rights for all women and girls. Her kindness, insight, and attentiveness to every individual enabled her to win the hearts and minds of both men and women in her own region and beyond, inspiring their devotion and respect.
She encouraged gender reform in all realms of life, even the most traditional and sacred, such as spiritual and religious customs and rites. With the approval of Ostad Elahi, she broke from centuries of mystical tradition by espousing the equal participation of men and women in all sacred ceremonies and rites. For example, historically women had not been allowed to participate, much less sing and dance, in devotional gatherings. Malak Jan revolutionized this environment by allowing women to participate fully, and to even conduct the gatherings without the presence of any men, something that had been considered a major taboo and was seen as an attempt to destroy time-honored traditions. In doing so, she would also set the stage for a number of secular reforms as well.
Malak Jan also encouraged parents to treat their daughters exactly as they would their sons—that is, to send them to school, to feed them well, and to attend to their affairs. In particular, she emphasized equality between men and women in matters of inheritance, which overwhelmingly favored men in such rural and agricultural environments. Moreover, when the men in the community began attending newly opened schools in the evenings, Jani insisted that the women be included as well.
During her regular sessions, she educated men and women about the spiritual consequences of failing to acknowledge and respect the rights of each other, helping them to evolve not only in their outward conduct, but more importantly in their internal attitudes and perceptions.
The tenets of her philosophy always mirrored her own conduct, and Malak Jan served as an inspiring role model for women and girls. Today, we observe many women who have completed their graduate degrees and have established successful careers as a result of the teachings they received. Indeed, Malak Jan encouraged women to cultivate a sense of independence and to consider themselves equal to men in every realm of life. She encouraged girls to be educated and women to develop livelihoods and financial independence from their husbands whenever possible, a principle that stemmed from her profound belief that their relationships would enjoy greater success and harmony when based on mutual respect and equality. She believed that such independence would enlarge the sphere of their activities and help them to avoid choices arising out of financial necessity, which in turn would enable them and their children to live more purposeful, complete, and joyous lives.
A Life Unseen: A Legacy of One Woman’s Courage, Humanity & Insight
Presented by the Nour Foundation and the NGO Section of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, a special tribute was organized to commemorate the centennial of Malak Jan’s birth at the Asia Society in New York. The event featured prominent women leaders from various sectors of the global community who have significantly impacted the lives of those around them and beyond through their dedication, determination, and pioneering vision.
In recognition of Malak Jan’s lifelong work, the evening revolved around discussions about the empowerment of women and the critical role of education and financial independence in advancing and improving the quality of their lives. A short video tribute and traditional music performance also celebrated her vibrant personality.