Battle of the Camel and Women

Answered according to Shafi'i Fiqh by

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, SunniPath Academy Teacher

Assalam o alaikum

This question was actually raised in one of my readings for a Women in Islam class. It is I think raised in an article (by a Western scholar named Denise Spellberg) the reason why I am presenting this question is so that I can present Islam in a better way in a Western classroom setting.

In the article I read for class, in the jist of it the author bring up issues like this was an example and after this women never involved themselves in politics. And Hazrat Aisha’s act of going into war was achieved partly from her Jahilia days independence for women but in the end Islamic values overcame and everyone looked down upon Aisha’s involvement in the war, demonstrating how once a woman tried to achieve an equal status but it was put down by conservative Islamic thought. There was also the incident where Harun ar Rashid’s wife, when her son was killed, was asked to follow the example of Aisha and avenge the son’s death but she said it was no place for women to take political avenges and therefore she mourned and stayed put. The underlying message in this was that what Hazrat Aisha did was an anomaly in Islam.

Connected to this is, is also the concept of fitna:

There is hadith where it is said that there is no fitna that harms men more than women or something along the lines, that she basically clouds men wisdom. A Westerner would say why is this so patronizing? Why can’t the man be a fitna for being so weak, or stupid or whatever for falling for women and not using his “perfect” wisdom. Like why is there a constant thing about women lacking aql?

And then if we are to look at Qur’an the article says that Queen of Sheba was looked down upon in Qur’an for her ignorance of the true faith. So the article claims that Qur’an is not against women being involved in politics and it was Prophet (saw)’s personal desire or bias (astaghfirullah I have to be saying something I do not believe in) that he wanted his wives to be secluded and therefore the ayahs about their seclusion came and then this is what is taken as the basis of keeping women at home and not involved in politics.

Now I do understand that a woman’s first place is at home. But if we think of it from an outsider’s perspective, I wonder what would be a logical answer that I can place in front of feminist or secular Western women and say ok so this is actually the case. I am really confused. Why does it sound like we women are made stupid?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.

Dear Sister,

Please refer to my previous answer in response to your question about women’s intelligence.

Once again, it is important to consider multiple interpretive possibilities when assessing problematic hadith. By problematic I mean hadith which appear to discriminate against women. I don’t mean that these hadith should be rejected. On the contrary, I believe they should be studied further as a means to deepening one’s own understanding of women in Islam.

I have several concerns when it comes to presenting Islam to secular Western feminists. They come with their own set of preconceived notions about Muslim women that often involve some notion of liberating Muslim women from oppressive Muslim men. Many Western feminists are loathe to examine Muslim’s women’s status within the context of Muslim’s social, cultural, and legal history. Instead, many Western women like to impose hegemonic notions of Western cultural superiority on the Muslim tradition, resulting in a stifling of the Muslim female voice and alternative readings of the tradition.

I don’t buy the idea that women under Jahiliyya were more independent than women under Islam. Unfortunately, some Muslim scholars, like Laila Ahmed, have made the argument that women lost much of their freedom once Islamic law was implemented. However, to contrast women’s status pre-Jahiliyya to their status post-Jahiliyya underestimates the huge paradigm shift that took place as women moved from shirk to tawhid.

The article you mentioned seems to be flawed in one critical area. Aisha’s motivation to go to war was not inspired by her pre-Islamic independence. In fact, Aisha, may Allah be well pleased with her, was probably born well after the Prophet, peace be upon him, received the first revelation of the Qur’an. Therefore, she was influenced by Islam far more than anything else in her life.

When she went to battle, her intention was to avenge the death of the third caliph of Islam, Uthman, may Allah be well pleased with him.

Whether Aisha’s decision led to a decline in Muslim women’s political involvement is hard to assess from this single incident. As with any other historical phenomenon, Muslim women’s political involvement has to be evaluated from within women’s own historical context. Just because women did not (usually) occupy visible public positions does not mean that they did not wield power from behind the scenes.

On to the issue of the Queen of Sheba, it’s a misreading of the Qur’an to suggest that it belittles Bilqis. On the contrary, the Qur’an presents Bilqis’s story as an example to both men and women. In fact, Bilqis is the perfect antithesis to one of the most oppressive rulers mentioned in the Qur’an, the Pharoah (and a male).

And Allah knows best.

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