Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, SunniPath Academy Teacher
Assalam o alaikum
Alhamdulillah, I feel extremely strong in my faith and do not question the Qur’an, Hadith, Sunnah or the orthodox scholars. But I am taking a class called Women in Islam, which is taught in a subtly feminist approach and I find myself knowing that the readings or issues I am reading are being misinterpreted but I lack enough knowledge to wisely argue my points out. Therefore, I am forwarding the questions here in hope of a logical answer that can be presented to a non-Muslim Western classroom.
The following ahadith which I found while researching and which are also mentioned in my book:
The meaning of this verse is: I have made men overseers of women because I have granted the former superiority over the latter. This is due to three reasons viz.
a. perfect understanding
b. perfection of deen and obedience in jihad and commanding the good and forbidding the evil etc. This has been explained by Nabi sallallahu alaihi wasallam in an authentic Hadith.
“I have not seen any one of deficient intellect and deen who is more destructive to the intelligence of a cautious man than you women.”
The women asked: “Why is that, O messenger of Allh?” He replied: “Do you not spend a few nights without performing salh and without keeping fast? This is the deficiency of her deen and the testimony of one of you equals half the testimony of a single man – this is the deficiency of her intellect. “… so that if one of the two women errs, the second would remind her”. (Al Baqarah, verse 281)
Questions that can be raised here are:
points (a) and (b) are not women’s fault then. Then why did God make them like that. For extremely atheistic or secular people this could show a deficiency in God nauzubillah or it demonstrates that God is perhaps a masculine figure or if not, then I mean I cannot reason with why God would want to make women weaker like that. That shows an inherent lack of equality then. And no matter how much one tries to please oneself with the idea that oh how lucky you don’t have to pray for a week or whatever…it still boils down to why could not women be made equally intelligent. And also orientalist scholars could say that Prophet (saw) was chauvinistic. Why did he speak so patronizingly (in “progressive” perspective) about women?
In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
Thank you for your question. It is certainly an important one.
I have not been able to find a satisfactory explanation for this hadith. I pray that one of our esteemed scholars will offer us a new perspective on this hadith, especially since many non-Muslims like to cite this hadith as evidence that Islam discriminates against women.
I would caution against interpreting this hadith at face value for the simple reason that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, was famous for his kind and equitable treatment of women. Therefore, for him to make a blanket statement about women’s supposed inferiority requires some amount of interpretive flexibility on our part. For those who would accuse us of being apologists for the hadith, I would respond that every religious tradition has texts which appear to privilege men over women. The challenge for believers in modern times is to discover new interpretive possibilities for these texts.
What I find especially fascinating about this hadith is what emerges when you read between the lines. Was the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, alluding to a certain group of women? Could this have been a wake-up call for women who were slacking in their deen?
I don’t believe that we can take one hadith and jump to the conclusion that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, was saying that women are created inferior.
In fact, when you examine the overall framework governing gender issues in both the Qur’an and Hadith, the core idea that emerges is that males and females share the same essence.
The Qur’an says,
“O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you.” (An-Nisa, 4:1)
“And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another…” (Aal Imran, 3:195)
However, the Qur’an clearly indicates that men and women are distinct and unique:
“…and the male is not as the female…” (Aal Imran, 3:36)
When I read hadiths that seem to imply some intrinsic distinction between men and women, I marvel at the Prophet’s profound understanding of human nature. Scientific research is discovering more and more that women and men are really not the same. There are inherent biological and emotional differences which should be accounted for. In the field of medicine, for example, experts are discovering the need for gender-specific medicine that addresses women’s unique health concerns. As one scientist said, women are not little men!
Back to the issue of hadith, it’s important to weigh “problematic” hadith against others which speak more favorably of women. In many hadith, including the above, which is rigorously authenticated, the Prophet, peace be upon him, expressed deep concern for the women of his community.
For example, the Prophet, peace be upon him, was reported to have said,
“Fear Allah regarding women. Verily you have married them with the trust of Allah, and made their bodies lawful with the word of Allah. You have got (rights) over them, and they have got (rights) over you in respect of their food and clothing according to your means.”
Last but not least, please see the following by Imam Zaid Shakir at Zaytuna.org
The Social Involvement of Women in Islam
and the following by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at Sunnipath.com
And Allah knows best.