[Explanation of the Prophet’s Hadith]
Many people accuse Islam for teaching evident misogyny because of a Hadith in which Prophet ﷺ seemingly proved women to be ‘defective’ in terms of reason and religion as compared to men, thus proving the unjust claim of misogyny against Islām. Moreover, because of this specific prophetic tradition, many Muslims find it hard to explain or defend Islām when engaged in a dialogue with non-Muslims.
Therefore, this article includes the possible claims or doubts that can arise in a Muslim’s mind about Prophetic explanation of woman’s nature and the detailed answers of such claims in the light of religious sources, in shā Allāh!
Authenticity and the Translated Text of Ḥadīth
Once Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) went out to the Muṣallā (to offer the prayer) of `Īd al-Aḍḥā or Al-Fiṭr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ)?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ)! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (1)
Formulating the Argument
Before we go straight to the doubts and their clarifications, it is important to point out two things here: First and foremost, Prophet ﷺ did not in any way compare men with women in this tradition even if it apparently seems to be the case. It is against Islamic values to compare one gender with other in terms of superiority. In Islām there are no standards to measure one gender with other based upon inborn characteristics or nature of some being, except Taqwā (i.e. roughly translated as piety) which is purely attainable and is in access to every individual to acquire. The following Āyah best explains the mentioned point: “Verily, the most honorable of you with Allāh is that (believer) who has al-Taqwā.” (2)
This is emphasized so much so that one gender is discouraged to even desire of getting what he seems to be deprived of. Therefore, the primary focus must be on competing in righteousness as each is responsible for what he acquires or what he can acquire. Allāh SWT says:
“And wish not for the things in which Allāh SWT has made some of you to excel others. For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned, and ask Allāh of His Bounty. Surely, Allāh is Ever All-Knower of everything.” (3)
Therefore, those who use such narrations or Āyāt as a measure to ‘compare’ genders are in variance with Islamic values and forget that Islām was the only code that successfully nullified such baseless measures to which even today most of the people resort to.
Secondly, why is it so that we have developed such sensitivities towards female gender that whenever womenfolk seem to be proven weaker, people get defensive and in doing so do not hesitate to degrade male gender in their failing attempt to sympathize with the female gender? For example, had this narration stated the similar about male gender, would there be discontentment on behalf of the male gender as well? If I were to gather narrations of the Prophet ﷺ in which men are criticized specifically, then would anyone attempt to sympathize with the male gender as well?
For example, the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said: “Verily, Allāh SWT dislikes an eloquent male who rolls his tongue as a cow rolls its tongue (while eating).” (4)
The mentioned narration uses the word ‘Rijāl’ meaning males and does not mention female. But I do not find people complaining about it.
Moreover, mentioning the wrongs in which normally one group is likely to get engaged more than the other does not mean that it degrades the very group itself, rather such wrongs are mentioned in order for the people to take heed and be cautious about them. And that’s exactly what the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ did. It is similar to the case that by just admitting children to be fussier than adults, it makes them less important.
The Islamic view in this context is that each gender has its importance given in its social circle. Therefore, things that men are capable of, women cannot because of the difference in their creation and nature; and vice versa. This is best illustrated in the example of Maryam AS (Marry, the son of Jesus) when her mother prayed for the son before Maryam’s birth. She prayed for a boy as she believed that the way men can contribute to the benefit of Islām, women cannot. But Allāh SWT corrected her and proved that what women could do, men cannot. Allāh SWT states:
“Then when she delivered her [child Maryam (Mary)], she said: “O my Lord! I have delivered a female child,” – and Allāh knew better what she delivered, – “And the male is not like the female, and I have named her Maryam (Mary), and I seek refuge with you (Allāh) for her and for her offspring from Shayṭān (Satan), the outcast.” (5)
The great classical grammarian and literary critic of his time, Al-Zamakhsharī argues that the statement (translated), “And Allāh knew better what she delivered, and the male is not like the female,” is in fact Allāh’s (SWT) response to the mother’s seemingly dissatisfaction of her child’s birth, where He (SWT) elucidates (paraphrasing), “That not only do I know what you delivered but also the greatness that your child (girl) is destined to meet along with her boy (‘Isa) that she will beget later.” Therefore, expectations that Allāh SWT had from Maryam could not be fulfilled by a male. (6)
Therefore, according to this Āyah, neither males are degraded nor females. Both have their own role to pay in their given social circles.
Potential Doubts and Answers
The Prophet’s statement about women being in majority in Hellfire implies that Islām considers woman to be worse than man.
There are number of answers to this doubt or allegation:
Does it mean that the reciters of Qur’an are more evil than others? Of course not because there are numerous other narrations and evidences that elevate their ranks to those of high-ranked Angels. (8) Nevertheless, because of their status, they are exposed to certain trials more than others, like inability to practice what they recite or Riyā (showing off), eagerness to get popular, etcetera.
Similarly, women are trialed with ‘ungratefulness’ and ‘excessive cursing’ based upon the mentioned Ḥadīth which is why prophet advised them to pay charity and in other versions such as Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim, he advised of Istighfār which is the main purpose.
Therefore, it can be argued that being excessive in population necessitates greater number in Hellfire. The Prophet saw them in excessive number because of their higher population rate and thus associated it with their major cause of damnation.
The Prophet’s statement: “I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you,” implies that he taught misogyny.\
The mentioned statement seems to be degrading a woman but only if it is read divorced of next part. The next part, “A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you,” implies that by stating above, he expressed his amusement rather than degrading the woman gender as also proven by other other versions based on the different sentence structure. For example, in Jāmi‘al-Tirmidhī, the Prophet stated: “And I have not seen any among those lacking in intellect and religion who are more difficult upon people possessing reason and insight than you.” (10)
If I were to restate the Prophet’s statement in my own words, ‘despite of some limitations that women have, it is rather amusing to know that they are able to manipulate the wisest of men.’ Therefore, I believe it is more of a complement than a degrading remark.
The Prophet allegedly stated women to possess defective intelligence.
There are number of answers to this allegation:
This statement of his is mainly based upon the Āyah of the Qur’ān: “And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her.” (12)
Therefore, the meaning of Nāqiṣāt al-‘Aql in fact refers to the one short in memory as reasoned by Qur’ān. Although having a short memory is a negative characteristic but it does not in any way imply that the person is not intelligent or unreasonable. Memory is definitely linked to intelligence but it is not the only mental faculty at an individual’s disposal rather there are numerous other cognitive abilities that determine a person’s intelligence. (13)
Therefore, other versions (14) of the same Ḥadīth state: “A wise lady (Jazlah) among them said: ‘Why is it, Messenger of Allāh that our folk is in bulk in Hell?’”
The word used in Ḥadīth – translated as wise – is Jazlah, which literally means ‘woman of opinion’. (15) Therefore, the vary Ḥadīth itself acknowledges that there are women who are capable of exhibiting higher level of intelligence and are capable of giving and holding an opinion.
It is fascinating to note that Prophet separated a family merely on the testimony of one female. I believe the matter of family bond is far important and sensitive than that of witnessing on an agreement of debt. Therefore, social matters that are mainly related to males, is normally hard for the women to understand and keep in mind, which is why their testimony requires further affirmation.
The Prophet allegedly stated that women are defective in their religion.
Therefore, when ‘Ā’ishah, mother of believers complained about it to the Messenger of Allāh SAW, Prophet ﷺ consoled her in a remarkable manner. ‘Ā’ishah narrated:
“Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) came to me and saw me weeping and said, “What makes you weep, O Hantāh?” I replied, “I have heard your conversation with your companions and I cannot perform the ‘Umrah (minor pilgrimage).” He asked, “What is wrong with you?’ I replied, ‘ I do not offer the prayers (i.e. I have my menses).’ He said, ‘ It will not harm you for you are one of the daughters of Adam, and Allāh has written for you (this state) as He has written it for them. Keep on with your intentions for Ḥajj and Allāh may reward you that.” (18)
This comparison is made on the basis of similarity in the state of a sick and the woman in her period of menstruation because the woman’s state of menstruation is distressful for her just like it is for the sick. Therefore, it is denoted by the word Adhā [literally meaning harmful or painful (21)] in the Qur’ān. (22)
Therefore, I personally believe that as the state of menstruation is not only stressful for woman but also a state of impurity; therefore, both the prayer and fasting are forbidden for her. And she is not alone in this as men call fall in similar circumstances as well where they are permitted or are obliged to leave fasting or prayer. Therefore, the meaning of Ḥadīth implies that because of woman’s certain physical conditions, she is unable to perform all prescribed acts of Din and therefore, fall short in this aspect.
Islām is the Dīn of justice and strong moral values. It does not in any way belittle someone purely based upon his or her innate nature. Therefore, what is usually misunderstood from the mentioned Prophetic tradition is simply due to the weakness or defect of our intellect and understanding.
Islām not only honoured woman when she was treated like animal but also brought her on equal terms with the opposite gender in terms of Taqwā. And whatever it has stated about women, it is done so in order to warn her of the possible trials. And the same it did for men. Therefore, such feministic women should be grateful to Islām rather than making childish arguments against it and accusing for its so-called misogynistic teachings.
After all the detailed explanation, if some women are still dissatisfied I, as a brother would advise exactly what the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ advised women about Islamic stance on a widow’s mourning period after her husband’s death stating:
“Previously, when one of you was bereaved by a husband she would stay in her dirty clothes in a bad unhealthy house (for one year), and when a dog passed by, she would throw a globe of dung. No, (she should observe the prescribed period ‘Iddah) for four months and ten days.” (25)
In other words, be grateful of the favours that Islām has bestowed upon you rather than showing concerns about the teachings of Islām because the latter has brought you from darkness of humiliation and ignorance to honors and light. Therefore, submit and obey!
هذا ما عندي والله تعالي اعلم بالصواب
Whatever wrong I have stated above is due to the fault of my own knowledge and understanding whereas Islām is pure from any fault and error.
1: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Menstrual Periods – Chapter: A menstruating women should leave observing Ṣawm (fasting), Ḥadīth 304.
2: Sūrah al-Ḥujurāt (49:13)
3: Sūrah al-Nisā’ (4:32)
4: Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī: Chapters on Manners – Ḥadīth 2853. [Declared as Ḥasan (reliable)]
5: Sūrah Āl ‘Imrān: (03:36)
6: Al-Zamakhsharī, M.U. (2009) Tafsīr al-Kashshāf. Third Edn. Beirut: Dār al-Ma‘rifah, p. 169 – 170.
7: Albānī, N. (1408 AH) Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaghīr. Third Edn. Beirut: Al-Maktab al-Islāmī, Ḥadīth 1203.
8: See, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim: The Book of Prayer – Chapter: The virtue of the one who is skilled in reciting the Qur’ān…, Ḥadīth 798 a.
9: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Knowledge – Chapter: The disappearance of the (religious) knowledge and the appearance of (religious) ignorance, Ḥadīth 81.
10: Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī: The Book on Faith – Chapter: Regarding the completion faith, its increasing and decreasing, Ḥadīth 2613. [Classified as Ṣaḥīḥ (authentic)]
11: See, Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī: Chapters on Zuhd – Chapter: What has been related about ‘The Parable of the World is that of Four People’, Ḥadīth 2325. [Classified as Ṣaḥīḥ (authentic)]
12: Sūrah al-Baqarah (2:282)
13: For detail see, Sternberg, R.J. & Sternberg, K. (2012) Cognitive Psychology. Sixth Edn. Belmont: Wadsworth. p. 18 – 22.
14: For example, see Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim: The Book of Faith – Chapter: Clarifying that faith decreases with shortcoming in obdedience…, Ḥadīth 79 a.
15: Al-Jawharī, I.H. (1979) Al-Ṣiḥāḥ. Second Edn. Beirut: Dār al-‘Ilm lil-Malāyīn. p. 1655.
16: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Sales and Trade – Chapter: Explanation of doubtful things, Ḥadīth 2052.
17: Sūrah al-Baqarah (2:286)
18: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Ḥajj – Chapter: The Ḥajj is (in) the well-known (lunar year) months…, Ḥadīth 1560.
19: Sūrah al-Baqarah (2:184)
20: Sālim, K. (n.d.) Ṣaḥīḥ Fiqh al-Sunnah. Al-Maktabah al-Tawfīqīyah. Vol. 2, p. 128.
21: Al-Mu‘jam al-Wasīṭ (2004). Fourth Edn. Egypt: Maktabah al-Shurūq al-Dawīyah, p. 12.
22: Sūrah al-Baqarah (2:222)
23: Sūrah al-Nisā’ (4:43)
24: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Ablutions – Chapter: The washing out of blood, Hadīth 227.
25: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Book of Medicine – Chapter: To treat ophthalmia with antimony or Kuḥl (kohl), Ḥadīth 5706.