Sunday, August 19, 2018
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Are Women (In Islam) Deficient (Lesser/Naaqis) in Intellect (‘Aql) and Religion (Deen)?

By Ahmed Diis Maalim

Below is a humble attempt and (excerpt from a write up) to discuss the above Question

The English Translation of the Hadith;

Once Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of `Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr 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 Allah’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 Allah’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.”

My interest is in this part: 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” This, to me, is not the correct translation of the Arabic statement;
ما رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ ، أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الحَازِمِ ، مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ
If you closely observe the English translation of the statement: “I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you.” it shows that it’s a complete end to the statement itself, which is understood to be the intention of the speaker (to pass that particular message of women being least in all things and people who have a deficiency in intellect and religion). This (translated) statement is independent from the following statement that says, “A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you” but in the Arabic version, it doesn’t give that meaning, it rather links the first statement to the second one and CANNOT be reported independently, in fact, it gives a meaning that is contrary to the meaning the English translation seems to suggest. A closer translation would be, “I have not seen anyone more deficient in intellect and religion that are more capable of swaying the intellect (Mind) of the wise man than you (women).

In this statement–just like the original Arabic text­–I read praise and not condemnation; I read a practical joke from the holy prophet and not castigation or criticism! Who is wiser now, if she can sway the mind of the wise man and make him lose his mind?
As it’s also clear from the Hadith, the women were surprised to hear that they are deficient in intellect and religion and they sort explanation from the prophet on the actual meaning of his statement but the explanation given by the prophet on this statement washed away any negative conclusion that might /would have come up. He told them that, their deficiency on religion is that, when they are on their menstrual period they don’t perform (Salah) and don’t fast while the deficiency in her intellect is that; the evidence of two women is equal to that of one man.

The context and the main theme of the Hadith is on giving charity (Sadaqah) and not on women deficiency on anything or even to let them know that a menstruating woman doesn’t pray or her evidence is not equal to that of men, No. this is not the theme of the Hadith because from the conversation of the Hadith, it’s clear that those two rulings were known to the ladies before this day (occasion). In fact, Ibn Hajjar, in his commentaries on Sahih Bukhari on this Hadith says that the statement, “I have not seen anyone more deficient…to the end”, is an extra explanation/answer to the initial statement and intention of the talk.

Any student of Hadith and jurisprudence knows that, Classical Scholars have a methodology of compiling Hadiths and grouping it under chapters (referred to as kitab or baab”, where they pick a topic (chapter) and record all the Hadiths and rulings that are relevant to that chapter under it. We find that Scholars recorded this hadith under many different chapters (kitab) and discussed it under many other sub-topics. They have never found it logical to name a chapter reading: Women intelligence and record this hadith under it. That simply shows where the main theme of the Hadith is. The Hadith is not a ruling on the general intellect of women and that they are lesser in intellect than men. No! The Hadith only states a natural circumstance that women live with, like not praying during the menstrual cycle.

In another narration of this Hadith, the lady who questioned the prophet is described as “imra’atunjazlatun” and Imam Al-Nawawi in his commentaries on Sahih Muslim explains that to mean “dhatra’yinwa ‘aqlin” a lady of strong opinion and intellect! This shows how specific the Hadith is and how limited it is on a specific issue! Her questioning also shows how this has come against a known, accepted fact, that women are not lesser in intellect or religion than men. Imam Al-Nawawi goes further to explain the meaning of the Arabic word ‘Aql’ in the hadith above. He says that there are many opinions on the meaning of the word “Aql; some say; it means general knowledge, others say it is basic knowledge while others say it means the ability to distinguish between facts; he also limits the deficiency during the Menstrual period and evidence!

An important thing to also note is that, in not praying or fasting during the menstrual period, women are fulfilling the command of their Lord (Allah). They are instructed not to pray or fast during that period and it’s an obligation upon them to follow that instruction. So how is a servant, who is fulfilling the instructions/commands of His Master described as deficient!

Imam Ibn Hazm puts a challenge to those who misinterpret or literally read this hadith and wrongly draw a general statement that women are lesser in intellect and religion than men by saying that it’s upon those who take this hadith literally, to prove to us that they are more intelligent and religious than the likes of Lady Aisha. As its clear from the Hadith, this conversation happened during the day of Eid–a festive season, a day of joy and celebration and it’s not the Character of the holy prophet, who is described by Allah in the Quran as a person of an excellent character, to belittle women on this noble day of Happiness or to demean them. It all goes down to a male dominated society, to a culturally inclined (male) interpreters who pick from the Sunnah what conforms with their cultural beliefs and practices without giving it a second thought!

The statement in the Hadith simply says: Women don’t fast or pray during their menstrual cycle, it also says women’s evidence is half of that of men (the evidence part will be discussed in detail later) simple! Furthermore, this was a known ruling (hukm) to all (including the ladies) before this day!

Ahmed Diis Maalim

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