A vast majority of Muslim scholars believes that women cannot become heads of state. Many of them base their view on the following Hadīth:
عن أبي بَكْرَةَ قال لقد نَفَعَنِي الله بِكَلِمَةٍ سَمِعْتُهَا من رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَيَّامَ الْجَمَلِ بَعْدَ ما كِدْتُ أَنْ أَلْحَقَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْجَمَلِ فَأُقَاتِلَ مَعَهُمْ قال لَمَّا بَلَغَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنَّ أَهْلَ فَارِسَ قد مَلَّكُوا عليهم بِنْتَ كِسْرَى قال لَنْ يُفْلِحَ قَوْمٌ وَلَّوْا أَمْرَهُمْ امْرَأَةً
Abū Bakrahreported: “Allah has given me the benefit of a word – which I heard from the Messenger of Allah – during the days of [the battle of] al-Jamal, when I was about to join the people of al-Jamal and fight alongside them: when the Messenger of Allah heard that the people of Persia had appointed the daughter of Chosroe, he said: ‘People who appoint a woman as their leader will never succeed.’”
This Hadīth suffers from the following flaws:
1. It is evident from the very text of the narrative that it was never known until the battle of Jamal took place in 36 AH. It was brought forward only after ‘Ā’ishah (rta) faced ‘Alī (rta) in battle. Before that, it was never heard of – which of course is quite strange.
2. One of the narrators is ‘Awf ibn Abī Jamīlah about whom scholars of rijāl know that he used to give preference to ‘Alī (rta) over ‘Uthmān (rta) and it is also known that since Ā’ishah (rta) sided with ‘Uthmān (rta), a group of the followers of ‘Alī (rta) targeted her to besmear her character. Moreover, the Hadīth can never be applied to the case of ‘Ā’ishah (rta) since she never claimed to be the ruler of the Muslims.
3. It is a gharīb Hadīth. In Hadīthparlance, a narrative which has just one narrator in any section of its chain is called gharīb.It renders the narrative quite weak. It is only Abū Bakrah who reports this narrative at the top of this chain. The nature of the narrative is such that other companions too should have reported it from the Prophet (sws), but we find none.
4. If the content of the Hadīth is analyzed, one can easily conclude that the Prophet (sws) could never have uttered these words. After all, success in this world was attained by many nations who had women rulers until the time of the Prophet (sws) and even after him.
5. Last but not the least, this Hadīth is against the Qur’ān. It is the purport of the Qur’ān (42:38) that anyone who enjoys the confidence of the majority is eligible to become the ruler of the Muslims:
وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (38:42)
And their system is based on their consultation. (42:38)
The implication of this directive is that a Muslim government should be formed on the basis of a majority mandate, exist if it continues to enjoy this mandate and be deposed if it does not.
Nowhere does the Qur’ān exclude women from this general principle.
Another argument put forth by some against a woman head of state is that since Islam says that the head of a family should be a man and since a family is the basic unit of a state or society, therefore only a man should be the head of state.
In this regard, it needs to be understood that a family structure and a state structure are inherently different from one another as far as governance is concerned.
According to the Qur’ān (4:34), the head of a family is chosen on the basis of temperament and physical qualities and because of the fact that the head should be the bread winner of the family. It says that men in general are more suited not only temperamentally and physically for this purpose, they have also been entrusted with the responsibility of earning for the family.
On the other hand, as pointed out above, the head of a state should be a person who enjoys the confidence of the majority. This is a requirement of the Qur’ānic injunction “Their affairs are decided on the basis of mutual consultation, (42:38)”. Hence, if a woman enjoys this confidence in some country, then, of course, it means that it is the will of the majority that a woman should rule it. In such cases, it is essential to follow the will of the majority.
In other words, it can be said that since the criterion of selection of a head of a family is different to that of the selection of a head of state, one cannot analogously deduce a directive for one on the basis of the other.