i. Women are less Sensible than Men


The following H~adīth is generally presented to support the view that women are less sensible than men:


عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ قَالَ خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي أَضْحَى أَوْ فِطْرٍ إِلَى الْمُصَلَّى فَمَرَّ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ فَقَالَ مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الْحَازِمِ مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ قُلْنَ وَمَا نُقْصَانُ دِينِنَا وَعَقْلِنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ أَلَيْسَ شَهَادَةُ الْمَرْأَةِ مِثْلَ نِصْفِ شَهَادَةِ الرَّجُلِ قُلْنَ بَلَى قَالَ فَذَلِكِ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ عَقْلِهَا أَلَيْسَ إِذَا حَاضَتْ لَمْ تُصَلِّ وَلَمْ تَصُمْ قُلْنَ بَلَى قَالَ فَذَلِكِ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ دِينِهَا

Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī narrated: “Once the Prophet (sws) set off for the prayer place on the occasion of ‘īd al-fitr or ‘īd al-adhā. He passed by a group of women and said: ‘… and I have seen no one more than you rob even a resolute man of his senses in spite of being nāqisāt ‘aql wa dīn.’ They said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! What is this naqs in our religious and worldly affairs?’ He said: ‘Is not the evidence of a woman equal to half of a man’s.’ They said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘This is the naqs in their worldly affairs.’ He said: ‘Is it not a fact that when they enter the period of menses they neither pray nor fast.’ They said: ‘Yes.’ Whereupon he said: ‘This is the naqs in their religious affairs.’”[1]


This misconception has arisen because of a wrong translation of the Arabic phrase nāqisāt ‘aql wa dīn. The word naqs has generally been translated as “defective” keeping in view the Urdu meaning of the word. However, in Arabic, the verb نَقَصَ(naqasā)means “to reduce”[2]and the word عقل(‘aql) here means “worldly affairs” since it is used in conjugation with the word دين(religion). Keeping in view, both these aspects, the correct translation of the above phrase, if the context is also taken into consideration, is that women have been given a relief and reduction in their worldly and religious affairs.

The relief in worldly responsibilities, as is mentioned in this H~adīth, is that women have not been dragged in certain activities and spheres. For example, the Qur’ān urges men to testify on legal documents so that women are relieved of appearing in courts and wasting their precious time on affairs which others can handle. Only if men are not available should a society involve women in such affairs.

The relief women have been given in religious affairs is that they are not required to pray or fast during their monthly periods as is mentioned in this H~adīth.

So what must be kept in mind is the fact that the meaning of a word does not always remain the same in two different languages. For example, the word غَلِيْظin Arabic means “firm” while in Urdu it means “dirty”. Thus the Qur’ān (4:21) has referred to marriage as مِيثَاقاًغَلِيْظَا(a firm agreement).

Moreover, people who think that women are less sensible than men on the basis of this H~adīth do not realize that the Hadith is not merely saying that women are nāqisāt-i ‘aql, it is also saying they are nāqisāt-i dīn. If nāqisāt-i ‘aql means that there is some defect in their ‘aql (intellect), then by the same token, nāqisāt-i dīn should mean that there is also some shortcoming in the religion they follow! This of course is absurd and as referred to above is the result of keeping the Urdu meaning of the word in consideration.



ii.Islam permits Men to keep Slave-Women


Among many other misconceptions about Islam is the notion that it gives sanction to slavery and permits its followers to enslave prisoners of war, particularly women and establish extra-marital relations with them. The fact is that Islam has not the slightest link with slavery and concubinage. On the contrary, it completely forbids these practices. It is quite outrageous to associate such an atrocious thing with a religion revealed to upgrade humanity.

The point which needs to be appreciated and which, perhaps, is the real cause of the misconception is that Islam had adopted a gradual process to abolish the institution of slavery because of the social conditions prevalent in Arabia at that time. It must be kept in mind that slavery was an integral part of the pre-Islamic Arab society. There were scores of slave men and women in almost every house. This was largely due to two reasons: First, during those times, the standard practice of dispensing with prisoners of war was to distribute them as slaves among the army which captured them. Second, there were extensive slave markets in Arabia in that period where men and women of all ages were sold like commodities.

In these circumstances in which slavery had become an essential constituent of the Arab society, Islam adopted a gradual way to eliminate it. An immediate order of prohibition would have created immense social and economic problems. It would have become impossible for the society to cater for the needs of a large army of slaves, who were, otherwise, dependent on various families. Also, the national treasury was in no position to provide them all on a permanent basis. A large number among them were old and incapable of supporting themselves. The only alternative left for them, if they were instantly freed, would have been to turn to beggary and become an economic burden on the society. The question of slave girls and women was even more critical, keeping in view their own low moral standards. Freeing them, all of a sudden, would have only resulted in a tremendous increase in brothels.

Perhaps, the reason behind this gradual eradication can be understood better if one considers the position which interest occupies in the economy of many Muslim countries today. No one can refute that the economies of these countries are interest-oriented. How the parasite of interest has crippled their national economies is apparent to every keen eye. However, there is no denying the fact that without it, their economic system cannot sustain themselves. Every reasonable person will acknowledge that today if a government wishes to rid the economy of this menace, then in spite of its utter prohibition in Islam, it will have to adopt a gradual methodology. During this interim period interest-based deals will have to be tolerated and temporary laws will have to be enacted to handle them, just as the Qur’ānhad given certain provisional directives about slaves during the interim period of their gradual eradication. An alternative economic framework will have to be steadily incorporated in place of the existing one. A sudden abolition, without another parallel base, will only hasten the total collapse of the economic system, which, of course, will be disastrous for that country.

To avert a similar disaster and to ward off a similar catastrophe, fourteen hundred years ago, Islam had adopted a progressive and a gradual scheme to do away with the inhuman institution of slavery. 

Various directives were given at various stages because of which it gradually became possible for this evil to be eradicated from the society. These are summarized below:[3]

1. In the very beginning of its revelation, the Qur’ān regarded emancipation of slaves as a great virtue, and urged people in a very effective way to do so. The tremendous appeal found in the words it adopted فَكُّ رَقَبَة(release of necks) can be well imagined by a person who has flare for the language. It is evident from the context of such expressions – wherever they are found in the Qur’ān – that it has regarded this virtue to be the first as well as the greatest step in pleasing God.[4]

In a similar manner, the Prophet (sws) also urged Muslims to liberate humanity from the yoke of slavery in the following words: “whoever liberated a Muslim slave, the Almighty in return for every limb of that slave would shield every limb of that person from Hell.”[5]

2. People were urged that until they free their slaves, they should treat them with kindness. The way their masters had total and unchecked control on them in the age of ignorance was put to an end. They were told that slaves are human beings too, and no one should in any way violate the rights they possess as human beings.

Abū Hurayrah (rta) narrated from the Prophet (sws): “a slave has a right to food and clothing, and he shall not be asked to carry out an errand that is beyond him.”[6]

Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī(rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws): “They are your brothers. The Almighty has made them subservient to you. So whatever you eat, feed them with it, whatever you wear, clothe them with it and never ask them to do something which is beyond them and if there is such a task, then help them out with it.”[7]

Ibn ‘Umar (rta) narrates from the Prophet (sws): “whoever slapped a slave or beat him up should atone this sin by liberating him.”[8]

Abū Mas‘ūd (rta) says: “Once when I was beating my slave I heard a voice from behind me: ‘O Abū Mas‘ūd! You should know that the Almighty has more power over you.’ When I turned back, I found that it was the Prophet. I immediately remarked: ‘O Messenger of God! I liberate him for the sake of God.’ The Prophet said: ‘Had you not done this, you would have been given the punishment of the Fire.’”[9]

Ibn ‘Umar (rta) narrates that once a person came to the Prophet (sws) and asked: “How many times should we forgive our servant?” [At this], the Prophet kept quiet. He asked again and the Prophet again kept silent. Upon being asked the third time, he answered: “seventy times a day.”[10]

3. In cases of un-intentional murder, zihār, and other similar offences, liberating a slave was regarded as their atonement and sadaqah.[11]

4. It was directed to marry off slave-men and slave-women who were capable of marriage so that they could become equivalent in status – both morally and socially – to other members of the society.[12]

5. If a person were to marry a slave-woman of someone, great care was exercised since this could result in a clash between ownership and conjugal rights. However, such people were told that if they did not have the means to marry free-women, they could marry, with the permission of their masters, slave-women who were Muslims and were also kept chaste. In such marriages, they must pay their dowers so that this could bring them gradually equal in status to free-women. The Qur’ān says:


وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ مِنْكُمْ طَوْلًا أَنْ يَنكِحَ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ فَمِنْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ مِنْ فَتَيَاتِكُمْ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِإِيمَانِكُمْ بَعْضُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْضٍ فَانكِحُوهُنَّ بِإِذْنِ أهْلِهِنَّ وَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ مُحْصَنَاتٍ غَيْرَ مُسَافِحَاتٍ وَلَا مُتَّخِذَاتِ أَخْدَانٍ ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ خَشِيَ الْعَنَتَ مِنْكُمْ وَأَنْ تَصْبِرُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ(25:4)

And if any of you does not have the means wherewith to wed free believing women, he may wed believing girls from among those whom you own: and Allah has full knowledge about your faith. You are one from another: so wed them with the permission of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to the norms; [the only condition is that] they should be kept chaste, neither being lustful, nor taking paramours … This permission is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that you practice self-restraint. And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most-Merciful. (4:25)


6. In the heads of zakāh, a specific head الرِّقَاب  فِى(for [freeing] necks) was instituted so that the campaign of slave emancipation could receive impetus from the public treasury.[13]

7. Fornication was regarded as an offence as a result of which prostitution centres that were operated by people on the basis of their slave-women were shut down automatically, and if someone tried to go on secretly running this business, he was given exemplary punishment.

8. People were told that they were all slaves of Allah and so instead of using the words عَبْد(slave-man) and اَمَة(slave-woman), the words used should be فَتَى(boy/man) and فَتَاة(girl/woman) so that the psyche about them should change and a change is brought about in age old concepts.[14]

9. A big source of the institution of slavery at the advent of the last Prophet (sws) was the prisoners of war. When such a situation arose for the Muslims, the Qur’ān emphasized that they cannot be kept as slaves and must be kept as prisoners of war. After this, if they were to be released, then there were two possibilities: they could be freed either by accepting ransom or as a favour by not taking any ransom money. No other option was available to the Muslims.

10. Finally the following directive was given:


وَالَّذِينَ يَبْتَغُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِمَّا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ فَكَاتِبُوهُمْ إِنْ عَلِمْتُمْ فِيهِمْ خَيْرًا وَآتُوهُمْ مِنْ مَالِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي آتَاكُمْ (24 :33)

And if any of your slaves asks for mukātabat, give it to them if you know any good in them and [for this] give them out of the wealth which Allah has given to you. (24:33)


The above quoted verse of Sūrah Nūrmentions the directive of mukātabat. It is a term which means that a slave make a contract with his master according to which he would be required to pay a certain sum of money in a specific time period or would carry out a specific service for his master; once he successfully fulfils either of these two options, he would stand liberated. In the above quoted verse, the Almighty has directed the Muslims to necessarily accept this contract made by a slave if he wants to make it and has the required ability to become financially independent. It is further stated that a Muslim government should spend money from the public treasury, which here is called the treasury of God, in helping such slaves. It is evident from the words of the verse that just as this right of mukātabat was granted to slave-men, it was also granted to slave-women. This, in other words, was in fact a declaration that slaves could now be masters of their destiny and could liberate themselves whenever they wanted.



iii. Women must travel with a Mahram


Most scholars are of the opinion that women cannot travel alone. They must be accompanied by a mahram (a relative with whom marriage is prohibited). Therefore, in journeys such as hajj,they do not allow women to travel alone. The following Ahādīth are the basis of their view:


Abū Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet (sws) said:


لَا يُحِلُّ لِاِمْرَأَةٍ تُؤْمِنُ باِللهِ وَاليَوْمِ الآخِرِ تُسَافِرُ مَسِيْرةَ يَوْمٍ وَلَيْلَةٍ إِلاَّ مَعَ ذِيمَحْرَمٍ عَلَيْهَا

“It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to travel a distance for one day and one night without a mahramwith her.”[15]


Abū Sa‘īdal-Khudrī narrates that the Prophet (sws) said:


نُهِىَ أَنْ تُسَافِرَ المَرْأَةَمَسِيْرَةَ يَوْمَيْنِ إِلَّا وَمَعَهَا زَوْجَهَا أَوْ ذُوْ مَحْرَمٍ

“A woman has been stopped from travelling a distance for two days except with her husband or mahramwith her.”[16]


It needs to be appreciated that there are a number of Ahādīth in which directives have been given by the Prophet (sws) for the well-being of the Muslims. However, if the circumstances in which such directives have been given change, then as is the case with all conditional directives such directives may no longer apply in the changed circumstances.

The directives given to Muslim women about travelling belong to the above mentioned category. To ensure a safe journey for a woman and to protect her moral character from any scandalous allegation in the strife-ridden society of Arabia, the Prophet (sws) bade them travel with a mahram relation.

Thus, all tours and journeys etc in which the above two bases still exist, the condition of a woman travelling with a mahram must be followed. However, with the changed circumstances of modern times, travelling has become a lot different from what it used to be in previous days. There are some travels in which safety both physical as well as moral is ensured. So, in such cases, the mahram condition no longer applies. As far as the decision as to which journeys have become safe is concerned, the traveller must decide for herself.



iv. Women will Outnumber Men in Hell


The following Hadīth is often presented to support the view that women will outnumber men in Hell:


عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ قَالَ خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي أَضْحَى أَوْ فِطْرٍ إِلَى الْمُصَلَّى فَمَرَّ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ فَقَالَ يَا مَعْشَرَ النِّسَاءِ تَصَدَّقْنَ فَإِنِّي أُرِيتُكُنَّ أَكْثَرَ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَقُلْنَ وَبِمَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ تُكْثِرْنَ اللَّعْنَ وَتَكْفُرْنَ الْعَشِيرَ

Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrīreported: “Allah’s Messenger (sws) went out to the place of prayer on the day of ‘īd al-ador fitr. So he passed by [a group of] women and said to them: ‘O Women! Give charity for I have been shown the majority amongst you as the inmates of Hell.’ They said: ‘Allah’s Messenger, wherefore?’ He said: ‘It is because you curse one another very much and show ungratefulness to your husbands.’”[17]


This inference is incorrect and has arisen by not properly appreciating a particular style of communication used in certain Ahādīth which depict dreams of the Prophet (sws). Such dreams are a source of revelation for the prophets of Allah, and in them they are shown certain images by the Almighty for the purpose of educating the believers. As a principle, all such dreams are not to be interpreted literally; they contain realities which are depicted in symbolic form.

Symbolic representation is a very subtle and powerful way of expression: Facts seem veiled, yet for him who pauses to ponder they are the most evident. They move a person in the manner poetry does. They ignite in a person the spark to look behind the apparent. They urge him to reflect and to meditate and then to discover and to infer. They educate him without rousing his prejudices. The prophets of Allah (sws) have effectively employed this technique of communication. The words and discourses of the Prophets Joseph (sws) and Jesus (sws) for example are full of powerful parables and subtle symbolism. The dream of the Prophet Joseph (sws) and the way he interpreted it is mentioned in the Qur’ān also. If he saw in his dream that the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing before him in prostration, he knew that these heavenly bodies symbolized certain personalities.

The Ahādīth which depict more women in Hell should also be interpreted keeping in view this basic principle. These Ahādīth do not delineate the population of women in Hell since this would be a literal interpretation; on the contrary, they just caution them that there are certain deeds which they do a lot and which, therefore, could be more instrumental in taking them to Hell; so they should avoid them. In other words, the symbolism is causative in nature. In the above quoted Hadīth, the cause has been symbolized to warn women of something which they often do.



v. Women are Inferior to Men


It is argued by some people that men are superior to women. They present the following verses in support of their view:


الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِم  (34:4)

Men are the guardians of women, because God has given the one more preference over the other, and because they support them. (4:34)


وَ لِلِّرجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَه(228:2)

And the husbands hold a degree of superiority over them. (2:228)


It needs to be appreciated that as per the Qur’ān (see, for example: 3:195 and 4:1), men and women as human beings are equal and deserve equal respect. However, they have been entrusted with different responsibilities in a family set-up which make them superior to one another in various respects. According to the Qur’ān(4:34), as far as a husband is concerned, one sphere of his superiority is his status as the head of the family alluded to in 2:228 with the words “husbands are one degree superior to their wives”. There are certain spheres in which women by nature – physical, physiological as well as psychological – are superior to men and much more suitable to do certain tasks. Thus 4:34 speaks of the relative superiority of a husband to his wife – that too in responsibility and status – in just one sphere and cannot be generalized to men and women.

Two reasons have been given in 4:34 for granting the husband this status: Firstly, because generally they are physically and temperamentally more suited to this task and secondly, because they have been entrusted with the responsibility of earning for the family. It also needs to be appreciated in this regard that Islam does not forbid women to earn a living. It has only relieved them of the responsibility of earning, which lies upon their husbands. It also needs to be understood that the verse does not say that the one among the husband or wife who supports the family should become the head; husbands, whether their wives earn or not, are liable for this responsibility. A woman may earn if she likes or if some need arises, but since she has not been entrusted with this duty, she has not been given the governing position in the family.

Here it would be appropriate to analyze another concept which has also contributed to the notion that men are superior to women. As per a Hadīth, a woman is created from the rib of man referring to the fact that Eve was created from Adam’s rib and thus was a secondary being. The text of the Hadīth is:


عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه قال قال رسول اللَّهِ  صلى الله عليه وسلم اسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ فإن الْمَرْأَةَ خُلِقَتْ من ضِلَعٍ وَإِنَّ أَعْوَجَ شَيْءٍ في الضِّلَعِ أَعْلَاهُ فَإِنْ ذَهَبْتَ تُقِيمُهُ كَسَرْتَهُ وَإِنْ تَرَكْتَهُ لم يَزَلْ أَعْوَجَ فَاسْتَوْصُوا بِالنِّسَاءِ

Abū Hurayrah reports that Allah’s Prophet said: “Treat women nicely for a woman is created from a rib, and the most curved portion of the rib is its upper portion; so, if you should try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women nicely.”[18]


It needs to be appreciated that according to the Qur’ān, Eve was not created from Adam’s rib. The first verse of Sūah Nisā’ explicitly states that the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) were created directly by the Almighty:


يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا(1:4)

Mankind! Fear your Lord, Who created you from a single person and created, of like species his mate, and from these two scattered countless men and women [in this world], and fear Allah through whom you seek mutual help and fear breaking blood relationships. Indeed God is watching over you. (4:1)


Some people translate this verse as: “It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam) and then He created from him his wife (Eve).” They explain this verse by saying that Eve was created from the rib of Adam. This misleading translation has probably arisen because of a literal translation of the Arabic words: “وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَاviz. and created from it [–the initial soul–] his wife.” Actually, the word مِنْهَا(from the soul) does not imply that “Eve was made from Adam”; it rather implies that Eve was made from the same species as Adam. A similar verse points to this interpretation:


وَاللّهُ جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا (72:16)

And it is God who has made from your species your mates. (16:72)


A literal translation of the words جَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًاof the above quoted verse (which are similar to
وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا)would mean “it is God Who has created your mates from you,” implying that every wife is made from her husband as Eve was. This of course is incorrect; the word anfus (plural of nafs) in this verse means “genre”, “species” and not “physical being”.

As far as the actual H~adīth quoted above is concerned, it needs to be appreciated that in Arabic the words “created from” do not necessarily refer to the substance of creation; they can also refer to the nature of something. For example, the Qur’ān says: “Man has been created from hastiness,” (21:37). This does not of course mean that man’s substance is hastiness; it only refers to his nature.

Secondly, if all the textual variants of this Hadīth are collected and analyzed, it becomes evident that the Prophet (sws) has compared the nature of a woman with a rib. The comparison subtly alludes to the fact that a woman’s nature is very delicate and tender as well as a bit adamant. The Prophet (sws) has advised men to treat them tactfully keeping in view this nature. Instead of forcing them to accept a particular point of view, men should try to convince and persuade them.