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-adhā or 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.’”
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 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 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.