Female Leadership in Islam by Moulana Muhammad Karolia
Female leadership is a question not unknown to the Muslim world. Although Muslim scholars have in the past discussed this topic, it first gained prominence in the twentieth century with the wake of the women's liberty movement. In recent years the question was further highlighted with the success of Benazir Bhutto in the 1989 elections in Pakistan and Khalida Zia in the 1991 election in Bangladesh.
Recently some women in South Africa also embarked on a similar campaign claiming the right of leadership even in Salah. This article is a study of the position of female leadership in the Shariah and will be followed by a discussion on women leading the salah (prayer) and delivering lectures from the mimbar (pulpit).
Can a Lady Rule a Country?
Prior to Islam, women were among the most oppressed creatures in the world. Neither did they have any rights nor were they regarded as human-beings in many communities. Islam on the contrary, raised the social status of a woman and granted her many rights ranging from inheritance to the basic necessities of everyday-life. Regarding these rights Allah Taala says in the Quran: "And women have rights similar to the rights against them (i.e. the right of men) according to what is equitable and men have a degree over them." [BAQARAH: 228]
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Saheb (RA) explains this verse: "The rights of women that men are responsible for are compulsory just as the rights of men that women are responsible for are compulsory. The right of both (men and women) have been given the same ruling ...... it is not necessary that the rights of both take the same form. Instead, if women are responsible for a specific duty then so are men. Household matters, training and looking after the children are the responsibility of the women whereas men are responsible for earning a living so that they may fulfill the needs of women (their wives). It is a lady's duty to serve and obey her husband and the mehr (dowry) and expenditure of the women is the husband's duty. (In short, even though each have different rights over the other, the rights of both are incumbent...) There is however one quality on accord of which man have superiority over women. This is why Allah at the end of this verse says: "and men have a degree over them."
Mufti Shafi (RA) thereafter explains that this degree of superiority that men have over women is explained in the verse: "Men are overseers of women because Allah Ta'ala granted virtue to some of them (i.e. men) over others (i.e. women) and because of their spending from their wealth." [Nisa 34]
Shaikh Muhammad Rashid Rida offers a similar explanation: "...... the lady equals the man in all rights (i.e. in the ruling of all rights) except one which Allah refers to in the sentence 'and men have a degree over them.'" This degree is explained in the verse "men are overseers .....". (Huqooq-un-Nisa fil Islam)
It is therefore necessary that we now focus our attention on this verse of the Quran in the light of some acclaimed commentators of the Quran.
"Men are Overseers of Women":
Allamah Ibn-ul-Arabi (RA) comments on this verse: "The meaning of this verse is: I have made men overseers of women because I have granted the former superiority over the latter. This is due to three reasons: perfect understanding- perfection of deen and obedience in jihad and commanding the good and forbidding the evil etc. This has been explained by Nabi in an authentic Hadith: "I have not seen any one of deficient intellect and deen (religion) who is more destructive to the intelligence of a cautious man than you women." The women asked: "Why is that, O messenger of Allsh?" He replied: "Do you not spend a few nights without performing salah and without keeping fast? This is the deficiency of her deen and the testimony of one of you equals half the testimony of a single man - this is the deficiency of her intellect. "... so that if one of the two women errs, the second would remind her". (al-Baqarah, verse 281)
His spending on her in the form of dowry and other expenditure. (Ahkamul Quran, verse 1, pg.416) Allamah Alusi (RA) writes in the commentary of this verse that it is the quality of men to oversee the affairs of women just as the rulers oversee their subjects by commanding them to do good etc. This ruling is attributed to two reasons: one being wahbi (this is granted solely by Allah) and the other Kasbi (i.e. achieved on account of his action): because Allah has granted him superiority as has been narrated (in the Hadith) that women are deficient in intellect and deen and men are the opposite, that is why risalat (prophethood), imamat-e-kubra and sughra (major and minor leadership), Adhan, Iqamat, khuthba etc. are confined to men. (meaning that only men were Rasuls and Nabis and only man can rule, lead the salah etc.) because men bear the expenditure of women. (Ruhul Ma'ani, vl.5, pg.23) Before considering Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Uthmani's (RA) commentary, it is necessary that we first refer to the verse: "And do not covet that which Allah favours some of you with over others - men will receive the reward of what they earn and women will receive the reward of what they earn. And ask Allah of his bounty. Verily Allah has full knowledge of all things." [An Nisa - 32] Hafiz Ibn Katheer (RA) narrates on the authority of Imam Ahmad and Imam Tirmidhi that Umme Salmah (RA) said: "O Messenger of Allah! The men wage Jihad whereas we (women) do not and we receive half the inheritance." (i.e. blood-brothers receive double the share of blood sisters). Thereafter the verse "And do not covet......" was revealed. (Ibn Katheer vl.1, pg.498)
This verse would therefore mean that when Allah has granted some of mankind (i.e. men) virtue over others (i.e. women) by means of certain actions, then it is incorrect to covet the favour of Allah on them because each of them will be rewarded according to his actions. Envy and complaining is of no avail. On the contrary, it would be most beneficial to ask Allah for more reward for one's actions. Complaining and envy yield no reward. However all good actions yield reward. Verily Allah has knowledge of everything and knows fully well the wisdom in specifying certain actions for man only. He knows best which actions are appropriate for men and which are appropriate for women.
Commenting on the verse "men are overseers....." Maulana Shabeer Saheb Uthmani (RA) writes: "It was mentioned in the previous verse that the rights of men and women have been given full consideration. Had their rights been given a different consideration (women's right were not considered fully as men's rights) women would be justified in complaining. This verse now explains that men have a status higher than women, women cannot complain because the difference of rules (regarding men and women) that result on accord of this additional degree of men is in total agreement with divine wisdom.....". (Tafsir-e-Uthmani Pg.128)
Just a few commentaries of the verses concerned have been mentioned above. Many other commentators have elucidated the meaning of these verses in a similar manner. The above discussions may be summarised in the following points: Although both men and women have rights upon each other that are compulsory, their rights do differ in many situations; Men have an additional right over women - they are their overseers and guardians; There are two reasons due to which men have been given this additional right over women; Firstly, they have to give the women their dowries and they are responsible for all their expenses; Secondly, Allah granted man this favour when creating him, women had been created as the weaker sex. Besides, women experience monthly menstrual periods due to which they are unable to perform salah and fast during that period. Thus the hadith has classified her as deficient in deen (religion). The hadith has in a similar vein regarded her as deficient in intellect because the Quran has regarded the testimony of one lady equal to half the testimony of a single man. (see Al-Baqarah, verse.282)
Since the rights of women have been given the same amount of importance and consideration as the rights of men, women should not complain of men having an additional right over them. If they do, they would be questioning the wisdom of Allah.
It may thus be concluded that although men and women are equal in that both have rights, they do not have the same rights. Among the sole rights of a male is that he is always the head of a family since he is the guardian of the women. Leadership of a country is in a similar vein the sole right of men. Most commentators of the Quran have explained the verse under discussion that just as men only rule a country, lead the salah etc. only men can be the head of a family. A few examples are: QURTUBI "..... and the judges, rulers and mujahideen (fighters) are among the men and this is not found among the women." (Qurtubi, vl.5, pg.168); IBN KATHEER "..... that is why nubuwat is reserved for men just as rulership ....."(Tafseer Ibn Katheer vl.1, pg.503); BAIDAWI " .... that is why nubuwat (prophethood), leading the salah, leading a country and establishment of other sha-air (distinguishing features) of deen (e.g. adhan, iqamah) are confined to men only. (Tafseer al Baidawi Pg.111); In short, this verse has encompassed a major reason why women cannot rule in the Shariah. Just as she cannot lead a home, she cannot lead a country.
Another Verse from the Quran:
Describing women, Allah Subhanahu Ta'ala says in the Quran: "Is then one brought up among trinkets and unable to give a clear account in a dispute (to be associated with Allah). (Az-Zukhruf: 18 ) i.e. women are normally brought up in decoration and adornment and are always occupied with jewellery. This is a proof of deficient intellect and understanding (because true beauty is the beauty of the Akhirah) and due to a weak understanding, women are unable to express themselves clearly when debating." (Tafseer-e-Uthmani pg. 652). This verse substantiates the claim that women are physically weak and unable to fulfil the duties of leadership. It has thus been made the right of men only.