Friday, November 16, 2012

Can women be rulers in Islam?

This was my question that I forwarded.


Salaam dear scholars, I understand that women have special duties, but if they are taken care of or something like it, can she be the ruler of a state? I've read biographies of some Muslim women who ruled places like India and Morocco. Thanks


Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

Thank you brother Ali for your good question.

In fact, I wonder why some people still imagine that Muslim women face unnecessary restrictions or discrimination in Islam. Though women’s position in Islam is unique, unprecedented, and highly appreciated, some writers, mostly from the West, attempt to cast doubts over it. Among the points that seem to be controversial and debatable in this regard is women’s eligibility for leadership and holding pubic positions in Muslim communities. To fully perceive Islam’s stance on this significant issue, let’s consider the following essential points:
1. Men and Women: Equal, Not Identical
In fact, both women and men are equal in Islam. So, Islamic Shari`ah never discriminate between people, men and women. Women enjoy as equal rights as men. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said in a hadith, "Women are men’s counterparts" (Abu Dawud, Sunan, hadith no. 236)

Also, the Quran unequivocally emphasizes that men and women are equal: (O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.) (Al-Hujurat 49: 13)

In his well-reputed book, Islam in Focus, Hammudah Abdalati Abd Alati says,
The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no problem. It is almost impossible to find two identical men or women.
This distinction between equality and sameness is of paramount importance. Equality is desirable, just, fair; but sameness is not. People are not created identical but they are created equals. With this distinction in mind, there is no room to imagine that woman is inferior to man. There is no ground to assume that she is less important than he just because her rights are not identically the same as his. Had her status been identical with his, she would have been simply a duplicate of him, which she is not. The fact that Islam gives her equal rights - but not identical - shows that it takes her into due consideration, acknowledges her, and recognizes her independent personality.
Following are some manifestations of equality between men and women in Islam:

a) Both women and men are equally addressed by religious ordinances of Shari`ah such as prayer, fasting, hajj, zakah, decency, etc. For instance, we read in the Quran, (Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest.) (An-Nur 24: 30-31)
b) Both men and women are Islamically encouraged to pursue education. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said, “Seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim.” In another version of the same hadith, it is said, “…on every Muslim, male and female”.
c) Both men and women have the equal right to participate in the public life. History bears witness that Muslim women, throughout centuries, used to participate in different aspects of the public life. They used to go out with the Muslim armies to nurse the wounded and prepare supplies. Women used to discuss rulers’ decisions as happened in the famous incident when a woman publically objected to `Umar ibn Al-Khattab’s proposal to decrease dowries where the latter accepted the woman’s opinion and nullified his decision.

2. Leadership is Based on Qualifications

In Islam, eligibility for leadership is based on qualifications and skills. So, if a woman or a man possesses the sufficient qualifications to lead his or her community, company, institution, etc., then he or she should be the leader, the manager, or the head of the office. When it comes to running people’s affairs, Islam fully considers people’s pubic interests, which take precedence over individuals’ personal benefits. Therefore, qualifications and capabilities are the main requirements in choosing rulers and leaders. In this context, the well-known Maliki jurist, Shihab ad-Din al-Qarafi says,

In every post or authority, a priority should be given to the one who is the most capable to run it properly. In wars, for example, those who are more experienced in leading armies and fighting plans should take priority in leadership. In judiciary, those who are more aware of legal rulers and intelligent enough to deal with people’s complaints should be judges. Those who are more capable to take care of the orphans and their money should take the responsibility.
The Quran confirms this principle when narrating the story of prophet’s Shu`yab’s daughter who asked her father to hire Prophet Musa owing to his distinctive capabilities (power) and noble character (trustworthiness):

 (One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! For the best (man) that thou canst hire is the strong, the trustworthy) (Al-Qasas 28: 26).

3. Context of the Hadith on Women’s Leadership

Some people misunderstand the hadith that Imam Al-Bukhari reports from Abu Bakrah that: "Allah provided me with considerable benefit during the battle of the camel with one word (or one statement). When news reached the prophet (peace be upon him) that the Persians had appointed Chosroe's daughter as their ruler, he said: ''A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper!'' (Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami` as-Sahih, hadith no. 4425)

So, this hadith has a special meaning and an occasion that should be considered when interpreting and understanding its contextual connotation. That hadith signifies that the Prophet (peace be upon him) foretold his Companions that the Persian empire would come to an end.
Some people literally interpret and rely on the above hadith to say that a woman cannot be a leader. However, the fact is that there has never been unanimity on this matter among Muslim scholars, past and present.

From the earliest days of Muslim scholarship, even those jurists who implicitly accept the hadith above as containing some injunction have differed on the meaning of ''placing affairs in the hands of a woman''. While some prohibit women from all public duties, others hold the opposite view. Abu Hanifah, for instance, permits a woman to be a judge in matters in which her testimony is admissible. Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, as Ibn Hajar reported in his Fat-h al-Bari, does not only support the unrestricted appointment of women to judgeship, he permitted also her appointment as Head of State. A similar view is reported from Imam Malik Ibn Anas and adopted by some Maliki jurists (although the popular view in the madhab, juristic shool, is contrary to this).

Given the above, it becomes evident that a qualified woman may be elected or appointed in any leading position in the Muslim community or state. She could be a head of a government, a university, a company, etc. A qualified woman can be a minister, an MP, a lecturer, a teacher, a doctor, community leader, etc. The position of the Caliph, which is non-existent nowadays, is debated by scholars owing to the tough responsibilities and heavy burdens that early Muslim caliphs used to shoulder, among which leading people in congregational prayers and delivering Friday sermons which are peculiar to men. However, many Muslim scholars see that a woman can hold any public position if she is well-qualified to. What matters, then, is promoting people’s public interests and adherence to the dictates of Shari`ah.

Hopefully, my reply meets your expectations.

Please keep in touch.
Wa salamu `alaykum.

No comments:

Post a Comment