Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

December 2005
Cover Story Muslim Perspectives Feature Trends Inspirations Editorial Opinion Bouquets and Brickbats The Islamic World Community Round-Up People & Events Track Elected Metro Mail Follow-Up Globe Talk Book Review Workshop Diary Community Initiative Quran Speaks to You Hadith Men, Missions & Machines Rituals Reflections Insights Our Dialogue Religion Spirituality Tribute From Darkness to Light Islam & Economy Career Guidance Women in Islam Inter-Faith Harmony Quran & Science Just for the Young Children's Corner Snaps & Snippets Time for Tales Matrimonial Appeals
ZAKAT Camps/Workshops Jobs Archives Feedback Subscription Links Calendar Contact Us

Women in Islam

Can A Woman Be A Leader of Muslims?-Part 2
By Fatima Mernissi

Nothing bans me, as a Muslim woman, from making a double investigation - historical and methodological of a Hadith.

What did Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) say about civil war? How is the Muslim to behave in such a case? How, among the various pretenders to the caliphate, is the best qualified one to be chosen? Should one accept an unjust caliph if he can guarantee peace, should one fight him even if it throws society into civil war?

The science of establishing the Hadith collection consists not in putting the content of the Hadith at the disposal of readers, but also in furnishing them with information about the informants. The principle of the isnad (transmission chain) thus makes it necessary to give the biography of the person. The believing reader has the right to have all the pertinent information about the source of the Hadith and the chain of its transmitters, so that he or she can continually judge whether they are worthy of credence or not. Islam was, at least during its first centuries, the religion of reasoning, responsible individuals capable of telling what was true from what was false as long as they were well equipped to do so, as long as they possessed the tools of knowledge - specifically, the collections of Hadith. The fact that, over the course of centuries, we have seen believers who criticise and judge, replaced by muzzled, censored, obedient, and grateful Muslims, in no way detracts from this fundamental dimension of Islam.

Hazrath Ali (RA) was chosen caliph in June AD 656 in a Madinah that was in a state of total disarray. Many Muslims took up arms because they challenged his selection. ‘A’isha (RA) took command of them, and with an army of insurgents, she went forth to fight Ali at Basra a year later at the famous Battle of the Camel. Ali inflicted a brushing defeat on her, and it was after this battle that the Hadith declaring defeat for those who let themselves be led by a woman was pronounced.

According to Al-Bukhari, it is supposed to have been Abu Bakr (RA) who heard the Prophet (Pbuh) say: “Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity.” Since this Hadith is included in the Sahih - those thousands of authentic Hadith accepted by the meticulous Al-Bukhari - it is a priori considered true and therefore unassailable without proof to the contrary, since we are here in scientific terrain. So nothing bans me, as a Muslim woman, from making a double investigation - historical and methodological - of this Hadith and its author, and especially of the conditions in which it was first put to use. Who uttered this Hadith, where, when, why, and to whom?

Abu Bakr (RA) - (not to be mistaken for Abu Bakr, the first Caliph) was a Companion who had known the Prophet (Pbuh) during his lifetime and who spent enough time in his company to be able to report the Hadith that he is supposed to have spoken. According to him, the Prophet pronounced this Hadith when he learned that the Persians had named a woman to rule them: “When Kisra died, the Prophet, intrigued by the news, asked: ‘And who has replaced him in command?’ The answer was: ‘They have entrusted power to his daughter.’” It was at that moment, according to Abu Bakr, that the Prophet is supposed to have made the observation about women.

In AD 628, at the time of those interminable wars between the Romans and the Persians, Heraclius, the Roman emperor, had invaded the Persian realm, occupied Ctesiphon, which was situated very near the Sassanid capital, and Khusraw Pavis, the Persian king, had been assassinated. Perhaps it was this event that Abu Bakr alluded to. Actually, after the death of the son of Khusraw, there was a period of instability between AD 629 and 632, and various claimants to the throne of the Sassanid empire emerged, including two women. Could this be the incident that led the Prophet to pronounce the Hadith against women? Al-Bukhari does not go that far; he just reports the words of Abu Bakr- that is, the content of the Hadith itself- and the reference to a woman having taken power among the Persians. To find out more about Abu Bakr, we must turn to the huge work of Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani. In the 17 volumes of the Fath al-bari, al-’Asqalani does a line-by-line commentary on Al-Bukhari.

(To be continued)

(The writer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Rabat, Morocco and the author of Beyond the Veil and Women in Muslim Paradise).

No Mahram? Then Please Don't Dine Out
By Lubna Hussain

Is the sight of a woman eating so lascivious that men have to be shielded from its earth-shattering effects?

Take three diverse dynamic Saudi women. Lubna Al-Olayan, Nahed Taher, and Capt. Hanadi Al-Hindi.

Lubna Olayan was ranked as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She also happens to be a trail-blazer for budding entrepreneurs of both genders, displaying a corporate business acumen that most of her male counterparts don’t hold a candle to. But can she do it?


Nahed Taher is a pioneer in the field of banking. As senior economist in the traditionally male bastion of the National Commercial Bank (NCB), she defied the mores and norms of a society where women skirt around the peripheral edges of employment and went straight for the jugular. But can she do it?


And then there’s the iconic Capt. Hanadi Al-Hindi who quite literally flew in the face of all controversy surrounding the Shakespearean inspired debate of “To Drive or Not to Drive” and became the first Saudi woman to pilot a plane. She now jets around with one of the richest men in the world. But can she do it?


How about if they got together? If they couldn’t do it as individuals, would the collective force of their combined prowess mean that they could do it?


According to the rather spurious rationale we have adopted so wholeheartedly in this part of the world, women are allowed to control billions of riyals in assets, analyze what to do with them, and take to the helm of private aircraft but what is it then that they are so rigidly prevented from doing? What is considered such a heinous crime in Saudi Arabia that even our most competent and capable women who have proven themselves to be equal if not superior to many of the men in similar fields are not permitted to indulge in such scandalous activity?

The answer is simple. Women are forbidden from eating in a restaurant without being accompanied by a male guardian. So whereas we are free to travel pretty much anywhere within the Kingdom by ourselves, we must restrain from the temptation of succumbing to hunger pangs once we arrive at our final destination.

For those of you who may not understand the implications of such a statute, this means that if you fancy a bite to eat out and happen to be a woman, this could be construed as criminal behavior. In order to be on the right side of the law, you must also make sure that you are sufficiently in the mood for persuading one of the men in your family to go out with you. Now, you do have quite a choice of dinner dates. The lucky man could be your father, his brothers, your mother’s brothers, your grandfathers, your brothers, your husband, your sons, your grandsons, your nephews or all of them. But what if you’re just not feeling like male company? Or, as many women, you are divorced and don’t have a readily producible male guardian? Or you’d just prefer a night-out with the girls?

Easy. You just stay home.

It really is a trifle disconcerting to see signs posted on doors leading into restaurants that proclaim “No females allowed unless accompanied by male guardian” or “No unaccompanied ladies”. Proprietors have the right to refuse you entry if you do not comply with this rule. In much of the world such notices are reserved for pets in parks.

One of my girlfriends had invited me out for dinner to an Italian restaurant. We surreptitiously entered with a driver and maid in tow who Oscar-award-winningly assumed the roles of surrogate mother and father for the evening. Upon her request I had my face covered in case the lack of similarity became too blatantly obvious. We glided into the family section playing the perennial happy Saudi family and upon our arrival parted ways.

“Mum” and “Dad” sat at a table adjacent to ours while we nestled into an enclave that was sealed off from the other diners by means of a movable wooden divider on wheels. We decided to embolden our culinary escapade by opting for the antipasti buffet and braving the outside world beyond our enclosure. Hastily covering our faces, we scurried off excitedly like a pair of adventurous mice to the forbidden territory of the Singles Section where ironically, it doesn’t strike the authorities in the slightest bit incongruous that women are allowed to venture into a solely populated male arena under the pretext of smoked salmon, air-dried beef and Parmesan cheese. So although we are not allowed to eat by ourselves tucked away somewhere in the nether regions of a restaurant, it is perfectly acceptable for us to strut our stuff and linger around selecting our appetizers in front of a crowd of unfamiliar men. A perfectly sensible tenet I am sure you will agree.

Once safely back in our temporary abode, we uncovered our faces and eagerly awaited our main course. As we were chomping away with great relish we were taken aback when the screen swung open and a strange man entered our haven.

“You!” he said pointing at my friend. “Where is your mahram (male guardian)?”

Slurping up her pasta irreverently she gestured to the next table at which sat the driver who looked as much like her father as our interrogator, but he seemed satisfied with the response nonetheless. He was about to walk away when he was struck by an Archimedes flash of Eureka type inspiration.

“Why are your faces uncovered?” he inquired indignantly.

Such an unwarranted invasion of privacy by a complete outsider proved too much for her to take.

“Listen,” she responded haughtily. “We are in the family section and sitting in an area where no one can even see us. I don’t see why you think it is justified for you to come in, stare at us and tell us what to do. We are trying to eat dinner and although we both had our faces covered when we were in public view, the reason why we are sitting inside here cordoned off from the world is that we shouldn’t have to conceal ourselves from each other! Asides from which, if we did that then we wouldn’t be able to see what it is that we are eating.”

“Inshallah you will be blind!” he thundered and his parting shot ricocheted around the restaurant as he slammed shut the partition.

What I would like to be apprised of is why it is that men think that they can approach women who are not their family members and cast aspersions upon them without the slightest repercussion? Who invents such strictures that deny women the very basic rights afforded to them by God? How on earth can dining out be deemed un-Islamic in any shape or form? Is the sight of a woman eating so lascivious that the poor men of this nation have to be shielded from its earth-shattering effects? Such rules are nothing short of absurd, which is why I feel that as a woman I would have had more rights and far better freedom had I been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). There was a very clear logic and rationale behind why certain social behaviours were either permitted or not. Women were not indiscriminately perceived as being provocative or coquettish and furthermore men were encouraged to control their untoward desires and basal instincts. Women were inherently treated with a tremendous amount of respect and dignity, not the contempt that is so evident and apparently condonable today.

(The writer can be reached at
(Arab News)