Women's Intelligence and the Islamic Tradition
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The Islamic tradition from the Hadith and later material agrees on the general supposition that women are inferior in intelligence vis-a-vis men. That all women are created less intelligent than their male counterparts is used as an explanation for several Islamic doctrines and rules of jurisprudence, including the belief that women make up the majority of the denizens of Hell and the lower value of a woman's testimony against a man's in Islamic Shari'ah courts.
According to the Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad's once declared that the majority of the inhabitants of Hell are women. When asked why, he said it was because they are deficient in intelligence and religion, and because they are ungrateful to their husbands. The Hadith clearly presents Muhammad's belief as being that all women are less intelligent than their male counterparts; the traditional Islamic view is that this deficiency was not mitigated or qualified in any way be the prophet.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
Narrated Abu Said Al-KhudriOn 'Id ul Fitr or 'Id ul Adha Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) went out to the Musalla. After finishing the prayer, he delivered the sermon and ordered the people to give alms. He said, "O people! Give alms." Then he went towards the women and said. "O women! Give alms, for I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-Fire were you (women)." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is the reason for it?" He replied, "O women! You curse frequently, and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray." Then he left. And when he reached his house, Zainab, the wife of Ibn Masud, came and asked permission to enter It was said, "O Allah's Apostle! It is Zainab." He asked, 'Which Zainab?" The reply was that she was the wife of Ibn Mas'ub. He said, "Yes, allow her to enter." And she was admitted. Then she said, "O Prophet of Allah! Today you ordered people to give alms and I had an ornament and intended to give it as alms, but Ibn Masud said that he and his children deserved it more than anybody else." The Prophet replied, "Ibn Masud had spoken the truth. Your husband and your children had more right to it than anybody else."
Narrated Abu Said Al-KhudriThe Prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?" The women said, "Yes." He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."
Yusuf Ali: O ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as Allah Has taught him, so let him write. Let him who incurs the liability dictate, but let him fear His Lord Allah, and not diminish aught of what he owes. If they party liable is mentally deficient, or weak, or unable Himself to dictate, Let his guardian dictate faithfully, and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her. The witnesses should not refuse when they are called on (For evidence). Disdain not to reduce to writing (your contract) for a future period, whether it be small or big: it is juster in the sight of Allah, More suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves but if it be a transaction which ye carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if ye reduce it not to writing. But take witness whenever ye make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If ye do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; For it is Good that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things. If ye are on a journey, and cannot find a scribe, a pledge with possession (may serve the purpose). And if one of you deposits a thing on trust with another, let the trustee (faithfully) discharge his trust, and let him Fear his Lord conceal not evidence; for whoever conceals it, - his heart is tainted with sin. And Allah knoweth all that ye do.
Pickthal: O ye who believe! When ye contract a debt for a fixed term, record it in writing. Let a scribe record it in writing between you in (terms of) equity. No scribe should refuse to write as Allah hath taught him, so let him write, and let him who incurreth the debt dictate, and let him observe his duty to Allah his Lord, and diminish naught thereof. But if he who oweth the debt is of low understanding, or weak, or unable himself to dictate, then let the guardian of his interests dictate in (terms of) equity. And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness) the other will remember. And the witnesses must not refuse when they are summoned. Be not averse to writing down (the contract) whether it be small or great, with (record of) the term thereof. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah and more sure for testimony, and the best way of avoiding doubt between you; save only in the case when it is actual merchandise which ye transfer among yourselves from hand to hand. In that case it is no sin for you if ye write it not. And have witnesses when ye sell one to another, and let no harm be done to scribe or witness. If ye do (harm to them) lo! it is a sin in you. Observe your duty to Allah. Allah is teaching you. And Allah is knower of all things.
Shakir: O you who believe! when you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness; and the scribe should not refuse to write as Allah has taught him, so he should write; and let him who owes the debt dictate, and he should be careful of (his duty to) Allah, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it; but if he who owes the debt is unsound in understanding, or weak, or (if) he is not able to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate with fairness; and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other; and the witnesses should not refuse when they are summoned; and be not averse to writing it (whether it is) small or large, with the time of its falling due; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah and assures greater accuracy in testimony, and the nearest (way) that you may not entertain doubts (afterwards), except when it is ready merchandise which you give and take among yourselves from hand to hand, then there is no blame on you in not writing it down; and have witnesses when you barter with one another, and let no harm be done to the scribe or to the witness; and if you do (it) then surely it will be a transgression in you, and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things
Muhammad was referring to that specific group of women only
Here is a video from Rasha Al-Disuqi, a West Coast based professor, author, and activist. Her topic was "Rights of Muslim women and their rights in society".
In the above video she makes two claims:
"Not a blanket statement for all Women"
There is absolutely no evidence that Muhammad's statements in the ahadith were directed at that specific group of women because:
1. Muhammad's sole piece of evidence for this statement is Allah's mandate in Qur'an 2:282 which states that two women are required to give evidence in the absence of a man; this is to say that the testimony of one woman is equal to 1/2 of a man's testimony. Nowhere in that verse does it say "This is for the women of Muhammad's time" or "this is only for a specific group of women." If the Qur'an is a book for all time, then the testimony of a woman is always the equivalent of 1/2 a man's testimony in Islam. Therefore, for Muhammad to use this as evidence as to the deficiency of a woman's mind proves that it was a "blanket statement" over all women who have and will ever live.
2. In the same hadith (not the partial one) Muhammad tells the women that they are also deficient in religion. Islam is very much a works-based religion; every day of fasting 'counts' for your reward in heaven, every prayer, every 'good deed' (as outlined in the Qur'an). Since women are not allowed to pray or fast during their menses, this means that a woman doing every 'good deed' she is able to do, and a man doing every 'good deed' they are able to, will result in the man receiving a higher reward from Allah because he was able to do more religious deeds than the female.
Do we also apply the "This was only for that specific group of Women" answer to Muhammad's claim that women are also deficient in religion? Are women suddenly allowed to fast and pray when they are menstruating? We know they aren't; so why should we apply one part of the hadith to that specific group of women when the second claim is clearly referring to all Muslim Women?
3. Muhammad said "The majority of the dwellers of Hellfire are Women." If these ahadith refer only to that group of women, then that group must have been extremely large. Think about how many women have and will exist on this earth throughout time. Now, the majority of the people in Hell are supposedly from this one group of Women that Muhammad was addressing? Where then are the pagans, the atheists, Christians, Jews and hypocritical Muslims? Where are the men? How big was this group of women?
Muhammad was clearly making a blanket statement about all women.
Scans of male and female brains prove it was only for that group
This argument is illogical: because modern science has shown us that there is no 'deficiency' in a female brain, then Muhammad could not have been referring to every woman. This argument ignores the evidence in favor of a more palatable interpretation. The fact is, modern science and common sense prove Muhammad's statements to be incorrect. They do not prove that Muhammad was referring to a specific group of women only; merely that Muhammad was wrong in making a blanket statement.
Rasha then shoots herself in the foot by proving in one short sentence that Muhammad was wrong; she herself knows that women are not stupid; that they are equal to, or excel men in many fields. But, in order to remain under the influence of someone who called her 'deficient' , she must use current knowledge in order to 'spin' Muhammad's words. In essence, when she says "That argument is a failure" she is acknowledging that Muhammad was completely wrong to make such a claim.
Muhammad was using hyperbole to scare women into giving alms
The women were outraged, and one of them instantly stood up boldly and demanded to know why that was so. 'Because,' he replied, 'you women grumble so much, and show ingratitude to your husbands! Even if the poor fellows spent all their lives doing good things for you, you have only to be upset at the least thing and you will say, 'I have never received any good from you!' (Bukhari 1.28, recorded by Ibn Abbas - who was present on that occasion as a child).At that the women began vigorously to pull off their rings and ear-rings, and throw them into Bilal's cloth.”
This is a very disingenuous presentation of evidence. This interpretation attempts to draw together two different sets of ahadith and present them as the same event. The first set is provided above. Here are the ones for this specific interpretation:
It is true that Muhammad approached the women after prayer in both sets of ahadith; and that he asked them to give alms. However we note in the second set, not even once, does Muhammad make the same claims about Women's intelligence or religion. He merely states that women are ungrateful in an effort to goad them into giving more charity. If these ahadith were narrations of the same event, you would expect a mention of intelligence or religion.
Even if this explanation was right, it still doesn't explain why Muhammad called women deficient in intelligence, and then directed them to the mandate in Qur'an 2:282 as evidence for this deficiency. If his aim was simply to get them to donate more money, surely a threat of hellfire and calling them ungrateful would have sufficed for his purpose; and evidently it did.
Muhammad also knew that Hellfire was a great motivator to his followers; once he found a threat that worked, he milked it for all it was worth. Because of the discrepancies between the two sets of narrations, we can conclude that the two sets of narrations are from separate events; and that Muhammad simply re-used a scare tactic in order to get what he wanted.
Deficiency is only about giving financial testimony
Qur'an 2:282 states that the second female witness is required (in lieu of a man) because the first woman may forget; therefore the second can remind her. This implies that women have bad memories and are prone, more so then men, to forget details. On first look, this explanation looks quite reasonable; however in the ahadith, Muhammad did not specify that the testimony of women, in financial cases only was the cause of their intelligence defects. If this were truly only about testimony for financial cases, then Muhammad would have specified this. His statement "Isn't it true that the testimony of two women is equal to that of a man" strongly implies that two female witnesses are required for any type of testimony; and in no way implies that it is for financial testimony only.
After all, if this is the deficiency in her intelligence; then Muhammad is clearly referring to the fact that Allah believes that women have bad memories; and this is the reason a woman is deficient.
Muhammad was joking
This is one of the most bizarre claims we've come across regarding these ahadith. When asked for evidence, the claimant is unable to do so. In any case, there is absolutely no evidence in the ahadith or elsewhere that this was an 'in joke' between Muhammad and these women.
Muhammad also backs up these "jokes" with reference to the Qur'an, which he'd obviously take very seriously as the alleged prophet.
In the discussion thus far we have presented Sahih ahadith attributed to Muhammad and have demonstrated each hadith was intended to be applied to all women for all time. We have seen Muslims attempt to explain away this assertion and argue that the ahadith applied only to certain women or particular situations, and did not apply to all women for all time. Which is the truth? What is the original source of Muhammad's view of women; where did it originate from?
Abu Jafar Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari is recognized as one of the greatest of all Islamic scholars. He not only wrote one of the most authoritative Tafsir (commentary of the Qur'an) but also wrote a history of the world (tarikh) from the Islamic worldview. Published in English as The History of al-Tabari (SUNY Press, NY) in 39 volumes, this work presents world history from the creation account up until al-Tabari's death. When we consult al-Tabari's tarikh we find the source of Muhammad's view of women.
When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, they were told to not eat of a certain tree. Eve was tempted by Iblis (Satan) to eat of the tree, and she then gave some to Adam to eat also. Adam and Eve try to flee from God because of shame after their private parts were exposed. From this act of disobedience of Eve came God's curse on women.
In a lecture delivered by Saudi cleric Abd Al-Aziz Al-Fawzan, which aired on Al-Majd TV (June 11, 2007), he responds to the criticism made by 'enemies' of Islam against Muhammad's "women are deficient" statement by confirming the account found in Tabari:
. . .
These hadiths provide some of the most decisive evidence that Islam protects women and guarantees their rights. Islam has surrounded the woman with a fence of compassion and mercy. It has shown that the twisted nature of women stems from their very creation. This is how Allah wanted woman to be. Therefore, the husband must adapt himself to her and be patient with her. He should not giver her too many things to do, or things that she is incapable of doing. He should not make her do anything that is contrary to her nature, and to the way she was created by Allah. In addition, he should turn a blind eye to her mistakes, he should tolerate her slips and errors, and put up with all the silly ignorant things she might say, because this constitutes part of the nature of her creation. In addition, women have surging emotions, which in some cases, might overpower their minds. The weakness with which women were created is the secret behind their attractiveness and appeal to their husbands. It is the source of women's seduction of men, and one of the elements strengthening the bond between husband and wife. This is one of the wondrous miracles of Allah: The strength of a woman lies in her weakness. Her power of seduction and appeal lie in her emotions, which might overpower her mind at times.
. . .
MEMRI TV, Clip No. 1483, Broadcast: June 11, 2007
Yusuf Ali: What! has He taken daughters out of what He himself creates, and granted to you sons for choice? When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) what he sets up as a likeness to (Allah) Most Gracious, his face darkens, and he is filled with inward grief! Is then one brought up among trinkets, and unable to give a clear account in a dispute (to be associated with Allah)? And they make into females angels who themselves serve Allah. Did they witness their creation? Their evidence will be recorded, and they will be called to account!
Pickthal: Or chooseth He daughters of all that He hath created, and honoureth He you with sons? And if one of them hath tidings of that which he likeneth to the Beneficent One, his countenance becometh black and he is full of inward rage. (Liken they then to Allah) that which is bred up in outward show, and in dispute cannot make itself plain? And they make the angels, who are the slaves of the Beneficent, females. Did they witness their creation? Their testimony will be recorded and they will be questioned.
Shakir: What! has He taken daughters to Himself of what He Himself creates and chosen you to have sons? And when one of them is given news of that of which he sets up as a likeness for the Beneficent Allah, his face becomes black and he is full of rage. What! that which is made in ornaments and which in contention is unable to make plain speech! And they make the angels-- them who are the servants of the Beneficent Allah-- female (divinities). What! did they witness their creation? Their evidence shall be written down and they shall be questioned.
It should be noted that some modern Muslim scholars interpret 43:18 as a reference to female pagan idols or that Allah is still referring to the attitude of the pagans towards women. However, the next verse (43:19) uses the same pattern - a statement of what the pagans believed followed by an interrogative alif (translated "What!") and then Allah's rebuttal ("did they witness their creation?"). Thus it seems more likely that in 43:18 Allah is making what he thinks is a factual counter-argument rather than using what he believes is another false notion of the pagans to contradict their belief in daughters of Allah.
The meaning of these ahadith is very clear. Prophet Muhammad "blanketed" a statement over every single woman who has ever and will ever live. Despite many creative ways to explain away the meaning and implications of these ahadith, the actual evidence cannot be denied. Muhammad clearly said that women are deficient in intelligence because, in Islam, the value of their testimony is equal to that of half a man. If the Qur'an is a book for all people for all time, then that mandate stands; thus Muhammad was referring to all women in general; and not just a specific group of women.
Further thoughts on these ahadith
This set of hadiths clearly show Muhammad's desire to control and make women subservient to him. Look at the three reasons that Muhammad lists for women being in Allah's Hell:
1. Deficient in Intelligence: The Qur'an was 'revealed' by Muhammad on behalf of his imaginary deity, Allah; thus Muhammad himself made the requirement that the testimony of two women is equal to a man. He then goes on to tell women that they will most likely end up in hell; because their intellectual deficiency, which he defined and imposed 'safeguards' against. No evidence; just "I said so!" What better way to belittle women than to continually remind them that they are 'stupid'.
2. Deficient in Religion: Again, Muhammad himself 'revealed' the entirety of Islam; its rules, regulations and requirements, rewards etc.. What better way to keep women down? Tell them your works-based religion, that they cannot perform any of these good works (praying, fasting etc..) when they are menstruating. This keeps them in a state of fear, because they have to make up for the days they were unable to be 'pious'; making them more submissive to Islam then men. Then you get Muhammad who comes along, after making this silly rule about menstruation; and tells women that most of them will end up in hell because of it. In essence, he's saying that in his religion, women will end up in hell simply for being born female.
3. Ungrateful to their Husbands: Again, Muhammad wanted his wives; and all Muslim women within his reach (in case he wanted to marry them) to be as submissive to their husbands as possible. He scares them with threats of hellfire to make them more submissive, and fearful of Allah; thereby keeping women under the thumb of their husbands. As a result, to this day, Muslim women, and women in general, are thought of by Muslims as intellectually inferior to themselves. Perhaps this is why Muslim women especially are trying to twist the meaning of these ahadith and narrow down the testimony requirement in Quran 2:282; its either that or admit Muhammad was wrong.
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- Muslim Cleric Presents "Scientific" Proof that Women Cannot Talk and Remember Simultaneously (video)
- Quran 2:282, Why does Allah mandate this Requirement? - FFI Forum discussion with a Muslim regarding why two women are required to give testimony in the absence of one Man. "Just a Woman" (the Muslim) continually tries to separate the ahadith from the Qur'an verse in order to 'explain' them separately