...Women in Islam
Women in Islam

Assalam alaikum! (Peace be upon you!)

last updated January 31, 2005

Women in Islam

References are listed at the end, and are referred to within the text by Arabic numerals in square brackets

The primary source of Islam:
The Quran: The word of God revealed to Prophet Mohammad

The secondary source of Islam
Sunnah or Hadith: The deeds and sayings of Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him (PBUH)

Allah created females and males with differences from each other, however that does not mean that one is superior and the other is inferior. Many non-Muslims believe that Islam oppresses women, and makes them inferior to men. Some Muslims actually consider women inferior to men by their misunderstanding of Islam or because of their culture's influence; although they would not admit that. Muslims in general believe that Islam gave women many rights, but at the same time they feel that women are not equal to men in rights and obligations. This webpage attempts to correct the image non-Muslims have about Muslim women, and to correct the wrong understanding of some Muslims about women in Islam. For that reason, this website:
(1) states the rights that Islam gave to women
(2) attempts to present answers to questions related to certain practices in Islam that at the surface seem to mean women are deprived from doing certain things
(3) presents interpretations of some of the most misunderstood verses in the Quran that are related to women.
(4) presents some issues that are misunderstood by Muslims, which are usually supported by weak or forged hadith.

1. Rights after birth:

Islam came at a time when females were looked down upon in Arabia or sometimes were treated as objects rather than human beings. Islam came to abolish many of the acceptable and unjust practices that existed at that time. This started by giving females rights since birth and throughout their childhood:

a. Islam abolished infanticide:
Before Islam having a female baby was a disgrace that it was acceptable if their fathers buried them alive, and there were no consequences for this heinous crime. However, when prophet Mohammad (PBUH) brought the message of Islam, that practice was abolished: "When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed" (Quran 81:8-9)

b. Islam does not allow discrimination against girls:
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: "Whosoever has a daughter and does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, Allah will enter him into Paradise" (Ahmed) [1]

c. Rearing girls is a privilege:
Prophet saying: "Whosoever supports two daughters until they mature, he and I will come on the Day of Judgment as this (and he pointed with his two fingers held together" (Ahmed) [1]

d. Right to education:
Prophet saying: "Seeking education is mandatory for every Muslim". Muslim here is inclusive of both males and females [1].

2. Woman rights in marriage:

Islam gave Muslim women many rights in marriage, and they are listed here.

a. Choosing a husband:
A female has the right to accept or reject marriage proposals [1, 2].
When a female came to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) complaining that she had been married without being consulted, the Prophet(PBUH) said she was free to have the marriage dissolved if she wished [1, 2].

b. Prenuptial agreement:
According to Islam, a female has the right to request a prenuptial agreement in which she can write her wishes [1, 2].

c. Dowry:
A Muslim woman has the right to receive a dowry, which is a gift from the bridegroom to the bride and it becomes her exclusive property (not her family's). No married woman is required to spend any amount at all from her property and income on the household [1, 2], although there is nothing against her volunteering to do so.

d. Marriage is based on mutual peace, love, and compassion:
Prophet saying: "The best among you are those who are kindest to their wives"
"…He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts …"(Quran 30:21)

e. Domestic assistance:
A man ought to follow the Prophet's example to carryout household chores as these are not assigned to the wife, neither by Quran nor by the saying of the Prophet. The Prophet (PBUH) used to sew his torn clothes, repair his worn out shoes and milk the goats.

Servant if affordable:
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) recommended that if a man is capable, he should hire a servant to do the house chores.

f. Childcare:
In Islam both parents are responsible for rearing their children. Parenthood does not mean to only be the breadwinner.
The Quran demonstrates the fact that a woman (though not all women) is the exclusive human capable of bearing children [3]. Because of the significance of the function of childbearing the Quran demands reverence and respect for mothers [3]. On the other hand, there is no indication in the Quran that mothering is the woman's exclusive role [3]. The prophet says, "The best of you is he who is best to his family …".
The Quran gives rights to both parents with regard to the children and equally allows for their emotional attachment: "... no mother shall be treated unfairly (or made to suffer) on account of her child, nor father on account of his child ..." (Quran 2:233).

g. Divorce:
Is the last resort: permissible but not encouraged.
If a man divorces his wife, good treatment is required: "... The parties should either hold together on equitable terms or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you (men) to take any of your gifts (from your wives) ..." (Quran 2:229)

In Islam it is known that men can divorce their wives. On the other hand, there is no indication in the Quran that women cannot repudiate their husbands. In fact, the Quran has allowed that in the form of divestiture (Khul'a) where it took place through the prophet in the past and currently through a judge:
"... if you (judges) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by God, there is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom ..." (Quran 2:229)
This is divorce at the wife's request even if there is no fault on the part of the husband [1]. So it happens when the wife hates her husband or hates continuing living with him [2]. She maybe required to pay back all or part of the dowry [2].

h. A misunderstood issue: Polygamy:
Polygamy is associated with Islam as if Islam introduced it. Although Islam did not outlaw polygamy, it regulated and restricted it [1, 4]. It is neither required nor encouraged, but simply permitted.
For Muslims monogamy is the norm and polygamy is the exception. Qutb [4] says when Islam came, some men had many wives, so Islam came to tell men there is a limit of four and there is the condition of dealing justly, otherwise do not marry more than one wife. So in Islam the norm is to marry only one wife. However, come Muslims misunderstand their religion and think that polygamy is allowed without a good reason.

Examples of situations when polygamy solves problems:
When women outnumber men [4] such as in wars, which result in a large number of widows and orphans. In such a situation polygamy is a moral, practical and humane solution [1].
If first wife is chronically sick or disabled, or unable to have children, and both husband and wife wish to remain married [4].

The verse in the Quran that allows polygamy is: "If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four. But if you fear that you will not be able to do justly (with them), then only one … " (Quran 4:3)
Some [1, 5] mentioned that this passage was revealed after the battle of Uhud, in which dozens of Muslims were martyred leaving behind widows and orphans. The other thing is that this verse is about treatment of orphans. What is the connection between orphans and polygamy? There are some explanations that the guardians should refrain from abusing the female orphans, and not marry them for greed, but marry other women instead (this is the most cited reason for revealing this verse, see for example [4]). However, that explanation is not necessarily the right one, because this verse (4:3) is not restricted to female orphans, unlike verse 4:127 which is restricted to female orphans, and which mentions refraining from financial abuse of female orphans upon marrying them. Thus, why Allah connected polygamy with orphans (both males and females) remains not clear by current interpretations of the Quran. The important thing is that polygamy is specific to certain situations, and should not be taken as a permission to take several wives for no reason at all.

"One of the rationales given by some Muslims for polygamy, which has no sanctions in the Quran, is that if a man's sexual needs cannot be satisfied by one wife, he should have two. Presumably if his lust is greater than that, he should have three, and on until he has four. Only after this fourth are the Quranic principles of self-constraint to be finally exercised. This excuse opposes Islam's requirement of self-constraint and fidelity at the onset of marriage for both the wife and the husband, and thus is not acceptable. It is clear that the Quran does not stress a high, civilized level for women while leaving men to interact with others at the basest level. Otherwise, the mutual responsibility of trusteeship (khilafah) would be left to one half of humanity while the other half remains near the animal state [3]."

Qutb [4] says anyone who understands the essence of Islam would not say polygamy is required or encouraged without real needs or conditions in which polygamy may present a solution to a situation, otherwise it turns into animal enjoyment and going from one wife to another. Qutb [4] also says if a generation abuses this permission, it is unIslamic.

The prophet (PBUH) was monogamist for the greater part of his married life, from the age of twenty-five when he married Khadija until he was fifty when she died.

3. Women and property & employment:

a. Possessing personal property:
Before Islam it was acceptable for the husband or brother to take away his wife's or sister's property. Islam abolished that practice [1].

b. Financial security:
Women are guaranteed support in all stages of her life [1], as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, or niece:
"Men are maintainers of women on the basis of what Allah has preferred some of them over others, and on the basis of what they spend of their property ..." (Quran 4:34)

c. Inheritance:
Before Islam, women had no access to their inheritance, but Islam gave women that right [1, 2]. Actually women themselves were inherited as objects before Islam, where stepsons inherited their father's widow(s). This practice was forbidden by Islam:
"O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will …" (Quran 4:19)

d. Employment:
No text in Quran excludes women from any type of lawful employment [1].
Example: Omar (2 nd Caliph) appointed a woman (AShifaa' bint Abdullah) as the marketplace supervisor [1, 7], a position equivalent to director of the consumer protection department [1].

4. Women and Politics:

a. Participation in political life:
Muslim women throughout history participated in the choice of rulers, in public issues, in lawmaking, in administrative positions, and in the battlefield [1].
Example: When the Prophet made contract (Bay'at Al-Aqaba) with the inhabitants of Yathrib city to move there and become their ruler, the city delegate had females and males. This is equivalent to electing a president.

b. Leadership positions:
There is no evidence from the Quran to preclude women from headship of state [1]. Some scholars who argue that women cannot head a state base that on the saying of the Prophet when he heard the news that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their queen. Those scholars' interpretation of the Arabic words of the Prophet saying: Never will such a nation succeed as makes a woman their ruler. Other scholars disagree with that interpretation. The alternative interpretations: the Prophet (PBUH) said that because the rulers of Persia at that time showed enmity to Muslims [1]. Another interpretation is that this was "a statement about the impending doom of that unjust empire, which did take place later" [1]. A third possibility is that the prophet (PBUH) was expressing a wish: may Allah not allow such a nation that makes a woman their ruler succeed.
On the other hand, one should consider the authenticity of the above Hadith. This hadith was heard for the first time ever after the battle of AL-Jamal, i.e. 23 years after the death of Prophet Mohammad [6]. It was narrated by Abu-bakrah (not to be confused with Abu-Bakr), who claimed to have heard it from Prophet Mohammad. Abu-Bakrah himself does not fit the criteria set by Bukhari and Muslim for accepting his narration, because according to Ibn Hajar Al-asqalani [7] he was flogged by the second khalef Omar ibn al-Khattab for possibly being a false witness in an adultery incident that was not proven. This would disqualify him from being an accepted narrator of Hadiths. The above most likely forged Hadith was narrated by Abu-Bakrah when Aisha, the wife of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) who was leading an army against the khalifa Ali bin Abi-Talib, was defeated in the battle of Al-Jamal. Abu-Bakrah may have mentioned it so as not to be punished by the Khalifa for supporting Aisha by words, although he did not join her in fighting [6]. As for the matn of the above hadith i.e. its content, it contradicts with the good mention in the Quran of the queen of Sheeba who later became Muslim. From all this, the above hadith maybe a forged one.

5. Women dress in Islam:

Muslim women usually wear long cloths that do not reveal the figure, and some wear a head cover. The form of the head cover, if used, is always affected by culture. Muslims call the women dress hijab, although linguistically this is not correct.

Historically, before Islam, women covered their heads (not nessecarily all of the hair) because that indicated that they were noble women, and it also distinguished them from slaves.

Islam requires modesty for males and females in dress and behavior. Women and men usually wear clothes that do not reveal their figures or physical appearance.
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts... and say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze, guard their private parts and that they should not display their ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers ..." (Quran 24:30-31).

The reason for Muslim women modest dress, is to obey God. Women who wear a scarf take that decision for themselves, i.e. it is a decision from within, she does not take that decision to please the males in her family, she does it only to please God. Modest dressing is a right given to woman by Islam that she can do it even if she is opposed by her husband, father, brother, etc.… Modest dressing for Muslim women may or maynot include a scarf on their head. Unfortunately some cultures or governments force certain forms of dressing on Women, so it means nothing to the female, and that is why some females take it off once there is an opportunity to do so.

6. Women: Messengers, Prophets, and ministers?

The Quran tells us that Allah has sent male messengers before prophet Mohammad (PBUH):
"Nor did We send before thee (as messengers) any but men, whom We did inspire ..." (Quran 12:109)
There were no female messengers sent by Allah. Is that because women are inferior to men, or what is the reason? In general, male messengers faced difficulty in propagating their message; the likelihood of failure might have been greater if women, who were given little regard, were selected to deliver the message [1]. Thus Allah's choice of men for such tasks has nothing to do with superiority.

On the other hand, as for receiving revelation (Wahy): It is mentioned in the Quran that both men and women have been included in divine communication as the recipients of revelation: Maryam (Mary, mother of Jesus) & Umm-Musa (mother of Moses). Ibn Hazm's opinion is that Mary (the mother of Jesus) is a prophet, but not a messenger, as she received revelation but did not have the mission of delivering a message to people.

In Islam there are no ministers as in Christianity. However, some of the functions of ministers such as religious education and spiritual and social counseling are performed by Muslim women as well as men. Hence Females can be scholars, Muftis, and jurists and teach both genders, and that happened throughout Islamic history [1, 8, 9].

As for the function of leading prayer or being an Imam: women usually lead other women in prayer, however men lead men and women. This is due to the format of the prayer: when Muslims pray, there is separation between men and women. The reason is that Muslim prayer involves body contact, which can be uncomfortable for both women and men if the prayer is mixed. Hence, women pray together, and men together. At the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) women prayed behind men. On the other hand, in pilgrimage, where around 2 million people are present and separation is impossible, men and women are mixed in prayers. So Muslims usually separate women and men in prayers except when it is impossible such as in pilgrimage.
Why does not a female usually act as an Imam for both men and women? The Muslim's prayer involves prostration with hands, knees and forehead on the ground. A woman would not feel comfortable praying with rows of men behind her as she leads the prayer [1]. On the other hand, there are exceptions: The prophet Muhammad asked a woman by the name of Umm Waraqah to lead her household in prayer, which included a young girl, a young boy, and a male caller to prayer (mu'azzin) [1, 2]. This exception was made because she was the memorizer of Quran in her household. Some jurists, such as Al-Mozni, Abu Thawr, Al-Tabari, Ibn Taymiyah, Ahmed Ibn Hanbal and some Hanbali jurists are of the opinion that a woman may lead both genders in taraweeh prayer (special prayers during the month of Ramadan) by standing behind them if no memorizer of the Quran is present [1]. Nowadays such a situation is rare because there are a lot of men who memorize the Quran. On the other hand, a knowledgable female can lead both genders in prayer, which happened during the life of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as mentioned above.

7. Testimony of women:

Testimony of males and females is equal as stated in the Quran: Examples:

Women as witnesses in cases of divorce:
In cases of divorce the Quran requires that there be two witnesses; however, it is silent as to gender, thereby implying its irrelevance. "...or part with them on equitable terms, and take for witness two persons from among you endued with justice ..." (Quran 65:2).

Women as witnesses to bequests:
"O you who believe! When death approaches any of you, take witnesses among yourselves when making bequests: two justpersons from among your own (people), or others from outside if you are journeying through the earth, and the chance of death befalls you (thus) ..."(Quran 5:106). In this situation, where safeguards are taken to ensure the integrity of the witnesses, the Quran is again silent as to their gender. Preference is given to witnesses from "among yourselves" ; however, gender was not specified and thus is irrelevant.

The only reference in the Quran that equates two female witnesses to one male:
"O you who believe! When you 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 the 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 you 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 more just in the sight of Allah, more suitable as evidence, and more convenient to prevent doubts among yourselves, but if it be a transaction which you carry out on the spot among yourselves, there is no blame on you if you reduce it not to writing. But take witnesses whenever you make a commercial contract; and let neither scribe nor witness suffer harm. If you do (such harm), it would be wickedness in you. So fear Allah; for it is Allah that teaches you. And Allah is well acquainted with all things" (Quran 2:282)

This passage is specific to testimony on a specific type of financial transactions that is of borrowing money. The reason for variation in the number of male and female witnesses required is given in the passage: in case she errs; no reference is made to inferiority or superiority. The great scholar Al-Tabari could not find evidence from Quran or Hadith to exclude women from testimony: being herself a judge who hears and evaluates the testimony of others.

The only reference in the Quran where the female witness has more weight than the male witness:
If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to bear witness, with oath, five times as evidence of his wife's guilt. If the wife denies and bears witness with oath similarly five times, then she is not considered guilty. So the final judjment is based on the wife's oath not the husband (Quran 24:6-9)

Cases where a female witness is acceptable but a male witness may not be acceptable:
In Islam if a female nurses suffeciently a baby of another woman, then that child is treated as her child through nursing, and this has consequences. If a woman says she nursed a child, then her witness alone is accepted and sufficient as proof that she is his mother through nursing. However, not any man can be accepted as a witness in such cases unless he had a way to see a particular baby nursed by a particular woman for X times and X amount.

8. Women-related verses in the Quran that are usually misunderstood:

a. Does Islam require women to obey husbands? and can a husband beat his wife? Verse 4:34:
"Men are maintainers of [qawwamuna ala] women, on the basis of what Allah has preferred [faddala] some of them over others, and on the basis of what they spend of their property. So the righteous women are obedient to Allah [qanitat], guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As to those women on whose part you fear [nushuz], admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds, and (last) idribuhunna. Then, if they obey you, seek not against them means (of annoyance)"

This verse is used by many Muslims to convince themselves that Allah stated in the Quran that women should obey their husbands who are in charge, and that husbands can beat their wives. This is just a misunderstanding of the verse. Marriage is based on mutual respect; it is a partnership rather than appointment of the male as the boss in this relation.

This misunderstanding stems from several words in this verse: qawwamuna ala, faddala, qanitat, nushuz, and idribuhunna.

Wadud [3] states that the words "qawwamuna ala" are usually misinterpreted to means men are in charge of women. First of all the qiwamah here is dependent on satisfying two conditions: (1) what Allah has preferred [faddala] some over others, and (2) what they (men) spend of their property to support women. The first condition is usually misinterpreted as: Allah preferred men over women; however, Allah states in this verse: "some over others" meaning, some women over other men, some men over other women, some men over other men, and some men over other men. This verse does NOT read 'they (masculine plural) are preferred over them (feminine plural)' [3]. Maulana Wahiduddin Khan [10] explains this part as "excelled some on other", which he states occurs several times in the Quran, e.g. for crops and fruits (Quran 13:4) where no superiority is indicated. To apply this to women and men, he states:" just as women have uniquely feminine qualities, so also do men have uniquely masculine qualities". Back to qiwamah: Qutb [4] says both men and women are from Allah's creatures, and Allah never intends to oppress anyone from His creation. Since childbearing is among the functions of the woman, it is only fair that the husband's responsibility is to provide for the woman and take care of her [4]. So this qiwamah is a responsibility on men, not a preference given to them by Allah over women.

The word qanitat in this verse is often translated as obedient, and assumed to mean obedient to the husband. However, examining the Quran, this word means obedient to Allah, not to another human being. In the Quran this word describes males (2:238, 3:17, 33:35), females (4:34, 33:35, 66:5, 66:12), and others (2:116, 30:26) [3]. Qanit is a trait of any believer in Allah, being subservient before Allah (obedient to Allah) [3]. Hence, qanit is a word used for qunoot to Allah, not to humans such as the husband. Thus in the verse, women are qanitat to Allah not to husbands.

For the word nushuz, the word nushuz is NOT used only with females (4:34), but also with males (4:128) "If a wife fears nushuz on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves …". Most scholars have their bias when interpreting nushuz, when applied to the husband it means cruelty or desertion, but when applied to the wife, it means disobedience to the husband!!!! How can interpreters explain the very same word so differently? Logically since the Quran uses nushuz for both males and females, it cannot mean different things. Nushuz means a state of disorder between the married couple [3]. In verse 4:128 the state of disorder is caused by a male, but in verse 4:34 the state of disorder is caused by a female. So this means the situation is serious and so wrong (far from the straight path) and the cause in verse 4:34 is the wife, but the cause in verse 4:128 is the husband.

Allah gives us in the Quran the steps a husband could follow to correct this nushuz of his wife. One of those steps, which is usually misunderstood, is to idribuhunna, often translated as beat, scourge, or strike the wives. The Arabic word used here is 'daraba'. One has to be careful when translating from Arabic to English. The word daraba according to Lisan al-Arab does not necessarily indicate force or violence. It is used in the Quran in the phrase "daraba Allah mathalan.." meaning Allah gives or sets as an example [3]. It is also used when someone leaves, or strikes out on a journey [3]. This word, on the other hand, is strongly contrasted to the second form, the intensive: dar-raba: to strike intensely or repeatedly [3]. Violence in Arabia against women existed in Arabia, and was practiced by some of the prophet companions [3, 4]. Thus this verse was revealed by Allah not to permit, but to eliminate an existing practice [3, 4] through giving alternatives. Interpretation of daraba as to pat lightly is supported by the mention of the story of prophet Ayyoob (PBUH) with his wife in verse 38:44, where he pats lightly his wife as a symbolic act to fulfill his oath to Allah. The word in that verse (fa-idrib) is similar to the one in verse 4:34. Thus in this verse the meaning is to pat gently NOT to beat the wives.

As for ""if they obey you (ata-nakum) seek not against them means (of annoyance)"". This is a conditional sentence related to this particular situation. In this situation (verse 4:34) the woman is definitely wrong and not following the straight path (the path of Allah), but the husband is following the straight path and is trying to guide his wife, so if she obeys him here, then she is following the straight path, i.e. obeying Allah. Hence this part of the verse again is very specific to this described situation of nushuz and cannot be used as a general statement to say that women are ordered by Allah in the Quran to be obedient to their husbands [3]. On the other hand, if the husband was not following the straight path of Allah, then the wife should not obey him, but instead she should advice him.

b. Are men superior to women in Islam? verse 2:228
"Divorced women shall wait ... And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them according to what is equitable (or conventionally accepted or known), and men have a degree [darajah] over them (feminine plural), and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise"

In this verse the debate is over the meaning of darajah (or degree). Many translators take this to mean that men are superior to women. However, a closer examination of the Quran reveals otherwise [3]. An individual or group can earn or be granted a darajah over another [3]. For example, the Quran specifies that by striving in the way of Allah with one's wealth and one's person (4:95) or by immigrating for Allah (9:20), one can obtain a darajah. However, most often the darajah is obtained through an unspecified category of doing good deeds (20:75, 6:132, 46:19) [3]. Examples of darajah given by Allah: "... Allah will raise up to(suitable) ranks (and degrees) [darajat] those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge ..." (58:11). "... We raised to degrees [darajat] whom We please, and over all endued with knowledge is one more knowing" (12:76). There are also social and economic distinctions: "... It is We Who portion out between them their livelihood in the life of this world, and We raise some of them above others in ranks [darajat] so that some may command work from others; and the mercy of thy Lord is better than the (wealth) which they amass" (43:32). Allah may also give darajah to test the inhabitants of the earth [3]: "it is He Who has made you His viceroys of the earth and has raised you in ranks [darajat], some above others, that He may try you in the gifts He has given you ..." (6:165).

Back to verse 2:228: The context of the verse is with regard to divorce, so men have an advantage over women. The advantage men have is that they can pronounce divorce against their wives without arbitration [1]. On the other hand, divorce is granted to a woman only after intervention of an authority, e.g. the prophet, and nowadays by a judge. This is not to be confused with not allowing women to divorce men, see above under divorce (section 2. Women rights in marriage, part g.).

9. Cultural influence:

Unfortunately, within many cultures or families, the Islam's opinion (whether in the Quran, or sayings of the Prophet or work of scholars and jurists) on many issues regarding women is either ignored or even unknown. Even governments sometimes enforce things on females in the name of Islam, although it has no origins in Islam. For example, some Muslims get very upset when their wife gives birth to a baby girl. Some Muslims discriminate between their kids and give more rights to male children. Some force the girls to wear a scarf or even cover her face. Some parents decide to build a second floor on top of their house for their male children, but exclude the females. Some even deprive the females from their inheritance. Most Islamic countries complicate divorce procedure for women, so they ask the woman to provide evidence that her husband did something wrong, ignoring that such a requirement did not exist at the time of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUP). Some women get forced into marriage, and get forced into giving her dowry to her family. Some women are deprived from employment or from serving in political positions or voting. In some cultures, if a woman is raped, she is blamed. In all these examples, Islam is not being applied or is misunderstood by Muslims.

10. Created from Adam's rib?

The following is mainly taken from the work of Wadud [3] and Hassan [11]:

The Quran states that Adam and his mate were created from a single nafs (entity or person), so they both have the same human spiritual nature. Qutb [4] states that the pair (az-zawjayn) are two parts of the one nafs:
"O humankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single nafs, created, of like nature, his mate (zawj) ..." (Quran 4:1)

See Also in the Quran: 7:189, 30:21, 39:6

Many interpreters mistakenly say the Nafs is Adam, however, other scholars disagree: As Wadud [3] states the word nafs (feminine singular, but conceptually neither masculine nor feminine) does not refer to flesh or material. The term nafs in Sufism came to mean soul as a substance separate from the body. However, in the Quran it mostly means himself or herself or themselves (plural), and in some context in the Quran it means the inner person associated with the body [3]. So the Nafs here may be interpreted as person or entity; and both Adam and his mate were created from that Nafs. As for the stories about creation of Eve from Adam's rib, Sayyed Qutb [4], Maulana Wahiddudin Khan [10], Yusuf Ali [5], and Riffat Hassan [11] say that they are from Jewish tradition and have no basis in Islam, and hence should not be taken seriously by Muslims. These stories in Islam are claimed to be based on Hadith. For that reason these hadiths are examined here:
As mentioned at the beginning, the Hadith (sayings and deeds of Prophet Mohammad PBUH) is the secondary source in Islam. However, not all Hadith has been confirmed to be true (sahih), some were found to be false or forged (maw-doo'a), in addition there are other grades of Hadith that won't be mentioned here. Forged hadith is basically lies that some resorted to so as to justify what they were doing by claiming that the prophet said or did so. Some of these lies passed to us. The good news is: there is a method for evaluating the Hadith, but the bad news is: not all Hadith has been examined yet.

First one has to define the criteria for accepting Hadith:
The hadith has two parts: the first part is the isnad: the names of those who have been transmitters of the Hadith. The second part is the matn: the saying or the deed being narrated. In a simple definition, a hadith is considered credible when its isnad offers an unbroken series of reliable authorities, and when its matn is correct, for example if it does not contradict the Quran. This led to grading of both the Hadith and its transmitters. As for the transmitters, this grade assessed both their personal qualities and their inner consistency [11].

There are six "hadith's" that claim Allah has created Eve from Adam's rib. All these so-called hadith's are presented and discussed:

The "hadiths" are:

1. Abu Kuraib and Musa bin Hizam related to us (haddathana): Husain bin Ali told us (haddathana) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Za'idah who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Maisarah al-Ashja'i who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: Allah's Rasul (may peace be upon him) said: "Treat women nicely, for a woman is created from a rib, and the curved portion of the rib is its upper portion, so if you would try to straighten it, it will break, but if you leave it as it is, it will remain crooked. So treat women nicely" (Bukhari)

2. Abd al-Aziz bin Abdullah related to us (haddathana) that Malik had told us (haddathana) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu az-Zinad who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Al-A'raj who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: Allah's Rasul (may peace be upon him) said: "A woman is like a rib, if you try to straighten her, she will break. So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness" (Bukhari)

3. Ishaq bin Nasr related to us (haddathana) Husain al-Jofi related to us (haddathana) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Za'idah who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Maisarah who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hazim who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: The Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: "Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked part of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of women" (Bukhari)

4. Harmalah bin Yahya related to me (haddathana) Ibn Wahib informed us (akhbarana) Yunis informed me (akhbarani) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Ibn Shihab who said: Ibn Al-Musayyab told me (haddathani) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: Allah's Rasul (may peace be upon him) said: "Woman is like a rib. When you attempt to straighten it, you would break it. And if you leave her alone you would benefit by her, and crookedness will remain in her" (Muslim)

5. Amr an-Naqid and Ibn Umar related to us (haddathana) saying: Sufyan related to us (haddathana) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) al-A'raj who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: Allah's Rasul (may peace be upon him) said: "Woman has been created from a rib and will in no way be straightened for you, so if you wish to benefit by her, benefit by her while crookedness remains in her. And if you attempt to straighten her, you will break her ,and breaking her is divorcing her" (Muslim)

6. Abu Bakr bin Abu Shaibah told us (haddathana) Husain bin Ali told us (haddathana) that he was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Za'idah who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Maisarah who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hazim who was reporting on the authority of (a'n) Abu Hurairah (with whom may Allah be pleased) who said: The Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) said: "He who believes in Allah and the Hereafter, if he witnesses any matter he should talk in good terms about it or keep quiet. Act kindly towards women, for a woman is created from a rib, and the most crooked part of a rib is its top. If you attempt to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it, its crookedness will remain there, so act kindly towards women" (Muslim)

As mentioned above, each Hadith is made up of the isnad and the matn. The following points evaluate the above six Hadith's in question (points 1 to 3 are related to the isnad, and point 4 to the matn):

1. All these six Hadith's rest on the authority of one Companion of the Prophet, Abu Hurairah. Hence all six of the Hadith's in question deserve the lowest grade or classification, known as gharib [11].

2. Isnad of Hadith can be muttasil, where the chain of transmitters is uninterrupted, or mu'an'an, where the chain of transmitters was interrupted. A Hadith is muttasil when marked by expressions such as haddathana (he told us), which indicates a personal connection between the transmitters. Whereas mu'an'an, which is distinguished by the use of the term "a'n", indicates assertion that transmitter A relates from transmitter B. This allows for the possibility of the presence of one or more intermediary narrators not mentioned in the isnad. In the above six Hadith's the term "a'n" places them in the mu'an'an classification [5].

3. Now to examine the transmitters themselves:

a. Abdul-aziz bin Abdullah who is a transmitter in Hadith 2 above: he is Al-owaisee according to Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani [6]. Although some said he is trustworthy, Abu-dawood said he is weak, as a transmitter [12: volume IV, p 366].

b. Harmalah bin Yahya (Hadith 4 above) is a friend of Imam Ash-Shafi'i. Although some regarded him as trustworthy, he was regarded by Abu Hatim as an unreliable person, and by Abdullah bin Muhammad as week [11, 12: volume II, p. 215].

c. Za'idah (Hadiths 1,3 & 6 above) is considered weak by the Hadith critics [12: volume II, p. 64-65].

So each of the above six Hadiths has one unreliable transmitter. Hence these Hadiths do not fit the criteria set by Bukhari and Muslim themselves for accepting a Hadith as Sahih (correct). In addition, modern scholars of the Hadith agree that not all Hadiths ascribed to Abu Hurairah were from him [11].

4. To examine the matn of the above Hadiths in question: All clash with the Quran which describe Adam and his mate being created from one Nafs as explained above. The second clash is with is the Quran teaching that human beings were created "fi ahsani taqweem" i.e. most justly proportioned and with the highest capabilities. Sayyed Qutb [4], Maulana Wahiduddin Khan [10], Yusuf Ali [5], and Riffat Hassan [11] say that the stories about creation of Adam's wife from his rib are from Jewish tradition and should not be taken seriously by Muslims; and that both Adam and his wife were created from like nature from a single nafs as stated clearly in the Quran.

11. Sin in the Garden:
Adam & Eve are equally responsible for their sin in the Garden:
"And he (Satan) swore to them both that he was their sincere advisor. So by deceit he brought about their fall ..." (Quran 7:21-22)
"We (Allah) had already, beforehand taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot: and We found on his part no firm resolve" (Quran 20:115). "
"... Thus did Adam disobey His Lord, and allow himself to be seduced (by Satan)" (Quran 20:121)

12. Criterion for superiority: piety & righteousness:
"Whoever works righteousness, male or female, and has Faith, verily to him will We give a new life, a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions" (Quran 16:97)
"... Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is one who is the most righteous of you ...." (Quran 49:13)

13. Re-evaluation of some "hadith" related to Women:

a. Women and leadership:
Many Muslims think that a woman is not allowed in Islam to be a leader of a nation. This is based on one "hadith", which was evaluated above under section 4. Women and politics, part b, where evidence was presented for the unreliability of that "hadith".

b. Created from Adam's rib?
There are six "hadiths" that say women were created from a crooked rib. All these "hadiths" were evaluated above under section 10. Created from Adam's rib, where it was demonstrated that they contradict with the Quran and should not be considered more than biblical stories that infiltrated Islam.

c. Women and qibla?
The following so-called Hadith, which groups women with animals is present in several books on Hadiths:
"The dog, the ass, and women interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla"

According to Masrooq, when this was mentioned as a Hadith in front the mother of the believers, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, Aisha, she was outraged: "Now you compare us to asses and dogs! In the name of Allah, I Have seen the Prophet saying his prayers while I was lying on the bed between him and the qibla, and even though I needed it, I did not want to sit to avoid disturbing him" (Bukhari)

13. Distinctive female characters in the Quran

Under construction


[1] Jamal Badawi. Gender Equity in Islam. 1995. American Trust Publications, Plainfield, IN, USA.

[2] Sayyed Sabiq. Fiqh Assunnah. 1983. Dar El-fikr, Lebanon.

[3] Amina Wadud. Qur'an and Women. 1999, Oxford University Press, New York, NY

[4] Sayyed Qutb. Fi Thilal Al-Quran

[5] A. Yusuf Ali. The Holy Quran: translation and commentary. 1983. Amana corp.,USA

[6] Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani. Fath Al-Bari. Dar Al-marifa, Lebanon.

[7] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. Tahtheeb at-tahtheeb.

[8] Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi. Hadith literature: its origin, development & special features. 1993. Alden Press. Oxford, Britain.

[9] Ruth Roded. Women in Islamic Biographical Collections from Ibn Sad to who's who. 1994. Lynne Rienner Publishers. Colorado, USA.

[10] Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Women in Islamic Shari'ah. 1998. Al-risala books, New Delhi, India

[11] Riffat Hassan. Made from Adam's rib: The woman's creation question. Al-Mushir Theological Journal of the Christian Study Center, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Autumn 1985, pp. 124-156.

[12] Shams ad-Deen Ad-dhahabi. Mizan al-itidal fi naqd ar-rigal. Dar al-kutub al-ilmiyyah, Lebanon.