Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Muharram / SAFAR 1424 H
April 2003
Volume 16-04 No : 196
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Our Dialogue


Are Women Deficient?
Women's Prostration in Prayer
Missing the Friday Prayers
Ablution and Sleep
A Woman and Her Close Relatives


By Adil Salahi

Are Women Deficient?

Q. My daughter keeps asking me about the Hadith that women are deficient in mental ability and in religion. Could you please explain it? Why does the Prophet say that most women will be in hell?

A. Your daughter is not alone. Many are those who question the meaning it conveys. This is largely due to the fact that the Hadith is quoted only in part and the relevant statement is cited out of context. People always attribute to the Prophet the suggestion that women are inferior to men on grounds of a deficient mind a lack of faith. This is far from true.

Let us look at the Hadith in full: “On the occasion of Eid, either that of sacrifice or that of ending the fast, the Prophet went to the prayer place, and then went to speak to women and he said: “Ladies! ... I have not seen people deficient in mind and religion yet can get away with a rational man’s mind like any one of you.” They asked: “How are we deficient in mind and religion, Messenger of God?” He said: “Is it not true that a woman’s testimony counts as half that of a man?” When they answered in the affirmative, he said: “This is her mental deficiency. Is it not true that when a woman is in her period she neither prays nor fasts?” They again answered in the affirmative. He said: “This is her religious deficiency.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

To start with, the Prophet was speaking to a congregation of women on a joyous occasion. Exemplary in his care for others, particularly his companions, and kind and compassionate as he was, it is inconceivable that he would insult them by such a statement, if he meant it as a statement of fact, like some of us do. The Prophet simply used this phrase “deficient in mind and religion” to alert them to what he wanted to say to them. The Prophet frequently uses such a method, inserting some words that may not be relevant to the point he wants to stress, so that they serve to attract the attention of his audience. Furthermore, his statement expresses amazement at a well-known situation, when a man is infatuated by a woman to the extent that his behavior changes in character. He may be wise and intelligent, yet he could easily behave in a way that is inconsistent with his intelligence and wisdom when he is so infatuated. This is a case where a woman who is generally weaker than a man can control him.

The Hadith mentions that the Prophet’s women audience asked him to clarify what he said. His clarification pin-points certain aspects that suggest no inferiority whatsoever. The mental deficiency is related to the fact that in certain cases, two women witnesses are required in place of one man as witness. This has to do with the role of each of the two sexes in Islamic society. It is no reflection on a woman’s mental ability. As for religious deficiency, the Prophet states the fact that a woman is exempt from prayer and fasting when she is in menstruation. While God gives a woman the reward for prayer and fasting as if she has done them, since she stops only because of her condition and in response to God’s orders, still the fact that she does not fulfill these duties means that her worship is less in terms of what she offers. It does not mean that she is a lesser believer.

As for a relevant statement of fact in this regard, the Prophet says that “Women are full sisters of men.” In the Arabic text, the Prophet uses here a word which implies total similarity and equivalence. Hence, the Prophet’s statement suggests no inferiority attached to women. The Qur’an and the Sunnah assign the same duties to both men and women, and promise them the same reward. If this does not mean the same status, I would like to know what does.

May I add here that the translation of this Hadith as quoted by you is wrong, because it splits the relevant sentence and gives the Prophet’s words in such a way that they appear to make a statement of fact. This is wrong as I have explained.

As for the other part, a full translation of it goes as follows: “‘I have seen hell and I have never seen any thing more horrific than what I saw then. I also saw that the majority of its dwellers are women.’ They asked: ‘On what grounds, Messenger of God?’ He said: ‘By their denial.’ They said: ‘Their denial of God?’ He answered: ‘No. Their denial of their spouses and their denial of kindness. You may be kind to one of them all the time, but when she finds fault with you she says: I have never received any kindness from you.’”

To start with, the Hadith does not say that most women are in hell. It says that the majority of hell dwellers are women, which simply signifies that more women fail in this worldly test than men. Then the Prophet points out their failure, which is not based on denying God. Rather, it is denying kindness, particularly in marital situations. The Prophet has pointed this out in more than one Hadith, warning women against grumbling and frequent complaints. He is also warning them here against denying kindness by their husbands, highlighting a failing that is often expressed in denying past kindness.

The Hadith shows that women can easily avoid such a destiny by being fair and appreciative of kindness. They should always be grateful to God for what He has given them and also be appreciative of any kindness done to them by others, particularly those with whom they live, be they their husbands, parents or other relatives.

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Women's Prostration in Prayer

Q. Women from the Indian sub-continent who follow the Hanafi school of Fiqh prostrate themselves in prayer, putting their arms, chests and stomachs flat to the ground. They are often reproached in the Haram for doing so. Could you say what they should do in order to dispel such criticism.

A. What these women do is wrong, because what is required of women in prayer is only to put themselves together, without leaving gaps or take up a wide area. For example, when a man in prostration, or sujood, puts his hands on the ground, his elbow does not touch his body at any point. It leaves a gap, but a woman should not leave that gap. Otherwise, prostration is the same for men and women.

Thus, a woman does not place her chest, elbows, stomach or belly on the ground. If she does, then she is doing the prostration improperly. The Prophet says: “I have been commanded to prostrate myself on seven sets of bones: the forehead, hands, knees and toes. These are the ones to touch the ground in prostration. Otherwise, we would not be prostrating ourselves, we would be doing something else when we are commanded to prostrate ourselves. One little point to add: the nose is also placed on the ground to make sure that the forehead is on the ground.

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Missing the Friday Prayers

Q. Because we had to meet a relative at the airport, we missed Friday prayer in the mosque. We prayed Zuhr when we arrived back home. However, we were told that we could not pray in congregation because it was a Friday, and we had to pray separately. But we were very uncomfortable about this. Please comment.

A. What you were told about praying separately was wrong. The Prophet led his companions in prayer when they all missed their dawn prayer after having marched for much of the night and were very exhausted. This means that it is perfectly appropriate, or indeed encouraged, for a group of people who have missed a prayer for a valid reason to offer that prayer in congregation once they can do so. The point that has been given to you is that missing a Friday prayer is a special case. It is indeed a special case because a person who misses Friday prayer in the mosque does not pray it as a Friday prayer, or Juma, but as Zuhr prayer.

What could happen is that several people arrive in a mosque after the Friday prayer has finished. If they were to offer Zuhr together in a group, they may give the impression that they were forming a separate congregation because they may have some objection to the Imam who led the Friday prayer. In order to avoid giving such an impression, they are recommended to pray separately. But in your case, you were offering your Zuhr prayer at home. There would be no chance of giving anyone a wrong impression. It would have been better for you to offer that prayer together in a congregation, with one of you leading the prayer and the other two joining him.

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Ablution and Sleep

Q. During the bus ride taking us from Mina to the Kaaba for the tawaf of ifaadah, one or two of us might have dozed off because of fatigue. They went to the Kaaba directly, without having a fresh ablution. Is this correct?

A. When you are on a bus, in the sitting position, and you doze off, your ablution, or wudhu is not invalidated, because there is no possibility that you may inadvertently make a discharge of wind that would invalidate your ablution. Therefore, those people were all right to go to the Kaaba and do their tawaf of ifaadah. They need not worry about the validity of their tawaf or their prayer, provided, of course, their ablutions were not invalidated in some other way.

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A Woman and Her Close Relatives

Q. Could you please explain how a woman should conduct herself with her mahrams. Could she shake hands with them, kiss or hug a mahram and appear in front of him without her head covering? Could you also explain who are the mahrams, and whether cousins could be considered in this category? Can a woman use hair colouring? Does this not affect her ablutions like using nail enamel?

A. Mahrams are those close relatives that a woman may not marry, such as her father, son, nephew, uncle, etc. Certainly cousins are not mahrams, even though they may be very close as in the case of cousins of similar age who live in the same house. With such mahrams a woman conducts herself as people normally do at home. Of course a woman need not put on her head covering in front of her brothers, uncles or nephews, let alone her father or grandfather. She may shake hands with any of these, and be close to them.

It is authentically reported that when Fatimah, the Prophet’s daughter visited him, he would stand up to greet her, kiss her and sit her in his place. When he visited her, she would do the same, rising to meet him and kissing him. This was done on a regular basis and in front of people. The Hadith mentioning this is reported by Aishah, in phraseology that suggests a habit rather than a one-off occasion.

When we speak about relatives whom a woman may not marry, her father-in-law and step son come in this category. However, a woman should conduct herself differently with these. While she need not wear her scarf in front of her adult step son or her father-in-law, she should be careful about being too familiar or liberal. The Prophet was asked about in-laws relations, and he described it as ‘death’. What he means is that when things are allowed to go out of hand in such a relationship, this could spell a ruinous atmosphere that kills family relations. The same applies to a man with his mother-in-law, her daughters and his adult step-daughter. Caution must be the guide in dealing with them. Where there is no chance that things could go wrong, one may be more relaxed. Otherwise, we should be careful.

Hair dye or color is different from nail enamel, because enamel forms a layer over the nail that prevents water from reaching it. A color does not form such a layer. If a woman colors her hands with henna, for example, her hand may be red, but when she washes her hands, they become wet and water certainly reaches her skin.

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