Islam never differentiates between men and women as regards political rights and puts them on an equal footing. However, even if a woman is qualified for leadership, when it comes to posts of authority such as presidency [or head of state, as this titles varies from one country to another] Muslim scholars unanimously agree that it is impermissible for a woman to assume such a post because in this case she is in charge of her people’s affairs; that is, everything is at her command. Yet, scholars differ when it comes to issues other than caliphate, presidency, head of state, and the like.
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi in his reply to those scholars who gave a fatwa that deprived women of political rights stated that: I am acquainted with the fatwa referred to by the questioner, which was issued by some scholars from Al-Azhar and maintains that all of women’s political rights are prohibited. The first of these is the right to vote in presidential elections, and, with greater reason, the right of women to be members of parliament, since women are already prohibited by these scholars to vote.
Women Are Absorbed With Worldly Ornaments
Among the arguments on which the fatwa that deprives woman of political rights is based, is that woman, by nature and natural disposition, fits the mission for which she is created, namely motherhood and taking care of and raising children. This is why woman has a unique emotional aspect. These scholars say that there are many examples showing that passion and emotion are deeply rooted in woman’s character in all stages and at all times.
Such inner attributes cause women, even the superior ones such as the Prophet’s wives (may Allah be pleased with them), to let emotion and passion prevail over reason and wisdom. To illustrate, some verses in Surat Al-Ahzab state how the Prophet’s wives were absorbed by worldly ornaments and how they asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to give them from the spoils of war granted to him by Allah, so that they could lead a luxurious life just like the wives of kings and rulers. However, the Qur’an admonished them through reason and wisdom: (O Prophet! Say unto thy wives: “If ye desire the world’s life and its adornment, come! I will content you and will release you with a fair release. But if ye desire Allah and His Messenger and the abode of the Hereafter, then lo! Allah hath prepared for the good among you an immense reward”)(Al-Ahzab 33:28-29).
Moreover, there is another verse in Surat At-Tahrim showing how the emotion of the Prophet’s wives outweighed their reason, that they used to help each other against the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Almighty Allah says: (If ye twain turn unto Allah repentant, (ye have cause to do so) for your hearts desired (the ban); and if ye aid one another against him (Muhammad) then lo! Allah, even He, is his protecting Friend, and Gabriel and the righteous among the believers; and furthermore the angels are his helpers) (At-Tahrim 66:4).
That is to say, even women in the highest level were not free from being highly affected by passion and emotion, and they did not have enough spiritual strength to overcome aspects of jealousy despite the perfection of their faith and the presence in the house of prophethood and revelation. So what about ordinary women who do not have the same faith, are not present in the same religious at
mosphere, and cannot even dream of having such a superior status, or even a similar one, in Islam?
This is what the scholars of such a fatwa have stated about the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), yet they forgot to mention that when the Prophet’s wives (may Allah be pleased with them) were given the option, they chose the way of Allah and His Messenger and the Hereafter. Still, their love for ornaments and worldly adornments was just like that of any other women, especially the wives of kings, rulers, and great men. This by no means indicates that their minds were limited or that they were disqualified to think of the public interest. That is to say, their interest in worldly ornaments was just out of their human nature as women, and it immediately vanished once the abovementioned verse, through which they were given option, was revealed.
On the other hand, men, not only women, used to experience such worldly inclination sometimes, and then they would regain religious consciousness by the revelation of a relevant verse. To illustrate, Almighty Allah, addressing His Messenger, states in the Qur’an about the Prophet’s Companions: (But when they spy some merchandise or pastime they break away to it and leave thee standing. Say: “That which Allah hath is better than pastime and than merchandise, and Allah is the Best of providers”) (Al-Jumu`ah 62:11).
Moreover, following the Battle of Uhud, Almighty Allah revealed some Qur’anic verses rebuking those Companions who disobeyed the Prophet’s command in the battle, giving up their position on the mount and running down to get the spoils, which action allowed the Muslim army to be cornered. On this occasion, Almighty Allah revealed: (Allah verily made good His promise unto you when ye routed them by His leave, until (the moment) when your courage failed you, and ye disagreed about the order and ye disobeyed, after He had shown you that for which ye long. Some of you desired the world, and some of you desired the Hereafter) (Aal `Imran 3:152). In this connection, Ibn Mas`ud said, “I never thought that there were men among us who seek the worldly life, until that verse was revealed.” Is it reasonable to maintain that such good men were not qualified for great missions just because they temporarily weakened in certain situations when their own desires overcame their wisdom?
The Qur’an also states similar weakness within the hearts of some of the believers before and after the Battle of Badr. Almighty Allah says: (Even as thy Lord caused thee (Muhammad) to go forth from thy home with the Truth, and lo! a party of the believers were averse (to it), disputing with thee of the Truth after it had been made manifest, as if they were being driven to death visible. And when Allah promised you one of the two bands (of the enemy) that it should be yours, and ye longed that other than the armed one might be yours) (Al-Anfal 8:5-7). In addition, regarding their attitude towards the prisoners of war after the battle, Almighty Allah states: (Ye desire the lure of this world and Allah desireth (for you) the Hereafter, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. Had it not been for an ordinance of Allah which had gone before, an awful doom had come upon you on account of what ye took) (Al-Anfal 8:67-68).
According to the above, human weakness can afflict both men and women, yet the end is what matters. Why do those scholars who maintain that women should be deprived of political rights not mention or remember Umm Salamah’s beneficial advice to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on the Day of Al-Hudaibiyah? Why do they not mention or remember the woman who ruled her people by reason and wisdom and led them, in the most critical situations, to what was good for them in this worldly life as well as in the Hereafter, namely the queen of Sheba? The Qur’an states that the queen of Sheba so eloquently and briefly told her people what conquerors used to do when they conquered a land: (She said: “Lo! kings, when they enter a township, ruin it and make the honor of its people shame. Thus will they do”) (An-Naml 27:34).
Natural Obstacles to Woman’s Work in the Political Field
Those scholars who maintain that women are disqualified for legislative work argue that woman has natural obstacles, such as menstrual pain, the pain and weakness of pregnancy and childbirth, the troubles of nursing, and the burdens of motherhood. All these obstacles, they say, make woman physically, psychologically, and mentally unable to bear the duties of membership in parliament, where she is supposed to participate in legislating and questioning the government.
Actually, we agree with this opinion, as not every woman is qualified to burden parliamentary duties. A woman who is preoccupied with the burdens of motherhood should never involve herself in the candidacy for such posts in the first place, and if she does, none should ever vote for her, as her children are more deserving of her concern. However, if a woman is barren and has plenty of power, energy, time, knowledge, and wisdom; or if she is about the age of fifty and is no longer subject to the aforementioned natural obstacles, and all her children are grown; or if she is old and wise enough and has plenty of spare time to use for the public interest, why does such a woman not work in the parliamentary field, provided that she fulfills all other conditions that make her a qualified candidate?
The Verse That States (And Stay in Your Houses)
The fatwa that maintains that woman’s candidacy is impermissible is also based on the verse in which Almighty Allah says (And stay in your houses) (Al-Ahzab 33:33). In reply to this, we say that it is indisputably known that the verse addresses the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as indicated in the context. It is worth mentioning that there were special rulings related to the Prophet’s wives (may Allah be pleased with them). To illustrate, if one of them committed manifest lewdness, she would receive double punishment; if she did a righteous deed, she would receive double reward; they were not permitted to remarry after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). The Qur’an states in the same context (O ye wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any other women) (Al-Ahzab 33:32). This is why Muslim scholar unanimously agree that it is permissible for a Muslim woman to go out to school or university, to the market, and to work as a teacher, a doctor, a nurse or other lawful professions, provided that the regulations of Shari`ah are observed.
Furthermore, the noble verse that states (And stay in your houses) did not prevent the Mother of the Believers and the most knowledgeable of Muslim women, `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) to go out from her home, even from Madinah, and travel to Basra, leading a large army of the Prophet’s Companions, among whom were two of the ten promised Paradise and the six caliphate candidates, Talhah and Az-Zubair. She went out demanding what she thought right, namely retaliation for the killing of `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him). Though it is said that she later regretted going out, it was not because of a question of its being permissible for a woman; it was because her political point of view was wrong, and there is a big difference.
Thus, some Muslim scholars use the abovementioned verse as a general legal proof that it is impermissible for a woman to go out of her home unless necessary. They even deny a woman’s going out to school and university. No wonder then that they deprive women of the right to vote in elections. Accordingly, such scholars make half the Muslim nation, the women, insignificant as voters or witnesses to such a crucial event as elections. In other words, they make the righteous Muslim women insignificant in this regard, whereas other women go out to vote for secular and anti-Islamic candidates. Such scholars disregard the fact that the meaning of the rest of the verse in hand indicates that it is permissible for a woman to go out if she observes modesty, decency, and chastity and does not adorn herself as was the custom in the pre-Islamic Jahiliyah. That is to say, such adornment is impermissible only when a woman is going out, but it is permissible for her at home.
The hadith That States “A People Ruled by a Woman Will Never Prosper.”
Among the proofs used by those scholars to prohibit women from being parliamentary candidates or members is the hadith narrated by Al-Bukhari and others on the authority of Abu Bakrah. The hadith states that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was informed that the Persians had crowned the daughter of the emperor as their ruler after his death, he said, “A people ruled by a woman will never prosper.” As for this hadith as a legal proof, we have to clarify some points.
First, should the hadith be generalized or restricted to the occasion on which it was said—that is, that the “people” meant in the hadith are the Persians whose hereditary rule forced them to crown a woman as their ruler although there could be much better qualified men among them to assume power? Although most jurisprudents view that the text should be generalized, not restricted to the occasion on which it was said, this opinion is not unanimously agreed upon. For example, it is narrated that Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar and other Companions stressed the significance of considering the occasions of revelation. Otherwise, there might be misconception and misinterpretation like that which troubled a Kharijite sect called Al-Hururiyah and their likes, when they generalized the Qur’anic verses about the polytheists and applied them to the believers. (See Ash-Shatibi’s research on this in Al-Muwafaqat.) This shows that the occasion of the revelation of a certain verse, or the occasion on which a certain hadith was said, should be considered to fully understand the text, and that the generalization of the text should not be taken for granted.
This is confirmed with regard to the hadith in question, for if it is generalized, it contradicts the apparent meaning of some Qur’anic verses. To illustrate, the Qur’an narrates the story of a woman who led her people perfectly, ruled them justly, and managed their affairs so wisely that she spared them engagement in a hopeless war in which their men would be killed, their belongings would be looted, and they would get nothing. That woman was Balqis, queen of Sheba, whose story with Prophet Sulayman was mentioned in the Qur’an in Surat An-Naml (Surah 27), and who finally said, as stated in the Qur’an, (My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I surrender with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds) (An-Naml 27:44).
Another confirmation that the hadith in question should not be generalized is the real fact witnessed today, namely that a lot of women have been much better and more useful for their nations than many men, and that some of those women are more efficient with regard to political and administrative ability than many of today’s Arab and Muslim leaders, who are mere males rather than “men.”
Second, Muslim scholars unanimously agree that it is impermissible for a woman to assume greater imamate or ultimate caliphate, the kind of rule and leadership referred to in the hadith in question and on the occasion on which it was said. In addition, the phrase “ruled by a woman” or “owned by a woman” as in other versions, refers to the case when a woman becomes a queen or head of state and everything is at her disposal and nothing is done without her command. The people in this case are literally “ruled” or “owned” by a woman, as the reins of power have come to her hands and everything has come to be at her beck and call. Yet scholars differ when it comes to positions other than caliph, president, head of state, and the like. Thus, a woman can be a minister, a judge, a treasurer, a supervisor, and so on. To illustrate, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed a woman called Ash-Shifa’ bint `Abdullah Al-`Adawiyah to observe and supervise the market, which position was a kind of general leadership.
Third, within democratic systems, when the community charges a person with a public position such as prime minister, this does not mean that he/she is given full authority as regards its affairs. In other words, a person in this case is not an ultimate ruler whose wish is a command or whose demand is unquestionable. Rather, he/she could be the head of a political party opposed by another party, and he/she could simply lose the following election, as happened to Indira Gandhi, former Indian prime minister, who had nothing in her party but her own vote in the elections. Thus, if a person in such a post is opposed by the majority, his/her opinion becomes just like that of a layman.