Is it true that there is a hadith about the woman’s being deficient in intelligence and religion? If it is true, is it not regarded as insult and injustice to women?

The Details of the Question

Can you explain the hadith stating that women are deficient in intelligence and religion and that women are in majority in Hell?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

First, let us read the hadith that forms the basis of this issue. Then, we will try to answer questions regarding the issue:

Abu Said al-Khudri, one of the Companions narrates: It was Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) came to the prayer place where we performed eid prayers. There were also women on one side. He passed by them and addressed them as follows:

“O women, give sadaqah and ask for forgiveness a lot because the people of Hell were shown to me; most of them were women.”

Thereupon, those women asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What did we do to form the majority of the people of Hell?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) answered as follows:

“Because you curse others a lot and are ungrateful toward your husbands. Strangely enough, I have never seen anyone who is deficient in religion to lead astray a self- controlled, intelligent, and religiously devoted person as much as you.”

The women asked again: “O Messenger of Allah! What is our deficiency in intelligent and religion?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Is the witnessing of a woman not half of the witnessing of a man?” asked.

The women answered, “Yes!..” Our Prophet explained it and asked again:

“That is the deficiency in intelligence. Is it not true that a woman does not perform prayers when she menstruates [she waits for days] and does not fast for a while during Ramadan?”

The women said, “Yes!..” The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“That is the deficiency in religion.”

[For the hadith, see. Bukhari, Hayd 6, Zakah 44, Iman 21, Kusuf 9, Nikah 88; Muslim, Kusuf 17, (907), Iman 132, (79); Nasai, Kusuf 17, (3, 147); Muwatta, Kusuf 2, (1, 187)]

Answer 1:

It is indicated in the hadith that women are deficient in intelligence and religion. The verse that regards the testimony of two women as the testimony of one man in financial issues (al-Baqara, 2/282) is cited as evidence of their deficiency in intelligence. The evidence for their deficiency in religion is that a woman who is menstruating and who is in puerperium stays away from deeds of worship such as prayer and fasting. (see Bukhari, Hayd, 6).

We need to understand this hadith correctly because, in practice, it is obvious that some women are more intelligent than some men. Therefore, it is useful to point out a few things to understand the issue:

a. Some points mentioned in the hadith indicate that the deficiency in intelligence does not mean being retarded, but that they have more emotional sides. The Prophet’s addressing the women in the hadith by saying, “You curse a lot and are ungrateful toward your husbands/relatives” shows it because cursing someone else in a moment of anger or denying the goodness one receives is the most obvious indicator of being emotional.

b. The wisdom behind women’s emotional nature is hidden in their maternal characteristics because being patient toward children and raising them is possible only with a serious sacrifice, compassion and love. They are emotions too. Those emotions, which are given to mothers to become heroes of compassion, will definitely have side effects. The things that occur as a result of their excessive emotionality, which are completely opposite to their fine spirits, their self-sacrificing consciences and their loving hearts, are a negative reflection of those side effects.

c. The word “Tadilla” mentioned in the verse and shown in the hadith as evidence of women’s being deficient in intelligence expresses “forgetting”. (see Qurtubi, III/397) The reason mentioned as “forgetfulness” reveals another dimension of the issue. In other words, what is meant in the hadith is not the women’s deficiency in religion but the impact of pregnancy, puerperium, and especially the menstrual cycle, which occurs every month, on the psychology of women. However, serious research conducted by experts in psychology and especially gynecology will reveal important facts regarding the issue.

d. Judgments are made based on the majority. Women are more touchy, more impatient and more emotional; they are more inclined to deliberately deny some good deeds and favors when it does not suit their books, and more likely to exaggerate even small issues and turn them into problems. In a situation where emotions come to the fore, the mind is completely or partially out of action. That is expressed as the deficiency in intelligence.

e. This emotional side also has a positive discrimination. Expert scholars say that a woman can reach a level of sainthood in forty days, whereas a man can only attain it in forty years.

We see that positive discrimination in the hadith “Paradise is under the feet of mothers” too

So, we should not doubt the justice of Allah. There is a merciful measure rather than a fair measure between reward and punishment and the deeds that are done.

Accordingly, everybody will be called to account according to his material and spiritual position and the conditions he finds himself in. Thus, a woman will be called to account according to femininity and other characteristics given to her and a man will be called to account according to masculinity and other characteristics given to him. Nobody will be called to account for what he did not do, nor will he be held responsible for what he cannot do. Everybody has a special account and a reward according to this account.

“…Allah never harms those who serve Him.” (Aal-i İmran, 3/182; al-Anfal, 8/51; al-Hajj, 22/10)

“…nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His Servants.” (Fussilat, 41/46)

“Allah is never unjust in the least degree.” (an-Nisa, 4/40)

“Verily Allah will not deal unjustly with man in aught: It is man that wrongs his own soul.” (Yunus, 10/44)

Allah is the sole owner and sole ruler of all land. The Sultan of pre-eternity and post-eternity can do as He wishes in His land. However, all the deeds of the Wisely Just and Absolutely Merciful One are wise, merciful and just. No one can be more compassionate and merciful to His creatures than Him.

Answer 2:

As it is clearly seen in the hadith, our Prophet (pbuh) explains the deficiency in religion of a woman as her inability to perform some deeds of worship when she menstruates. It is present in the nature of women. Every woman menstruates on certain days every month. She cannot perform some worship on those days. She is exempted from some of those deeds of worship, and she is to make up some of them afterwards.

During menstrual days, a woman cannot pray, fast, or perform the obligatory circumambulation during hajj. She has to make up for the fast and circumambulation afterwards but she is exempt from the prayers she cannot perform. Meanwhile, she cannot do things such as touching the Quran, reading the Quran and entering the mosque, which are all forms of worship.

A woman who cannot perform those deeds of worship on certain days is separated from some religious services and duties, albeit for a certain period of time. Apparently, there is a deficiency in her religious life because prayer, fasting and hajj constitute three important pillars of the five pillars of the Islamic religion; therefore, a woman who cannot do them at certain times is regarded as deficient compared to a man.

So, the deficiency here is relative. A Muslim man who can perform five daily prayers throughout the year and fast for a month during Ramadan is perfect in terms of performing those deeds of worship completely, compared to a Muslim woman; and the woman is deficient. So, for example, a woman who menstruates for a week every month is regarded as deficient compared to a man in this regard by not performing prayers for approximately three months in a year.

However, this deficiency is not in terms of quality, but in terms of quantity. In other words, by not praying during that time, the woman performs a fard because it is fard for a woman not to perform the prayers we have mentioned during her menstrual days and it is haram to perform them. It means that a woman performs some kind of worship even when she does not pray; she obeys Allah’s command and therefore gets her thawab from that aspect.

When we look at the issue from this perspective, the woman’s deficiency in worship is compensated for in another way.

On the other hand, women are not denigrated in the hadith; men are asked to pay attention. Sane, religious men are asked not to fall into mischief through women and not to damage their belief because, as we see in many examples today, some men show deficiencies in their religious life by following women.

Answer 3:

Everybody has a different world in this realm, with different living conditions, different problems faced by individuals, families and relatives, different problems in terms of livelihood, and finally the unique social structure of the country one lives in. The results of this divine division, the wisdom of which we do not fully know, but which is undoubtedly fair, will be shown in the afterlife, on the day of supreme justice, and as it is stated in the chapter of az-Zilzal, every atom’s weight of good and every atom’s weight of evil will be accounted for there.

Many things that are considered beneficial in this world will become a great burden for the servant there due to the weight of his responsibility; many things that seem to be trouble and hardship will be a means of forgiveness of sins there - provided that he is patient.

The Gathering Place awaits people as a supreme court of justice, where the rights of even animals, both from humans and one another, will be taken, and where even the rights of an unbeliever from a Muslim will be taken into account. The Absolute Just One, who weighs even the small rights of animals related to one another with a delicate scale whose nature we do not know, will definitely judge humans with His absolute justice.

It should not be overlooked that on that day of justice, when even the slightest bit of evil will be taken into account, those who slander Divine justice will also be brought to account.

“On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.” (al-Baqara, 2/286)

Allah clearly states that He does not offer His servants burdens that they cannot bear. Just as there are burdens that a person’s body cannot bear or his possessions are not enough for, so too are there realities that his mind cannot reach alone. All of them are within the fact that people are not given burdens that they cannot bear.

Let us explain the issue with some examples:

- A person who is too ill to stand performs his prayer sitting.

- If a person is unable to sit or move, his prayer is postponed.

- The fast of a person who eats by forgetting in Ramadan will not be broken.

- A person who is forced to eat something haram will not be held responsible.

- It is not fard for a poor Muslim to go on hajj and give zakah.

More examples can be given. They are proofs that God Almighty is Absolutely Just and that He does not impose burdens that they cannot bear on His servants.

With His absolute justice, Allah Almighty limits the responsibilities of His servants not only with their physical and financial conditions, but also with their conditions and their ability to comprehend the realities of belief and to be aware of Islamic rules.

Answer 4:

Some lessons to be learned from the hadith in question:

1. In the hadith in question, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) draws attention to the inherent weaknesses of women that cause them the greatest spiritual harm. We say “the greatest” because the reason for their majority in Hell is attributed to that weakness. The weakness in question is that they use bad words quickly and often, are ungrateful toward their husbands, and seduce men. Since they cause men to sin, they are held responsible for it.

The same holds true for the opposite sex. In other words, men are also responsible for the mistakes they make related to women.

2. At first glance, the hadith may seem to have a dismissive attitude toward women, which is seen everywhere at all times. However, saying so means failing to grasp the subtlety of the hadith. By showing the weaknesses that women naturally have but are unaware of, the Messenger of Allah drew attention to the great harm they would cause if those weaknesses were not dealt with consciously:  

Since women were created for a duty that requires compassion and sensitivity, i.e., motherhood, they are superior to men in some emotional aspects. This emotional strength has side weaknesses that come with it. If one is not conscious of those weaknesses, does not direct them with his will, and leave them as they are, they will have negative consequences that will harm that person. The Messenger of Allah states that the large number of women in hell is due to that natural weakness.

The natural weakness we mention is brought to the agenda with the verse: Their witnessing is equivalent to half of the witnessing of men in many issues:

“...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....“ (al-Baqara, 2/282)

Scholars say that the phrase “if one of them errs, the other can remind her” in the verse is regarded as evidence that women are weak in keeping track of the event, and that God Almighty draws attention to their weakness with this phrase. It is stated in the chapter of al-Mulk that the Creator knows everything: يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ  ”Should He not know,- He that created?” (al-Mulk, 67/14).

3. Saying that women are mentally deficient does not mean to criticize, condemn or insult them in any way because it is an inborn characteristic. It is mentioned to warn people against the mischief that this weakness will bring and to call for caution. As a matter of fact, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said about the heels that are in danger of staying dry if special care is not taken during wudu, “Woe on those heels that will burn in the fire!” In fact, not only the heels but also other wudu parts are subject to the warning “woe on”. If they are not washed well, the same harmful situation is in question for other organs. The painful consequence of this risk of “not being washed well” was brought to the agenda and paying attention was demanded with the mention of heels, which are the organs that are most exposed to the danger of not being washed well.

Women showed that they were unaware of their weaknesses that often led them to the fire with the following question: “Why do women form the majority of the people of Hell?

4. One subtlety we would like to draw attention to is that in the hadith women are not threatened with fire because they are mentally deficient. The threat of fire was uttered because “they speak bad words a lot”, “they are ungrateful to their husbands” and “they seduce men”. In other words, they were condemned not because they were women, but because they did those things. So, this condemnation is only for those who commit those sins.

The same can be said for being deficient in religion. It is the result of a natural state. Women do not pray or fast during menstruation due to Allah’s prohibition; so, even this state does not cause any blame, shame or contempt for them. Being perfect and flawless is a relative situation. Compared to the most perfect, “perfect” is also considered incomplete. Therefore, a woman who does not perform prayers during menstruation is religiously incomplete compared to the one who performs it. However, women can compensate for that deficiency by doing what is recommended in the hadith.

5. The Imam may order the people to give sadaqah.

6. Women can be in a special section of the prayer place.

7. The imam may preach and give advice the women’s community privately.

8. It is haram to be ungrateful to the blessings given by Allah.

9. It is also haram to use bad words (curse, damnation, ill omen, hurtful words, etc.) a lot. Based on this hadith, Nawawi considers ungratefulness and bad words among major sins.

10. Cursing, that is, wishing people to be away from Allah’s mercy, is not permissible if it is for a certain person.

11. It is permissible to use the word “kufr (unbelief)” about some sins that do not make a person exit the religion. This usage aims to dissuade with strong language and intimidate. This kind of dissuasion with strong language is sometimes uttered in the hadiths as lack of belief. They also have the same purpose: to scare and to dissuade from the mistake in question.

12. In advice, strong terms may be used to destroy the rejected or blamed characteristic. However, it should not be directed at a specific person.

13. Giving sadaqah, helping and doing good deeds eliminate the penalty and become atonement for the sins among the servants.

14. There can be excess and deficiency in the mind. Not everyone’s mind is equal. Accepting it about women is not a condemnation for them. Penalty is not due to lack of intelligence, but to deeds such as ungratefulness, bad words, and seducing people.

15. Being deficient in the religion does not arise only from deeds that cause sins. Being deficient in the religion is a relative state (according to Nawawi).

16. The student can ask or object to his teacher or the official can ask or object to his chief about what he does not understand.

17. The hadith also shows high ethics, tolerance, kindness and leniency of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) toward people. (see Prof. Dr. İbrahim Canan, Kütüb-i Sitte Tercüme ve Şerhi.)

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