Women’s Intelligence Hadith Again
by Gibril F Haddad
TEXT AND SOURCING
The hadith states that the Prophet upon him blessings and peace, addressed a group of women in the mosque, saying:
“I have not seen any one 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 of your 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 your religion.”
It is related in al-Bukhari and Muslim.
ITS MEANING IS NOT LITERAL
The hadith here uses two figures of speech: the first is hyperbole (mubalagha) meaning exaggeration in the words “even a prudent, sensible man might be led astray by some of you” i.e. a fortiori an ordinary man.
The second figure is synechdoche (majaz mursal) consisting in using the whole for the part: intelligence to mean the specific legal testimony of a woman, and religion to mean the prayer and fast at the time of menses.
Numerous verses and other narrations stress that the reward of women equals that of men even if their acts differ. So this particular narration is not meant literally but as an acknowledgment of the inordinate power women wield over men while ostensibly less active in the public and spiritual spheres.
THREE ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND MEANINGS
Three additional meanings provide an indispensable completion of the picture of this hadith. These meanings revolve around fundraising for jihad, the blame of women’s cursing of their husbands, and the playfulness of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, with his female public.
The real import of the hadith – spoken at the Farewell Pilgrimage – and its actual context was that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, challenged the women that were present to realize that unless they helped raise money with their gold and jewelry, they would miss the reward of men waging jihad as well as show ingratitude.
2. BLAME OF CURSING
In the full version of the hadith the Prophet upon him blessings and peace, also orders the women to ask forgiveness and desist from frequently cursing their husbands. All this was spoken at a time of (1) the impending departure of the latter on jihad; (2) the impending departure of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, from this world; and (3) the fact that “Cursing the believer is like killing him.”
“After the Farewell Pilgrimage at the Eid prayer, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) walked past the men leaning on Bilal’s arm, and came to the rows of women behind them. Bilal spread out a cloth and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) urged the women to be generous with their gifts of charity, for when he had been allowed a glimpse into the flames of Hell, he had noted that most of the people being tormented there were women. 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.”
In conclusion, we need to remove the meaning of the words of the Prophet upon him blessings and peace, from our contemporary context of sour feminism and the clash of the sexes, and replace it into its proper context: namely, a parting, wartime exhortation using certain figures of speech which are not meant literally, nor are women the issue although they are addressed pointedly and, as it were, by the scruff of their gender; but rather, to trigger among wealthy and sensible citizens acts of generosity for the greater good while reminding them that life is fleeting and thankfulness a surer way to Paradise than despair.
And Allah knows best.