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Myth Busters: Women Are Not Allowed To Be Leaders

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While Islamic law protects women from taking on law-enforcing roles, does the Shariah discredit them from all leadership? Muslim feminist Shaista Gohir feels women can be leaders, and only interpretation prevents them. Read what she says.

A series of articles written by Muslim feminist Shaista Gohir, of the Big Sister organisation.

Part 1 | Part 2

*Disclaimer, the comic images were designed by myself. The entire series are the words and views of Shaista Gohir.
© Big Sister - reproduction rights for cartoon obtainable from www.bigsister.org.uk

What do scholars tell us?

Some scholars say that leadership of women is prohibited by Islam. The basis for this assertion is that women are excluded from leading prayer for a mixed gathering of men and women. They also state leadership of Muslims by women is a modern phenomenon caused by "westernisation." However, most arguments based on excluding women from leadership and being heads of state is based on the following hadith narrated by Abu Bakrah:
"During the Battle of the Camel (in which `Aisha, the Prophet’s ﷺ widow led an army in opposition to 'Ali, the fourth Caliph), Allah benefitted me with a word. When the Prophet ﷺ heard the new that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khorau their queen (ruler), he said, “Never will such a nation succeed that makes a woman their ruler.”

What the scholars don’t tell us

1. According to history there were many women leaders, with some having coins minted in their name and the Friday sermons mentioned in their names. Some of these women are listed on the Big Sister website.

2. `Aisha (ra) (the Prophet’s ﷺ wife), was the first Muslim woman to assume a political career – at the time she was the most educated and most knowledgeable of fiqh (jurisprudence). She led the first armed resistance against a Caliph, then known as the Battle of the Camel (because she rode a camel). She would not have taken this decision if she thought women were not allowed to be leaders.

3. Leading prayer is purely a religious act – however, leading a state is a religiously based political act. Exclusion of women from one does not necessarily imply exclusion in the other. Note: With regards to women leading prayer, there is a hadith in which the Prophet ﷺ asked  Umm Waraqah to lead her household in prayer which included a young girl, a young boy and a male caller to prayer. This issue is not being explored here.

4. There is no text in the Qur'an or Sunnah that precludes women from position of leadership e.g. becoming heads of state. Arguments to exclude women from being leaders are not convincing and are mainly based on the above hadith narrated by Abu Bakrah which has been disputed as follows:

• The timing of Abu Bakra recalling the above hadith has been questioned i.e. after `Aisha lost the battle against 'Ali. There is a theory that he may have opportunistically 'remembered' this so called hadith spoken 25 years earlier to curry favour with the winning side.

• The reliability of Abu Bakrah as a witness to the narration has been questioned as the second Caliph `Umar (ra) had ordered Abu Bakrah to be flogged for false testimony.

• Some scholars say the hadith is authentic but insist that it was a prophecy relating to the Kingdom of Persia and had no legal implications beyond that. The Persians rulers at the time of the Prophet ﷺ showed enmity towards him. The Prophet’s ﷺ response to the news may have been a statement about an impending doom of that unjust empire (which did take place later) and not related to issue of gender.

• Some scholars say that the hadith (whether authentic or questionable) was for that specific example in history and not a general statement on gender because there is evidence in the Qur'an to refute the fact that people or any society ruled by women does not prosper. According to Al Naml: 27-44*, people prospered under a wise and powerful female sovereign, the Queen of Sheba.

*Correction: Qur'an, chapter 27:23

© Opinions by Shaista Gohir - founder of the Big Sister website.

Sources and Further Reading:
The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Merinissi
- Gender Equity in Islam by Jamal Badawi

More on bada$$ women:
More British Women Convert To Islam (Report)
Muslim Women In The Arts & Me
Funny Conversations: The Oppressed Brother
Story - I regret marrying your mother


  1. As-salaamu 'alaikum,

    The issue of the adultery accusation has no bearing on the reliability of Abu Bakrah (radhi Allahu 'anhu) as a hadeeth narrator; if it were, the hadeeth scholars of the past would not have accepted his narrations. This is something modern pseudo-scholars have invented to discredit a hadeeth they dislike.

    The reliability of a hadeeth narrator has nothing to do with the admissibility of their court testimony. If it were, hadeeth narrated by women would not be deemed acceptable or reliable, but in fact their word is worth as much as a man's in that field, particularly given that, despite the large number of men who knowingly invented or transmitted false hadeeths, no women were ever known to do that.

  2. Wa`alaykumsalam Matthew,
    I kindly ask that you repost your thoughts on the Big Sister site and for Shaista Gohir to view. I don't see a commenting system as of now but a Facebook share might be productive insha-Allah.


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