This hadith and its alternate versions are often used by imams in mosques to claim that women are deficient and lesser than men in Islam and to portray women as temptresses who lead men astray.
حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدُ بْنُ أَبِي مَرْيَمَ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي زَيْدٌ ـ هُوَ ابْنُ أَسْلَمَ ـ عَنْ عِيَاضِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ، قَالَ خَرَجَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي أَضْحًى ـ أَوْ فِطْرٍ ـ إِلَى الْمُصَلَّى، فَمَرَّ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ فَقَالَ ” يَا مَعْشَرَ النِّسَاءِ تَصَدَّقْنَ، فَإِنِّي أُرِيتُكُنَّ أَكْثَرَ أَهْلِ النَّارِ “. فَقُلْنَ وَبِمَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ ” تُكْثِرْنَ اللَّعْنَ، وَتَكْفُرْنَ الْعَشِيرَ، مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الْحَازِمِ مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ “. قُلْنَ وَمَا نُقْصَانُ دِينِنَا وَعَقْلِنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ ” أَلَيْسَ شَهَادَةُ الْمَرْأَةِ مِثْلَ نِصْفِ شَهَادَةِ الرَّجُلِ “. قُلْنَ بَلَى. قَالَ ” فَذَلِكَ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ عَقْلِهَا، أَلَيْسَ إِذَا حَاضَتْ لَمْ تُصَلِّ وَلَمْ تَصُمْ “. قُلْنَ بَلَى. قَالَ ” فَذَلِكَ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ دِينِهَا
It is usually translated as the following;
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) on ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone 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 in her 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 her religion.”
This has puzzled, confused and sometimes, angered many a Muslim woman. All because the translation and explanation has been done by those looking at it while wearing sexist spectacles and just like the rose-tinted kind, these spectacles affect the understanding and outlook of all those who wear them.
In fact, there are a number of corrections necessary here.
1. وَتَكْفُرْنَ الْعَشِيرَ
This should read ‘ingratitude to the one(s) who supports the woman’. Of course, this is not synonymous with husband. It could be her father, her brother, her relative and so on.
The evidence for this is in the Quran in Surah Al Hajj, verse 13.
يَدْعُو لَمَنْ ضَرُّهُ أَقْرَبُ مِن نَّفْعِهِ لَبِئْسَ الْمَوْلَى وَلَبِئْسَ الْعَشِيرُ
He calls unto him whose harm is nearer than his profit; certainly an evil ally and certainly an evil helper/supporter.
(Obviously, it is clear from this verse the word ‘a’sheer’ does not mean ‘husband’!)
The reason why this is important is that some Muslim men then link the rest of the Hadith to the spousal relationship using it against their wives to criticise and lower a woman’s intellectual capabilities.
2. مَا رَأَيْتُ مِنْ نَاقِصَاتِ عَقْلٍ وَدِينٍ أَذْهَبَ لِلُبِّ الرَّجُلِ الْحَازِمِ مِنْ إِحْدَاكُنَّ
This does not mean ‘I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you.’ Rather, the Prophet was stating, ‘I have not previously recognised, that despite being ‘Naqisaat’ (ie. ‘with something missing’ – see below), one of you could overcome a resolute/strong-willed man’.
To completely understand this, we must go back to the context. The women were asked to give in charity. They were advised to take heed in the matters of cursing and ingratitude. Then, the Prophet said something motivating to instil hope in the hearts of the women – that women have the capabilities despite being ‘Naqisaat’ to match and even overcome a man.
3. قُلْنَ وَمَا نُقْصَانُ دِينِنَا وَعَقْلِنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ ” أَلَيْسَ شَهَادَةُ الْمَرْأَةِ مِثْلَ نِصْفِ شَهَادَةِ الرَّجُل”. قُلْنَ بَلَى. قَالَ ” فَذَلِكَ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ عَقْلِهَا، أَلَيْسَ إِذَا حَاضَتْ لَمْ تُصَلِّ وَلَمْ تَصُمْ “. قُلْنَ بَلَى. قَالَ ” فَذَلِكَ مِنْ نُقْصَانِ دِينِهَا
The usual translation (see above) is incorrect.
It would be better translated as – “The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is missing in our knowledge/understanding 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 what is missing in her knowledge/understanding. 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 what is missing in her religion.”
For those who would like more insight into the Arabic, the term ‘nuqsaan’ translates to ‘missing/absent’. ‘Aql’ does not refer to intelligence. Rather if we look at its usage in the Quran, it refers to ‘understanding based upon knowledge’.
There are many examples in the Quran but I will just point out one (Surah Al Baqarah, verse 73),
فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا كَذَلِكَ يُحْىِ اللَّهُ الْمَوْتَى وَيُرِيكُمْ آيَـتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
So We said: “Strike him (the dead man) with a piece of it (the cow).” Thus Allah brings the dead to life and shows you His Ayat (proofs, evidences, etc.) so that you may understand.
The Prophet was expressing that a woman despite the fact that, in a specific situation (See Al Baqarah, verse 282) is called as a witness as part of a pair and despite the fact that she misses prayers when she is menstruating, a woman is still able to triumph over a man.
There are those out there who will always point to women as sexual beings, as temptresses. Again, this depends upon the spectacles they are wearing for their world view.
Upon scrutiny, it is clear that this hadith is not about women being inferior. It is not about women as sexual beings. It is the recount of the Muslim women at the time being asked to give in charity. It is also for us to take heed of being grateful to those who work to support us and to be careful of cursing. Yet, it is also an affirmation that women should not be underestimated either by themselves or the men around them.
My advice to anyone out there who has read this hadith or any other and felt confusion, injustice, depression, anger, or any other emotion is to always question what the clergy offer. To search for the truth endlessly until you find it. The religion is never the problem. The Lord is Just and Fair. Sexism both within the Muslim world and the wider society is the real issue. Indeed, it is the spectacles the male clergy wear that are causing confusion and misleading us.
Its time for us to see the truth for ourselves.