Islamic Rulings Pertaining To Women Taking Positions Of Leadership And Authority

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By Imam Murtada Gusau

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, and the Most Merciful

Alhamdulillah. Indeed, all praise is due to Allah. We praise Him and seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from the evil within ourselves and from our wrongdoings. He whom Allah guides, no one can misguide; and he whom He misguides, no one can guide.

I bear witness that there is no (true) god except Allah – alone without a partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad (SAW) is His ‘abd (servant) and Messenger.

“O you who have believe! Revere Allah the right reverence, and do not die except as Muslims.” (Ali-Imraan, 3:102)

“O people! Revere your Lord who has created you from a single soul, created from it its mate, and dispersed from both of them many men and women. Revere Allah through whom you demand things from one another; and (cherish the ties of) the wombs, indeed, Allah is ever-Watchful over you.” (An-Nisaa’, 4:1)

“O you who have believe! Revere Allah and say fair words. He will then rectify your deeds and forgive your sins. He who obeys Allah and His Messenger have certainly achieved a great victory.”(Al-Ahzaab, 33:70 -71)

Indeed, the best speech is Allah’s (SWT) Book and the best guidance is Muhammad’s (SAW) guidance. The worst affairs (of religion) are those innovated (by people), for every such innovation is an act of misguidance leading to the Fire.

Brothers and Sisters,
After the declaration of Senator Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan as a winner of Taraba state 2015 governorship election by the tribunal, one of the regular, ardent, keen and fervent readers of my weekly Friday Sermon from the state called and asked the following question seeking clarification on Islam’s position about the Governorship of a Woman. He said:

Can Women hold public positions of authority in Islam? Then I answer him seeking help from Allah:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Yes, my brother, it is permissible for a woman to be an authority and leader in a position for which she is qualified, although some positions are specific only to men such as the position of prayer leader (Imam in the Mosque) and supreme commander of the armed forces.

My brother, I cannot deny that some classical scholars prohibited women from taking positions of authority and leadership based upon the statement of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him:

Abi Bakrah (RA), a reliable and a trustworthy Companion of the Prophet (SAW) in an authentic hadith, reported:

“Allah benefitted me with a word I heard from the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. During the days of the battle of the camel, I was about to join the companions of the camel and fight alongside them. When the Messenger of Allah was informed that the Persians had crowned the daughter of Khosrau as their ruler, he said, “A people will not succeed who are commanded by a woman.” (See Sahih Bukhari 4, 425 and 7, 099. Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasaa’i, also reported the hadith. Imam As-Sakhaawiy in Maqaasidil hasana, Imam Ash-Shawkaaniy in Nailur Autaar, As-Sam’aaniy in Subulus-Salaam and Ibn Hajr in Talkhisul Habeer all reported it)

Ibn Hajar reported: Ibn At-Teen said:
“The narration of Abi Bakrah is used as a proof by those who say it is not permissible for a woman to be appointed as guardian or judge, and this is the saying of the majority.” However, Ibn Jareer At-Tabari disagreed with them and he said it was permissible for women to be appointed as a Judge in matters in which their testimony is acceptable, and some of the Maliki scholars gave them unrestricted permission”. (See Fathul Bari of Imam Ibn Hajar)

These scholars understood this statement to be general in meaning and therefore they did not allow women to take any public position of authority. However, other scholars understood this statement to be specific to commanding the armed forces and therefore allowed women to hold the position of judge.

My respected people,
Women in early Islamic history were active not just as “Mothers and Wives” but contributed as individual Muslim Women in all aspects of the community.

Women are generally unqualified to perform the duties involved with commanding the armed forces or leading the ritual prayer, but they are qualified and allowed to perform other duties. In fact, women played a very important role in the development of the early Muslim community.

Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, May Allah be pleased with him, appointed Samrah bint Nuhaik as overseer of the market. Abu Balj Yahya reported:

“I saw Samrah bint Nuhaik and she had known the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. She had on a thick corset and veil. In her hand was a whip which she used to discipline people, and she would enjoin good and forbid evil.” (See Al-Mu’jam Al-Kabeer of At-Tabarani 785, Grade: Hasan (fair) according to Al-Haythami)

Ibn Abd al-Barr said:

“She knew the Messenger of Allah during her lifetime. She would patrol the market while enjoining good and forbidding evil. She would discipline people with a whip that she had with her.” (See Al-Isti’ab bil Ma’ruf, 3,197)

Ibn Al-Jawziy said:

“Umar ibn Al-Khattab would enter the market and he would come to her.”
(See Seerah Umar ibn Al-Khattab 41)

In Madinah during the leadership of Umar May Allah be pleased with him, Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was made in charge of trade and commerce in the city.

Hafsah bint Umar, may Allah be pleased with her, was entrusted by Abu Bakr to safeguard the first complete written copy of the Quran.

Aisha, May Allah be pleased with her, was one of the leading scholars of prophetic traditions and was considered an authority by the companions of the Prophet.

Abu Musa reported:

We never had a new problem occur to us as the companions of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, except that we would ask Aisha and find with her some knowledge concerning it. (See Sunan At-Tirmidhi 3,883)

Mu’adhah al-Adawiyyah was a narrator of prophetic traditions from the second generation of Islam who related sayings from Ali ibn Abu Talib, Aisha and Hisham ibn Amir.

Amrah bint Abdurrahman was a student of Aisha from the second generation of Islam who related sayings from Umm Salamah and Rafi’ ibn Khadeej and was considered a legal guru in the city of Madinah.

Hafsah bint Sireen was a student of Umm Atiyyah, Anas ibn Malik, and other companions of the Prophet. She was a legal scholar from the second generation of Islam and one of her students, Qatadah, is an important authority in the exegesis of the Quran.

There are many other women who were scholars in the early age of Islam and through the succeeding eras until today.

Women played an important role in supporting the Muslim community when they were under attack by the idolaters.

Anas ibn Malik reported:

“The Messenger of Allah, Peace and blessings be upon him, would go into battle with Umm Sulaim and other women with her from the Ansar and they would give water and tend to the wounded.” (See Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1,575)

There is no doubt that the support and services of women were critical to the defense of the nation.

Women have an important role for consulting the leadership. The Prophet (SAW) would consult his wives in the most sensitive matters among the Muslims. On the occasions of Al-Hudaybiyyah, the Muslims were denied access to perform the Hajj Pilgrimage in Makkah as a condition for the peace treaty. The Prophet accepted this condition but the Muslims were largely upset and refused to leave. In such a difficult matter, the Prophet consulted his wife Umm Salamah about the best course of action.

Marwan reported:

When the writing of the peace treaty was concluded the Messenger of Allah peace and blessing be upon him, said to his companions:

“Get up and offer your sacrifices and shave your heads.”

None of them stood up and the Prophet repeated his order three times. When none of them stood up, the Prophet left them and went to Umm Salamah and told her about the people’s attitude. Umm Salamah said:

“O Prophet of Allah, would you like your order to be carried out? Go out and do not speak to them until you have offered your sacrifices and have called the barber to shave your head.” (See Sahih Bukhari 2,731)

The Prophet followed the advice of his wife and the companions began to make preparations to leave Makkah.

This incident is an important precedent for us because it demonstrates the value the Prophet (SAW) placed on the consultation of his wives and women in general. Allah has commanded consultation among the believers and this is general to both men and women.

Allah said:

“So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter.” (Surah Ali-Imraan, 3:159)

Women even have the right to correct the leadership and the leadership has to be humble enough to accept it. In a famous incident, a woman once corrected Umar Ibn Al-Khattab during one of his sermons while he was the Caliph. Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, said:

“The woman is correct and the man (Umar) is mistaken.”

In another narration, Umar said:

“The woman has disputed Umar and she has defeated him.” (See Fathul-Bari 4,853)

Anas ibn Malik reported:

“Abdurrahman ibn Awf married a woman and he gave her the weight of a date stone in gold as a dowry. When the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, noticed the signs of happiness on his face, he asked him about it and Abdurrahman said, “indeed, I have married a woman and I have given her the weight of a date stone in gold.” (Sahih Bukhari 4,853)

Ibn Hajar reported:

Umar ibn Al-Khattab said, “Do not exaggerate in the dowry given to women.” A woman said, “You cannot do that, O Umar, for Allah said: You have given them a great amount of gold,” (4:20) and this was according to the recitation of Ibn Mas’ud. So Umar said, “The woman has disputed Umar and she has defeated him.”

In another narration, Umar said: “The woman is right and the man is wrong.” The basis of this story is the statement of Umar, “Do not exaggerate in your charity towards women,” as recorded by the compilers of the Sunan books and authenticated by Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim.” (See Fathul-Bari 4,853)

My respected people,
All what I want to indicate here in summary is: IN ISLAM, WOMAN CAN HOLD PUBLIC POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY IN A POSITION FOR WHICH SHE IS QUALIFIED. Among our reasons are as follows:

On a scholarly level, there was Aisha, May Allah be pleased with her. She is credited with disseminating the knowledge of Islam and information about almost all aspects of Islamic life. Today, nearly half of the Islamic jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought (which is followed by about 70 percent of the Muslim World) comes through the students of Aisha alone.

On a political level, there was Umm Salamah. During the signing of the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, when none of the Muslim men agreed to forego Hajj due to the demands of the pagan Makkans, the Prophet consulted Umm Salamah. Her advice to him was to perform the rituals indicating that they would not be performing the pilgrimage, and the Muslims would follow. He heeded her advice, and as she suggested, the Muslims accepted this.

After the death of the Prophet, one major issue was how to preserve the authenticity of the Qur’an. Although the Qur’an had always been committed to memory and writing, the written pages were scattered. When a master copy was put together at the time of the first Khalifah (Caliph), Abu-Bakr, that copy was not kept with him or any other Muslim man. It was kept with a woman – Hafsah (May Allah be pleased with her).

Brothers and Sisters,
These are just a few examples of the dynamic role women played in early Islamic history. But they are of no use if the inclusion of women in the community or nation’s affairs is reflected only in theory.

In modern practice, Muslim women perform many roles in society in the fields of religion, politics, science, medicine, education, police, the military, and other important functions. Muslim women provide important contributions to their countries and they should be valued for the services they provide.

Therefore, a Muslim woman is allowed to obtain any position of leadership and authority for which she is qualified, although some positions are specific only to men such as commander of the armed forces and prayer leader (Imamship).
Lastly, Allah the Most High, Mighty and Wise said:

“…Never will I allow to be lost the reward of the work of any of you, be he male or female. You are (members) of one another…” (Ali Imraan, 3:195)

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

All praise belongs to Allah, may His peace and blessings be upon our final Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions and all those who follow his guidance.

This Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Safar 8, 1437 A.H (November 20, 2015), by Imam Murtada Muhammad Gusau, the chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’at Mosque, Okene, Kogi State Nigeria. He can be reached via: +2348038289761.


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