Why is it that women cannot become successful rulers, prime ministers, or presidents in Islam?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
Firstly, By making a quick search over Google search and putting question such as What Countries Have Never Had a Female Leader? you will realise that many Western Countries never had a female President such as the United States.
On November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton came close to winning the US Presidential Elections, but it was Donald Trump who finally walked away with the honors. Had Clinton made it to the White House, she would have made history by becoming the first ever woman President of the United States.
However, the United States is not the only country which has never had a female leader. There are more than 100 countries which have yet to have had a woman in the top political office.
As of January 2019, there are 27 out of 190 nations that have a female leader. Some of these nations are The United Kingdom, which has both a reigning queen and a female Prime Minister, Germany, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand, to name a few.
Many countries, which are currently being ruled by men, have had female leaders in the past, these include India, Pakistan, Brazil, China, Australia, and Brazil.
The majority of the countries that have never had a female leader are in the Middle East and Africa, though there are some in Europe, and the Americas. Some nations that are yet to see a woman making it to the top-most posts are Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Belgium, Egypt, Mexico, Italy, Saudi Arabia.
And the US. Sweden is the only Nordic country that has never had a female leader. However, the European countries are generally far ahead. In recent years, more women from Europe have been elected as the heads of the state than any other continent in the world.
To get a better picture of the countries that never had a woman leader, refer to the map above.
Using The Example of Some Western Female Leaders:
As for the use of an example that SOME western female leaders as a state of Success which needs to be mimicked by Muslims is INVALID for many reasons:
Definition of Success in Islam is mainly related to be Muslim, applied, implement all Islamic teachings that eventually help us to be granted the blessings and pleasure of Allah Exalted He.
Factors of Success, according to the Qur’an and Sunnah include:
2. Faith (Tawheed, risala and Qiyama).
3. Tawakkul (Trusting Allah).
4. Taqwa (Being mindful of Allah, eschewing evils for the sake of Allah).
5. Jihad (struggle for Excellence and moral perfection).
6. Shukr (Being grateful to Allah and appreciative of people) and7.Sabr (Patience, tolerance, and perseverance).
Muslim women are allowed to work and lead as a principle in Islam if certain criteria are met. There are Muslim women leaders in different positions within industry areas. However, this article will discuss the very fundamentals of, women as head of the state in a Muslim/Islamic state in the light of the Holy Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
As the early Muslim society gave women their fundamental rights to education and self-development, many women could leave their marks on the pages of history. Of the hundreds of such illustrious women, some of them are mentioned here.
For example, Ayesha (R), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was a lady of profound knowledge, she had great influence in many political decisions. She had freed more than sixty slaves and bondswomen, some of whom would later become scholars of sciences and hadith.
This is not exclusive to women leaders or women lead countries…Africa is dominated with corruption, drugs, sexual diseases, and depravity – always been and is led by male presidents.
You also need to understand that the Economic, Scientific success of the Western countries does not mean they are successful, religiously, socially, or even politically.
In saying that, Islam does not give a blanket permission for Muslim women to lead anything at any time, such limitation has nothing to do with discrimination against women. On the contrary it is to do with protecting women and for religious purposes.
Nowadays anyway Regardless of the gender of the president or ruler, such ruler or president is not the sole decision maker, in other words if the president or ruler is man or woman, they are not the only person who make all the decision, as we all know it is a collaboration.
In today’s world of rising rates in all crimes, homelessness, sexual abuse, and many other adversities generated through the Western Christian countries, it is now sadly being spread throughout the Arabic and Islamic countries.
That does not mean that Arabic and Islamic countries are without blame, but the influence of Aemricanisation and the Globalisation have negatively impacted not only the Arabic and Islamic countries but also the whole world.
It is worth mentioning that the Economic, Scientific success of the Western countries is NOT a sole Western achievement, for any fair person who has read the history and understand it, they will know that the Economic, Scientific success of the Western countries was built on the rubbles of the collapsing Islamic civilization.
Which had run major parts of the world, in particular many parts of Europe especially the sub-peninsula of Iberia, which is commonly known by Andalusia in The Islamic History.
Even until today the Economic, Scientific success of the Western countries is still built on immigration and attracting skilled migrants from around the world especially the Muslim world, which resulted in a phenomenon called “brain drain”.
Choosing a woman to be a president or a ruler when you know that if a female president or ruler in meeting with men, she cannot lead the prayers, you might say well, another Man can lead the prayer while the female president can pray at the back of men as per Islamic teachings.
The answer to such a hypothetical situation is yes, a female Muslim president or ruler can pray behind the men in prayer and go back to the ruler or president chair to lead men again.
However, from an Islamic point of view how would you justify that a Female Muslim ruler or president, would be expected to be available for very long hours probably days in case of a national emergency or travel?
If a female Muslim ruler or president need to travel for long days/ weeks far away from her husband and family without Maharam (Maharam is any man relative to the woman and cannot marry her) will this affect her family life?
What if Female Muslim ruler or president is:
- Pregnant (or depressed due to Postnatal depression which is a well know medical condition.
- Not praying due to menstruation.
- Shaking hands with men.
- Doing long hours/days/weeks mixing with men.
All the above are some of some natural and biological traits anyone has which again in the case of non-Muslim western leaders that do not care about all these Islamic considerations.
Grand leadership and Muslim women:
From an Islamic point of view if the Muslim woman is far from some positions are specific only to men such as the position of prayer leader and supreme commander of the armed forces. Now, the arguments of those who oppose the rule of women as head of the state also include the following inferences from the following verses:
1. Though the women have similar rights as men, yet men have a degree above them (Al-Quran 2:228). Hence the argument is since the man is superior to woman; she cannot rule over men.
There is no doubt that a Muslim woman can be adviser and contribute to the formation of any decisions which are usually made through a collective collaborative process.
It is permissible for a woman to be an authority and leader in any position for which she is qualified, although some positions are specific only to men such as the position of prayer leader and supreme commander of the armed forces.
It is incorrectly claimed by some people that women can have no authority in Islam because men have been given the responsibility to leads, defend, and maintain the livelihoods of women, their wives, and their children.
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ
Men are guardians over women by what Allah has favored some over others and by what they spend of their wealth.
Surat al-Nisa 4:34
The ‘favor’ of men over women refers to the physical strength of men, which is on average much greater than women and which enables men to better perform hard physical labor and military duties. In return, women should obey their husbands if they fulfill their duties of providing for them and protecting them.
Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:
أَيْ يَقُومُونَ بِالنَّفَقَةِ عَلَيْهِنَّ وَالذَّبِّ عَنْهُنَّ وَأَيْضًا فَإِنَّ فِيهِمُ الْحُكَّامَ وَالْأُمَرَاءَ وَمَنْ يَغْزُو وَلَيْسَ ذَلِكَ فِي النِّسَاءِ
It means men sustain women by spending upon them and defending them. Likewise, among men are rulers, commanders, and those who wage military campaigns; it is not like that among women.
Source: Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī 4:34
The physiological differences between men and women in this regard cannot be ignored, as even today professional sports leagues are separated between men and women, and occupations like construction work and frontline combat duty are almost exclusively male.
Even though there are plenty of exceptions to this general observation, as some women can be much physically stronger than some men, it is true on the whole and rules are formulated based upon the majority of cases and not exceptions.
In ancient societies, women were simply not qualified most of the time to lead the military because they generally lacked the physical strength required to be successful.
It was in this context that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لَنْ يُفْلِحَ قَوْمٌ وَلَّوْا أَمْرَهُمْ امْرَأَةً
A people will not succeed who are commanded by a woman.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4163, Grade: Sahih
There surely have been successful female military leaders, but again they are the exception.
That men have a degree of authority and responsibility does not mean women have no say in the matter. Part of Islamic chivalry is for a husband to consult his wife, or for men to consult women on pertinent issues, in order to benefit from their unique perspectives.
The Prophet (s) once consulted his wife Umm Salamah (ra) on a serious matter, and she provided him with a key insight into his problem.
Marwan reported: After the treaty of Hudabiyyah was concluded, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said to his companions:
قُومُوا فَانْحَرُوا ثُمَّ احْلِقُوا
Get up and offer your sacrifices, then shave your hair.
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 he told her about their attitude. Umm Salamah said:
يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ أَتُحِبُّ ذَلِكَ اخْرُجْ ثُمَّ لاَ تُكَلِّمْ أَحَدًا مِنْهُمْ كَلِمَةً حَتَّى تَنْحَرَ بُدْنَكَ وَتَدْعُوَ حَالِقَكَ فَيَحْلِقَكَ
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 own sacrifice and have called the barber to shave your head.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2731, Grade: Sahih
The Prophet (s) followed the advice of his wife and made his preparations to end the pilgrimage. The companions would soon follow his lead.
In this example, it was his wife whose exceptional intelligence provided him with guidance and resolution. Intelligence is not simply a linear matter of more or less. There are varieties of intelligence, such as emotional and personal intelligence, which women can excel at and benefit men with their advice.
Ibn Hajar writes:
وَجَوَازُ مُشَاوَرَةِ الْمَرْأَةِ الْفَاضِلَةِ وَفَضْلُ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ وَوُفُورُ عَقْلِهَا حَتَّى قَالَ إِمَامُ الْحَرَمَيْنِ لَا نَعْلَمُ امْرَأَةً أَشَارَتْ بِرَأْيٍ فَأَصَابَتْ إِلَّا أُمَّ سَلَمَةَ
It is permissible to consult a meritorious woman, and the merit of Umm Salamah and her abundant intelligence were such that Imam al-Haramayn said: We do not know of a woman expressing her opinion and being correct as much as Umm Salamah.
Source: Fatḥ al-Bārī 5/347
A woman is allowed to disagree with her husband or male leaders, as long as both parties respect each other with good manners. Men, in return, ought to be humble enough to accept that they are wrong if a woman points it out.
In one episode, the Caliph of all Muslims himself was corrected by a woman in public and he accepted her correction gracefully.
Abdur Rahman As-Salami reported: Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
لَا تُغَالُوا فِي مُهُورِ النِّسَاءِ
Do not be excessive in the dowry of women.
A woman said, “It is no so, O Umar, for Allah said: And you gave one of them a great amount,” (4:20). Umar said:
إِنَّ امْرَأَةً خَاصَمَتْ عُمَرَ فَخَصَمَتْهُ
Indeed, a woman has challenged Umar and she has defeated him.
Source: Muṣannaf ‘Abd al-Razzāq 10420
In another narration, Umar said:
امْرَأَةٌ أَصَابَتْ وَرَجُلٌ أَخْطَأَ
The woman is right, and the man is wrong.
Source: al-Akhbār al-Muwaffaqīyāt 1/251
Though some scholars did not allow it, others permitted women to serve as a judge in various capacities for which she is qualified.
Ibn Hajar writes:
وَخَالَفَ ابْنُ جَرِيرٍ الطَّبَرِيُّ فَقَالَ يَجُوزُ أَنْ تَقْضِيَ فِيمَا تُقْبَلُ شَهَادَتُهَا فِيهِ وَأَطْلَقَ بَعْضُ الْمَالِكِيَّةِ الْجَوَازَ
Ibn Jarir al-Tabari disagreed, and he said it is permissible for a woman to be a judge over matters in which her testimony is accepted. Some of the Maliki scholars gave them unrestricted permission to do so.
Source: Fatḥ al-Bārī 13/56
Even so, a woman may assume any position of leadership as long as she is the most qualified person for the job. Samra bint Nahik, for example, was a woman in the time of the companions who was placed in charge of policing the marketplace.
Abu Balj Yahya reported:
رَأَيْتُ سَمْرَاءَ بِنْتَ نَهِيكٍ وَكَانَتْ قَدْ أَدْرَكَتِ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَيْهَا دِرْعٌ غَلِيظٌ وَخِمَارٌ غَلِيظٌ بِيَدِهَا سَوْطٌ تُؤَدِّبُ النَّاسَ وَتَأْمُرُ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَى عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ
I saw Samra bint Nahik and she had met the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. She had on herself 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.
Source: al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr 785, Grade: Hasan
And Ibn Abdul Barr writes:
أدركت رَسُول اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وكانت تمر فِي الأسواق وتأمر بالمعروف وتنهى عَنِ المنكر وتضرب الناس عَلَى ذلك بسوط كَانَ معها
She knew the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, during her lifetime. She would patrol the markets by enjoining good and forbidding evil. She would discipline people with a whip she had with her.
Source: al-Istī’āb fī Maʻrifat al-Aṣḥāb 4/1863
The purpose of the classical rules, then, was to facilitate men and women performing complementary, and flexible to an extent, gender roles. Because men and women have natural physiological differences, customary gender roles are reasonable and conducive to a functional society.
However, because there are always exceptions to general observations, a measure of adaptability to changing customs and circumstances is warranted; there are some potential cases when a woman is the most qualified to do what a man might customarily do in other times and places.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.