Understanding the Ḥadīth The Majority of the Dwellers of the Fire are Women

Are women the majority in Hellfire?

For centuries, the Prophet Muḥammad’s peace be upon him Ḥadīth have been a source of light and guidance for every believer. They show one the conduct of those who are near to Allāh, proper human relations, good character, rectification, and everything that a Muslim or a Muslimah must know. For true believers, the Ḥadīth are sacrosanct=Sacred and respected.

There are thousands of them transmitted from our beloved Prophet peace be upon him. But keep in mind, there is a pitfall that one must avoid. When a layman studies Hadīth without the guidance of a learned scholar, he may become confused.

Just like the great muḥaddith, Sufyān b. ʿUyaynah, said: “Ḥadīth can be misleading for those without deep understanding (fuqahāʾ).” (1)

One adīth that is ambiguous to some is: “The majority of the dwellers of the fire are women.” Upon hearing this, some women become pessimistic and despondent after not finding any suitable explanation for what it means. And some men have used it to control women for their advantage. Here, in this paper, I will clarify some misconceptions surrounding it.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“I was shown hell. I saw that most of its inhabitants were ungrateful women… The Prophet was asked: ‘Were they ungrateful to Allāh?’ He replied: ‘They were ungrateful to their husbands and for the favors and the good done to them. If you show benevolence to one of them and then she sees something in you not to her liking, she will say: ‘I have never seen any good in you.’” (2)

I intend to discuss how the scholars explained this adīth. One should keep in mind that the explanations they give are based on their own reasoning (ar. ijtihād); thus, their differences of opinion should not confound one.

ʿAllāmah Muḥammad Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī’s view is that the women referred to are the women of the Jāhilīya or who behave like those ignorant women,

.

Jāhilīya referred to The age of ignorance (Arabic: ‏جَاهِلِيَّة‎‎, romanized: jāhilīyah, lit. ‘ignorance’) is an Islamic concept referring to the period of time and state of affairs in Arabia before the advent of Islam, or to bad actions committed by any Muslims that mimics people from that age of ignorance or actions contradicts with Islam teachings.

These women would habitually curse, swear, and backbite. Acts such as these would lead most of them to the fire. Also, the Prophet peace be upon him saw hell during his time, when most of the Muslim women were still alive. This indicates that the women of the Jāhilīyah were intended in the ḥadīth. (3)

For this reason, understanding it to infer Muslim women does not make sense, especially considering that their hearts changed when Islām came to them. They adopted righteous qualities and did not exhibit the sinful qualities that would lead them to hell. (4)

An objection remains. There are Muslim women who have these blameful qualities, would that not infer that most of them could be in the hellfire?

Mawlanā Rashīd Aḥmad Ganghohi said:

“Women, when compare to men, are more. For that reason, one will find that they are the majority in the fire as well as in paradise.” [5] 

This is proven through a ḥadīth in which the Prophet peace be upon him said: “From among the portents of the hour are the following:  …. Men will decrease in number and women will increase in number, so much so that fifty women will be looked after by one man.” [6]

Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī said:

“Initially, the majority of the women will be in the fire, then they will be taken out and shall enter paradise. Thus, the majority will be in paradise. Or most of them will deserve the fire, but Allāh will forgive them and thus they will be the majority in paradise.” [7]

A question remains, why are women still the majority in the fire?

There is a ḥadīth that Imām Bukhārī related in which the Prophet peace be upon him said: “Every one of them (i.e., the people of paradise) will have two wives.” Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar mentioned that the wives refer to the women of this world. (8)

He mentioned that Abū Hurayrah cited this ḥadīth to establish that, in comparison to men, most women will be in paradise. (9) But there seems to be a contradiction between these two reports. Ibn Ḥajar reconciles this by saying:

 “The majority of them being in the fire does not necessitate that the majority cannot also be in paradise.” [10] This is like if someone says, “There are a lot of Muslims in South Africa.”

This statement does not mean there are not a lot of Muslims in India. ʿAllāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī differed with Ibn Ḥajar on this issue. He said that Ḥāfiẓ (i.e., Ibn Ḥajar) offered a weak response regarding the adīth.  Kashmīrī said: 

“The wives referred to are the ḥūr al-ʿiīn, like what is related in Bukhārī on Abū Hūrayrah’s authority: ‘For every man, there will be two wives from the ḥūr al-ʿiīn.’” (11) Thus, he reconciles between those two ḥadīth.

Imām al-Qasṭallānī proves that the woman in hell shall be those with these specific qualities. In a adīth related on Jābir’s authority the Prophet peace be upon him said:

وأكثر من رأيت فيها النساء اللاتي، إن ائتمنّ أفشين، وإن سألت بخلن، وإن سألن ألحفن، وإن أعطين لم يشكرن. فدلّ على أن المرئي في النار منهن من اتصف بصفات ذميم

“The majority of the women whom I saw in the fire were those who spread secrets when they are entrusted with them. When someone asks them for something, they are stingy. When they ask others, they do so in a demanding way. And when they are given something, they are not appreciative.”(12)

These specific women will be the majority; however, women altogether should not be generalized. If they stay away from these sins, they will be from amongst the dwellers of paradise. Another adīth located in Bukhārī proves this point. The Prophet peace be upon him said:

 “I was shown paradise, I saw that most of its inhabitants were the poor… and I was shown hell, I saw most of its inhabitants were women.” (13)

If this was a comparison between men and women, the Prophet peace be upon him would instead say the majority of the inhabitants of paradise were men, however, he said the poor which also includes women. This shows that the majority are women who have specific qualities that will lead them to the fire.

This view should clarify the issue, because just like Allāh and His Messenger peace be upon him warn men from abstaining from immoral acts, women must abstain from immoral acts too. Not doing so means that women with those qualities will be the majority in hell.

Thus, no women should feel despondent, because every Muslim needs a warning. And no man should feel dominant over women because they have also been warned.

Another Explanation

Context of the Hadith

An explanation of the specific narration you have mentioned has been answered in detail by Shaykh Gibril Haddad in an article, to which the link is given below. However, we will give you a summary of the context of the hadith here:

· The hadith context was after the farewell pilgrimage and when the men were on the cusp on leaving for Jihad, for which charity was needed for funding.

· The Prophet peace be upon him challenged the women that were present to realize that unless they helped raise money with their gold and jewellery, they would miss the reward of men waging jihad.

· The meaning of the hadith is not literal. The Prophet peace be upon him used certain language, such as exaggeration, in order in encourage and challenge the women to give in charity, as well as using general terms to make a specific point,

for example, intelligence (aql) to mean a women’s testimony, and religion to mean the prayer and fasts during worship. Numerous verses and other narrations stress that the reward of women equals that of men even if their acts differ, as well as the equality of men and women in the eyes of Allah.

· The Prophet peace be upon him was being playful in his use of strong words to impress this teaching on those present.

· The hadith did also consist of sincere religious counsel. The Prophet’s peace be upon him words to the women that they should ask forgiveness and desist from frequently cursing their husbands was said out of three concerns:

 1) because of the impending departure of the men on jihad,

2) Because of the impending departure of the Prophet peace be upon him peace be upon him from this world, and 3) the fact that ‘Cursing the believer is like killing him.’ (Adab al Mufrad)

For more details, please refer to Sh. Gibril’s answer here:

Women’s Intelligence Hadith

Additionally, and after the above article has been read, there are two further notes I often like to mention when it comes to seemingly controversial gender issues in our texts:

The first is that the Prophet peace be upon him never put anyone down, especially due to gender, race, class or any other matter. Anything he peace be upon him said was ultimately for the good of people, encouraging them to good and avoid sins, so that they attain to eternal felicity in the hereafter. This was out of his pure love and mercy for his followers, men, and women.

Secondly, the female Companions and the wives of the Prophet peace be upon him were no pushovers. They were among the most brilliant, intellectual, brave, pious, and God-fearing individuals to have ever lived. They never felt shy to question a religious matter and how it related to them as women, and the Prophet peace be upon him never admonished them for seeking clarification.

At the same time, they were also the first to understand and accept the words of the Prophet peace be upon him. This was not due to meek resignation on their part, but rather, because of their piety, faith, love and respect for Allah and his Messenger peace be upon him, and because they knew the Prophet peace be upon him better than anyone else, his sublime character, and the purpose of his words.

Conclusion:

Those majority of women who are inhabitants of Hellfire that Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him saw them and warn women not to be one of them, are in hellfire NOT because they are women, but because the have committed lots of sins much more than men in that regard.

Chapter: To be ungrateful to one’s husband. And disbelief is of (different grades) lesser (or greater) degrees.

Allah knows Best.

[1] al-Jāmʿ fī al-Sunan wa al-Ādāb wa al-Maghāzī 118.
[2] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī #29.
[3] Fayḍ al-Bārī 1:192.
[4] Ibid.
[5] al-Kawkab al-Durrī 3:325.
[6] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī #5231.
[7] Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ 2:532.
[8] Fatḥ al-Bārī 6:325.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Fayḍ al-Bārī 1:192.
[12] Musnad Imām Aḥmad 23:110.
[13] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4:117.