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Why have women been referred to as deficient in intellect and religion?

It is narrated that the Holy Prophetsas 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.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 6, Hadith 9)

There are 3 ways the words naqisatul ‘aql wa din (deficient in intelligence and religion) can be interpreted:

That the intelligence and religion women received from Allah are deficient. If we accept that their intelligence is deficient, we have to accept that their religion, Islam, is deficient as well; this is obviously incorrect. Allah Almighty said:

“This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion”

(Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:4)

That the intelligence and religion of women are complete, but their potential to benefit from it is deficient. If we accept this, we have to accept that the world learned half of Islam from Hadrat ‘Aishahra despite her (God forbid) being deficient in her potential to benefit from her intelligence and religion; this is also incorrect. Hadrat Abū Musara narrated:

Never was a Hadith unclear to us, the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, and we asked ‘Aishah, except that we found knowledge concerning it with her.

(Sunan at-Tirmadhi, vol. 1, Book 46, Hadith 3,883)

The Promised Messiahas said:

I have observed that some women, by means of the strength of their faith, are ahead of men. Men do not have a monopoly on superiority. Whoever has greater faith has advanced, whether man or woman.

(Malfuzat, vol. 5, p. 268)

That the intelligence and religion of women are complete, that their potential to benefit from it is complete, but their ability to practically act on it is deficient. This view is supported by the teachings of Islam.

Concerning deficiency of intelligence:

In commentary of the verse (2:283) referred to in this Hadith, Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IVrta said:

In one particular instance where the matter relates to financial affairs, there it is suggested by the Holy Quran that instead of one man, have two women testify to this agreement so that if one forgets, the other may remind her. It is never said that both should offer their testimony together and that would make one. The testimony remains single; it only mentioned in a particular situation about financial affairs in particular, and that too, not making two lady’s witness necessary.

(Question Answer Session, Nov 17, 1984)

This guidance is given only in the context of testimony in financial matters. Islam places the primary responsibility of caring for the children and home on women. In a society where women are generally home- makers and men are breadwinners, the responsibility of giving testimony on financial matters is placed primarily on breadwinners. For all other situations, the testimony of women and men is the same, whether it is 1. a civil case, 2. a criminal case, or 3. the very shari‘ah of Islam.

  1. For example, a civil case was decided by the Holy Prophetsas based the testimony of one woman. The Holy Prophetsas ordered that a marriage be annulled based on the testimony of one woman because she testified that she had nursed both husband and wife when they were infants, making them foster-siblings (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 52, Hadith 24).
  2. Another example is a criminal case that was decided by the Holy Prophetsas based on the testimony of one woman. The Holy Prophetsas convicted a man to be stoned to death for rape based  on the testimony of the only person who witnessed the crime, the woman who was the victim (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 39, Hadith 4,366; Sunan at-Tirmadhi, vol. 3, Book 15, Hadith 1,454).
  3. Far more important than civil and criminal cases are the principles by which these cases are decided, the shari‘ah of Islam. The books of ahadith are filled with narrations attributed to the Holy Prophetsas on the testimony of one woman, Hadrat ‘Aishahra. These narrations give us the basic teachings on which civil and criminal cases are to be decided. If the testimony of one woman is unreliable, then half of Islam as we understand it ceases to exist. Countless narrations about the Holy Prophetsas, that make up the basis of Islamic law, are transmitted to us through the individual testimony of different wives and female companions of the Holy Prophetsas.

This difference between men and women in  testimony  on  financial matters is not because of deficiency in intellectual capacities, but because in Islam, the primary responsibilities of women are within the home and this is where their area of expertise lies.

Concerning deficiency in religion:

The Promised Messiahas said:

Aside from the 7–8 days that women have during which prayer is forgiven, they should observe all prayers. Also, fasts are not forgiven, they should be observed later. It is because of these deficiencies that it was said that the religion of women is naqis.

(Malfuzat, vol. 3, p. 207)

Women are not able to do the same actions that men can do in religion, but this does not mean that their reward is deficient. Hadrat Asma’ra asked the Holy Prophetsas that men have an advantage over women in that they participate in congregational prayers and funerals and Hajj and Jihad, and when men go out, women look after their homes, so will women be equal to men in reward? The Holy Prophetsas said:

The woman who looks after the home of her husband well will receive the same rewards as her husband receives for fulfilling his responsibilities.

(Hadiqatus-Salihin, p. 403–404)

The difference between men and women is not because of deficiency in religious capacities, but simply because of gender roles. However, it has repeatedly been mentioned in the Holy Quran (9:91–92; 16:98) and ahadith that we are judged by our faith, and that those who sincerely want to do a good action but cannot because of factors outside of their control, their reward will not suffer at all.

The actions of both men and women are naqis from certain perspectives, but their rewards are equal. For example, women cannot compete with men in most sports because their qualities are better suited to fulfill their gender role. However, in areas where women have greater expertise, their rights are greater than those of men. When the Holy Prophetsas was asked:

O Messenger of Allah! Who is most entitled to my good treatment?” Hesas said, “Your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 78, Hadith 2; Sahih Muslim, Book 45, Hadith 2)

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IVrta said:

So there are certain traits in women which are not found in men, and they are different of course. So there are many such small things which are meant, but Hadrat Rasulullahsas could never offend a sex, a class, I can’t believe of him, because he was so kind to women throughout his life, how could he suddenly become so offensive.

(Question Answer Session, June 24, 1991)

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IVrta also said:

We have found that in some ways women are deficient in their attitude, and in some other ways they are very intelligent, very clever, even superior to men. Hadrat ‘Aishah Siddiqahra was also a woman, and she taught half of Islam to the whole of the world. So this Hadith should not be misinterpreted.

That does not mean that Islam condemns women  as  small things, because you must read other sayings of the Holy Prophetsas to know what (the) real attitude of Islam is towards women. Hadrat Rasulullahsas  at one place said that  the door  to heaven lies under the feet of your mothers. Mothers are not men, you know that don’t you. So if serving women leads you to heaven, if obedience to women leads you to heaven, how can you consider them naqisatul ‘aql in that sense, deficient in mind, because if they were deficient they would not lead you to ultimate deliverance from sin and lead you to enter heaven.

(Question Answer Session, June 24, 1991)

The Holy Prophetsas explained how we should appreciate gender differences:

A woman is like a rib; if you try to straighten her, she will break. So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness.

(Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 67, Hadith 119; Sahih Muslim, Book 17, Hadith 77)

Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IVrta said:

There is a beauty in that curve of the rib, and it covers the most vital parts, the most vital organs of the human beings. So this tradition is full of wisdom, it means that there is a certain different attitude in women which is also beautiful, also delicate, but very important for you, so do not try to straighten it. That sort of naqisatul ‘aql I think is not bad at all.

(Question Answer Session, June 24, 1991)

When the Holy Prophetsas and the Promised Messiahas used the words naqisatul ‘aql wa din, it was not absolute, but it referred to limitations in the deeds women can do because of different responsibilities. Thus, there are certain actions that women cannot perform the same as men because of their different roles, but they are equal to men in faith and the reward they can earn. Women are superior in certain ways and men are superior in certain ways, this is the wisdom and beauty of why Islam has assigned gender roles. It is unfair to expect men to have the same strengths women have and it is unfair to expect women to have the same strengths men have.

Updated on January 3, 2019

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