Muslim women and politics

In “Women’s roles take divergent paths in First and Third Worlds”, Rosa Brooks quotes Francis Fukuyama’s article titled “Women and the Evolution of World Politics,” which debates that “a truly matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict and more cooperative than the one we now inhabit” although “masculine policies will still be essential even in a feminized world.”

Brooks takes Fukuyama’s point a step further to state that because of the increasing female infanticide in Asia, Asian men are in “surplus” and “unless we take the changing demographics of gender as seriously as we take other emerging global trends such as weapons proliferation and climate change the future could be as dangerous as a cage full of Fukuyama’s furious male chimpanzees.”

Interestingly, Islam in the 21st Century has been reduced to a dangerous cage full of furious men not because of demographics of gender but because of the patriarchs of our society and community, people such as Abubakar Ahmad Gada, the author of Political Irrelevance of Women in Islam.

Gada’s basic premise is the hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad had said, “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.” Sanusi wrote an informative article, “Women and Political Leadership in Muslim Thought,” which sheds light on the relevance of the hadith to preceding events and circumstances under which the Prophet had said that.

However, many Muslims read the hadith in isolation and insist that a nation led by a woman will not have Allah’s blessings.

History suggests otherwise. The sun never set on the British Empire under the rule of Queen Victoria; Russia flourished under Catherine the Great; and Spain was ‘Christened’ under Queen Isabella and her Spanish Inquisition. India prospered under the premiership of Indira Ghandi, and Golda Meir defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Where women leaders have prospered, they have failed greatly too. It is particularly the failures of Muslim female leaders that have involved men protecting patriarchal interests. A’ishah Bint Abu Bakr was the first Muslim woman to be defeated. She played an important role in the civil war, was defeated and captured in 656 and only released on the promise that she would abandon political life. It is paradoxical that when A’ishah lost the Battle of the Camel against Ali, her companion Abu Bakra opportunistically narrated the hadith spoken 25 years that “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper” Definitely, A’ishah’s resignation from politics served the interests of the menfolk who had started to reclaim the rights of Muslim women in Arabia. 1400 years later, women in several Muslim societies are denied their rights by men, rights which are promised by Islam. Such societies are, of course, very patriarchal.

Muslim women have appeared in history either as political leaders or as political decision-making consorts to their husbands. Some prominent Muslim consorts and leaders are: Khayzuran of Baghdad, a slave turned caliph-consort who made important political decisions for her husband; Empress Shulü Hatun of Qidan, who ruled Qidan until her son was elected as a successor; Asma Bint Shibab al-Sulayhiyya of Yemen whose husband Sultan Ali al-Sulahi delegated much of the administration of the kingdom to her; Radiyya Altamish; Kassi of Mali; Oghul Qamish; and Dudu of Janupur. Almost all of these Muslim consorts and leaders are famous for sermonising at the Friday Khutbas, waging wars, setting up health and education programmes, improving state economy, and have proved to be capable leaders.

Although they can be as dishonest or brutal as men, women usually take longer to decide whether or not to engage in wars because “violence and the coalition-building is primarily the work of males… most murderous violence is the province of males, and the nature of female alliances is different” (Fukuyama). Women are better at multitasking by nature and are “trained to be more empathetic”. These are two important leadership qualities.

Lately, contemporary Muslim leaders are marrying young and intelligent women that boost their political careers. Queen Rania of Jordan is one example of a bright Muslim woman leader. In 2004, the Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashed married Princess Haya of Jordan, who is a very prominent and popular community figure. There is also Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Consort of the Emir of Qatar.

There have been other winds of change lately. Three years ago the Kuwaiti parliament voted to give women full political rights but this amendment to the electoral law came 1400 years after Islam had declared that women had the right to vote. It is unfortunate that contemporary Muslim men have been denying women the rights that their religion had promised them so long ago.

Amina Wadud points out that there has been a “historical absence of female voices in the interpretive process for most of our intellectual legacy. Some have erroneously taken this absence to mean irrelevance of female voices or experiences in determining meaning and application.” Wadud suggests that to “bring about a more complete human articulation of textual meaning” of the Quran it is urgent to “include women’s voices and perspectives within the interpretive process and to sustain those perspective as integral to our intellectual legacy.”

A Muslim woman’s moral excellence has been a Muslim man’s greatest excogitation and it is time that we see beyond the pale to include women in Muslim governance and the development of government. We have waited too long while Muslim men attempted to sort out our political problems and taught us how to practice our religion, sometimes failing miserably by nurturing a male chauvinistic society for years at the expense of house arrested women. If women are not given a chance, the world will soon witness more and more furious men rattling the bars of the Muslim political cage.


19 thoughts on “Muslim women and politics

  1. Mezba says:

    I don’t agree that women are less prone to making war decisions. Sometimes women leaders, to prove, er, that they have balls, are more trigger-happy than men. Israel’s Golda Meir was quite happy to assemble an assassination squad for Munich, Indira Gandhi decided to suspend democracy with Martial Law, Queen Victoria decided to take over India from the British East India company and didn’t flinch from hard trials punishing the guilty in the “Indian Mutiny” and so on.

    “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.”

    Is this hadith reliable? I don’t think so.

    Perhaps the strongest proof that a woman can hold a political position as leader of an entire nation is the fact that Allah Himself, in the Qur’an, portrays Bilquis, Queen of Sheba, in a favorable light. We are told the story of a strong woman who is a democratic ruler, consulting her people before making important decisions. After witnessing Solomon’s power, she becomes a believer and remains the Queen of Sheba.

    A helpful link:

    • unsettledsoul says:

      I agree about women needing to “prove” they have balls. This is the case with female police officers. They are usually the most aggressive because they have to overcompensate. Sexism in the field means they are constantly trying to prove a point. Sadly enough.

    • Metis says:

      Thanks Susanne!

      Mezba, thanks for your comment. What interesting things you added!

      Khaled Abou Fadl claims that the hadith is not reliable so yes, there are doubts about that hadith. That is why I wrote that Abu Bakra “opportunistically narrated” it.

      I like what Unsettled Soul added to your comment that women can be equally aggressive. At one time I was obsessed with reading crime stories (!) and it appears that women are more brutal than men in torturing their victims. Ouch!

      Oh, I see others have also objected to this hadith in the link you posted. Good!

      Queen of Sheba’s example is great. Thanks!

  2. unsettledsoul says:

    Anyways, more on topic, I believe women can be leaders because women are not deficient in their leadership skills. I do not agree with anything anyone in my religion says that makes a woman out to be “less than.” I do not care what hadith they try to use to prove it. Some things I just know with my heart, and will never let religion be used as a reason or excuse for injustice.

    Religion was also used as an excuse for slavery, religion can be used for good, and it can be used for bad. It is us women that must decide how we are going to let people treat us, whether it is cloaked in religion, or some other form of hate in disguise.

  3. wafa' says:

    The problem is that we still value the words of the prophets more than the words of Allah. In the Arabic and Islamic worlds where education is not valued , words coming from those who know better is way sacred, ironic isn’t it ? . Lots of Hadiths have been said that the prophet have told them when he actually didn’t. What would happen when they know that lots of these saying they stick to firmly are put on his mouth. The Quran talked about the Queen of Saba and it didn’t condemn her at all. It’s even praised her for her wisdom not to start a war and actually consulted her council.

    How come an American Muslims is OK with a woman ruling him while one in an Arabic country can not ? is this thing against women ruling a male thing only and only male from the Arab world. Cuz apperantly others in the Islamic world have no problem with woman ruling them or are they less Muslims, such as Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh ?

    • Metis says:

      Your last paragraph is so poignant. So true. Maybe it is an Arab complex; do you think? I have never met an Arab man who would let a woman think for him whereas I have seen Indian, Pakistani and even Bangladeshi men to be generally open to women’s wisdom. Do you think this issue has roots in Arabic culture? I never thought about that and it is so intriguing. Thanks for bringing it up!

      • wafa' says:

        Yes it does have huge root in the Arabic culture. It’s all about “women are a lesser class”.
        The problem is that we like to beautfiy our culture so if you read about the Arabic culture pre Islam you will see all lies about the right of women from the point of view of the Arabs.

        You know despite the prophet being an Arab, i still believe that Arabs are the worst thing that has happened to Islam after his death.

      • Metis says:

        You always have interesting things to add, Wafa. I will be thinking about what you said about beautifying culture.

  4. Lat says:

    I’m glad to learn that educated Arab women are sought after by royal families.But do you think it will set a precedent for ordinary men to follow.I don’t think so.But for women it’s definitely a boost as they can have a positive role model to follow.

    Even here in parliament there are still fewer women in politics.The government is putting in some effort to attract women to politics.For a muslim woman especially in a muslim country to be pro-active in politics needs a boost from the government which can introduce reforms to enroll more women to take up the political course but of course it takes time for a conservative nation to implement any of it.I remember reading about the Kuwaiti woman winning a seat but it seems she was hardly allowed to serve her job well untill very much recently.This just goes to show how prejudice can affect women’s rise in politics.

    I think women can be better at avoiding wars simply because of their nature.Why some women are harsh to act,or rather as Mezba pointed out as having balls,has to do with provin the wider male authority.But this will not be necassary if women are allowed to be just who they are and not be mocked at and ridiculed as sissies or softies.

    I hate wars and with men holding authority for so long in the world is there any wonder why incessant wars are still around in most parts of the world.I’m not saying that women are all good and all but that given a chance women can and even perhaps outdo men in diplomatic relations.Just some of my thoughts.

    • Metis says:

      Lat, they have a positive model but women will never be allowed to rule. As long as they are session judges with a man supreme judge presiding over them, they will enter law. As long as they are ministers with a man president over them, they will be given minor cabinets to look after. I have had several discussions with Arab women in the ME and all of them think that it is a positive step but the truth is far from what appears to be on the surface.

      The god of war in ancient Greece was a woman and Spartan women trained just like men alongside them so they were muscular and athletic and when the time came they killed just like men.

      I too think women are more diplomatic and less brash. Maybe it is wishful thinking?!

  5. mariam says:

    Disclaimer : I am not biased 🙂
    99. 99% of anti women ahadith are narrated by Abu Hurairah. surprisingly some of his narrated ahadith can be heard in Iran too, anti women ahadith are so welcomed everywhere, no matter who narrated it!!! 🙂
    if muslims stop treating his ahadith like words of God ( some of female!!!! muslim bloggers are too much radical about him) many of our problems would have been solved.

    • Metis says:

      Mariam you must read Speaking in God’s Name for Abu Hurairah. You’s love it!

      BTW, do Shias believe in Sunni hadith by Abu Hurairah?

      • mariam says:

        salam, from wiki :
        “Shi’a tradition rejects the authenticity of Abu Hurairah’s hadith, seldom accepting only when there are similar hadith narrated by Sahabah (companions) and family of Muhammad ”
        but as I said in my last comment his celebrity hadith (which I have seen many times female blogers advertise it) can hear in Iran too, like : more residents of hell are women and this hadith in this link that owner of website is using it with big pride.
        I hate these ahadith not as a shia but as a WOMAN. 🙂

  6. sarah says:

    Isn’t the hadith women plural not ‘a woman’? Couldn’t you say if all the parilament were women and decision makers were women then it will not prosper? It doesn’t say ‘a woman cannot be a good leader’.

    Is there any example of a totally female executive? I feel women in a large group like this would backbite and do internal politics – maybe this is what was meant?

    There are plenty of women who went to war – including Hadhrat Aisha, Elizabeth 1, Bodacia and many more examples. Women can and have joined in wars and been aggressive in the defence of their own territory/people at various times. A mother protecting her child is one of the most fearsome and unwaivering figures.

    • Metis says:

      Welcome Sarah!

      The hadith, if I recall correctly, in Arabic is in the singular form but that is a common Arabic manner of referring to something in general. I also think that the hadith does not equal “women cannot be good leaders” but more like a belief that such nations can’t prosper under women.

      I have worked under a management consisting all men and also one in which all were women. Personally I preferred the all male management but that is also because I generally get along better with men. Women on the other hand, I often find, have a chip on their shoulders. They try too hard to compete even in situations where there is no competition. But if at the end of the day I were to evaluate the success of the two managements in terms of output and result I would say the all-women management was far more successful – we produced better trained teachers, there was always focus, diligence and goal-oriented work, and people were more serious about work. It is a pain working for women but the fruit is much sweeter.

  7. Sara says:

    I think it is difficult to essentialize when it comes to gender, unfortunately. We can’t really know what women would or would not do if we lived in a matriarchal world. Besides, a matriarchal world would not be a good thing, since we are all complaining about patriarchy! We need balance people.
    A lot of the things we do as “women” today are because of the way the world is structured.

    What I did think when I was reading this post is that victims often become aggressors – it is often a cycle. For example, Zionism. Also if Palestinians today had the chance to become the more powerful force in Palestine, who knows whether they would be more understanding, or just as vicious as the Israelis are. History tells us that people who have been victimized do not get wisdom from their experiences but rather become aggressors the second they get the chance.

    Great post!

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