I was reading Speaking in God’s Name having left it unread for a few years and was very happy to note again that Abou El Fadl has written on all the *difficult* hadith which have bothered many Muslim women. The two ahadith (women outnumbering men in Hell; and angels cursing women who don’t want sex), along with a few others, are discussed at length in the book.
Abou El Fadl writes, “It is not exaggeration to say that according to these traditions, the wife lives as the husband’s humble servant; she is to submit sexually on the back of a camel and lick his puss-filled ulcers if need be. A similar message is affirmed by another tradition also reported by Abu Hurayrah asserting that the Prophet said: “If a man calls his woman to bed, and she refuses to come, the angels will continue to curse her till morning.” (pg. 212)
He continues, “There is no question that these traditions, and others discussed below, have grave theological, moral, and social consequences… they also contribute to the general denigration of the moral status of women. After all, even the angels in the heavens are moved to the point of cursing women if they do not surrender their will and body to their husbands. Regardless of the jargon generated by apologists about how Islam liberated and honored women, these traditions subjugate a woman’s honor to the will of men.” (Ibid) [Emphasis mine].
Abou El Fadl donates three pages to Abu Hurayrah, the original transmitter of the traditions which according to Abou El Fadl “denigrate the moral status of women.” He gives several reasons why Abu Hurayrah’s transmitted ahadith should be scrutinized by “thinking beings who carry the burden of free will, accountability and God’s trust” …by asking “to what extent did the prophet really play a role in the authorial enterprise that produced this tradition? Can I, consistently with my faith and understanding of God and God’s message, believe that God’s prophet is primarily responsible for this tradition?” (pg 213).
Abu Hurayrah, Abou El Fadl explains, was a late convert to Islam and spent only three years in the Prophet’s company but transmitted the most ahadith. Aishah and Omar Ibn Khattab chided Abu Hurayrah on several occasions for transmitting traditions wrongly. Eventually Omar threatened to exile Abu Hurayrah if he did not stop transmitting Prophet’s traditions which increased tremendously upon Omar’s death. Abou El Fadl presents several stories, evidences, and traditions of Aishah and Omar to explain Abu Hurayrah’s position in early Islamic history.
According to Abou El Fadl the Prophet could have never said that if prostration to another human were allowed he would have asked a woman to prostrate to her husband because “a powerful symbolic association is created between the status of the Prophet and the status of husbands. We observe a similar association between husbands and the symbols of Divinity in the submission tradition. A whole host of angels in the Heaven are aggrieved by the frustration of a man’s libido. This only raises the question: what is it about a man’s sexual urges that make them so fundamental to the pleasure of the Heaven?” (pg 214) [Emphasis mine]
Abou El Fadl feels that such traditions “require a conscientious-pause, and perhaps a faith-based protest. These traditions seem self-evidently immoral and shocking.” Overall, Abou El Fadl asserts that the Quran and Prophet’s life (sirah) oppose the traditions that demean women because such traditions “contradict the theological notion of the undivided supremacy of God and God’s Will …evidence suggests that [such traditions] cannot be relied upon because we cannot conclusively assert that the Prophet played the primary role in the authorial enterprise that produced them.” (pg 214).