Sunnah and Family

• Deficient in Intellect and Religion (First issue)

By: Dr. Ahmad az-Zahrani (Saudi Arabia) - 2012-09-10

This statement which was said by the Prophet r – the one who does not speak from his own desire – caused a question to arise in the women who heard it. One of the women asked him a question to understand it, not in opposition to it, she said, “O Allah’s Messenger, what does deficient in intellect and religion mean?”  He said, “As for deficiency in recollection, then the witness of two women is equal to the witness of one man; this is the deficiency of recollection.  She spends the nights not praying and she breaks her fast in Ramadhan; this is the deficiency in religion [due to the monthly period].



This is a sahih hadeeth which is agreed on with the imams, and this Prophetic statement has caused uproar by those who call for women’s rights, they consider this hadeeth a defamation of the woman’s competence even though men and women are of the same creation.  Some deluded women among the Muslims believed this speech – to our great regret.


I am not now in the midst of discussing the different opinions regarding this hadeeth. Rather my article is to record the nature of our dealings with the Sunnah through this hadeeth, and how we understand this hadeeth in a positive manner which will only causes us to hold on better to the Prophetic Sunnah, and which helps us to build a coherent Muslim family.



First: It is obligatory on the Muslim to submit to the statement of the Prophet r which has been transmitted authentically, no matter how hard it is to understand, and no matter how much one feels that one must distance themselves from it.  Usually, the Prophet’s statement is contradicted for reasons such as follow one’s own desires, personal benefits, or their upbringing which was based on their societies’ customs.

Whenever this hadeeth is referenced, nothing has been narrated to us in any of the authentic and trusted Sunnah resources that any Muslim stopped and did not agree with the reality of what the Prophet r said. Rather, they made believing in it, and submission to it, a basis for building jurisprudential rulings and branching out from that.

It is true that there is a difference of opinion in many of the subsidiary matters that are based on this hadeeth, but the truth of the matter is that the difference of opinion is based on difference in viewing the relation and impact of the subsidiary jurisprudential issue.  The way of Ahl as-Sunnah with regards to the hadeeth of the Prophet r is that of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq t.  `Urwah said, “Some people from the polytheists went to Abu Bakr t and said, ‘Your companion alleges that he was carried tonight to Bait al-Maqdis (Jerusalem), then returned the same night.’  Abu Bakr t said, ‘Did he really say that?’  They said, ‘Yes.’  Abu Bakr t said, ‘If he said that then I testify that he has told the truth.’  They said, ‘You believe that he went to the Levant in one night, and returned before dawn?’  Abu Bakr t said, “Yes, and I believe in him in what is greater than that; I believe that he receives the news of the heavens by day and by night.’  This is why he was named Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (the Truthful One). (1)  So he accepted what the Prophet r said directly after ascertaining that he did indeed say it.



Second: I have yet to hear in my life a single Liberal, Secularist or Modernist have a problem with the second part of the hadeeth which involves deficiency in religion.  This is proof that religion is unimportant in their morals; this is why none of their hearts shivered when the woman was described with deficiency in religion!

Likewise, many women are deluded by secularist propaganda geared towards the Sunnah, but I have yet to hear any of them reject the woman’s description of being deficient in religion, ask about it, or that it concerns her, period; contrary to how it was an issue of concern to the female Sahabah.  Deficiency in religion – as the Prophet r clarified it – is no shame for a woman, but rather is a means to do away with some hardships for her.  Despite that, the female Sahabah – due to their dedication on the religion – constantly geared their questions towards how they could perfect their religion in order to be equal to men and catch up with them.

They used to be devoted to salat in congregation. Some even used to want to perform jihad, and one used to ask the Prophet r to supplicate that she would die as a martyr, as well as other things. Knowing their biographies reveals a great deal about their life, may Allah be pleased with them.



Third: What has befallen the Muslims is truly very sad, in regards to their selective choices in dealing with the Sunnah.  Respect consists of complete submission to the texts; there is no contradiction with intellect based proofs or by being like foxes and dodging and avoiding acting according to the text.  In Sahih al-Bukhari, from Abu Wa’il, “When Sahl bin Hunaif came back from Siffin, we went to ask him about something, and he said, ‘Do not regard your opinions highly, because on the day of Abu Jandal, I could I would have rejected the Prophet’s r command, but Allah and His Messenger have better knowledge.(2)  The Sunnah was something of great importance in the lives of the imams, not some cloth towel used to dry off if it agrees with their desires, and tossed behind their backs if it does not.

I say this because there is a deadly disease which is ruining us while we are unaware, which is why our knowledge is not blessed much, and we do not benefit from it.  We are – except those who your Lord has had mercy on – only look highly at the Sunnah andwe only read if it contains something which will help us. If our desires are going in another direction, we deny and interpret the Sunnah, so that we do not have to implement it.  This was not the habit of the jurists among the salaf, but rather the Sunnah is the Sunnah during ease and hardship.

 While mentioning this, some of us – on a societal basis – treat women in contradiction to this text, using it as a reference to do away many of her rights, including his daughter, sister, and wife.  If she asks for her rights that the Sunnah has preserved for her, she is countered with being shunned, on the basis that she is deficient in intellect, so, she must be obligated to be under his tutelage, regardless of her level of religion or knowledge.

However, the Prophet r himself did not treat the women according to what this hadeeth [apparently] states, nor did he treat them in the way that these people understood. On the contrary, the Prophet r consulted his wife in a political problem, in one of the most complicated problems that he faced, and her insightful opinion was one that ended the problem and saved the Ummah.  Al-Masur t narrated that the Prophet r stood, after writing the treaty with Quraish and said, “O people! Slaughter and shave your heads.”  But no one stood, and he repeated himself three times, and no one stood at any time.  So the Prophet rentered on Um Salamah and said, “O Um Salamah! What is the problem with the people?”  She said, “O Allah’s Messenger, what you see has entered them, so do not speak to any of them, go to your sacrifice animal, slaughter it, and shave your head.  If you do that, the people will follow.”  So the Allah’s Messenger r exited and did not speak with anyone, until he reached his sacrifice and slaughtered it, then he shaved his head, and the people stood and slaughtered and shaved their heads.  (3)

I chose this text because it is the closest to an intellectually based ruling. It could be that this is proof that deficiency in intellect mentioned in the hadeeth must be limited to the issue of testimonies and its restricted rulings, because when the Prophet r was asked about what he meant, he explained it to mean that a woman’s testimony counts as half of a man’s in some instances. So, we stop at this explanation.

Meaning that in fiqh, medicine, knowledge of ancestries, poetry, linguistics, and politics, women are certainly not less than a man.  But, women are prohibited from being a leader, in general, for another reason, which we will discuss in another article, insha’Allah.

 It has been established through scientific proofs that a woman’s strength in recollecting what she hears and sees, as well as her precision in that, is less than that of a man, which is why reliance on the woman in recalling rights is less.

However, in issues such as learning and teaching knowledge, and proficiency in other sciences, if it is feasible for her to learn, she is equal to a man, which is why there are women who are scholars of hadeeth, fiqh, poetry, language, and who are very eloquent in speech. Mu`awiyah t said, “By Allah, I have not heard anyone speak more eloquently – after Allah’s Messenger r - than `Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her.  (4)

We return now to the subject of how some people deal with women in relation to this hadeeth.  We have mentioned that they prevent them their legislated rights, and treat them with scorn, based on them being deficient in intellect.

At the same time, however, they do not consider this deficiency if she makes a mistake.  It is required for men to have patience when dealing with women, and must overlook much of her behavior which might, in reality, be very undesirable.  But, the fact that it is coming from someone who is emotional, in and of its self, requires that they be forgiving of her.  However, what happens these days is totally the opposite.  If a woman makes a mistake with these people, her mistake is not forgiven and could reach the level of murder, with them.  So where, then, are those shouting that the woman’s intellect is deficient?

During the problem of the slander of `Aisha, and through all the emotional pressure that the Prophet r faced due what the hypocrites said about `Aisha, their spreading and circulating false speech, the Prophet r went to `Aisha and said, “As to what follows; O `Aisha, such-and-such has reached me about you, if you are free from it, Allah will free you from it, and if you have fallen into a sin, then seek forgiveness from Allah, because if a slave commits a sin and repents, Allah will forgive them.  (5)

Just like that, with complete calmness. However, revelation was sent to absolve her of that crime, and thus only heretics attack her after that.  However, the part we wish to bring notice to in the hadeeth is that women, like men, fall into mistakes and errors. Their legislated punishment is one, and their sin in the hereafter is one, contrary to what happens in our societies these days, to our great regret.



Fourth: There is a deficiency not explicitly mentioned in this hadeeth, because the reality is that the deficiency is not a real one, but only an implicit deficiency.  It is know that a woman’s emotions control their minds, and this could be described as a deficiency with regards to emotions; the opposite could also be said, that women are more complete than men in their emotions.  The wisdom behind this controversy for superiority in nature between men and women is to establish balance, which human life revolves around; every created being is given a natural physique and psyche which helps them carry out their part in society. This overflowing of emotions women possess, is what changes family life to paradise, and had it not been for these passionate emotions women would not be able to live with man, and would not be able to be an affectionate nurturer to the child.

The consequences of these emotions are, no doubt, that the woman’s logical thinking is overcome during crises. This means that the man should participate in cultivating females, whether in the house, school, or even in the religious standpoint; he should take this into account in his dealings.

On the family level, the Prophet r faced very strange instances dealing with women. Occasionally, it would be between his wives, from the subsequent effects of jealousy in a woman, no matter her standing in religion.  However, along with this, he took care of the innate character of the woman and treated her in accordance with this understanding and awareness.  He would treat the mistakes of women with forbearance and forgivingness; many times a war of words would happen in front of him between his wives, and he would remain calm.

`Aisha said, “The wives of the Prophet r sent Fatimah, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger r, to him r. She asked for permission to enter while he was in my bed. He gave her permission and she entered and said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Your wives have sent me to you asking for justice with the daughter of Abu Quhafah (meaning `Aisha).’ [`Aisha said] ‘I was silent at that time, and the Messenger of Allah said to her, ‘O daughter, do you not love what I love?’ She said, ‘Of course.’ He said, ‘Then love this one (meaning `Aisha).’ So, Fatimah stood when she heard that from Allah’s Messenger r and returned to the Prophet’s r wives and told them what she said, and what the Messenger of Allah r replied to her.  They said to her, ‘You did not help us one bit. Go back to Allah’s Messenger r and tell him, ‘Your wives plead that you have justice with the daughter of Abu Quhafah.’ Fatimah said, ‘By Allah, I will never speak to him about her again.’ So, the wives of the Prophet r sent Zainab bint Jahsh, the wife of the Prophet r, and she was my rival among them in standing with Allah’s Messenger, to him.  I never saw a woman better in religion, more fearing of Allah, more truthful in speech, more connecting of ties of kinship, more giving of charity, more giving of effort to perform the actions that bring her closer to Allah than Zainab, except that she was short tempered.  Zainab asked Allah’s Messenger r to enter while he was with `Aisha in her bed, as he was when Fatimah entered; Allah’s Messenger r granted her permission to enter, whereon she said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, your wives sent me to ask you for justice in dealing the daughter of Abu Quhafah.’ `Aisha said, ‘She then was verbally harsh with me, while I was observing Allah’s Messenger r and his eye to see if he will allow me to speak to her.  Before Zainab finished her harsh words towards me, I realized that Allah’s Messenger would not have a problem with me defending myself; when I started retaliating, I was extremely efficient in doing so. Afterwards, the Messenger of Allah r smilingly said, ‘She is the daughter of Abu Bakr.   (6)


`Aisha also said, “Sawda visited us one day, and Allah’s Messenger sat between us with one leg in my lap and another in hers. I cooked some soup – or khazirah (a soup made with small pieces of meat, fat and flower, and which contains salt – and I said to her, ‘Eat.’ She refused, and I said, ‘Either you eat or I will splash it in your face.’ She still refused, and so I took some of what was in the pan and threw it at her face.  When I did that, Allah’s Messenger removed his leg from her lap so she could retaliate, and she took some of what was in the pot and splashed it in my face, while Allah’s Messenger r was laughing.(7)


The Prophet r even said to `Aisha, “I know when you are pleased with me, and when you are angry at me.” She said, “How do you know that?” He said, “When you are pleased with me, you say, ‘No by the Lord of Muhammad!’, and when you are angry, you say, ‘No by the Lord of Ibrahim!’” She said to him, “Yes, by Allah O Allah’s Messenger, I can only boycott your name.  (8)  SubhanAllah (Allah be Glorified)! He affirms that she gets angry with him, while we know for a fact that the Prophet r never did anything which would cause her to be angry.  However, this is the anger of a woman that is based, many times, on overflow of emotions.


Because sometimes, women do not think logically or use a real scale to weigh things, the Prophet r used to consider this. Picture with me, an entire army is delayed in the middle of the desert during severe hardships, due to the necklace of a woman.  `Aisha, the wife of the Prophet r said, “We went out with Allah’s Messenger r on one of his journeys till we reached Al-Baida or Dhatul-Jaish, where my necklace broke (and was lost). Allah’s Messenger r stopped to search for it, and the people, too, stopped with him. There was no water in that area, and they had no water with them. So, they went to Abu Bakr and said, ‘Do you not you see what `Aisha has done? She has made Allah’s Messenger r and the people stop where there is no water and they have no water with them. Abu Bakr came, while Allah’s Messenger r was sleeping with his head on my thigh, and said, ‘You detained Allah’s Messenger and the people where there is no water, and they have no water.’ He then admonished me and said what Allah wished and pinched me on my thigh, but I did not move because the head of Allah’s Messenger r was on my thigh.


Allah’s Messenger r kept on sleeping until the morning and found no water when he woke up. Then, Allah revealed the Divine Verse of tayammum (which is so pat the ground or dust once with the hands, rub the hands together, and then wipe the face), and the people performed tayammum.  Usaid bin al-Hudhair said, ‘O, family of Abu Bakr! This is not the first blessings of yours.’ We urged the camel I was sitting to get up from its place and the necklace was found under it.” I am quite sure that if one of our wives told us that she lost her gold necklace in the hotel, for example, or in the park in the wilderness, and she asked us to go back and get it we would not. If one does, she will face a barrage of insults, shouting, rebuke, and blame.

Where is this in comparison to how the Prophet r treated his wives?

The Prophet r said the truth when he said, “I am the best among you to his family. (9)

In summary, the statements of the Prophet r are accurate and true, and it is obligatory on us, men and women, to deal with this statement in a positive way, not negatively.  Meaning, we should put this statement in action in our family lives and social lives in the greater spectrum, to solve our problems, correct our dealings with one another, and give everyone their due right provided to them by legislation.  Allah I said, “And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others.” (4:32)

He also said, “And the male is not like the female.” (3:36); and, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend.” (4:34); and, “And by Him Who created male and female, certainly, your efforts and deeds are diverse (different in aims and purposes).” (92:3-4)

All of these texts deal with family life and put men and women in their respective places, assigning them to their respective duties.  The statement of the Prophet r, “Deficient in intellect and religion” provides a wide spectrum in defining our emotions and reactions to the instances that we pass through during any tension that comes about between one another.  The main duty, however, is on the shoulders of the man, since he is a man and is the provider for the woman, regardless if she is a daughter, sister, or wife.  If the man takes into account the reality and innate characteristics of the woman, as well as her natural psyche, which is overcome by emotions and temper, he would know how to deal with her as she is, not as he wants her to be.  If he does this, he will live the best and most healthy life with her; this is the true implementation of the Prophet’s r statement, “Woman has been created from a rib and will in no way be straightened for you; so if you wish to benefit from her, benefit from her while crookedness remains in her. If you attempt to straighten her, you will break her, and breaking her is divorcing her.  (10)  


In my view, the crookedness mentioned in the hadeeth is due to her being emotional.  Since women have been described as being created this way, it shows that it is impossible to change that, and that this is the woman’s natural character.  So, however good the woman is in her religion, it does not mean that she does away with her natural character, and the other narration clarifies that the Messenger r used to mention these ahadeeth about the natural character of the woman as protection for her and her rights; he said in another narration, “Act kindly towards woman, for woman is created from a rib, and the most crooked part of the rib is its top. If you attempt to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it, its crookedness will remain there. So act kindly towards women.

So he said this phrase – which gives instructions as to how to treat women – twice, which shows that it is obligatory to take care of and protect their rights, and to treat them in a way which preserves their status and position.

Allah knows best, and may Allah send his peace and blessings on our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and companions.




(1) This is authentic and was collected by al-Hakim in, al-Mustadrak, 3/62 and 76, al-Lalika’i in, Sharh Usul al-I`tiqad, 1430, and al-Baihaqi in, ad-Dala’il, 2/361.  It was declared sahih (authentic) by al-Hakim, ath-Thahabi, and Shaikh al-Albani – may Allah have mercy on him – in, as-Sahihah, 306, and he has a pleasant research of the hadeeth therein.

(2) Collected by al-Bukhari, 3868

(3) Collected in, al-Musnad, by Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, 4/323

(4) Collected by Ibn Abi `Asim in, Al-Ahad wa al-Mathani, 3026 and 3027, and Abu Bakr ash-Shafi`i in his, Fawa’id, 705.  Ad-Daraqutni said in, al-`Ilal, 1216, when asked about this narration, “It is narrated through az-Zuhri, and there is difference after that.  Ma`mar said, ‘It is narrated from az-Zuhri from al-Qasim’, and an-Nu`man bin Rashid said, ‘It is narrated from az-Zuhri, from Thakwan the servant of `Aisha.’  The latter statement is true.

(5) Collected by al-Bukhari, 4690, 4750, and Muslim, 2770

(6) Collected in, Sahih Muslim, 2442

(7) Collected in, As-Sunan Al-Kubra, of an-Nasa’i, 8917

(8) Collected in, Sahih al-Bukhari, 5228

(9) Collected by at-Tirmithi, 3890, and it is authentic.

(10) Collected in, Sahih Muslim, 1648

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