Answered by Ustadha Shazia Ahmad
Since Islam was a religion that raised the social status of women giving them rights, and since the era of the prophets was one where examples were being set, why couldn’t there have been a single female prophet? That would be a very good example of the equality of men and women and how men aren’t superior to women but equal.
You see, God has no gender; He is not bound to human descriptions. He is beyond that. Yet the pronoun “He” is used because it is a preconceived notion that men are superior; thus, he must be a male. Plural pronouns could have even been used for Him, which would fix this subconscious programming of our minds, even via religion, that a man is superior, thus conceiving God as a “He.”
If a female prophet existed, it would have set an example for all Muslim generations to come. And being a female, she’d have to deal with diversities specific to her being female such as menstruation, covering, and not being able to lead a group prayer, but haven’t all prophets had to deal with their own diversities? Didn’t God pave a path for them?
I want to thank you for your honest and straightforward question. When you ask about a female Prophet, if you mean a lady to whom revelation has come from Allah and was commanded to teach the people, then the answer is no, Allah did not inspire a woman with such Prophethood. Allah Most High says, “And We sent not before you [O Muhammad] but men to whom We inspired.” [Quran, 21:7]
The Duties of Prophethood
There are many reasons for this.
- The task of Prophethood required fighting in war, secretly and publicly teaching the faith, meeting with people continuously, dealing with liars, hypocrites, apostates, establishing government, and much more. These tasks are more suited for men as Allah has made them physically stronger and more capable of working long hours outside the home. Thus, the role of father, husband, and Prophet is easier to fulfill for a man.
- The natural restrictions on women, including pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, postnatal bleeding, and the raising of children, limit her physically to handle the duties of a mother, wife, and Prophethood altogether. She is more prone to being burnt out.
The Male Pronoun
Allah, Most High, mentions, “Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by Allah over women and tasked with supporting them financially.” [Quran, 4:34]
The Quran is our holy book, and it is Allah’s speech. Allah revealed it to mankind, and He chose all the words used in it. When Allah, Mighty, and Majestic, referred to Himself with the male pronoun, He is speaking to us in terms that we understand. If a male has been given superiority over a female, as we see in the verse above, it only makes perfect sense that He would address Himself as such.
It is true; Allah has no gender, for He is exalted beyond such a paltry thing, but trust that His choosing the pronoun “He” is from His infinite wisdom.
As for the plural pronoun, Allah Most High often uses it in the first person. He says, “Indeed, We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, wisdom, and prophethood; We granted them good, lawful provisions; and We favored them above the others.” [Quran, 45:16]
Allah, Most High, in His wisdom, didn’t use the plural in the third person because this would confuse His singularity. He says in the Quran, “Say, ‘He is God the One, the God the eternal. He begot no one, nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him.’” [Quran, 112:1-4]
Many Women Have Been Examples of Piety
When you ask if a woman has been a Prophet, and by that you mean a purified soul that leads women by example, then the answer is yes, there have been many.
Maryam, the only lady whose name is mentioned in the Quran, has a high rank with Allah. Allah, Most High, says, “And remember when the angels said, ‘O Mary! Surely Allah has selected you, purified you, and chosen you over all women of the world.’” [Quran, 3:42]
The status of the wife of the Pharaoh (Fir’awn) should not be lost on anyone. Allah mentions her, saying, “And Allah sets forth an example for the believers: the wife of Pharaoh, who prayed, ‘My Lord! Build me a house in Paradise near You, deliver me from Pharaoh and his evil-doing, and save me from the wrongdoing people.’” [Quran, 66:11]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Many amongst men attained perfection, but amongst women, none attained perfection except Maryam, the daughter of ‘Imran, and Asiya, the wife of Fir’aun (Pharaoh). And the superiority of ‘Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Thareed (a dish of meat and bread) to other meals.” [Bukhari]
As you can see from the above, a woman does not need to have the rank of Prophethood to serve her Lord. She can attain His good pleasure and become one of His awliya (friends of Allah) by all other means given to her. The examples set forth of ‘Aisha, Maryam, and Khadijah (Allah be pleased with them), are but a few who suffice in teaching women how to behave and practice the sunnah.
The Example of Male Prophets Suffices
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was sent as a mercy and teacher to all mankind. His example transcends time, place, and gender. Allah Most High says, “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah often.” [Quran, 33:21]
He taught women everything they needed to know about menstruation, postnatal bleeding, pregnancy, dealing with husbands, being a mother, pleasing Allah, and attaining eternal happiness. The scope of his example is astonishing.
Remember that as Muslims, we must wholly submit to what Allah has willed. He is the All-Wise (Al-Hakeem). This attribute of Allah is related to hakama, to judge. Al-Ghazali says Al-Hakeem is “The One who possesses wisdom, and wisdom consists of the knowledge of the most excellent things gathered through the instrumentality of the most excellent branch of knowledge.”
Similarly, to judge, you need to have the knowledge with which to do so. Allah is All-Knowing (Al-‘Aleem) and uses His knowledge to judge with wisdom.
Allah, Most High, is both the All-Knowing and the All-Wise—He possesses all the knowledge and does the right thing in the right way, in the right place, and at the right time.
May Allah give you success in both worlds and allow us all to absorb the excellent example of all the Prophets.
[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqida, fiqh, tajweed, tafsir, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She later moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.