Do the Hadiths Say Women Can’t Be Leaders?

Shafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

We have election for Student Representative for my college every year. There were three candidates for this year’s election: two women (Candidate A and Candidate B) and a man (Candidate C).

I have read in a Sahih Hadith in Sahih Bukhari that that a nation will female ruler will not succeed. Therefore, based on the Hadith, I showed my support for the male candidate, who is Hindu.

Did I do something impermissible by supporting him?

Also, I told him to work hard and I told him that candidate A had lot of support including from our previous student rep brother. Did I backbite my brother?

Answer: Assalam ‘alaykum. Jazakum Allah for your question. May Allah reward you for wanting to do the right thing in the religion.

Other than simple matters in everyday life, it is usually not possible to take a hadith or a historical event and then apply the apparent meaning directly to all real life situations without further knowledge or understanding of the text or event and its practical application.

Women as leaders

The hadith you mentioned is ‘Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler’ [al Bukhari].

The positions of leadership that the hadith refers to is those of the Imam (both of a nation and of the male/mixed congregational prayer), judges, and chief commanders of the Muslim army and those who carry out judicial punishments. However, even in regards the position of a judge, there were some scholars who permitted woman to be judges. [Fathul Bari, Tuhfa al Muhtaj, Fathul Mu’in, Ihya Ulum al Din].

The reasons for the prohibition is more out of practical considerations rather than ability, as in many cases woman are often more capable and efficient than their male counterparts. The ruling also takes into account women’s nature, which is usually much more compassionate and merciful than men, and while these are positive qualities in themselves, are not always what is needed in matters of leadership and command.

As for other positions of authority, such as scholars and teachers, heads and executives, managers, representatives, and advisors, even at the highest levels, there is no shariah prohibition to this, and women have equal rights to such positions, as well as being entitled to command equal respect and rights, including salary.

Sayyidna Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) appointed Samrah bint Nuhaik as the chief supervisor of the marketplace, and gave her powers to carry out her role. It is said that ‘She would patrol the market while enjoining good and forbidding evil. She would discipline people with a whip that she had with her.’ [al Isti’ab fi Asma al Ashab]

Therefore, there is nothing wrong with a female being a student representative or voting for her, especially so if she is more qualified and able than the competing candidates.

Non Muslims as Leaders

The same discussion applies to appointing non-Muslims in such positions, and as such, you did not do anything wrong in voting for the Hindu candidate if he was the best person for the position.

Backbiting and Slander

Backbiting is to speak about someone when they are not present, in a way that they would dislike if they were to hear it.

Alternatively, some scholars have defined backbiting as to speak about the person behind his back about something that is true of the person and he would dislike it if he heard it, while if what was said is not true, it is called slander. [Mughni al Muhtaj]

It does not seem that what you mentioned about the brother falls under backbiting or slander as you were merely mentioning that he supported candidate A.

However, if you feel that there was perhaps some ill-feeling towards the person in your words, then it is a good idea to pray two cycles of salat al tawba (repentance) and sincerely ask Allah to forgive you for any negative feelings and thoughts about the brother and for anything you may have implicitly said about him. This way you would have covered yourself without any doubts.

I wish you all the best.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.