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Can A Woman Be A Leader of Muslims?-Part 2

By Fatima Mernissi

(The writer is Professor of Sociology at the University of Rabat, Morocco and the author of Beyond the Veil and Women in Muslim Paradise).

Nothing bans me, as a Muslim woman, from making a double investigation - historical and methodological of a Hadith.

What did Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) say about civil war? How is the Muslim to behave in such a case? How, among the various pretenders to the caliphate, is the best qualified one to be chosen? Should one accept an unjust caliph if he can guarantee peace, should one fight him even if it throws society into civil war?

The science of establishing the Hadith collection consists not in putting the content of the Hadith at the disposal of readers, but also in furnishing them with information about the informants. The principle of the isnad (transmission chain) thus makes it necessary to give the biography of the person. The believing reader has the right to have all the pertinent information about the source of the Hadith and the chain of its transmitters, so that he or she can continually judge whether they are worthy of credence or not. Islam was, at least during its first centuries, the religion of reasoning, responsible individuals capable of telling what was true from what was false as long as they were well equipped to do so, as long as they possessed the tools of knowledge - specifically, the collections of Hadith. The fact that, over the course of centuries, we have seen believers who criticise and judge, replaced by muzzled, censored, obedient, and grateful Muslims, in no way detracts from this fundamental dimension of Islam.

Hazrath Ali (RA) was chosen caliph in June AD 656 in a Madinah that was in a state of total disarray. Many Muslims took up arms because they challenged his selection. ‘A’isha (RA) took command of them, and with an army of insurgents, she went forth to fight Ali at Basra a year later at the famous Battle of the Camel. Ali inflicted a brushing defeat on her, and it was after this battle that the Hadith declaring defeat for those who let themselves be led by a woman was pronounced.

According to Al-Bukhari, it is supposed to have been Abu Bakr (RA) who heard the Prophet (Pbuh) say: “Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity.” Since this Hadith is included in the Sahih - those thousands of authentic Hadith accepted by the meticulous Al-Bukhari - it is a priori considered true and therefore unassailable without proof to the contrary, since we are here in scientific terrain. So nothing bans me, as a Muslim woman, from making a double investigation - historical and methodological - of this Hadith and its author, and especially of the conditions in which it was first put to use. Who uttered this Hadith, where, when, why, and to whom?

Abu Bakr (RA) - (not to be mistaken for Abu Bakr, the first Caliph) was a Companion who had known the Prophet (Pbuh) during his lifetime and who spent enough time in his company to be able to report the Hadith that he is supposed to have spoken. According to him, the Prophet pronounced this Hadith when he learned that the Persians had named a woman to rule them: “When Kisra died, the Prophet, intrigued by the news, asked: ‘And who has replaced him in command?’ The answer was: ‘They have entrusted power to his daughter.’” It was at that moment, according to Abu Bakr, that the Prophet is supposed to have made the observation about women.

In AD 628, at the time of those interminable wars between the Romans and the Persians, Heraclius, the Roman emperor, had invaded the Persian realm, occupied Ctesiphon, which was situated very near the Sassanid capital, and Khusraw Pavis, the Persian king, had been assassinated. Perhaps it was this event that Abu Bakr alluded to. Actually, after the death of the son of Khusraw, there was a period of instability between AD 629 and 632, and various claimants to the throne of the Sassanid empire emerged, including two women. Could this be the incident that led the Prophet to pronounce the Hadith against women? Al-Bukhari does not go that far; he just reports the words of Abu Bakr- that is, the content of the Hadith itself- and the reference to a woman having taken power among the Persians. To find out more about Abu Bakr, we must turn to the huge work of Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani. In the 17 volumes of the Fath al-bari, al-’Asqalani does a line-by-line commentary on Al-Bukhari.

(To be continued)



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