Politics, Leadership, and the Muslim Woman

Do Muslim women have a right to be political leaders?

The answer is yes.

Furthermore, there is no time to waste when it comes to exercising this essential right.

In “Women’s roles take divergent paths in First and Third Worlds”, Rosa Brooks quotes Francis Fukuyama’s article titled “Women and the Evolution of World Politics,” which debates that “a truly matriarchal world would be less prone to conflict and more cooperative than the one we now inhabit” although “masculine policies will still be essential even in a feminized world.”

Brooks takes Fukuyama’s point a step further to state that because of the increasing female infanticide in Asia, Asian men are in “surplus” and “unless we take the changing demographics of gender as seriously as we take other emerging global trends such as weapons proliferation and climate change the future could be as dangerous as a cage full of Fukuyama’s furious male chimpanzees.”

Interestingly, Islam in the 21st Century has been reduced to a dangerous cage full of furious men not because of demographics of gender but because of the patriarchs of our society and community, people such as Abubakar Ahmad Gada, the author of Political Irrelevance of Women in Islam.

Gada’s basic premise is the hadith in which the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) had said, “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.” Sanusi wrote an informative article, “Women and Political Leadership in Muslim Thought,” which sheds light on the relevance of the hadith to preceding events and circumstances under which the Prophet (pbuh) had said that.

However, many Muslims read the hadith in isolation and insist that a nation led by a woman will not have Allah’s blessings.

History suggests otherwise. The sun never set on the British Empire under the rule of Queen Victoria; Russia flourished under Catherine the Great; and Spain was ‘Christened’ under Queen Isabella and her Spanish Inquisition. India prospered under the premiership of Indira Ghandi, and Golda Meir defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

Where women leaders have prospered, they have failed greatly too. It is particularly the failures of Muslim female leaders that have involved men protecting patriarchal interests. A’ishah Bint Abi Bakr was the first Muslim woman to be defeated. She played an important role in the civil war, was defeated and captured in 656 and only released on the promise that she would abandon political life. It is paradoxical that when A’ishah lost the Battle of the Camel against Ali, her companion Abu Bakra opportunistically narrated the hadith spoken 25 years that “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper” Definitely, A’ishah’s resignation from politics served the interests of the menfolk who had started to reclaim the rights of Muslim women in Arabia. 1400 years later, women in several Muslim societies are denied their rights by men, rights which are promised by Islam. Such societies are, of course, very patriarchal.

Muslim women have appeared in history either as political leaders or as political decision-making consorts to their husbands. Some prominent Muslim consorts and leaders are: Khayzuran of Baghdad, a slave turned caliph-consort who made important political decisions for her husband; Empress Shulü Hatun of Qidan, who ruled Qidan until her son was elected as a successor; Asma Bint Shibab al-Sulayhiyya of Yemen whose husband Sultan Ali al-Sulahi delegated much of the administration of the kingdom to her; Radiyya Altamish; Kassi of Mali; Oghul Qamish; and Dudu of Janupur. Almost all of these Muslim consorts and leaders are famous for sermonising at the Friday Khutbas, waging wars, setting up health and education programmes, improving state economy, and have proved to be capable leaders.

Although they can be as dishonest or brutal as men, women usually take longer to decide whether or not to engage in wars because “violence and the coalition-building is primarily the work of males… most murderous violence is the province of males, and the nature of female alliances is different” (Fukuyama). Women are better at multitasking by nature and are “trained to be more empathetic”. These are two important leadership qualities.

Muslims believe that the Prophet (pbuh) married A’ishah so she could carry forward his traditions and she did become a prominent authority on Muslim tradition. Lately, contemporary Muslim leaders are marrying young and intelligent women that boost their political careers. Queen Rania of Jordan is one example of a bright Muslim woman leader. In 2004, the Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashed married Princess Haya of Jordan, who is a very prominent and popular community figure. There is also Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the Consort of the Emir of Qatar.

There have been other winds of change lately. Last year the Kuwaiti parliament voted to give women full political rights but this amendment to the electoral law came 1400 years after Islam had declared that women had the right to vote. It is unfortunate that contemporary Muslim men have been denying women the rights that their religion had promised them so long ago.

As Amina Wadud points out, there has been a “historical absence of female voices in the interpretive process for most of our intellectual legacy. Some have erroneously taken this absence to mean irrelevance of female voices or experiences in determining meaning and application.” Wadud suggests that to “bring about a more complete human articulation of textual meaning” of the Quran it is urgent to “include women’s voices and perspectives within the interpretive process and to sustain those perspective as integral to our intellectual legacy.”

A Muslim woman’s moral excellence has been a Muslim man’s greatest excogitation and it is time that we see beyond the pale to include women in Muslim governance and the development of government. We have waited too long while Muslim men attempted to sort out our political problems and taught us how to practice our religion, sometimes failing miserably by nurturing a male chauvinistic society for years at the expense of house arrested women. If women are not given a chance, the world will soon witness more and more furious men rattling the bars of the Muslim political cage.

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  1. nk
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Thanks a lot for the excellent piece Suroor. But i think there is one issue where I disagree fundamentally (and as a fellow Muslim). In your heart of hearts, do you genuinely believe that the Prophet PBUH could have made the statement: “A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper.” The Prophet spentmost of his life fighting for equality between all, and one of his fist acts as Prophet was to fight for the right of girl enfants. He married one of the most successful women of the region. Is there any way such a man could have uttered this statement. Frankly, as a Muslim who is well read on Islamic History and the Prophet’s life, I am 100% convinced there is no way he said that. Part of the ongoing problem with Islam today is that we do not have the courage to stand up and say that so much of the so-called Hadith is fabricated. I don’t care if it’s Bukhari or Muslim, or whoever is the source, so many of those Hadiths do not make sense and fly in the face of the Prophet’s record and story. There is no doubth that so many of those hadiths were fabricated to suit the needs of scholars and rulers as time went by. And the outcry that usually meets such comments as this one is yet another ploy by the clerics and so-called authorities to ensure the continued submission of Islam to their dogma. Trust me Suroor, if a Hadith of the prophet does not make sense, just follow your heart and make a judgment without fear.

  2. Suroor
    Posted January 29, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the visit and your comment, nk!

    “Frankly, as a Muslim who is well read on Islamic History and the Prophet’s life, I am 100% convinced there is no way he said that.” – Ditto!

    In fact many people have argued that the hadith may be fabricated because of Abu Bakra’s past record.

  3. Prime
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    It’s simple. You all view Islam with western eyes, Ideals, Values, Ethics, Logic and Morals.

    Your premise is skewed and warped, and you’re trying to use the worldy to judge what is beyond.

    You say the problem with Islam is it scholars . . . .

    No, there is no problem with Islam.

    The problem with the Muslims is that some of them, like you, are trying to recreate and modify the religion to be accepted by the west. Perhaps this is due to your lack of vision, and complete inability to understand History. Not to mention your totall lack of knowledge on the religion, the Sharia, the Sunnah, the Quran, the scholars, the Mathaheb, etc etc.

    You are not qualified to discuss this matter or preech it. Everything you say is your own opinion, and you’re entitled to it. But one thing you can not do is simply go about saying “This Hadith is wrong, this one is ok, I like that one, but not that one”

    “hey God, I’ll do everything you asked of me, but I won’t pray, or give zakat, and I like drinking, so I’m going to do that , but other than that, we’re fine right God?”

    Grow up all of you, Islam is submiting to Gods will through your faith and actions. I am not a scholar, so I won’t make bogus fatwas , can those that disagree with me say the same? Will you stop pretending to be Muftees?

  4. Tariq
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    “You Westerner!!!” is a common ad hominem insult, flung toward any Muslim who dares to think about his or her religion. It’s tiring and repetitive. It’s so very much like Christian fundamentalism in America that it makes me want to laugh.

    Not all Muslims think of Islam as a static and shallow.

    The only one who needs to “grow up” is Prime.

  5. nk
    Posted February 6, 2008 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Prime, your line is so tired it is laughable. Whenever people like you go on the offensive against muslims like us, it’s the same old silly song: “You don’t understand religion. You are not qualified to talk about it” … blah blah blah blah. If Islam was the static religion that you are trying to make it to be, it would never have grown into what it is today. Islam grew and conquered the hearts and minds of so many people because it is about logic, justice and wisdom. And please stop this crap of attacking progressive muslims by saying they don’t understand the religion. I am willing to bet you that I have read more Islamic history than you and your beloved scholars. The only difference is that I read it with an open mind. While you read it in a sleep-walking state as a manual of DOs and DON’Ts.

    In any cases, progressive muslims like me will not be silenced by you any longer. We are coming out and reclaiming our religion. And with time, we will rescue our religion from your entirely non-Islamic dogma. If people like you lived at the time of the prophet, you would have declared Omar Bin Khattab an infidel.

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  1. […] [1] Ed. Ted Honderich. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford. p.270 [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Arneil, B. 1999. ‘Politics and Feminism: Deconstructing the theoretical frameworks,’ in Politics and Feminism, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. p.121 [6] Ed. Ted Honderich. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford. p.483 [7] Ibid. [8] Arneil, B. 1999. ‘Politics and Feminism: Deconstructing the theoretical frameworks,’ p., p.121 [9] Op. Cit. [10] Ibid. [11] Arneil, B. 1999. ‘Politics and Feminism: Deconstructing the theoretical frameworks,’ p., p.129 [12] Ibid., p.122 [13] Ed. Ted Honderich. 1995. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, p.483 [14] Op. Cit., p.127 [15] Arneil, B. 1999. ‘Politics and Feminism: Deconstructing the theoretical frameworks,’ in Politics and Feminism, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. p.138 [16] Ibid. [17] Ibid. [18] Ibid. [19] Ibid. [20] Ibid. [21] Ibid., p.139 [22] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/300700.html [23] Ibid. [24] Ibid. [25] Ibid. [26]http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080330.wislamcatholic0330/BNStory/International/home [27] Saifur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri. 2002. The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet, Darussalam, Riyadh. p.30. [28] An-Nabhani, Taqiuddin. 2002. Nidham ul-Islam (The System of Islam), Al-Khilafah Publications, London, p. 88. [29]Taqiuddin an-Nabhani. 2002. Nidham ul-Islam, p.59. [30] The Koran. revised edition 2005. trans. N. J. Dawood. Penguin Books, London, p.248. [31] The Koran. trans. D. J. Dawood, p. 299. [32] Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam., p.149. [33]Ibid., p144. [34] Ibid. [35] Ibid. [36] Ibid., p. 155. [37] Ibid., p. 168. [38] Ibid., p.180 [39] Ibid. [40] Ibid. [41] Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam, p.180. [42] Ibid. [43]Ibid. [44] http://www.monthlyreview.org/0302darraj.htm [45] Ibid. [46] Ibid. [47] Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam [48] The Koran. trans. D. J. Dawood, p.194. [49] Ibid., p.142 [50] http://arabcomment.com/2008/politics-leadership-and-the-muslim-woman/ […]