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.