There was a very significant event which took place in the lifetime of the prophet (pbuh) in which he received information that an army of 4000 were heading towards Medina to attack the Muslims. The prophet gathered his companions; male and female alike, and asked for their opinion whether they should fight the army outside of the city limits, or remain inside, to fight them in the city that they were well acquainted with; which would be advantageous to them. The men and women voted, and guess what? The opinion of the majority was opposite to the prophet’s own opinion, yet he went ahead with the majority, giving a lesson to every leader who wishes to be just.
Muslim women also voted in order to choose a leader of the Muslim nation, such as in the case of Uthman.
Can the head of state be a woman in Islam?
This brings us to a misconception of Islam; that the leader or head of the Muslim nation cannot be a woman, due to some opinions which are based on a saying of the prophet (pbuh) “The people who appointed the woman as their leader won’t be successful”
The Prophet was, however, speaking about a specific case; Boran the daughter of the Sasanian king, Khosrau II, who reined twice; the first time in June 629 AD, for one year, which was full of conspiracies then was usurped. She then reigned again, but was killed by strangulation. Do we now understand what the prophet pbuh meant when he said that they won’t be successful?
And even the scholars who believe that the head of state should not be a woman, did not issue their verdict based on any misogyny but rather because the head of state is entitled to announce war and since the nature of the woman is against war then this may lead to some hesitation.
Golda Maer, the prime minister of Israel in the 60s and the 70s of the 20th century used to say “I am a woman but I am very good in sending men to war” which means, do not let the fact that I am female deceive you and make you think that I may hesitate in taking the decision of war, she meant that she was different from most women.
Alternatively, there are other scholars who say that women can be the head of state, especially since in todays democratic regimes, the decision of war is not one that is taken individually, but rather institutionally. The Quran positively mentions the non-Muslim Queen of Sheba for being a very just and wise ruler. It says : “The Queen of Sheba said, ‘Counsellors, a gracious letter has been delivered to me. It is from Solomon, and it says, “In the name of God, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful, do not put yourselves above me, come to me in submission to God.”’ She said, ‘Counsellors, give me your counsel in the matter I now face: I only ever decide on matters in your presence.’ (Qur’an 27:29-32)
It is an interesting fact that women did not only participate in the battles at the time of the prophet by nursing the wounded, but also by engaging in combat, such as Um Emara, and Safeya, the aunt of the prophet and Um Haram. Um Emara’s combat skills were praised by the prophet and she was one of the 14 commandos who protected the prophet at the day of Uhud when the Muslims were defeated and the prophets face was wounded. The prophet (pbuh) said; “I did not turn to my right or my left but that I saw her defending me with her sword”
Does the Qur’an speak to men only?
Another very common misconception is that the Quran speaks to men solely, in a male-directed discourse. This is an accusation frequently used by islamophobes, trying to prove that Islam regards women as negligible.
I need to point out that, in the Arabic language, nouns, adjectives and verbs have a masculine form and a feminine form.
There are verses that address both males and females, such as:
“For men and women who are devoted to God– believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, steadfast men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, chaste men and women, men and women who remember God often– God had prepared forgiveness and a rich reward.” (Quran 33:35)
Here we see God talking to both men and women alike, promising them the very same forgiveness and rich reward for doing the same good deeds.
And the next verse talks to them about them having the same responsibility to be extremely obedient.
“When God and His Messenger have decided on a matter that concerns them, it is not fitting for any believing man or woman to claim freedom of choice in that matter: whoever disobeys God and His Messenger is far astray.” (Quran 33:36)
God also said in the Quran: ‘I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female, each is like the other [in rewards].(Quran 3:195)
God in all these verses is clearly addressing both males and females assuring them that both of them are safe from any injustice: The Quran says: “anyone, male or female, who does good deeds and is a believer, will enter Paradise and not the least injustice will be done to them.” (Quran 4:124)
In another example where Allah addresses males and females alike, promising them the same reward He says: “To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions.(Quran 16:97)
And there are verses that address women alone like this verse which addresses the women of the prophet: “if any of you is obedient to God and His
Messenger and does good deeds, know that We shall give her a
double reward and have prepared a generous provision for her.” (Quran 33:31)
and verses addressing female believers, such as “And tell believing women that they should lower their gaze, cover their private parts, and not display their beauty except that which is apparent; they should let their headscarves fall to cover their necklines and not reveal their beauty
except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their
sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their
sisters’ sons” etc. (Quran 24:31)
And there are also verses that address men alone, like: “Do not marry women that your fathers married– with the exception of what is past– this is indeed a shameful thing to do, loathsome and leading to evil”(Quran 4:22), it is normal to use the masculine tense in such verses because it is clearly addressing men
Most of the verses of the Quran address both men and women but do so in a masculine tense since, in the Arabic language the masculine tense accommodates both sexes. Not only in the Quran is this the case, all Arab-speakers use this tense, even when an Arab male singer addresses his female loved one, he might say “ya habiby” which means “my love” in a masculine tense. The feminine tense would be “ya habibty” not “ya habiby”, and nobody thinks that he is homosexual, because it’s normal in the Arabic language to use the masculine tense for both sexes.