Is Intelligence Gender Specific?

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by Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

One matter that stirs up more controversy than almost any other contemporary issue is the question of whether or not the Prophet of Islam―may God show him mercy and peace― deemed women to be less intelligent than men. Critics of Muslims commonly insist that Islam teaches that women are less intelligent than men. This is largely due to the fact that a small number of prophetic reports, as they are translated and interpreted by some, are outwardly troubling to many people in this regard. Among those is the following report found in one of the major canonical collections of Muslims wherein the Prophet―may God grant him mercy and peace―said,

“O gathering of women! Give in charity and ask forgiveness often; for indeed I have seen that you will be the most numerous of the inhabitants of Hell.”[1] Upon this, an intuitive woman said: “And what quality is it of ours―O Messenger of Allah―that makes us the most numerous of the inhabitants of Hell?” He said: “You curse [others]frequently and you show ingratitude to [your]husbands (‘ashir). And I have not seen among those deficient in discriminatory capacity (‘aql) and ritual observance (din) better at subduing one with full discrimination (lubb) than you [women].”[2] She [then]said: “O Messenger of Allah! And what is the deficiency in [our]discriminatory capacity and ritual observance?” He said: “As for the deficiency in [a woman’s]discriminatory capacity, [it is related to that]the testimony of two women is the equivalent of one man. This is the deficiency in [her]discriminatory capacity. [The other is that] she spends nights without praying and abandons the fast during Ramadan. This is the deficiency in [her]ritual observance.”[3]


[1] Although this report asserts that more women will be in Hell than men, there is good reason to believe that most of the inhabitants of Heaven will also be women, since women outnumber men. In addition, the men of Heaven will have more than one wife, so it only follows that women will also outnumber men in Heaven. Alternatively, the Prophet―God’s mercy and peace on Him―never expressed that men will outnumber women in Heaven.

[2] It is very important to observe the context of this report. The Prophet’s aim―God’s mercy and peace upon him―was not merely to come out in order to detract from women. The context―after reflection―reveals that his aim was to emphasize to them the importance of restraining their tongues and showing gratitude for the good their husbands do for women. His mentioning of their imperfection in discriminatory capacity and ritual observance was connected with their cursing and ingratitude to their husbands. Women have a tendency, if not made aware of it, to become overly demanding of men and not appreciate what their husbands do for them. This demanding nature of theirs has a tendency to lead men to give in to that psychological pressure in order to experience some release and relief from what is viewed as being inappropriate nagging. While taking this into account, one can see the beauty in the Prophet’s approach in trying to correct their imbalances. What better way to make them cut their husbands some slack than by reminding them that they are also not perfect?  So, the objective is no more about pointing out their incompleteness than it is about discouraging them from complaining, nagging, and being abusive with their tongues. If a woman reflects on the fact that she is just as imperfect as she deems her husband to be at the times he upsets her, it will help to produce greater understanding between them.

[3] Sahih Muslim: Hadith #132

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3 Comments

  1. “His mentioning of their imperfection in discriminatory capacity and ritual observance was connected with their cursing and ingratitude to their husbands.”

    How is that connected? This does not address whether it is just to be considered deficient in ritual observance when it is Allah Himself who told them not to pray ritual prayers on menstruation. To abide by this would seem, rather, an act of obedience rather than deficiency. I don’t think this answer does justice to the numerous illogical conclusions we are lead into based upon this ahadith. We should also look at this hadith in the context of numerous other ahadith that point to women’s deficiency. To look at it in isolation is not to deal with the reality that women experience a torrent of ahadith that appear to denigrate them.

    • To me the “connection” is patently obvious. When he was asked what was the imperfection in their discriminatory capacity (‘aql) and ritual observance (din), he answered in the aforementioned way. That is to say that it is as if he said, “what is meant by your deficiency in ‘aql and din is…” I hope that makes the connection clear.

      As for the question of them abiding by it being an act of obedience and thus NOT being a “deficiency” or “imperfection”, that’s something that you’d have to take up with the reporters of the hadith. I’m simply attempting to reconcile the outward indications of it with other rational and scriptural considerations. I, personal, believe the hadith to be a statement of the Prophet (pbuh) though you may not. I’m not into rejecting hadiths just because they don’t fit my fancy (not suggesting that you are necessarily doing that either).

      Where we do agree is that this hadith (or any other for that matter) should never be dealt with outside of context of numerous other hadiths that outwardly are demeaning to women’s nature. If you read the article closely again, you’ll see that this was NOT merely a discussion of one single hadith. Furthermore, because there has been so much focus on the hadith, it is important to deal with it in some detail. It was not my aim to write a book about “misogynistic hadiths.” It was to merely deal with the implications of this one.

      was Salam
      Abdullah

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