Women & Politics in Islam : Full Rights to be a Member of Parliament Political Advisor

Article  Compiled from the works of Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri

BGhazala Hassan Qadri from Minhaj Women League

Right to be a Political Advisor?
Right to Vote?
Right to be a Member of Parliament?
Right to be the Head of State?


A question that is often raised by non-Muslim observers as well as Muslims themselves is the role of women in any Islamic political system.  Unfortunately since there is a prevailing image of Muslim women being oppressed within a Muslim society it is often thought  that Muslim women have very little or no at rights at all in the political system.  However this is not the case.  Throughout Islamic history, women have been active members of the political system and have always enjoyed manifold rights in this field. This article will aim to highlight the general rights of women within the political sphere.  The research regarding this paper is based entirely on the books, lectures and notes of Qaidi Mutharram so all credit is due to him for his unending efforts.  However since I have had the honor to compile this paper I take the ultimate responsibility of any mistakes that may occur in this compilation, I thus seek forgiveness from Almighty Allah for any errors that may occur.

Politics is the system used to regulate the society we live in.  It is the administrative and social structure of a community, organized into a state and a tool to govern and rule a nation.  An essential aim of any political system is to create a sense of social responsibility within the members of that state so that they too share in the burdens and duties of being part of any type of politic.  Islam is no different and in fact encourages active participation from both men and women, requiring them to be fully fledged members of their community. Social responsibility in Islam is derived from the Quranic verse which states:

And [as for] the believers, both men and women – they are friends and protectors of one another: they [all] enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and are constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto God and His apostle. It is they upon whom God will bestow His grace: verily, God is almighty, wise. (Quran 9:71).

This verse elaborates how women and men are encouraged to work together in the religious realm with reference to prayer, in the social realm by purifying their wealth and helping the needy, and in the political and educational realm by following the commands of Allah (swt) and His Holy Prophet (saw).  Both men and women are asked to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and in order to do this practically a political system is needed to enforce the rule of law and legislation.

Involvement in the political system can take many forms, from being political advisors and members of select committee’s, to voting in elections and being members of a Parliament or Senate; from holding a position as a legislator or a judge, to being a head of state and Islamic history provides precedents for most of these roles for women.

Involvement in the political system can be divided in three basic categories and this paper will cover each aspect individually.

Right to be a Political Advisor?

On a basic level a woman is allowed to fully participate in an advisory capacity to the head of state or to any other person within a political framework.  This may be seen as obvious and not so significant, but one must remember the context and time period of divine revelation.  During the time of the Holy Prophet (saw) the pagan Arab society considered women less than humans and treated them with scorn and disrespect.  Indeed this was the situation all over the world, where woman were considered as objects of desire and existed for the satisfaction of male desire.  Nonetheless during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (saw) and in generations after him, women’s opinion’s were sought and then acted upon, highlighted in the four examples given below.

In 628 A.D, sixth Hijrah, the Holy Prophet (saw) and His companions went to the city of Makkah to perform the Hajj pilgrimage for the every first time after their migration to Madinah.  This was a very emotional time for the new emerging Muslim community.  They were returning to Makkah for the first time after having been forced to flee from persecution by the non-Muslim Quraish tribes.  Many had left their families and loved ones and were now being given the opportunity to meet them after six years away from their homes.

Upon their arrival, on the outskirts of the city of Makkah ,the non-Muslim Quraish tribe stopped their entry and concluded a non-aggression pact called the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah with the Holy Prophet (pbuh), which prevented them from performing the Hajj that year.  The Companions of the Prophet were surprised at this turn of events since they had already adopted their ahram, religious Hajj attire and had bought their animals for the Hajj sacrifice.  The terms of the treaty also appeared to favor the non-Muslims, even though it proved to be the pre-cursor for the Muslim victory in Makkah the following year.

After concluding the treaty the Holy Prophet (saw) asked the Companions to sacrifice their animals since they were no longer going to perform the Hajj and shave their heads according to the Hajj requirements after which he returned to his tent. The Companions were naturally uncertain as to what had happened, being emotionally charged at the events unfolding in front of them and remained still, in shock.  After returning to his camp the Holy Prophet (saw) informed his wife Hadrat Ummi Salama (ra) about what had happened and asked her opinion on the matter.  This consultation was a very significant step taken by the Holy Prophet (saw).  Of course he (saw) was in need of no advice since he had knowledge of all things and had was aware of everything that was happening.  This was a delicate situation and it needed to be dealt with the utmost delicacy and tact.  However he still decided to consult his wife and ask her opinion since he knew that every action he would take would become part of his Sunnah, to be practiced by the Muslims in the future.  In Arab society, this was a fundamental step to take, to ask a woman and then ones wife for her opinion. However this action set the precedent for future generations, that women are capable of being involved in important decision making processes and their advice can and should be acted upon.

Hadrat Salma (rad) replied that if he (saw) wanted the Companions to implement his orders, he should go back outside and not say anything further, but proceed to sacrifice his animal and cut is hair according to the law.  The Prophet (saw) followed her advice and as soon as the Companions witnessed this they followed like wise and performed the rituals too. (Sahih Bukhari, Ch. 4, pg. 974)

Another event took place in the time of the second ‘Rightly Guided Caliph’, Sayyidina Umar (rad).  During his Caliphate it was his practice to visit his local consistency during the night to ensure that everyone was happy and content with his rule.   On one such visit he heard a woman lamenting that her husband had been away from home for a long time, being away on jihad.  When Sayyidina Umar (rad) heard this he returned home and asked his daughter Hadrat Hafsah (rad) for advice.  After discussing the matter with her he declared that married men should not be away from home for more than 4 months at any one time. (Imam Suyuti, History of the Caliphate, p. 139)

The third precedent also took place in the Caliphate of Sayyidina Umar where he made a lady, Shafah bint Abdullah, the head of a trader’s organization.  She was given the responsibility of being in charge of the Accountability Court for the area and was also given the duty of Market Administrator.  These were political advisory posts similar to being the head of a trade union in modern times and included settling disputes as well as raising the concerns of the market traders.  What is interesting to note here is a woman was deemed capable enough to be made in charge of a predominantly male dominated profession and her opinions and ideas accepted as equal to that of her male counterparts. (Ibn Hazm)

The fourth precedent took place in the Sayyidina  Uthman (rad) who was the third Rightly Guided Caliph.  He appointed Hadrat Ummi Kalsoom bint Ali (rad) as an ambassador and she went on two diplomatic missions to visit the Queen of Rome representing the Islamic Caliphate. (Thabrani)

Right to Vote?

In Islam the leader of an Islamic state is confirmed by the people through a process known as bai’ah; a symbolic contract between the leader and the people wherein the leader promises to obey the Islamic law and implement it practically, in exchange for the people promising their allegiance to him. This is a voluntary act and can be likened to the voting system in a modern day political system.   During the time of the Holy Prophet (saw) this was the manner in which people first became a Muslim and at the same time accepted the Holy Prophet (saw) as their leader.

It is narrated by Hadrat ‘Ubada bin As-Samit (rad) that:

We gave the oath of allegiance to Allah’s Apostle (saw) that we would listen to and obey him both at the time when we were active and at the time when we were tired and that we would not fight against the ruler or disobey him, and would stand firm for the truth or say the truth wherever we might be, and in the Way of Allah we would not be afraid of the blame of the blamers. (See {Hadith No. 178::htB9.178} and {320::htB9.320}) Sahih Bukhari Hadith Book 9

It is narrated by Hadrat ‘Ubada bin As-Samit (rad) that:

Allah’s Apostle said to us while we were in a gathering, Give me the oath (Pledge of allegiance) for: (1) Not to join anything in worship along with Allah, (2) Not to steal, (3) Not to commit illegal sexual intercourse, (4) Not to kill your children, (5) Not to accuse an innocent person (to spread such an accusation among people), (6) Not to be disobedient (when ordered) to do good deeds. The Prophet added: Whoever amongst you fulfill his pledge, his reward will be with Allah, and whoever commits any of those sins and receives the legal punishment in this world for that sin, then that punishment will be an expiation for that sin, and whoever commits any of those sins and Allah does not expose him, then it is up to Allah if He wishes He will punish him or if He wishes, He will forgive him. So we gave the Pledge for that. (See Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No. 17, Vol. 1::htB1.17})

It is also narrated by Hadrat ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar (rad):

Whenever we gave the Pledge of allegiance to Allah’s Apostle for to listen to and obey, he used to say to us, for as much as you can. Sahih Bukhari, Hadith Book 9.

It is narrated Hadrat Jabir bin ‘Abdullah:

I gave the Pledge of allegiance to the Prophet that I would listen and obey, and he told me to add: As much as I can, and will give good advice to every Muslim.

In early Islam women were included in giving the bai’ah to the Holy Prophet (saw) who   received it from them. The Qu’ran addresses the issue of women giving the bai’ah to the Holy Prophet (saw) stating:.

O Prophet! Whenever believing women come unto thee to pledge their allegiance to thee…then accept their pledge of allegiance. (Quran 60:12).

There are numerous Hadith documenting the Sahabiah, female Companions pledging their allegiance to the Holy Prophet (saw).

It is narrated by Hadrat Salama (rad):

We gave the oath of allegiance to the Prophet under the tree. He said to me, O Salama! Will you not give the oath of allegiance? I replied, O Allah’s Apostle! I have already given the oath of allegiance for the first time. He said, give it again for the second time. Sahih Bukhari.

It is narrated by Hadrat ‘Aisha (rad):

The Prophet used to take the Pledge of allegiance from the women by words only after reciting this Holy Verse: ..that they will not associate anything in worship with Allah. (60:12) And the hand of Allah’s Apostle did not touch any woman’s hand except the hand of that woman his right hand possessed. Sahih Bukhari

It is narrated by Hadrat Um Atiyya (rad)”

We gave the Pledge of allegiance to the Prophet and he recited to me the verse: That they will not associate anything in worship with Allah” (60:12). And he also prevented us from wailing and lamenting over the dead. A woman from us held her hand out and said, Such-and-such a woman cried over a dead person belonging to my family and I want to compensate her for that crying. The Prophet did not say anything in reply and she left and returned. None of those women abided by her pledge except Um Sulaim, Um Al-’Ala’, and the daughter of Abi Sabra, the wife of Al-Muadh or the daughter of Abi Sabra, and the wife of Mu’adh”. Sahih Bukhari.

After the demise of the Holy Prophet (saw) the process of Bai’ah continued in the confirmation of the Rightly Guided Caliph’s which included the involvement of women.

In a Hadith narrated by Al-Miswar bin Makhramain in Sahih Bukhari, it is stated that during the governance of Sayyidina Umar (rad) a six member committee was chosen to decide who should succeed the Caliphate, with Sayyidina Uthman (rad) and Sayyidina Ali (rad) being the prime candidates.  This took place in 645 A.D. (23 A.H.)  The committee was divided in its decision so the case was referred to the Parliament of Madina consisting of 50 members.  They also found it difficult to come to a decision, the members divided in their vote so it was decided to appoint Hadrat Abdul Rahman bin Auf (rad) as the chief election commissioner.  He was instructed to hold a general election to obtain the peoples vote, and so over a period of three days traveled from house to house asking each and every person whom they preferred. The result of the election was an overwhelming majority in favor of Sayyidina Uthman (rad).  During the election process women were included in the adult franchise, and asked about their preference, an act undoubtedly performed for first time in world history. In today’s society we take for granted women’s active participation in political affairs and also assume it was the Europeans who first gave this right to women. However universal suffrage in England was only granted in the early twentieth century whereas 1400 hundred years ago Muslim women not only voted but were involved in the affairs of the state.

Right to be a Member of Parliament?

Women are also entitled to be elected as members of any a body that represents the views of the public, where legislation is debated and passed by the governing body.  During the time of the Holy Prophet (saw), a consultative body was set up to manage the affairs of the new Islamic state, known as the Parliament of Madina and this system of shura, consultation continued throughout the caliphate periods after the demise of the Holy Prophet (saw

During the second Caliphate, Sayyidina Umar (rad) ) [1] decided to pass a piece of legislation placing a ceiling on the amount of mahr (dowry) payable to a wife upon her Nikah.  This was done as a result of increasingly high amounts of Mahr being fixed by the families of the bride causing hardship for intended grooms and their families.  However a lady objected to Sayyidina Umar’s (rad) proposal, claiming the legislation contravened a direct ayah of the Qur’an[2], which she quoted in evidence. Sayyidina Umar (rad) accepted her claim and the bill was rejected.  This event is commonly known but it is the new interpretation given by Qaidi Mutharram that is interesting

He first notes that since a bill of the Caliphate was being passed, obviously Sayyidina Umar (rad) was not in a public place such as a market or bazaar as official business of the state was being conducted, taking place in the parliament (shura).  Furthermore not all members of the Islamic state were privy to such decisions as only selected members of the public who constituted the Shura (described as a form of a modern day parliament by Qaidi Mutharram in subsequent works) were chosen to sit and decide these matters.  Since a lady stood up and objected to the bill it can be easily inferred that she had a right to be present in an Islamic government ruling at that time, a right to sit and then of course to speak and offer her opinion.  These were important matters of state and not to be taken lightly.  Decisions were being made by the Sahaba, Companions of the Prophet (pbuh), who never dealt with matters lightly or without due preparations.  It is from these observations that Qaidi Mutharram concludes there is ample evidence to suggest that women can be members of parliament and have full participation in governmental affairs.  If Sayyidina Umar bin Kattab (rad) was willing to entertain a woman in his parliament and listen to her views then the same can be said for modern times. Moreover a woman’s opinion was given precedence over a man as Sayyidina Umar’s  (rad) final words were ‘a man has given a wrong opinion and a woman has given a correct opinion’.  He deliberately used these words to leave no shadow of doubt that men and women are equals and that Islam has no place for sex discrimination.

Qaidi Mutharram’s second point is that this event shows how a constitutional mode of legislation was laid down by the Caliphate.  The bill was placed before a session of parliament.  The criticism of the lady establishes the fact there was an opportunity for parliamentary debate to take place and that all individuals present had a right to discuss the matters.  If sound reasons were given, backed up by solid evidence then proposals were accepted.  Here we witness the internal mechanisms of the legislature whereby the Caliph allowed debates on policies and bills, thus establishing a democratic culture and work ethos.  Democracy in name is not enough and cannot be implemented unless democratic values permeate an Islamic system.

Of course where else to begin this procedure than from the very top.  By acceding to the woman’s claims, Sayyidina Umar’s (rad) actions established the judicial principle that a head of state has no right of veto nor holds exclusive legislative rights.   There is no place in an Islamic state for despotism, monarchism, theocracies, divine kingships or any kind of dictatorial rule which vests unconditional and absolute authority in the head of state.  Thus all members in a parliament including the ruler hold an equal position.  This occurrence also indicates how important the supremacy of Qur’anic rule law was considered.  Although the lady in this incident noted that the proposed bill was made in good faith, it nevertheless contravened a direct ayah of the Qur’an.  Since the Qur’an is the supreme source of law a Qur’anic ayah cannot be superseded or curtailed.

Another original inference by Qaidi Mutharram is that the basic reason behind the proposal of Sayyidina Umar (rad) was that he was concerned about protecting the rights of women.  During this period large amounts of dower were being fixed at the time of the Nikah but remained unpaid.  This led to many unfulfilled agreements and women being paid nothing at all.  This situation prompted the Caliph to act through legislation.  He was extremely concerned that the Islamic polity should protect the rights of all which reflects a culture of promotion of human rights.

Right to be the Head of State?

The final and ultimate level in politics is having the right to be the head of state, prime minister or president of a nation.  Many Muslim commentators have termed this right as totally prohibited for women in Islam.  They deem this as being haram, meaning completely forbidden and this is the highest level of prohibition in Islam.  However Qaidi Mutharram categorizes this as being Makruh, a minor sin as opposed to haram, a major sin.  For many in the West this may appear to be restrictive view, regardless of the prohibition level.  However if one looks at the matter closely, this prohibition is more to do with the practical realities of daily life than a reflection on the intelligence of women or their status in general.  To be a head of state in Islam is an extremely onerous obligation and responsibility, one that not all men can fulfill either.  Only that person who is considered the wisest, knowledgeable in all matters of life, who has leadership qualities, patience, courage, nobleness, honesty, truthfulness and courage as well as give his whole time and effort can fulfill this post.  As such, this criteria excludes most men too, since only a very few men will be able to fit such a strict criteria.  Moreover any leader in Islam is seen as the direct vicegerent of the Holy Prophet (saw) who intern is the vicegerent of Almighty Allah so becoming a leader of the Muslim ummah is integral to his faith, success and failure resulting in success or failure in the after life.

A woman may be equally intelligence, honest, wise, and truthful and retain all virtuous aspects in her personality, but it is an undeniable fact she has many other duties and responsibilities regarding the family, raising children and other domestic affairs that she needs to take care of too.  Moroever, it is now a proven fact that when she has her monthly menstrual periods, a woman often goes through immense emotional turmoil through no fault of her own.  However a head of state can never allow any medical condition to effect his judgment at any time, thus for more practical reasons it is not recommended for women to adopt the position of head of state.

As stated earlier, many Islamic commentators have said that a woman leader is haram, but Qaidi Mutharrram views this as a slightly harsh ruling, deeming it to be makruh, condemned, coming under the purview of a minor sin.  The reason for this analysis is that in order to determine something as haram requires the fulfillment of very high judicial principles which do not occur here.  Two evidences are normally quoted in support of the harsher ruling, but they are not in fact conclusive enough to categorize women leaders as haram. The first evidence used is the Qur’anic verse where men are termed as qawwam, the protectors or guardians of women:

And Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel one other , and because they spend (to support them) from their means  (Al Nisa :34)

It is argued that since men have been given this title, women can never hold any position superior to that of men.  However this is an erroneous view.  This verse was primarily revealed in the context of the administration of family affairs where it is envisaged that men are more suited to be the head of a family, normally being the breadwinners and being primarily responsible for outside affairs.  However in recent times, with better employment opportunities and fairer treatment in  the work place, more and more women have entered the work place, especially so where either the husband or male members of the family are not working or are not able to maintain the family.  There are many instances where female members of the household are the main bread winners, they are working, earning their livelihoods and supporting themselves as well as the rest of the family.  In such cases it is the lady of the house who is running the affairs of the house, especially where she may be unmarried, a widow or divorcee.  Her husband may be ill, unemployed or is in low paid work and she has a better job. In this instance what is the hukm, order here?  For all intents and purposes she is now the Qawwam, since practically she has adopted this role.  Although this position is against the basic principles and aims of what Islam considers as the traditional roles for men and women, this is not seen as haram or a sin in Islam.  One cannot say that the children or the family are taking in haram earnings or that this is prohibited.  Thus this verse cannot be used as supporting the contention it is haram for a woman to be the head of state.

The second evidence often used to for the harsher verdict is Hadith of Sahih Bukhari where Abu Bakra states:

‘When the Prophet was informed that the people of Persia had crowned the daughter of Kisra as their ruler, he said: No people will ever succeed if they hand their affairs to a woman.’ Sahih al-Bukhari, trans. by M.M. Khan, Kazi Publications, 1983, vol. 5, p. 508, no. 508; vol. 9, p. 170-171, no. 219.

However this Hadith is known as being kabre wahid, containing a single chain of narration as opposed to being muttawatir, having plurality of narration.  Under the rules of Islamic Jurisprudence a muttawatir Hadith is needed to determine any act haram. Moreover although this Hadith relates that a nation will not gain success it does not specify what kind of success.  The success could be material success in this world, or spiritual success in the Hereafter so the Hadith is general in nature.  What is clear though is that a woman being the head of a state is not liked and disapproved of in Islam.

[1] Musanaf Abdr-Razzaq, Vol 6:108 Hadith no. 10420, Al- Kashaf, Vol 1:514, Al- Matalib-ul-Aaliyya, vol 2:4-5, Hadith No. 1504.  The whole event has also been narrated in the Musnad of Ya’la too.

[2] Al –Nisaa 3:20

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