Tuesday, 21 August 2012
The Possibility of Female Prophets
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is adapted from “Are There Female Prophets in Islam?” Why is Maryam (a.s.) not counted as a prophet by most Muslims when she is clearly Mentioned in the Qur’an in the list of prophets in Surah al-Anbiya’? In the Arabic, there is plural mix for both masculine and feminine; the masculine form of the word is applied thus in Surah al-Anbiya’ indicating a mix of prophets from both genders. Maryam (a.s.) is mentioned with “wa”, that means “and”, before her name, as are all the other prophets in that surah.
And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We Breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We Made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (Surah al-Anbiya’:91)
Some scholars say that there were never any female prophets, and their reason is that a prophet is a “perfect” human being, while women, according to them, could never be perfect. Typical of such opinions is Hafizh ibn Katsir’s (r.a.) opinion in his commentary on the Qur’an, Tafsir ibn Katsir. Imam ash-Shawkani (r.a.) even said that there is consensus, ijma’, amongst scholars over that opinion in his Fath al-Qadir. However, this opinion might not be true. A number of renowned scholars have demonstrated that there were female prophets, as there were male prophets; although they did have different opinions on whom to include and the related justification. For example, Imam al-Qurthubi (r.a.), explained that, in principle, there is nothing against Allah (s.w.t.) Sending female prophets, similar to His Sending male prophets. Imam al-Qurthubi (r.a.) based his opinion on numerous verses in the Qur’an that Mentioned wahy, Revelation, Sent to women, similar to the same word “wahy” that was used with Revelations Sent to men. Imam al-Qurthubi (r.a.) cited the following verses from the chapter in the Qur’an named after Maryam, the mother of ‘Isa (a.s.) to support his opinion:
Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them: then We Sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said, “I seek Refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah.” He said, “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.” (Surah Maryam:16-19)
However, according to Imam al-Qurthubi’s (r.a.) Tafsir al-Qurthubi, he was only for the opinion of Maryam’s (a.s.) prophethood and had not confirmed evidence for the prophethood of any other woman. However, several other scholars included other women in the rank of prophets and discussed differences among scholars regarding that. These women are: Asiyah (a.s.), Pharaoh’s wife; Hawa (a.s.), Adam’s (a.s.) wife; Sarah (a.s.), Ibrahim’s (a.s.) wife and Yuhanz, Musa’s (a.s.) mother. Imam ar-Razi (r.a.), in his ad-Durr al-Mukhtar; Imam as-Suyuthi (r.a.), in his al-Aswbah wa an-Nazha’ir; Imam al-Kamal ibn al-Humam (r.a.); and Imam al-Mubarkafuri (r.a.) in his Tuhfat al-Ahwadzi bi Sharh Jami` at-Tirmidzi, who actually cited the same verses from Surah al-Anbiya’, are some of the great scholars who held the opinion of the possibility of female prophets.
Therefore, saying there is a “consensus” that in Islam women cannot be prophets is not accurate. And the claim that there could be no “perfect” woman, that is human perfection, is contrary to the general Islamic principles of equality between men and women, as well as the hadits, in which the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Made perfect amongst women were: Maryam, Asiya’, Khadijah, and Fathimah,” that they were, “kamula minna-an-nisa’i”.
And Allah Sets Forth, as an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said, “O my Lord! Build for me, in Nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and Save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and Save me from those that do wrong”; And Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into her (body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the Words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants). (Surah at-Tahrim:11-12)
There are differences between women and men in the shari’ah, but these differences are not in principal rights and obligations. They are due to the distribution of responsibilities in the family according to men’s and women’s natural roles, and biological differences. However, these rulings should never be interpreted to imply that Islam enforces a natural inferiority of women or that no single woman could be a capable leader and guide, especially if Allah (s.w.t.) Names a whole chapter in the Qur’an after one such woman, Maryam (a.s.), and sets her as an example to all believers — men and women.