By Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (PGCertTHE/FHEA), Associate Professor of Islamic Theology and Philosophy at The Muslim College & Researcher/Lecturer at London Central Mosque. He is Founder of Timbuktu International Research Centre
I write this article upon reflection on writings and discussions in the Gambian social media whether women can be leaders or not. At the outset, I think it is both prudent and common-sense that we should make a distinction between socio-political leadership and religious leadership referred to as (imamate) that is leadership of for example, prayer, mosque or a religious gathering. It will not be an overstatement if I claim here that Islam is probably the first religion to declare unequivocally, loudly and clearly that female life is not less worth than her male counterpart. On the theological ground, Qur’an has condemned the Arabs of Arabia for humiliating women. In the pre-Islamic era, women were looked down upon and killed for fear of bringing shame to their family because they were believed to be weak and not able to fight like men. Consequently, verses were revealed to address that barbarity and cruelty towards women. Thus, a whole chapter (Al-Nisa’) is dedicated to women in their entirety. Al-Nisa’ is one of the longest chapters in the Qur’an. It discusses a host of issues. It declares that humanity was created from one soul from which the spouse was created. From that couple, men and women sprang. Then it discusses rulings regarding orphanage and inheritance. Before the advent of Islam, rights of women were flouted but Qur’an has established that women should have a share in the inheritance as a divine obligation. In addition to the above chapter (surah), other chapters for example Maryam, Al-Nur, Al-Naml, Al-Mujadilah and Al-Mumtahnah were revealed to address specific women issues. Maryam speaks about the story of a great woman who gave birth to one of the greatest prophets Prophet Isa (Jesus). A chapter is dedicated to her for her devotion, religiosity, spirituality and connection to her Creator. (“And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah .” He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.” She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste…?”) (Maryam:16-20).
Al-Naml makes reference to the Queen of Saba’ (Sheba). She reigned at the same time as Prophet Sulayman (Solomon). She was a great Queen and had a good system of governance that was based on consultation. Read her encounter with Prophet Sulayman in the Qur’anic narrative “Take this letter of mine and deliver it to them. Then leave them and see what [answer] they will return.” She said, “O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a noble letter. Indeed, it is from Solomon, and indeed, it reads: ‘In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Be not haughty with me but come to me in submission [as Muslims].’She said, “O eminent ones, advise me in my affair. I would not decide a matter until you witness [for] me.” They said, “We are men of strength and of great military might, but the command is yours, so see what you will command.” (Al-Naml 27:28-32). The above verses shed light on the communications between Prophet Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Both were monarchs although Solomon was also a Prophet. Prophet Solomon invited her to monotheism. She did not take a decision without consulting with her subjects. She engaged with her people to come to the right conclusion and decision. This is a Qur’anic narrative that articulates good governance attributed to a woman in the person of Queen of Sheba (Bilqis) while abhorring autocratic and dictatorial rule.
As for Al-mujadilah, it records the dialogue that occurred between the Prophet Muhammad and a lady who was complaining against her husband. The Qur’an states “Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah. And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing. Those who pronounce zihar among you [to separate] from their wives – they are not [consequently] their mothers. Their mothers are none but those who gave birth to them. And indeed, they are saying an objectionable statement and a falsehood. But indeed, Allah is Pardoning and Forgiving. And those who pronounce zihar from their wives and then [wish to] go back on what they said – then [there must be] the freeing of a slave before they touch one another. That is what you are admonished thereby; and Allah is Acquainted with what you do. And he who does not find [a slave] – then a fast for two months consecutively before they touch one another; and he who is unable – then the feeding of sixty poor persons. That is for you to believe [completely] in Allah and His Messenger; and those are the limits [set by] Allah . And for the disbelievers is a painful punishment (Al-Mujadilah 58:1-4).
While the above chapter narrates the Prophetic dialogue with a lady, Al-Mumtahnah dwells on the Qura’nic discourse on women who paid allegiance to the Prophet. That was indeed an important historic moment in Islamic political thought that women were first politically enfranchised and empowered.
Finally, the above discussion was not at all exhaustive . Rather, it was to highlight some Qur’anic lessons on the role of women in societal development. I conclude by invoking the Prophetic saying that the best people are the ones who are the best to people in terms of service, devotion and commitment to uplift humanity. Here, we can be reminded of the need to differentiate between religion and cultural practices.