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Ibn Hazm on Nubuwwa of Women

Were there any women prophets?

By Abu Muhammad Ibn Hazm al-Andaluci

Translated by Lotfi

This is a glimpse into one of the great intellectual debates of the past. This is a debate about the question of the prophethood of women, from Ibn Hazm's al-Milal wal-Nihal. Muslims debated this issue without fear of sanction, and without relying on accepted dogmas. Ibn Hazm (d. 456 Hijri) lived in the 11th century in Muslim Spain (Andalucia). This is a piece from that era. This is his position about this sensitive issue. He has a strong argument. What follows is his view and some other views of other Muslim scholars such as Qurtubi, Ibn Hajjar al-'Asqalani, Imam al-Nawawi and other Muslim scholars. This piece is very relevant as we try to find out the position of women in our society and understand the differences between what we inherited as customs and what the Shari'a wants from us.

Nubuwwa (Prophethood) of Women Volume V, pp 17-19 al-Fisal fi al-Milal wa-al-Ahwa'i wa-al-Nihal By Abu Muhammad Ali Ibn Ahmad Ibn Hazm al-Andaluci

(Abu Muhammad said) This is an issue we know of no debate about it except here in Cordoba and in our time. A group of people went on and denied that Prophet- hood could not be for women and made everyone that claims as such an innovator (Mubtadi'). Another group said that Prophethood is possible for women. A third group abstained from discussing this issue.

(Abu Muhammad said) We find no proof for those who claim that Prophethood is impossible for women other than that some of them denied it based on the Koranic verse:

" (O Muhammad!) Whenever we sent before you Messengers to whom we have revealed Our messages, they were but men." (1)

(Abu Muhammad said) This is a verse none can deny as nobody claimed that Allah (SWT) sent women Messengers. The issue here is about Prophethood (Nubuwwa) and not Messengership. Henceforth the need to understand the meaning of the word 'Prophethood' in the language in which Allah (SWT) spoke to us (i.e. Arabic).

We find that this word is taken from Inba' (prophecy) which means I'lam (revelation). So whomever Allah (SWT) tells him about what will be before it comes to pass, or reveals to him informing him about a certain matter, then he is a Nabi (prophet) without any doubt.

This (Prophethood) should not be understood as Ilham (inspiration) which is natural as Allah said in Surah al-Nahl:

" And behold! Your Lord has inspired the bees with this: 'Build thy hives in the mountains, and the trees and the creepers over trellis, then drink nectar from every kind of fruit, and follow the ways made smooth by your Lord.' From its belly comes out a fluid of varying hues wherein is healing for mankind. Here is indeed a sign for those who ponder over it." (2)

It should neither be understood as doubt (Zann) or illusion which none would assure its truthfulness except an insane person (i.e. a crazy person would think illusion or Zann as part of what we commonly label as 'truth').

It neither should be understood as Kahana (sorcery) which is part of what the evil spirits (shayatin) try to get by listening to the heavens and as such get stricken by shooting stars. As Allah (SWT) says:

" And We have always set against every prophet enemies from among satans of men and satans of jinns who have been inspiring one another with charming things in order to delude the minds. But had your Lord willed, they would never have done so. So leave them alone to continue false allegations."(3)

Such sorcery was ended with the advent of the messenger of Allah (SWT), Muhammad (SAAW) (4).

It is not part of Nujum (fortune telling), which can be learned. Nor is it part of dreams which none can assure their truthfulness or lies.


Revelation which is Nubuwwa (Prophethood) is meant from Allah (SWT) to inform that to whom it was revealed of what Allah wants to tell him. This should be understood differently from all the previous cases.

Allah makes to whom it was revealed fully aware and fully knowledgeable of the truthfulness of what was revealed to him - (Exactly) like his knowledge of what he can sense and the (obvious) deductions of his brain - with no doubt in them.

(This revelation) can be transmitted by one of either ways: through an angel that comes to him or through a message directly revealed to him and this is a knowledge from Allah (SWT) to whom He gives, with no transmitter or teacher.

If they deny that this is the meaning of Prophethood then let them teach us its meaning for they will not bring any single proof.

Allah revealed in the Koran that He sent angels to women to deliver to them truthful revelations from Allah (SWT). They gave glad tidings to the mother of Isaac (Sarah) of Isaac. Allah says:

"...And his wife was standing by; hearing this, she laughed. Then we gave her the good news of Isaac, and after Isaac of Jacob. She said,' Woe be me! Shall I bear a child now when I have grown extremely old, and this husband of mine has also become old? This is indeed a strange thing.' The angels said,' What! Are you surprised at Allah's decree? O people of Abraham's household! Allah's mercy and blessing are upon you. Indeed, Allah is worthy of all praise and glory.'" (5)

This is a direct address from the angels to the mother of Isaac about the blessing Allah will bless her with -Isaac, then after Isaac Jacob - then their testimony about the power of Allah and her astonishment of the matter of how Allah (SWT) makes things possible.

This could not be an address from an angel except to a prophet - in one way or another - we find also that Allah (SWT) sent Gabriel to Mary mother of 'Isa - Jesus - (AS) with a message and told her:

"...I am a mere messenger from your Lord and have been sent to give you a pure son." (6)

This is a true Nubuwwa with a true revelation and a (clear) message from Allah (SWT). Zacharias (AS) used to find with her Rizq (food) for this he asked Allah (SWT) to grant him a trustworthy son (7). We found also that Allah re- vealed to (Yukabid) mother of Moses that she shall throw her son into the Yam (river) and she shall neither worry or have grief and promised her He shall return Moses to her and make him a prophet and a messenger. With no doubt this is a true Nubuwwa (revelation) and a logical consequence of our premises.

If she was not sure of the revelation that Allah would return her son to her, either that this was a mere vision or a feeling she had, she would be - by throwing her son in the Yam - committing a crazy act and a heinous crime against herself. If one of us did such an act he would be an extreme trans- gressor or a crazy person that deserves the agony and the (psychological) consequences he has to go through - (probably) in a bimaristan (a mental institution).

Such logical analysis none could deny. Therefore it becomes - with assuredness - true that that which came to (Yukabid) - of throwing her son in the Yam - was a revelation, like that which was revealed to Ibrahim (AS) in his dream. He was ordered to slaughter his son. If Ibrahim (AS) was not a true prophet, and had he slaughtered his son for a dream he saw or a doubt he had in himself, it would be true that whoever does such an action would not be of the Prophets but an insane person. This nobody would doubt.

Hence their (the women's) Prophethood becomes obviously true. We find that Allah (SWT) while mentioning the prophets in Surah Mariam, He mentioned Mariam amongst them and then said:

" These are the Prophets on whom Allah bestowed His favors. They were from the descendants of Adam, and from the seed of those whom we carried in the Ark with Noah, and from the seed of Abraham and of Israel. They were from those whom we guided aright and made our chosen ones. They were tender-hearted that whenever the Revelations of the Merciful were recited to them, they would fall down pro- strate, weeping." (8)

This is a description of all of them. One should not single her out as a special case, to be treated separately.

Now the saying 'and his mother a Siddiqa' (Koran) does not deny her the right to be a prophet as Allah said: 'Joseph, O Siddiq!'(9). and as is known he is a true prophet and a messenger; and this becomes now clear. From Allah only one seeks guidance. We can also include along with them (Yukabid and Mariam) the wife of Pharao, as the prophet (SAAW) said:

" There are many persons amongst men who are quite perfect but there are not perfect amongst women except Mary, daughter of 'Imran, and Asiya, wife of Pharao." (10) or as the Messenger of Allah (SAAW) said.

Now perfectness (kamal) for men can only be for some messengers -for those who are 'less than them' are not perfect-. His (the Prophet's) particularization to Mariam and Asiya (the wife of Pharao) was a privilege for both of them over all those to whom Prophethood was given from amongst women - with no doubt -, as those who are a degree less than them are not perfect.

Henceforth it is clear that these two women became perfect more than any other women and even if these women were prophets. From Koranic texts we find that Allah says:

" (O Muhammad) , most surely you are of those who have been sent as Messengers. Of these Messengers, We have raised some above others in rank." (11)

So the perfect of his gender is the one who excels in his perfection and none of his gender can reach him. They are the messengers from amongst men, of whom we find our prophet Muhammad and Ibrahim (ASWS).



(1) Koran, Yusuf (12:10) al-Nahl (16:43) al-Anbiya' (21:7)

(2) Koran, al-Nahl (16:68)

(3) Koran, al-An'am (6:112)

(4) This is in reference to the verses in Surah Jinn (72: 8-9), and Surah Saffat (37: 6-8).

" 'And that we (the Jinns) searched the heavens and found it filled with guards and shooting-stars.' And that:' Before this we used to find a seat in heaven for eavesdropping, but now if someonetries to eavedrop, he finds a shooting- star lying in ambush for him.'" (72: 8-9)

" We have adorned the lower heaven with adornment of the stars and have seemed it against every rebel satan. These satans cannot hear the words of the exal- ted ones (angels) ; they are darted at and driven off from everyside, and for them there is a perpetual torment." (37: 6-8)

(5) Koran, Hud (11:72)

(6) Koran, Mariam (19:19)

(7) This is in reference to the verses in Surah Al 'Imran (3:37-38). It reads:

" Whenever Zacharias entered the sanctuary to see her, he found some eatables (Rizq) with her. He would ask, 'O Mary, whence have these come to you?' She would answer, 'It is from Allah, Allah provides without stint for whom he wills.' Thereupon, Zacharias invoked his Lord and said, 'Lord, bestow upon me from Thyself righteous offspring for Thou alone hearest prayers.'"

(8) Koran, Mariam (19: 58)

(9) Siddiq (M) or Siddiqa(F) (Ar.): An embodiment of truth and righteousness.

(10) This is a part of a Sahih hadith reported by both Bukhari and Muslim. The hadith, as it appears in Sahih Muslim looks as follows:

Abu Musa reported Allah's messenger saying: There are many persons amongst men who are quite perfect. But there are not perfect amongst women except Mary, daughter of 'Imran, and Asiya wife of Pharao. And the excellence of 'Aisha as compared to women is that of Tharid (some type of food) over all foods.

What follows are two commentaries by two Islamic scholars about this issue and the whole issue of the Prophethood of women.

After referring to Surah Tahrim, Ayah 11, Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (12) says:

We can infer from this restriction of description (hasr) that they (Mariam and Asiya) were prophets as the perfection in human beings can only be for prophets (Anbiya'), then for Saints (Awliya'), then for the Truthful (Sid- diqin), then Martyrs (Shuhada'). If they were not prophets then it would be necessary that there is no Waliyyah, Siddiqa, or Shahidah in the ranks of women.

On the other hand, we find these characters are present for quite a number of them. It is as if he said: 'And there were no prophets amongst women except so and so.' Had he also said that 'the character of Siddiqa, Waliyya or Shahida was only for so or so,' then we would infer that these characters cannot be for other women.

Another possibility would then be to assume that there is another type of perfection other than Prophethood. As such, the proof can no longer hold. And Allah knows best.

Any how, the Prophet meant 'of those who came before his time.' Now he mentioned only 'Aisha of those of his time. We can by no means infer that this is a clear declaration that 'Aisha (RA) is better than other women, for Tharid is better than other food in the easiness of storing it, and the easiness in digesting it. It was the best food in their time... There is another addition in Tabarani after Mariam, daughter of 'Imran, and Khadija, daughter of Khuwailid, and Fatima, daughter of Muhammad...

Qurtubi said,' The truth is that Mariam is a prophet as Allah (SWT) revealed to her through an angel. But Asiya, there is no clear proof of her prophet- hood.'

Kirmani said: ' It should not be understood from the word perfect (kamal) a proof of her Prophethood as the word is used to describe the completeness of a certain thing and the highest point it can reach. So the meaning is 'she reached the best of all qualities that women can have.'' He then said:' It has been reported that there is consensus between scholars (Ijam') that there is no Prophethood (Nubuwwa) for women.' This is what he said.

al-Ash'ari was reported as saying "There were six women who were given prophecy: Eve, Sarah, the mother of Moses (Yukabid), Haggar, Asiya, and Mariam.' The condition for such a prophecy is that who ever an angel talked to about a rule of Allah, or revelation of what will come to pass then he is a prophet. And - for him - It has been proven that the Angel came to them from Allah (SWT) with different matters, and there is clear indications that a direct revelation was given to some of them in the Koran.

Ibn Hajjar, then brings the above testimony of Ibn Hazm.

Imam Nawawi (13), on the other hand says this hadith is used as a proof by those who believe in the Prophethood of women, however the majority (Jumhur) of Muslim scholars do not approve of the Prophethood for Mariam and Asiya. In the interpretation of this hadith, he follows the same line of reasoning as that of Kirmani.

(11) Koran, al-Baqarah (2:253)

(12) Ibn Hajjar al-'Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi-Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, pp 514-516, Dar al-Rayyan lil-Turath. Cairo, 1986

(13) Imam al-Nawawi, Sahih Muslim bi-Sharh al-Nawawi, Vol. 15, pp 198-199, Dar Ihya' al-Turath al-'Arabi, Bayrut, Lebanon, 1984.


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