One of the issues that the opponents of Islam launch their attacks through is the issue of woman’s status in Islam. They accuse Islam to be bias against women and that men are superior to them not only physically but also mentally.
One distinct manifestation of the issue is that two women witnesses are equivalent to one man as stated by Allah’s Saying: “And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her” [Surat Al Baqarah: 282].
And by the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that was narrated by Abu Sa`id Al Kudry: “On his way to `Eid Prayer Allah’s Prophet passed by a group of women and said: O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).”They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Prophet?” He replied: “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone MORE DEFICIENT IN INTELLIGENCE and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.”The women asked: “O Allah’s Prophet! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?”He said: “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?”They replied in the affirmative. He said: “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Is not it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?”The women replied in the affirmative. He said: “This is the deficiency in her religion.”
In this article we shall shed some light on this issue taking into consideration the recent scientific discoveries in the fields of neurology and psychology that might help better understand the meaning of the Ayah and the Hadith.
In the Arabic version of the Hadith the term “intelligence” not mentioned but instead the term: (mind = عقل “Aql“) is used which simply means “The mechanism by which the brain responds to an emotional event properly and functions accordingly” and this is tightly relevant to the magnitude of control a person (man or woman) can exert on his or her feelings and sentiment at the time of the event and not related to intelligence, and the more emotional a person is, the less Aql is likely used to face such event.
To illustrate this point, consider the following Hadith of Anas: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was at one of his wives’ home when another wife sent him a plate of food. The one that the Prophet was at her home hit the hand of the servant who was carrying the plate. It fell down and broke into pieces. The Prophet smiled and collected the broken pieces and the food and said: “Your mother [His wife] is jealous.”
In this Hadith, the Prophet’s wife, who sets a typical example to Muslim women, could not control her emotions and was motivated at that moment by her feminine instinct of jealousy.
In the foregoing Ayah there is no indication of women’s lack of intelligence. It simply emphasizes, indirectly, that women are subject to stray and be misled by memorization of some issues of certain nature, namely memories that are not of emotional nature or of numerical nature but not all the time, that is why the Glorious Quran used the character “أنAnn = If ” which, linguistically, is a character of “Probability but not Certainty.”
The question is: Why do women usually have this peculiarity but not men?
The answer has been furnished in recent years by the progress of science and development of technology in the field of Neurology as many gender anatomical brain differences have been found between men and women that may shed light on this issue as well as other issues that show, on one hand, that gender physical differences exist between men and women, but on the other hand, such differences make both genders complementary to each other.
In fact women, being more emotional and sentimental ( less Aql or mind they get sometimes ) than man, are a sign of “beauty and professionalism” which makes them fit for their role as daughters, wives, and mothers.
So, Islam does not consider women inferior to men mentally and intellectually but rather it looks at them as “precious creatures” that deserve extreme attention and care by men:
Anas narrated: “The messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was once traveling (in a caravan and women were riding the camels) and a black boy named Anjashah was chanting for the camels. The messenger of Allah said: “O Anjashah, drive the camels slowly as they are carrying “Qawareer = Crystals.”
In this Hadith the messenger (peace be upon him) likened women to exquisite crystals which are unique in beautiful appearance, etching, intricate, and fragility.
Sex differences begin in the womb when the testicles of a developing baby boy start churning out the male hormone “testosterone” in substantial quantities which is then transformed by specific enzymes within the brain, bind to brain tissue and begin to transform it.
Between 18 and 26 weeks gestation, the developing brain is permanently transformed.
This means that a neonate has either a male brain (masculinized brain) or a female brain before birth, an assertion that was supported by castration of the male newborn laboratory rats (within 20 minutes of birth by Caesarean section). Despite being castrated, the castrated rat’s brain remained masculinized throughout life.
What does it mean to have a “male brain” or a “female brain ?
To answer this question, sex differences in structure, function, and development must be considered:
A) Structural differences between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain:
1- Total brain size: fig-1
There is a difference in the average brain weight of about 11-12% more in adult man than the average brain weight of a woman.
2- Cerebral Cortex: fig-2
The sheet of neural tissue that is outmost to the cerebrum of the human brain. It is linked to memory, attention, language, and thought.
The brain cells and brain tissue is 4% and 100 gms respectively more in man than in a woman, i.e., man has a greater functional reserve than woman, hence, this may explain why women are more vulnerable to dementia.
3-Cellular connections: fig-3
This is the number of neurons present and studies show that man has more neurons in the cerebral cortex whereas women have a more developed neuropil (the space between cell bodies) which contains synapses, dendrites and axons. These neuropils render better communication among neurons.
4- Corpus collosum: figs-4,6,7,9
Research shows that a woman’s brain contains a larger corpus collosum, which signifies that women can transfer data between the right and left hemisphere faster than men, who tend to be more left brained.
5- Inferior parietal lobule (IPL):fig-5
It is the segment of the brain, which deals with the mathematical abilities. It has been found that the IPL is significantly larger in man than in woman and the left side IPL is larger in man, whereas in woman the right side IPL is larger.
6- Orbitofrontal to amygdala ratio (OAR):
It is the ratio of the size of the orbitofrontal cortex (region involved in regulating emotions) to the size of the amygdala, (region involved in the production of emotional reactions).
Studies have proven that women harbor a substantially larger orbitofrontal-to-amygdala ratio (OAR) than men.
From these findings one can deduce that women might be more capable of controlling their emotional reactions.
7- Limbic size: fig-7
The deep limbic system of a woman is larger than the limbic system of man. The advantages associated with this are that women are more able to express their feelings and are more concurrent with their feelings than men. Another upside is that due to the deeper limbic system women are able to bond better with others. The disadvantage is that women are more prone to depression, especially during the onset of puberty, before menses, or after giving birth and at menopause
8- Symmetry, Gray matter, and White matter: fig-8
Man brain shows more hemispheric asymmetry: The left hemisphere looks different from the right hemisphere. In woman, the two hemispheres are much more alike.
In woman, there is proportionately more grey matter, and less white matter; vice versa for man. Woman has a higher concentration of grey matter in the neocortex (the phylogenetically ‘newer’ part of the cerebral cortex), whereas man has more grey matter in the entorhinal cortex, one of the ‘older’ areas of the brain (Grey matter contains neural cell bodies, in contrast to white matter, which does not and mostly contains myelinated axon tracts and so called due to the white color of myelin which is a waxy material that insulates the axons (nerve fibers) whereby neurons communicate with one another).
In a study by Dr. Haier and some colleagues at the University of California, Irvine showed men to have 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of —or connections between— these processing centers. This may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility.
These two very different neurological pathways and activity centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests.
The study also identified regional differences with intelligence. For example, 84 percent of gray-matter regions and 86 percent of white-matter regions involved with intellectual performance in women were found in the brain’s frontal lobes, compared to 45 percent and zero percent for males, respectively.
The gray matter driving male intellectual performance is distributed throughout the brain
better than men using both of sides of brain in brain activities enables women to be at sensing emotional messages in conversations, gestures, and facial expressions, and are thus more sensitive.
Women start to speak and read at an earlier age than men and are generally better in verbal skills, such as learning a different language.
Men are better in spatial coordination and have a better sense of direction. They excel in math and are great at interpreting three-dimensional objects .
9- Other differences:
a) Hypothalamus: fig-6
A gland that controls a number of basic functions of life is twice as large in “hetero” men as in women and homosexuals.
b) Anterior Commissure: figs-4,7,9
Connects several areas of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain is larger in
women than men.
c) Massa Intermedia: fig-9
A structure that crosses the third ventricle between the two thalami, is larger in women.
d) Cerebellum and Pons: figs-4,6 .
Cerebellum controls posture and balance and pons, which is connected to the cerebellum, controls consciousness are both larger in men than in women.
B) Functional differences between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain: Language 1-
Utilizing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Dr. Lurito and his associates found in 2001 that, upon listening to a novel and mapping the brain response in volunteer men and women, men used only the left hemisphere to process language while women used both brain hemispheres to do the same task.
These findings were consistent with the findings of Dr. S. Shaywits and her colleges in 1995 who found that right handed men used the left brain hemisphere when reading whereas women used both brain hemispheres while reading.
These findings may also explain the symmetry of female brains and the asymmetry of male brains.
2- Navigation (Tackle a problem):
It has been confirmed that men and women use different strategies to navigate in a virtual environment. Men use abstract concepts such as directions and distances whereas women use landmarks and concrete things that can be seen or heard.
Neuroscientists have attributed these sex-linked differences in strategies to differences in brain areas used by men and women in navigation task, namely, women use the cerebral cortex while men use the left side of the hippocampus, a neucleus buried inside the brain and activated in men during navigation but not in women.
It was discovered that in women brain activity associated with emotions occurs in the “cerebral cortex” but in men it is localized in the “amygdala”, a primitive subcortical area of the brain.
This finding was supported by the results that neuroscientists at Harvard University obtained when examined how emotions are processed in kids aging between 6 and 17 years old using sophisticated MRI. They found that 6-year old kids (males and females) could not express their feeling as the locus of emotions was stuck in the amygdala and not processed to the part that does the ‘talking,’ namely, the cerebral cortex. This was also the case with 17-years-old boys, whereas 17-years-old girls were able to express their feelings indication of linkage between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex (Hence, women are more emotional than men).
Psychological studies have shown that women focus on a set of problems at once (a collective perspective) and view the elements of these problems as interconnected and interdependent and women cannot separate their experience from problems, while men tend to focus on one or a limited number of problems and have the ability to separate themselves from experience.
Sex and memory:
Memory is a function of multiple areas of the brain such as hippocampus (fig-7) and prefrontal cortex and divided into sensory, short-term and long-term memory.
Researchers have found evidence that women outperform men in long-term verbal episodic memories (events associated with emotions or tend to be verbal in nature, meaning associated with words, such as weddings and accidents), while men are better than women in short-term visuospatial episodic memories (events usually not associated with emotions) such as images and visual cues.
Memory is affected inversely by age, (hence by estrogen and testosterone hormones levels), emotions, mood, frustration and depression, factors that women are more vulnerable to than men because of their biological nature.
In Islam are Women inferior to men? If so, why?
Answered by Mufti Ahmed Desai (Damat Barakatuhum):
Western, liberal and UN-Islamic ideas have distorted your mental vision. What is your conception of inferiority? the Qur’aan says about the Prophets/Ambiyaa (alayhimus salaam):
“These are the messengers. We have given some ranks over (or above) others.”
Even the Ambiyaa are not equal. Rasulullah is superior in rank to Nabi Musaa . In fact he is superior than all the Ambiyaa (alayhimus salaam). Thus, in relation to Rasulullah all the Ambiyaa (alayhimus salaam) are inferior. Hadhrat Jibreel is the highest ranking Angel. In relation to him, Hadhrat Israafeel is inferior. In relation to Qur’aan Shareef, the Hadith is inferior. In relation to the Kab’ah, Masjidun Nabawi is inferior.
In relation to the elder brother, the younger brother is inferior. In relation to a mother, her son, even if he is a great Aalim and a Saint, is inferior. In relation to a elder sister, the younger brother is inferior. In relation to Hadhrat Abu Bakr , Hadhrat Umar and all the Sahaabah and the entire Ummah are inferior. In raltion to the Ustaadh, his students are inferior. In relation to a Shaikh, his mureeds are inferior whether male or female.
In every level of society there are ranks and gradations. The concept of blanket equality is a stupid idea of Kuffaar. The husband has been made the chief of the family by Allah Ta’ala. It is his responsibility to maintain and train his wife and children. He has the highest rank in his home. He is superior to his wife and children even if his sons are the greatest saints and he an ignorant farmer.
Is it an insult to all the Ambiyaa (alayhimus salaam) to say that they are inferior to Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)? On the contrary, they all are proud to be the inferior followers of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Similarly is it with all the ‘inferior’ beings cited above as examples. The Qur’aan categorically states:
“For men over them (women) is a rank.”
What problem do you or any Muslim have with this assertion of Allah Ta’ala? the problem is only that westernism and kufr liberalism have imposed on the minds of people that the higher male ranks relegates women to chattlehood. Modernist and deviated Muslims have been made to understand that women in Islam are contemptible; that men are free to abuse and denigrate them. But every Muslim who has even a slight understanding of Islam knows that these western ideas are plain garbage which the enemies of Allah gorge out. Even in Jannat there will be different ranks among all levels of people. When according to Islam even two men are not equal, what is wrong if there is not equality between men and women? But since deceived people have been indoctrinated to believe that ‘inferiority’ means contemptibility, they feel awkward with Islamic teachings.
A woman with her piety can surpass any man in rank by Allah Ta’ala. By Allah Ta’ala, the criterion of superiority is Taqwa. Innumerable women will have higher ranks by Allah Ta’ala than males on account of their Taqwa. Every Mu’min is aware of the lofty rank of Hadhrat Aisha (radhiyallahu anha). She was the Ustaadh of numerous Sahaabah. She was the most beloved Wife of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhis salaam). She will be entering Jannat centuries before numerous male Sahaabah. What idea will you now gain when it is said that she is inferior to her husband. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhis salaam)? Is any contempt implied for her by this claim? We in fact say that contempt for her is Kufr. Thus, gradations in society are the creation and command of Allah Ta’ala. The Khalifah, sultan or king may be a corrupt and immoral man. But, the Shariah commands obedience to him in all his lawful orders. His rank is superior to others here on earth.
In Islam woman is not inferior to man in terms of the concocted meaning ascribed to ‘inferiority’ by the western kuffaar enemies of Islam.
1- The Glorious Qur’an.
2- Sahih Al Bukhari and Muslim.
3- Reuwen Achiron, Shlomo Lipitz, and Anat Achiron: “Sex-related differences in the development of the human fetal corpus callosum: in utero ultrasonographic study”, Prenatal Diagnosis, 2001, 21:116-120.
4- Christine Mack, Robert McGivern, Lynn Hyde, and Victor Denenberg: “Absence of postnatal testosterone fails to demasculinize the male rat’s corpus callosum,” Developmental Brain Research, 1996, 95:252-254.
5- Theodore Rabinowicz et al:”Structure of the Cerebral Cortex in Men and Women”, Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, 2002, 61 (1):46-57.
6- C. D. Good, I. Johnsrude, et al:”Cerebral asymmetry and the effects of sex and handedness on brain structure: a voxel-based morphometric analysis of 465 normal adult human brains,” Neuroimage, 2001, 14 (3):685-700.
7- Melissa Frederikse et al: “Sex differences in the inferior parietal lobule” Cerebral Cortex, 1999, 9:896-901.
8- L. S. Allen and R. A. Gorski:”Sexual dimorphism of the anterior commissure and massa intermedia of the human brain”, Journal of Comparative Neurology, 1991, 312:97-104.
9- Michael Phillips, Mark Lowe, Joseph T. Lurito, Mario Dzemidzic, and Vincent Matthews “Temporal lobe activation demonstrates sex-based differences during passive listening,” Radiology, 220:202-207, 2001.
10- N. Sandstrom et al:”Males and females use different distal cues in a virtual environment navigation task”, Brain Research: Cognitive Brain Research, 1998, 6:351-360.
11- Arthur Wunderlich et al:”Brain activation during human navigation: gender-different neural networks as substrate of performance”, Nature neuroscience, 2000, 3 (4): 404-408.
12- William Killgore et al:”Sex-specific developmental changes in amygdala responses to affective faces,” NeuroReport, 2001, 12:427-433
13- V. S. Caviness, D. N. Kennedy, et al:”The human brain age 7-11 years: a volumetric analysis based on magnetic resonance differences”, Cerebral Cortex, 1996, 6:726-736
- UK University Inaugurates Innovative Course on “Women, Islam & the Media”(Article – Muslims Around the World)
- An interview with Dr. Fawziya Al `Ashmawy about the status of women in Islam(Article – Society and Reform)
- The status of women in civilizations, religions, and communities prior to Islam(Article – Society and Reform)
- Wrong perception of the motto which reads: “Women are half of the society”(Article – Thoughts and Knowledge)
- France’s Interior Minister: So Far, Six Women Convicted under Veil-Ban Law(Article – Muslims Around the World)
- Muslims at Uganda’s Makarere University Win Concessions for Veiled Women after Protest(Article – Muslims Around the World)
- Women about whom the Qur’an spoke (4)(Article – Islamic Shariah)
- Women about whom the Qur’an spoke (3)(Article – Islamic Shariah)
- OIC Holds International Conference on Women’s Equality in Muslim Societies(Article – Muslims Around the World)
- Women about whom the Qur’an spoke (2)(Article – Islamic Shariah)