Do Muslims Really Believe that ‘Most Dwellers of Hell Will Be Women’?

Name of Questioner: Andrea

Date: 29-9-2019 04:23:57 PM

Consultant: Ask About Islam Editorial Team


Many Muslims, especially men, say that hell is occupied mostly by women. I think there is a hadith that says this also. This confuses me because, around the world and throughout history, many women have been treated terribly and still suffer so much in this life. Please explain why most of the dwellers of hell will be women. Thanks.

Dear Andrea,

Thank you for your question.

Answering your question, Dr. Jasser Auda, Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, states:

Thank you for this very important question. In my view, women's issues are the real test for current Islamic reform. The reason is that groundless and unfair differentiation between men and women is deeply embedded in many popular narrations and opinions that we inherited and considered to be part of our religion.

However, they are not, and actually contradict what Islam itself is about—namely, justice and equality for all humans that God created.

To put my answer in a framework, I find it necessary to make the following distinctions, especially in the area of women in Islam. There is a difference between:

1- A 'popular' narration and an 'authentic' narration.

2- 'Islam' and 'Muslims.'

3- Islamic 'Shari`ah' and Islamic 'madhahib (Islamic schools of law).'

4- The 'Scriptures' and the 'interpretation of the Scriptures.'

First, there are popular narrations that say that 'most occupiers of hell are women,' 'women are deficient in mind and faith,' 'women are crooked,' 'your bad omen is in your woman,' and so on.

I can tell you with confidence that all these narration are un-authentic (or 'weak'), whoever the narrator is and wherever they are narrated and written.

Without getting ourselves in much debate and discussing who 'out-narrates' who, the reason behind the rejection of such narrations is that they are at odds with the Quran.

Let me take one of these narrations and assess its authenticity, as an example.

According to Al-Bukhari, Abu Hurairah narrated: 'Your bad omen is in your woman, your animal, and your house.'

However, Al-Bukhari also, in the same chapter, narrated that Aishah, the Prophet's wife, refused Abu Hurairah's narration and said that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had said, instead: 'People during the Days of Ignorance (jahiliyya) used to say that bad omens are in women, animals, and houses.'

In terms of the Science of Hadith, Aishah rejected Abu Hurairah's narration on the basis of its content (matn) rather than its chain of narrators (sanad).

Abu Hurairah is a great companion, but he simply made a mistake in this narration. Apparently, he did not hear the complete statement, and he thought he did.

Here we have two narrations, honestly and accurately reported by Al-Bukhari. However, they are clearly at odds and one of them should be undoubtedly rejected.

It is quite telling that most commentators rejected Aishah's narration and accepted Abu Hurairah's, even though she supported the meaning of her narration with a verse from the Quran (Al-Hadid 57:22).

In addition, another companion, Mikhmar, supported Aishah's narration with a similar narration that says: 'There is no such thing as bad omens.' But Ibn al-Jawzi, surprisingly, commented: 'How can Aishah reject an authentic narration?' Ibn Al-Arabi, shockingly, commented: 'Aishah's rejection of the narration is nonsense.' (Abu Bakr al-Maliki ibn al-Arabi, `Aridat Al-Ahwadhi (Cairo: Dar al-Wahy al-Mohammadi, without date) vol. 10, p. 264.) The great scholar Badruddin al-Zarkashi wrote a book dedicated to Aisha's critiques of other companions' narrations. (Refer to Badredin al-Zarkashi, Al-Ijabah Li-iraad ma Istadrakathu ˒Aisha ala al-Sahabah (The Answer that Cites Aishah's Amendments to the Companions' Narrations), ed. Saeed Al-Afghani. 2nd ed. (Beirut: Al-Maktab al-Islami, 1970).)


Then, we should differentiate between Islam and Muslims. This is not necessarily meant to be in a negative sense. However, it is crucial that we distinguish (as much as we possibly can) between the religion (Islam) and its followers (Muslims).

What Muslims did, or currently do, is not necessarily what Islam teaches. Islam has a core that every Muslim must embrace. However, in addition to this core, Islam has manifested itself in a variety of ways in various cultures. Some of these cultures had social structures that were generally anti-women, and true scholars have struggled to implement the Islamic values of justice and equality of human beings in these societies.

One example is the practical ban of Muslim women from entering the mosques, despite the clear instruction from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): 'Do not ban the female servants of God from the mosques of God,' (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) and despite the fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) led many men and women in prayer in his own mosque.

Another contemporary example is banning women from driving cars in some Islamic countries, despite centuries of similar practices by Muslim women—starting with the Prophet's wife, Aishah, who lead an entire battle on her camel (The Battle of the Camel). There are numerous examples in this area.

Similarly, it is important to differentiate between Islam and the history of the Islamic world, which could have positive as well as negative aspects with regard to women.

We, Muslims, have to admit that there is a lot of anti-women baggage in the history of the Islamic world that is simply un-Islamic, according to Islam's references and sources of legislation.

One example is the concept of 'harem,' in which a rich or powerful man essentially imprisons a large number of women for his own convenience as concubines. We thank God that such non-Islamic customs no longer exist.

Another contemporary example is honor killings that still take place, sometimes 'in the name of Islam,' in some areas (like present-day Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan), despite being clearly against Islam, and having no basis in the Islamic law.

Additionally, it is necessary to differentiate between Islam and the politics of Muslims. Islam is a way of life that, naturally, includes politics and governance.

However, political positions—even if they are adopted based on certain Islamic values—are not necessarily part of 'Islam,' and would not require every Muslim to embrace it.

When it comes to women, there is a subtle but very strong link between many of the fatwas that demean women, and certain political agendas.

The second important differentiation is between the Shari`ah and Islamic schools of law (madhahib al-fiqh). The word Shari`ah has developed negative connotations in its English usage because some people equate it solely with corporal punishments (which are applied in some countries in the name of the Islamic law, but which are usually and unfortunately applied to the weak and poor, not the rich or politically powerful).

However, the word Shari`ah is used in the Quran only to mean a 'revealed, heavenly path or way of life' (Quran 5:48, 45:18). So, everything about Islam is Shari`ah. It is supposed to be the Islamic 'way of life.'

Regarding the schools of fiqh, the word fiqh is used in the Quran and hadith in various forms to refer to understanding, comprehension, and gaining knowledge of the religion in general (for example, Quran 4:78, 6:25, 9:122). However, in Islamic schools of law, the word fiqh has been typically defined as 'the knowledge of practical rulings.'

It is crucial to know that Shari`ah is revealed, but fiqh is not! Shari`ah is what God said in the Quran and what the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed every Muslim to do.

But fiqh is the understanding of scholars, in various eras and geographical locations, of the revealed knowledge, and their opinions and attempts to apply the Shari`ah to (their) real life.

So, generally speaking, fiqh is subject to the society and circumstances that it was applied in, and does not (necessarily) represent God's commands, nor (necessarily) what we should apply it (in the exact same way past scholars did) in our current circumstances.

Of course, there are issues in Islam that are universal and every Muslim, regardless of where and how, should apply them. We should consult the scholars of fiqh in these areas.

However, I am talking here about the issues that concern changing circumstances. This especially includes issues related to women, who, in my view, had suffered a lot of discrimination from a number of scholars in violation of the Islamic Shari`ah or revealed way of life.

The second related and important differentiation is between the Scriptures and the interpretation of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are universal, but the interpretation of some non-definitive rulings may change with the change of time and circumstances.

However, there are limits on what is considered a valid interpretation. A valid interpretation, for example, cannot alter the meaning to the point that it ends up implying something radically different from the obvious meaning of the text, or the obvious tradition of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him).

In this regard, it is necessary to understand how certain historical interpretations shaped the topic of women in Islam in the minds of many Muslims, without necessarily being accurate interpretations.

Therefore, especially in the area of women in Islam, it is important to distinguish between popular narrations and authentic narrations, between Islam and Muslims, between Islamic Shari`ah and Islamic madhahib, and between the Scriptures and the interpretation of the Scriptures.

We hope this answers your question.

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