I was asked a previous question about a certain situation, which brought me to the issue of women and Fitnah. I want to use this opportunity to underline quite firmly that, women are not fitnah. I do not agree with this idea, and every time I say this, the first thing I hear is this Hadith:
“I am not leaving behind me a more harmful fitnah for men than women.”
This Hadith, found in both Bukhari and Muslim, is considered Sahih and is narrated by The Prophet’s adopted grandson, Osama ibn Zayd, so it is a pretty solid Hadith. This should mean that I’m wrong, and I should probably stop.
Er, let’s take a second look.
So, does this mean that women are the Fitnah of men, and by fitnah we mean, “temptation,” or is the translation of fitnah (to temptation) in this instance incorrect?
Quite frankly, this translation is incorrect. Fitnah does not simply mean “temptation” or some sort of “source of sin” that many people think. I’m sorry, this is Arabic linguistics, and if you’d like to debate me on this, then please be sure to know Arabic very well.
Now, the correct translation of this Hadith is as follows:
“I am not leaving behind me a more harmful trial for men than women.”
Now, while I prefer to use the word “difficult” to “harmful,” it doesn’t really change the simple fact that to translate “fitnah” in this context to “temptation” instead of “trial” is to misunderstand the meaning of this Hadith and the conception of women.
Look, this isn’t my “nice” way at looking at things, and this isn’t some “new interpretation” that I’m using to sound “liberal” or whatever, because when we look at The Qur’an, my view becomes confirmed. Now, let’s take a look at The Qur’an:
In the twenty-ninth Surah, Al-Ankabut, the second ayah says the following:
“Do men think that on their [mere] saying, ‘We have attained to faith’, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to a test?” [29:2] Muhammad Asad
That “test” that Muhammad Asad translates is guess what word? Fitnah, and this isn’t just Muhammad Asad, but Sahih International, Yusuf Ali, and so on and so forth.
Is this the only place? It isn’t. In fact, the next ayah of this Surah goes on to say:
“Yea, indeed, We did test those who lived beofre them; and so…” [29:3] Muhammad Asad
Again, the word Asad translates as “test” is, fitnah. But, perhaps you’re thinking: that’s only in one Surah, but that doesn’t mean anything…
Let’s look elsewhere in The Qur’an:
“and know that your worldly goods and your children are but a trial and a temptation, and that with God there is a tremendous reward.” [8:28] Muhammad Asad
So, not only is the word “fitnah” used again, but it is used in relation to worldly goods and your children, things that are not bad, obviously. This is repeated, again:
“Your worldly goods and your children are but a trial and a temptation, whereas with God there is a tremendous reward.” [64:15] Muhammad Asad
Again, the word fitnah is used, and again, it does not mean what people think and generally associated with fitnah, but it is clearly a far more complex issue.
Remember, The Prophet was a successful merchant and Khadijah was very rich, so money itself is not bad, rather, if you do not use it properly, it becomes bad. These things are trials for the believer, how they use their wealth and how they raise and treat their children is referred to as a fitnah, as a trial, not as some sort of temptation towards sin.
However, if you do not respond to that test properly, if you abuse your wealth, or your children, or your spouse, and especially as a man (if you abuse your wife) then you are committing a major sin.
So, to be clear, that Hadith is not to be understood as some sort of example that women are “lower,” rather this Hadith has little to do with women, and the “pressure” is on men, that their [men’s] most difficult trial will be how they deal with women, whether their mother, their wife, daughters, etc This Hadith is a challenge to men, placing women as the most important test for a man.
Again, “fitnah” does not mean a simple test or trial towards something in particular, but even when we are discussing larger and more abstract concepts. Look at how The Qur’an underlines this to The Prophet:
“And [even] before thee, [O Muhammad,] We never sent as Our message-bearers any but [mortal men,] who indeed ate food [like other human beings] and went about in the market-places: for [it is thus that] We cause you [human beings] to be a means of testing one another.
Are you able to endure [this test] with patience? For [remember, O man,] thy Sustainer is truly all-seeing!” [25:20] Muhammad Asad
Unsurprising, the word fitnah is used here, but it also underlines that the temptation for humanity is far wider, and to make it simply related to our physical desires, not only distracts us from what The Qur’an underlines are the bigger trials, and to stop focusing on temptations (at the expense of other things) as if they are the only thing we must concern ourselves with, because that allows the believer to not realize that their dealings with their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, spouses, etc are what matters the most, and yet we harp on about lowering our gazes, but forget to honor our mother, so what’s the point?
Plus, when you look at this Hadith, found in the collection of Nasa’i, it seems pretty clear how The Prophet thought of women:
“The Messenger of God said: ‘In this world, women and perfume have been made dear to me, and my comfort has been provided in prayer.’”
Not only does The Prophet underline that women are dear to him, but by mentioning perfume, he is speaking of women in totality, and I do not think it is an accident that he mentioned the comfort of prayer with how dear women are to him. Do you?
Insha Allah, I hope this clears up the issue, and that we can be quite clear about what “Fitnah” truly means, and that to call women, as a whole, as “fitnah,” in this negative sense, is truly to skew not just the words of The Prophet (shouldn’t that be enough?) but of The Qur’an itself.
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