Short Answer: There is a difference of opinion. Though some scholars are of the opinion that there were no female prophets because “women are imperfect”, “a number of renowned scholars have demonstrated that there were female prophets, as there were male prophets; although they did have different opinions about whom to include in their list of female prophets… It is time to correct the general misperception that no single woman, however excellent she might be, could be equivalent to men in carrying major responsibilities and leading people in the way of good deeds.”
Asalamu Alaikum sister,
Thank you so much for your question.
Some scholars say that there were never any female prophets, and their reason is that a prophet is a “perfect” human being, while women—according to them—could never be perfect, despite the Prophet (peace be upon him-PBUH) having made mention of perfect women (see hadith below).
Typical of such opinions is Imam Ibn Kathir’s opinion in his commentary on the Quran (Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Vol. 2, p. 497).
Imam Al-Shawkani even said that there is “consensus” (ijma’) amongst scholars over that opinion in his Fath Al-Qadeer, Vol. 4, p. 159.
However, this opinion simply seems to be untrue.
Some Women Were Given Wahi, or Revelation
A number of renowned scholars have demonstrated that there were female prophets, as there were male prophets; although they did have different opinions about whom to include in their list of female prophets.
For example, Imam Al-Qurtubi, in his famous commentary, explained that in principle there is nothing against sending female prophets, similar to sending male prophets.
He based his opinion on numerous verses in the Quran that mentioned wahi (revelations) sent to women, similar to the same word wahi that was used with revelations sent to men.
Imam Al-Qurtubi cited the following verses from the chapter in the Quran named after Maryam (Mary, the mother of Jesus) to support his opinion:
And mention Maryam in the Book when she drew aside from her family to an eastern place; So, she took a veil [to screen herself] from them; then We sent to her Our spirit, and there appeared to her a well-made man [Gabriel]. She said: Surely, I fly for refuge from you to the Beneficent Allah, if you are one guarding (against evil). He said: I am only a messenger of your Lord: That I will give you a pure boy. (Quran 19:16-19).
Possible Female Prophets
However, according to Imam Al-Qurtubi’s sources, he was only for the opinion of Maryam’s prophethood and had not confirmed evidence for the prophethood of any other woman (Al-Qurtubi, Al-Tafseer, vol. 4, p. 83).
Nevertheless, several other scholars included other women in the rank of prophets and discussed differences among scholars regarding that.
These women are: Asia (Pharoah’s wife), Hawaa (Eve, Prophet Adam’s wife), Sarah (Prophet Ibrahim’s wife) and Yuhanz (Prophet Moses’ mother).
Therefore, saying there is a “consensus” that in Islam women cannot be prophets is not true.
Islam Does Not Permit Misogyny
And the claim that there could be no “perfect” woman, that is human perfection, is contrary to the general Islamic principles of equality between men and women, as well as the authentic hadith, in which the Prophet (PBUH) said:
Were made ‘perfect’ among women (kamula mena-an-nisaa’i): Maryam, Asia, Khadeejah, and Fatimah.
By the way, this hadith was one of the principle evidences that Imam Al-Qurtubi and others used to support their opinion regarding female prophets.
It is time to correct the general misperception that no single woman, however excellent she might be, could be equivalent to men in carrying major responsibilities and leading people in the way of good deeds.
Allah Almighty says in the Quran what means:
And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: “O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong”; And Mary the daughter of Imran […] (Quran 66:11-12)
Men and Women: Different but Equal
It is true that there are differences between women and men in the Islamic law, but these differences are not in principal rights and obligations.
They are due to the distribution of responsibilities in the family according to men’s and women’s biological differences (such as women being capable of pregnancy and nursing, etc.).
However, these rulings should not be interpreted to imply that Islam enforces a “natural” inferiority of women or that no single woman could be a capable leader and guide, especially if Allah names a whole chapter in the Quran after her and sets her as an example to all believers—men and women.
I hope that I have answered your question.
Thank you, and please keep in touch.
- For more details given by scholars who supported this opinion, refer to Imam Al-Razi, the famous commentator of the Quran, in his Al-Durr Al-Mukhtaar (vol. 5, p. 441); Imam Al-Suyuti, an authority in the sciences of the Quran, in his Al-Ashbaah Wal-Naza’ir (vol. 1, p. 240).
- Also refer to Imam Al-Kamal Ibn Al-Humaam, a principal Hanafi scholar, whose opinion is mentioned in Husn Al-Uswah by Muhammad Siddiq Khan (vol. 1, p. 591); and Imam Al-Mubarkafuri in his Tuhfat Al-Ahwathi (vol. 5, p. 460), who actually cited the same verses from the chapter named “The Prophets” (Al-Anbiyaa’), which you referred to in your question.