Were any Women Prophets?

Main: Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad ibn Saʿīd ibn Ḥazm
Translation: Taher Noor


Abū Muḥammad [‘Alī ibn Ḥazm] said:

This is a matter in which we don’t know of any such huge dispute except amongst us in Cordoba in our time. One party held to nullify the possibility of prophethood being amongst women entirely, and they declared whoever believed in women prophets to be deviant [lit. innovators]. Another party held the view that there were prophets amongst women. And another party held that they should abstain, (i.e. neither agree nor disagree, rather to not comment.)

Abū Muḥammad said:

For those who denied it, then we don’t know of them having any proof at all except that some of them argued using the saying of Allah:

وَمَا أرسلنَا من قبلك إِلَّا رجَالًا نوحي اليهم

“We did not send as messengers before you, except that they were men which we gave revelation.” Surah An-Naḥl 16:43

Abū Muḥammad said:

And in this matter, there is no dispute over, and no one claimed that Allah sent a female messenger, rather the discussion is about prophecy rather than messenger-hood. So it is necessary to seek the truth regarding that by looking into the definition of prophecy which Allah addressed us with. And we find that the word prophecy is derived from ‘الانبياء (translit. Al-anbiya/ eng. prophets)’ which means to be informed by Allah. So whoever is informed by Allah about something that happened in the past, or something that will happen in the future, or it a matter is given as revelation to him, then he is a prophet no doubt, and this is not the same as ‘الالهام  (translit. Al-ilhaam/ eng. inspiration)’ which is something instinctual like Allah’s saying:

وَأوحى رَبك إِلَى النَّحْل

“And your Lord sent inspiration to the bees.” Surah An-Naḥl 16:68

And this ‘inspiration’ is not speculation or an illusion in which there is doubt about its certainty unless one is crazy. And neither is it from fortune-telling which is from the enthrallment of the devils in the skies to the one hearing which they do by throwing shooting meteors. And regarding this Allah said:

شياطين الْإِنْس وَالْجِنّ يوحي بَعضهم إِلَى بعض زخرف القَوْل غرُورًا

“Devils from amongst mankind and Jinn, inspiring one another with adorned speech as a delusion.” Surah al-An’ām 6:112

And fortune telling had been cut off by the coming of the Messenger of Allah, but not from the realm of star-gazing which are just experiences we learn, and not from the realm of visions in which it is not known whether this is true or false. Rather revelation which is the نبوة (translit. Nabuwwah/ eng. Prophecy) specifically from Allah to the one being informed and he is inspired with that which enlightens him. And it is from true revelation, excluded from the previously mentioned scenarios. Allah communicates with the one who he is revealing to with absolute knowledge. It is of truth which is revealed to him such us knowledge which cannot be gained by senses or his intellectual intention same over. There is no room for doubt in anything about it such as the person being given leadership or he is addressed by a message for himself which is a teaching from Allah to the one he teaches without any intermediary teacher.

And if anyone denies that this is the meaning of نبوة (translit. Nabuwwah/ eng. Prophecy) then let him teach us its meaning, since they don’t bring anything at all, and if it is as such, then it has reached us from the Quran that Allah has sent angels to women and given them information with true revelation from Allah.

The mother of Isḥāq was given the good news of Isḥāq’s birth to be from Allah:

وَامْرَأَته قَائِمَة فَضَحكت فبشرناها بِإسْحَاق وَمن وَرَاء إِسْحَاق يَعْقُوب قَالَت يَا ويلتى أألد وَأَنا عَجُوز وَهَذَا بعلي شَيخا إِن هَذَا لشَيْء عَجِيب قَالُوا أَتَعْجَبِينَ من أَمر الله رَحْمَة الله وَبَرَكَاته عَلَيْكُم أهل الْبَيْت

“His wife was standing [nearby] and laughed. We gave her good news of Isaac and, after him, of Jacob. She said, ‘Alas for me! How am I to bear a child when I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would be a strange thing!’ They [the angels] said, ‘Are you astonished at what Allah ordains? The grace of Allah and His blessings be upon you, people of this house!” Surah Hūd 11:71

This was addressed to the mother of Isḥāq from Allah with the good news of Isḥāq’s birth and then after, Ya’qūb, and then the angels said to her, “Are you astonished at what Allah ordains?” and we see that Allah sent Jibreel to Maryam, the mother of ‘Īsa, and addressed them saying:

إِنَّمَا أَنا رَسُول رَبك لأهب لَك غُلَاما زكيا

“but he said, ‘I am but a رَسُول (translit. Rasul/ eng. Messenger) from your Lord, [come] to announce to you the gift of a pure son.’” Surah Maryam 19:19

As such, a correct prophecy is by the وحي (translit. Wahy/ eng. revelation) of a true message from Allah. And Zakaria found with this revelation from Allah, a blessing brought forth in the form of a virtuous child. And we find the mother of Mūsā having a revelation to her from Allah to place her child in the river. And Allah informed her that He would return him, Mūsā, to her and make him a prophet and messenger. And this is a genuine prophecy no doubt.

And the intellect of every correct and intelligent person demands that were this not assured by prophecy from Allah, then her throwing her child in to the river due to a vision or some instinct occurring in herself or a delusion occurring in her in a state of lunacy, meaning a state of freneticism, then if any one of us were to do this then it would be an extreme sin. Or if it was in the upmost lunacy, then it will require one’s brain to be treated in a hospital, and nobody doubts this.

But certainly, it is true that the revelation which was given to her to place her child in the river, is just like the revelation given to Ibrāhīm regarding the slaughter of his son. As for Ibrāhīm, if he was not a prophet, assured by the prophetic revelation given to him about the slaughter of his son, but he saw the slaughter of his son in a vision which he saw, or a thought that occurred to himself, then no doubt that whomsoever does this from the non-prophets is a grave sinner at the utmost sin. Or he is a lunatic at the height of craziness. This is something a single person does not doubt about.

The نبوة (translit. Nabuwwah/ eng. Prophecy) of women is confirmed with certainty, and we found that Allah mentioned some prophets in Surah Maryam, and He mentioned Maryam amongst that group as he said:

أُولَئِكَ الَّذين أنعم الله عَلَيْهِم من النَّبِيين من ذُرِّيَّة آدم وَمِمَّنْ حملنَا مَعَ نوح

“These were the prophets Allah blessed– from the children of Adam, and from those We carried in the Ark with Noah.” Surah Maryam 19:58

And this comprises Maryam along with the other prophets, and it is not permissible to exclude her from the group of them.

And the saying of Allah:

وَأمه صديقَة

“And the mother of ‘Isa was a righteous woman.” Surah al-Mā’idah 5:75

doesn’t negate the fact that she was a prophet since Allah said:

يُوسُف أَيهَا الصّديق

“O Yūsuf, a righteous man.” Surah Yūsuf 12:46

And he was also a prophet and the Messenger of Allah and this is very clear. And Allah is the one with whom is good. And including amongst these women is the wife of Firawn due to the saying of the Messenger of Allah:

كمل من الرِّجَال كَثِيرُونَ وَلم يكمل من النِّسَاء إِلَّا مَرْيَم بنت عمرَان وآسية بنت مُزَاحم امْرَأَة فِرْعَوْن

“Many amongst men have perfected their faith, but amongst women, none attained the perfection except Maryam, the daughter of ‘Imrān, and Āsiyyah the wife of Firawn.” [Bukhari 3769]

And the perfection of faith amongst men didn’t occur except to some of the Messengers since whoever besides them have deficiencies in their faith. And the Messenger specifying perfection of faith to Maryam and the wife of Firawn is a virtue of theirs above all other women who were given prophecy no doubt. This is since even a decrease from the highest rank by even some minutiae is not perfection. So it is realized with this narration that these two women had perfected their faith, and the Messenger didn’t mention any other two women besides them at all, even though there were Quranic texts regarding prophetesses. As Allah has said:

تِلْكَ الرُّسُل فضلنَا بَعضهم على بعض

“We favoured some of these messengers above others.” Surah al-Baqarah 2:253

And the one who has perfected his faith has no one of a similar kind. And from amongst the men, they are the messengers whom Allah has favoured above the rest of the messengers without any doubt such as our prophet Muhammad and Ibrāhīm, due to the texts regarding these two over the others, as well as every woman who has been mentioned.

Ibn Ḥazm, Abu Muḥammad Ali., Al-Fasl fi al-Millal wa’l ahwā wa’l Naḥl [eng. A discussion regarding religions, sects and beliefs], 2nd edn., Beirut, Lebanon, Dār al-Jeyl, 1416AH [1996], vol. 5, p. 119-121.


Note: As for those who wish do taqleed then Ibn Taymiyya said:

“As for Ibn Ḥazm and what he wrote in al-Fasl fi’ l-Millal, then he is praised for this since it agrees with the Sunnah and the ḥadīth.”

”And his views are praised for being in accordance with the people of the Sunnah and the ḥadīth, since he confirms authentic ḥadīths, and he magnifies the early generations and the Imāms of ḥadīth.” Majmu’ al-Fatāwa, vol. 4, p. 19.

Although Ibn Taymiyya may or may not necessarily agree with the views expressed in this treatise, it is not for us to follow any person’s view in the absence of proofs.

Suffice for us the statement of Allah:

ٱتَّبِعُواْ مَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكُم مِّن رَّبِّكُمۡ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُواْ مِن دُونِهِۦۤ أَوۡلِيَآءَ‌ۗ قَلِيلاً۬ مَّا تَذَكَّرُونَ

“‘Follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord; do not follow other masters beside Him. How seldom you take heed!’” Surah al-A’rāf 7:33