Spiritual Equality of Men and Women

Umm Salamah asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), “Why is it that men are mentioned in the Qur’an, but we women are not mentioned?” In response, Allah sent down a verse1.

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” (Qur’an, 33:35)

This is one of several Qur’anic verses that establishes the essential spiritual equality of men and women. Other verses tell us that believers – men and women – will receive light on the Day of Judgment, will enter Paradise, will not be wronged in the least, will be rewarded according to the best of their actions, and will be given provision without account. (See: Qur’an, 3:195, 4:124, 16:97. 40:40, 57:12).

Hence, Muslim scholars often mention a general principle:

النساء شقائق الرجال

Women are the counterparts of men.”2

This means that every right and obligation that applies to men applies equally to women, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Remember that, given the societal setup and norms of 7th-century Arabia, the Prophet (s) was, naturally, spending more time with men than with women, and so the wording of his statements would nomally be addressed in the male gender. Hence, when we find hadiths about marying for beauty, or desiring to have children, or remaining faithful to one’s spouse, even though many of these hadiths are addressed to men, we are entitled to deduce a similar, reciprocal ruling for women.

Notwithstanding the essential spiritual equality of men and women, there are areas in which they are not identical, and some of these (like childbearing) are physiological and (in a sense) inevitable.

“And do not wish for that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of his bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.” (Qur’an, 4:32)

These differences do not mean men are superior, nor that women are superior. According to a report from Qatadah and al-Suddi (tafsir scholars of the Tabi`in, the above verse was revealed in response to some men who thought that they were entitled to double reward due to their gender, and some women who thought the punishment for their sins would be half that of men’s. 

Allah has made each gender unique and special in its own way, and we are expected to realize and accept this. 

To be continued — Part 2 examines three Quranic verses that are sometimes cited in support of an inherent male superiority, and shows how the verses do not support that conclusion.

— Suheil Laher


1Ibn Kathir judged its chain of transmission as good (hasan) in Tuhfat al-Talib, as did Ibn Hajar in Muwafaqat al-Khabar. Tabari mentions several similar narrations in his exegesis (tafsir).

2 These words are also contained in a hadith, narrated by Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and others, but there is disagreement over one of the narrators, `Abd-Allah ibn `Umar al-`Umari, who was an upright man, but whom some critics judged to have poor memory. Nevertheless, Ibn al-Qattan apparently judged it as a sound hadith. And Allah knows best.

Islamic Regulations regarding Acknowledgment (of Obligation or Responsibility)



PARTIAL TRANSLATION by Suheil Laher from

Kitab al-Iqrar in Mukhtasar al-Quduri

(a summary-text of Hanafi law).

Rulings presented are as inferred from Qur’an and Sunnah by scholars of the Hanafi school.


  1. If a free, adult, sane [person] confesses to a right [due] upon him, his acknowledgment is binding upon him, whether what he confesses to is unknown or know, and he is instructed, “Clarify the unknown.
  1. If he says, “I owe him,” or “I am liable to him (lahu qibali),” then he has confessed to a debt, whereas if he says, “I have….”, or “There is with me….” then it is an acknowledgment of a wadi`a (item deposited with him for safekeeping) in his custody.
  2. If a man says to him, “You owe me a thousand,” and he says, “Take it by weight, “ or “Take it in cash,” or “Give me an extension,” or, “I will pay it back to you, “ then it is an acknowledgment.


  1. If someone admits to a deferred debt, and the one to whom he acknowledges [the debt] affirms him in the [existence of] the debt, but claims he is lying about the deferral,  then he is obliged to pay the debt immediately, [but] the plaintiff is made to swear an oath concerning the deferral.
  2. If someone admits [to an amount] but without delay he excepts some [amount] from his admission, is obliged to pay the remainder, regardless of whether he excepted a small or large amount. But if he excepted the entire amount, he is obliged to pay the entire amount, and his exception is void.
  3. If he says, “I owe him 200 dirhams, less one dinar” or “less a qafiz of wheat,” then he is obliged to pay 200 dirhams less the value of the dinar or the qafiz. But if he says, “I owe him one hundred and a dirham,” then the 100 are all [taken to be] dirhams. If he says, “ I owe him 100 and a garment” then he is asked to clarify what the 100 are.
  4. If someone acknowledges a debt but adds, “if God wills,” without delay, then his acknowledgment is not considered binding upon him.
  5. If someone acknowledges [a debt] but stipulates his having a choice [“I owe you, if I want”], then his acknowledgment is  binding, and his stipulation of choice is void.
  6. If someone acknowledges [owing] a home, but makes an exception for its building for himself. Then the one to whom he acknowledges [the debt] is entitled to the home and the building, but if he says, “the building of this property is mine, but the lot belongs to so-and-so,” then it is [considered to be] as he described.
  7. If someone acknowledges dates in a straw container (qawsarra) is liable for the dates and the straw container. But if someone acknowledges an animal in a stable, he is liable only for the animal.
  8. If he says, “I took a garment in a cloth,” he is liable for both, and [similarly] if he says, “a garment in a garment.” But if he says, “I took a garment in 10 garments,” then he is liable for only one garment according to Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf. Muhammad said: he is liable for 11 garments.



  1. If someone says, “I owe 1,000 to the unborn child with whom so-and-so is pregnant,” then if he says, “So-and-so left it as a bequest for him,” or “His father died, so he inherits it,” then the acknowledgment is valid, but if he did not specify then it is not valid according to Abu Yusuf. But if he declares that a man is entitled to the unborn fetus of a ewe, the declaration is valid and binding
  2. If a man in his terminal illness admits to debts, and he [already] has [known] debts incurred during his healthy days, as well as debts incurred for known causes during his illness, then the debts from his healthy days and the known debts from his illness are given priority over others. If those are paid, and there remains something [of his money] then it goes towards the debt he admitted to. But if he did not have prior debts, then the admission is binding, and the creditor has more right to the money than the heirs.
  3. A man’s acknowledgment of a debt to his heir is void, unless the other heirs all confirm it.
  4. If someone in his [last] illness acknowledges a debt to [someone thought to be] a non-relative, then says, “He is my son.” Then his lineage is established but the acknowledgment of debt is void. But if he acknowledges a debt to an unrelated woman, then marries her, the acknowledgment of debt is not voided.
  5. If someone in his [last] illness divorces his wife thrice [or less]  [at her request] then acknowledges a debt to her and dies while she is in the waiting-period] then she is entitled to the lesser amount of the debt and her inheritance [because they might have colluded to use the divorce as a means to validate the acknowledgment].


  1. If someone acknowledges [paternity] of a boy, the like of whom could be born to the like of him, and [the boy] has no known lineage, his paternity is established even if [the man] is sick, and [the boy] shares in the inheritance with the [other] heirs.
  2. A man’s acknowledgment of someone as his parent, child, wife or freed-slave is valid.
  3. A woman’s acknowledgment of someone as her parent, husband, or freed-slave is valid, but [if she is married or in her waiting period then] her acknowledgment of someone as her child is not valid unless the husband affirms her or a midwife testifies to the birth [in which case the paternity is ascribed to her husband].