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The leadership of women at the highest political level remains an ongoing
controversial issue for Muslims.1 And yet women have led both medieval
and modern Muslim societies – Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh –
thereby rendering this debate, in practice, moot. But quite a few Muslim
men consider this reality as an abomination and perversion.
In his Al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭānīyah wa al-Wilāyāt al-Dīnīyah, al-Mawardi (d.
1058) discusses the imamate in the sense of the caliphate (khilāfah: Islamic
leadership) and lists its conditions.2 Rather surprisingly, gender is not one of
them. However, Asghar Ali Engineer writes that “al-Mawardi maintained that
a woman cannot be made head of state.”3 Although the gender clause is not
found in Al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭānīyah written by the Hanbali Abu Ya‘la al-Farra’
(d. 1113) and other early works, later scholars categorically include it.
The Shafi‘i Ahmad ibn Ali al-Qalqashandi (d. 1418) cites masculinity as
the first of the fourteen conditions of eligibility. He bases his decision on the
hadith reported by al-Bukhari and narrated by the Companion Abu Bakra.
This scholar explains how a leader has to mingle with other men to discuss
state affairs, an act that Islam prohibits for women. He adds that “because a
woman is incomplete in her own right, as she does not even control her marriage,
she cannot be made a leader over others.”4 I contend that his and similar
remarks are seriously influenced by cultural circumstances, ones that are not
truly reflective of Islam.