Are men superior to women in Islām? Explaining a controversial Ḥadīth

There is an authentic Ḥadīth narrated by Bukhārī (304, 1462, 2658) and Muslim (86), as well as other Ḥadīth scholars. It mentions the Prophet ﷺ as saying to a group of women: “I have not seen anyone with reductions in mind and religion more than you.” They asked: “What are our reductions in mind?” and he ﷺ said: “Is not the testimony of a woman like half of a man?” They said: “Yes, it is.” The Prophet ﷺ said: “That is the reduction in your mind. Is it not that when you menstruate you do not pray, nor fast.” They said: “Of course. The Prophet said: “That is the reduction in your religion.”

So now, the question arises for many: What does this mean? Are women deficient and lacking as compared to men? Have they been created as inferior? This article will attempt to answer some of these questions.

Issue #1: The meaning of “Nuqṣān”

When the Prophet ﷺ mentioned this “deficiency,” he used the Arabic word “Nuqṣān.” However, it is important to understand what this means. The word Nuqṣān literally means “decrease” or “reduction.” Some translators of Aḥādīth have mistranslated the word as “deficiency” and others translated part of the Ḥadīth as “lacking in common sense.” However, these are terrible translations that imply bad meanings, may Allāh ﷻ forgive those who wrote them. The true meaning of Nuqṣān, as highlighted, is a “reduction.”

Issue #2: Meaning of reduction in mind

When the Prophet ﷺ said that women have a reduction in their mind, what did he mean by this? There are two interpretations generally given by scholars of Ḥadīth:

  1. Reduction in mind refers to the legal obligations related to it. Women have less responsibility and obligations in some cases where men have more, such as transactions and cases of witnessing. The Prophet ﷺ was mentioning that women have less legal obligations with relation to using their intellect, he was not saying they have an inherent deficiency or lack of intelligence.
  2. It is a general principle that women tend to be more emotional than men. This is part of how Allāh ﷻ has created us, men are generally rational while women are emotional. Women have a greater emotional intelligence, more compassion, and more love than men. Perhaps an interpretation of the Ḥadīth could be that it’s referring to this general rule of women being more emotional than rational, while men are more rational than emotional. An example would be if a child were burning in a fire – a woman would rush into the fire and attempt to save it, while the man would try to think of some way to save the child without harming himself.

The issue of testimony will be explained in a later article inshā’Allāh.

Issue #3: Meaning of reduction in religion

This is clearly explained in the Ḥadīth. The reduction in their religion is in their acts of worship, as they have less obligations when menstruating. Although this is not an inherent disadvantage of women, it does mean that they generally have less obligations and ultimately less actions that they end up doing.

Issue #4: Why would the Prophet ﷺ say such a thing?

If we look at the context and reasoning behind this Ḥadīth, we can find the reason why the Prophet ﷺ criticized these women. He ﷺ says: “يَا مَعْشَرَ النِّسَاءِ تَصَدَّقْنَ” – O group of women, give charity. In the Ḥadīth, the Prophet ﷺ was commanding the women to give charity, and he was encouraging them through admonition. Criticism is often used as a form of motivation, and when our Prophet ﷺ criticized some women to motivate them to donate, we should have no issue with accepting it.


The claims that Islām preaches male supremacy or that women are inferior to men in Islām are false and based off misinterpretations and taking Aḥādīth out of context. As Abu Amina Elias mentions: “They are only different in so far as there are natural differences between genders, and even these natural differences, while generally true, always have exceptions.” Read and for more details.

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