Updated: May 30, 2019
We have questions. Imam Izhar Khan has answers.
Are there Female Prophets?
In January 2019, six members of #SoFloMoPros began piloting a web-based "Faith & Fiqh" Q&A with Imam Izhar. During our extended pilot program, we will share selected questions and answers publicly before inviting members to join the web-based Q&A with Imam Izhar on Saturday, June 1, 2019 at 7:15 PM at Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen!
Assalamu Alaikum. This question often arises while teaching young girls, and I would like to know how to best answer it: Why are there no female prophets? I’ve heard numerous answers, but most sound a bit problematic (and even sexist). I would greatly appreciate your input and recommendations as to how I should best answer this question for my students. Thank you.
Wa alaykumu s-salam wa rahmatullah. This is actually a very, very detailed topic, and I will begin by succinctly mentioning that the concept of All of the prophets have been men is not explicitly stated in the Quran. Yes, a lot of scholars are of the opinion that the prophets seem to have been men, but there are actually other scholars (from Sunni Islam, e.g. Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari, al-Qurtubi, and Ibn Hazm, etc.) who believed that there were female prophets, i.e. “prophetesses,” as well.
Let's begin with the below verse:
21:7 - وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ ۖ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
And We sent not before you, [O Muhammad], except men to whom We revealed [the message], so ask the people of the message if you do not know.
In “We have only sent men as messengers before you,” the Arabic word رجلاً (rejalan) can be translated as "men" or as “human beings.”
Basically, the way that some scholars interpret this verse is that Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa salaam) is being told that the prophets who were sent before him were human beings, just like him. And more specifically, that they were not angels. Therefore, the existence of prophetesses is not ruled out here.
Furthermore, the aforementioned verse was to refute the Quraysh who wanted angels to come down, arguing: “How come this (Muhammad) is a human being who is just like us?” …So Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) responded, “We did not send before you, except for men,” meaning that they were human beings, just like Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
And then, proofs exist as well that the Mother of Musa (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) seems to have been a prophetess, because Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
28:7 - وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ أُمِّ مُوسَىٰ
And we revealed unto the Mother of Musa.
It is important to note that the word “wahi” (or "revelation") has been used in the above.
Also, during the life of Maryam (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), the Angel Jibreel (alayhis salaam) came down and spoke directly to her, so if the Angel Jibreel (AS)—who reveals revelations to human beings—spoke to Maryam (SAW) directly, then that means that she is receiving revelation:
3:45 - إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ
(Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word…”
3:42 - وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ
And (remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah has chosen you, purified you, and chosen you above the women of mankind."
Then, we have the entire Surah Maryam, where Angel Jibreel (AS) is conversing directly with Mariam (SAW).
Therefore, on the one hand, these proofs support the belief that prophetesses indeed existed. Now, let's discuss the other side...
The Prophets Were Men
Suppose all of the prophets were men… Does this mean anything? I would argue that it does not. Basically, we can explain this by saying that just because a person has a certain responsibility does not mean that he/she is better than another person who does not have that assigned responsibility.
In other words, men and women in Islam are equal, but they are not identical. Men are given certain responsibilities. Women are given other types of responsibilities.
For example, the responsibility of bearing children is one that Allah (SWT) naturally placed upon women. This does not make them superior (or inferior) to men; it simply means that they have a different responsibility than that of men.
Likewise, men also have distinct responsibilities. Perhaps, prophethood could be one of the responsibilities assigned solely to men.
About Imam Izhar Khan
Imam Izhar Khan is a graduate of Darul Uloom Al Madania in Buffalo, NY. He is a Hafidh of Quran, Alim, and Mufti. He is currently serving as the Imam of Masjid Jamaat Al Mumineen (MJAM) in Margate, Florida and holds several weekly classes ranging from: Seerah, Tajweed, Quran Memorization, and Youth Group. Also, he is actively involved in Community Outreach Programs, Dawa/Tableeg Programs and Debates with various religious leaders. Imam Izhar began an online Q&A Discussion Board for #SoFloMoPros in January 2019.