By Mln. Yaqub Abdurrahman
The narration in which the Prophet (upon him be peace) mentioned that women are “nāqiṣāt ʿaql” is well-authenticated. The scholars who compiled the canonical ḥadīth compilations transmitted it. And in many secondary ḥadīth sources, the authors mention that this report is “agreed upon.” Meaning, it was related by Imām Bukhārī and Imām Muslim in their respective works via the same authority. In ḥadīth scholarship, this grading is a pinnacle of authenticity.
In our times, this narration has been translated with slight variations, while generally the purport is similar. Moreover, many discussions have taken place regarding it and various articles have been written discussing and explaining it. From my observation, these have almost exclusively focused on one of the meanings that have been mentioned for the word. Herein, I do not intend to extensively evaluate the interpretations that I am aware of regarding it. Rather, the purpose of this work is to present these interpretations along with a few details.
ʿAql Interpreted as “Intelligence”
This is perhaps the most prominent understanding of what is intended by the ḥadīth’s wording. It is also the primary meaning relied on in this narration’s translations. In commentating on this ḥadīth, Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī mentioned three views on what the word ʿaql means and two regarding where it is located inside the human. He mentioned its synonymity with the word ʿilm and one’s ability to ascertain realities pertaining to facts. Then, he mentioned that some consider it to be located in the brain and others consider it to be in the heart.
Suyūṭī mentioned something similar. He commentated on this narration and cited the following from Ṭībī:
والعقل غريزة في الإنسان يدرك بها المعنى ويمنعه من القبائح وهو نور الله في قلب المؤمن
“And the word [ʿaql] is an innate quality in the human being through which he grasps what things mean. It prevents him from doing things that are unbefitting. And it is a light that Allāh puts in a believer’s heart.”
Munāwī indicated to this meaning too while commentating on another narration. And many other scholars have also explained it thus.
As “Blood Money” (Diyah)
Some scholars suggested that the word “ʿaql” is used with the meaning of “diyah.” Diyah is a compensation that is paid for the shedding of blood. The blood money paid for a woman is less than that of what is paid for a man. And this narration may indicate to that. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī and Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī mentioned that Ibn al-Tīn related this from some scholars in his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī.
In citing from Ibn Ḥajar and ʿAynī, it should be noted that neither preferred this interpretation. In fact, they both considered the narration’s apparent contextual meaning to undermine it. Still, some latter-day scholars maintained this understanding. Bujayrimī related it from Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qalyūbī:
قال ق ل والمراد بالعقل الدية لأن دية المرأة على النصف من دية الرجل
“Qalyūbī said: ‘What is intended by the word ‘ʿaql’ is diyah, because a woman’s diyah is half that of a man.’”
In Arabic, the two words can be used interchangeably. Abū Manṣūr al-Azharī said:
والعقل في كلام العرب الدية سميت عقلا لأن الدية كانت عند العرب في الجاهلية إبلا وكانت أموال القوم التي يرقئون بها الدماء فسميت الدية عَقْلًا لأن القاتل كان يكلف أن يسوق إبل الدية إلى فناء ورثة المقتول ثم يعقلها بالعقل ويسلمها إلى أوليائه
“In Arabic, the word ʿaql means diyah. It is used this way because before Islām the diyah was a camel that came from the wealth of the people who spilled blood. It was called this because the killer had to bring the camel that was being paid to the yard of the deceased’s heirs and fetter it there (using ʿuqul) in order to pay it to them.”
Jawharī mentioned that the word ʿaql and diyah are synonymous. And Ibn Fāris said:
العقل وهي الدية يقال عقلت القتيل أَعْقِلُهُ عَقْلًا، إذا أديت ديته
“The ʿaql is the diyah…” Then, Ibn Fāris mentions the word’s lexical derivation, stating that it is used for when one pays the diyah.
These lexical sources have been referenced to show that the meaning these scholars suggested has a basis in Arabic. This is a necessary requirement and consideration that must be found when a meaning or interpretation is suggested.
Some Rulings in Which the Sacred Law Differentiates Between Men & Women
It may be noted that there are various rulings established in the Sacred Law that differentiate between amounts that are connected to a ruling specific to a man and amounts specific to a woman. Some of them are:
– The blood money paid for a woman is less than that of a man. This has been related as a point of scholarly consensus (ar. ijmāʿ). According to the understanding of some scholars, the narration being discussed would apply here.
– A woman’s testimony is generally considered to be half that of a man. Allāh says:
فَإِنْ لَمْ يَكُونَا رَجُلَيْنِ فَرَجُلٌ وَامْرَأَتَانِ مِمَّنْ تَرْضَوْنَ مِنَ الشُّهَدَاءِ أَنْ تَضِلَّ إِحْدَاهُمَا فَتُذَكِّرَ إِحْدَاهُمَا الأُخْرَى
“If there are not two men, then a man and two women from those whom you are pleased with as witnesses. Thereby, if one woman errs, the other may remind her.”
– Her shares of inheritance are generally considered to be half that of a man. Allāh says:
لِلذَّكَرِ مِثْلُ حَظِّ الأُنثَيَيْنِ
“A man receives the share of two women.”
– When a sacrifice is made after a child is born (ar. ʿaqīqah), two animals are slaughtered for a boy and one for a girl. The Prophet (upon him be peace) said:
عَنِ الْغُلَامِ شَاتَانِ، مِثْلَانِ، وَعَنِ الْجَارِيَةِ شَاةٌ
“Two sheep are sacrificed for a boy, and one for a girl.”
In places where the Sacred Law makes a differentiation between the genders, upholding what is prescribed is necessary. Moreover, believing that the Revelation came with guidance for mankind and that it is perfect is necessary. Regarding this ḥadīth’s wording, there are some differences found in the scholars’ explanations and interpretative activity.
For further reading, these are some articles that have been written on the topic:
Abdullah bin Hamid Ali’s “Is Intelligence Gender Specific?”
Gibril F Haddad’s “Women’s Intelligence Hadith Again”
And Allāh knows best.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 2:120; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1:86; Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 5:10; Sunan Abī Dāwūd, 4:219; Sunan Ibn Mājah, 2:1326; Musnad Aḥmad, 9:246; al-Sunan al-Kubrā, 10:250.
 ʿUmdat al-Qārī, 3:203.
 Qūt al-Mughtadhī, 2:628.
 Fayḍ al-Qadīr, 5:51.
 Fatḥ al-Bārī, 1:406; ʿUmdat al-Qārī, 3:271.
 al-Tajrīd li Nafʿ al-ʿAbīd, 1:133. In the passage, Bujayrimī thereafter inclines towards the opinion that the intended meaning is the “ʿaql gharīzī.”
 Tahdhīb al-Lughah, 1:159.
 Ṣiḥāḥ, 5:1769.
 Maqāyīs al-Lughah, 4:70.
 Ikhtilāf al-Aʾimmah al-ʿUlamāʾ, 2:242.
 Q, 2:282.
 Q, 4:11.
 Sunan Abī Dāwūd, 5:105.