Gender Neutrality in the Arabic Language


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Question:

When I tell this hadith (report of the sayings or actions of the Prophet ﷺ) to a Christian woman, or any woman, how do I explain to her that when the Prophet ﷺ said “man” he is actually referring to a person regardless of gender?

The hadith cited is quoted thus in Riyad-us-Saliheen:

Abu Umamah Al-Bahili (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him) reported: the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “I guarantee a house in Jannah for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a home in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.” [Abu Dawud]

Answer:

There is an important axiom noted by scholars, such as Ibn Rushd al-Hafd and Ibn al-Qayyim, that whenever male nouns, verbs or pronouns are used, they are understood to include both genders, unless it is made clear that they are gender specific. Based on that, the legal ramifications of verses and hadith are applied to males and females. Thus, the word kana (he) in the hadith above, based on this axiom, is understood to include both males and females. The same could be said of the verse of Qur’an, “Successful are the believers.” While the word for believers is a sound male plural, it is understood to encompass females as well.

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5 Comments

  1. akhan says:

    I think a lot of people have the impression that the Quran, hadith and Islam in general is directed mainly to men, because of the way the pronoun mentioned is translated. Yet another reason why we need to learn arabic lol.

    But what would you recommend a person who has not yet learned arabic do to determine if an ayah or hadith is speaking about both men or women, or men exclusively.

  2. fadiamoemen says:

    alsalamo alaikom wa rahmat allah wa barakatoh
    you can use the word human instead of man in the sentence that meant to be directed to both men and women.

  3. Yahya Noori says:

    Dear Brother Suhaib..

    I would be really grateful to you if you could provide a detailed answer quoting some verses as examples….

    During my dialogue with several non-muslims I have had trouble in describing the gender issue …..

    May Allah reward you for this help…

    Sincere Regards…

    Yahya

  4. Jazakallah. I always wonder why in some Hadeeth the Prophet PBUH mentioned only “man”.

  5. mmh says:

    Assalamu Alaikum, I’ve heard an explanation before that used biological science as a proof, which was great since western non-muslims rely on empirical scientific data as ‘solid evidence’…..males carry the XY (female/male) chromosome, both genders, in their reproductive cells. Whereas females carry the XX (female/female) chromosome, female gender only. Hence the Arabic language speaks the language of nature.
    Forgive me if I’ve conveyed this incorrectly.

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