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Women Outnumbering Men in Hell !
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Response: I have read one of your answers regarding the Hadīth of the Prophet (sws) which says that there will be more women in Hell than men. You said that it is not to be taken in a literal sense, for it is in symbolic form. Please answer me the following question: Was not the Prophet (sws) the best and the eloquent of speakers? So how come he gave us symbols to confuse us, leaving the interpretation of this Hadīth to our intellect?

Comment: Symbolism is not meant to confuse a person. It is meant to educate him in a subtle manner. The basic thing which needs to be understood in this regard is that dreams of the Prophets of Allah are symbolic. They portray a fact in figurative form in order to make it more effective to understand.

Let me give you an example. You must have read the dream of the Prophet Joseph (sws) mentioned in the Qur’ān. It says that he saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. The interpretation of the dream offered by the Qur’ān itself at the end of Sūrah Yūsuf shows that this bowing down was a symbolism to show that his eleven brothers, his father and his mother would submit to his authority as the king (12:100).

Similarly, more examples can be given from the Qur’ān. For the Prophets of Allah, such dreams are a source of contact with the Almighty, and in them they are shown certain images by Him for the purpose of educating Muslim men and women. I had written in the answer you have referred to:

As a principle, all such dreams are not to be interpreted literally; they contain realities which are depicted in symbolic form. Symbolic representation is a very subtle and powerful way of expression: Facts seem veiled, yet for one who pauses to ponder, they are most evident. They move a person in the manner poetry does. They ignite in a person the spark to look behind the apparent. They urge him to reflect and to meditate and then to discover and infer. They educate him without rousing his prejudices.

Now consider the vision of Prophet (sws) mentioned in the Hadīth under discussion:

Abū Sa‘īd Khudrī reported: Allah’s Messenger went out to the place of worship [outside the city] on the day of ‘Idu’l-Adhhā or Fitr and he passed by the women and said to them: ‘O Women, give charity for I have been shown the majority amongst you as the inmates of Hell’. They said: ‘Allah’s Messenger, wherefore?’ He said: ‘It is because you curse one another very much and show ungratefulness to your husbands.’ (Bukhārī, Kitābu’l-Haydh)

The symbolism is evident from the description mentioned here. This description points to the fact that what is mentioned in the Hadīth is not literal: We know from the Qur’ān that people will enter Heaven or Hell after the final judgement has taken place on the day of Qiyāmah. Obviously, before this judgement takes place, people will not enter these two places. So if the dream of the Prophet (sws) shows that there are more women in Hell than men, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that this depiction is not literal; it is symbolic since at the time of the Prophet (sws) the final judgement after which people will enter Heaven or Hell had obviously not taken place. Consequently, like this, other details of the Hadīth too cannot be taken literally. They must be interpreted as dreams are interpreted and a person must see what reality has been symbolised.

So, in my humble opinion, this Hadīth does not delineate the population of women in Hell since this would be a literal interpretation; on the contrary, it just cautions them that there are certain deeds which they do a lot and which, therefore, may become more instrumental in taking them to Hell; so they should avoid them. In other words, the symbolism is causative in nature. The cause has been symbolised to warn women of something which they often do.

The second thing which needs to be appreciated is that the Prophet (sws) is commenting on some women of his own times who were present before him on a certain occasion. This comment is not necessarily a principal statement about all the women found on this earth of those times or of later times.


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