Q: An oral tradition that has come down to us suggested that a Muslim woman can potentially send several men to hell starting with her father, her husband, her brother, her son, etc. Is this an authentic tradition?

Also, which one of the two parents in the Muslim family by law, is primarily responsible for the overall education (religious and otherwise) of the children?

A: I do not have a concordance of hadith to refer to the text you mentioned, and therefore cannot give a definite ruling on the hadith. Let me point out however, that a hadith may be rejected for a fault in its chain of narrators (sanad), its text per se (matn), or an 'illah, which is a fault that can only be detected after thorough research that must be done by the most objective scholars. Despite the fact that almost all of the ahadith that concern women and their status are false, we again cannot rule as such on the hadith in question. This is because, as far as the Islamic law goes, the hadith is perfectly concordant with our belief. For if you have reported the textual translation correctly, it implies that the woman herself will remain free from hell.

Allah (s.w.t) has not dictated in His justness that one should bear the burden of another. In light of other traditions, such as the one in the farewell pilgrimage where the Prophet (s.a.a.w) allegedly warned us to take good care of the females, and the hadith wherein he said: "The best of you is he who is the best to his womenfolk," we can say that the hadith is rather a case for the women, as opposed to being against them. For what it is doing is in fact warning the father that in the oppression and discrimination against his daughter, he is writing a ticket to hell. As are the husband, brother, and son {remember that the Holy Prophet (s.a.a.w) mentioned the respect due to the mother thrice before he mentioned the father} -- if they are guilty of the same sins as the father.

Regarding the second part of your question, the position adopted by the large majority of our Muslim men is based on pre-Islamic misogyny and laziness. If we judge the matter by logic, we see that there is no law that stipulates either parent. An Arab proverb says, He who does not have something cannot give it. If the mother is uneducated, as many are, how can we make them responsible. Were matters at their ideal, we could have said that since the task of providing for the family is on the man's shoulders as per Qur'anic text (men are the protectors of women), and since the woman may be assumed to be at home, she may be in charge of the child's education.

Unfortunately, many fathers and husbands deny their daughters and wives the right to proper education, and consequently the ability to pass on knowledge. In our society too, the expenses often cause an improper division of labor, wherein the wife is compelled to seek employment outside the home. It is extremely unfair to suggest that education should be her responsibility. But even if the woman were educated, it still remains a matter of choice and arrangement between the two spouses.

My ruling is based on Qiyas. For we know that breast-feeding is almost obligatory for the health of the newborn child. And in this very serious matter Allah (s.w.t) has given the mother the choice of breast-feeding, or employing a nursemaid to suckle the child. The wages of the nursemaid are to be paid by the father (Q2:233). Based on this Qur'anic ruling, some of the more assertive feminist sisters insist on an additional allowance for breast-feeding their own child, when she is the only parent that Allah (s.w.t) has physically equipped for the task. My point is that if this 'duty' is optional upon the woman, how much more so the matter of education, in which the norm is that she is generally still unprepared to disseminate knowledge. Let us not forget that the Holy Prophet (s.a.a.w) took over the education of Hassan and Hussain, despite the fact that Fatima was quite capable of instructing them. And Allah (s.w.t) knows best.

Posted September 24, 1998. This question and answer was printed in the December 1994 issue of the Voice of Islam newsletter. (This newsletter is published by the Islamic Society of the Washington Area).