What is the meaning of the following hadith:
The Prophet said, “The superiority of ‘Aa'ishah to other ladies is like the superiority of Thareed (i.e. a dish made of meat and bread) to other meals. Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except for Maryam (Mary), the daughter of Imran and Aasiyah, the wife of Pharaoh.”
Does it mean that Maryam and Aasiyah reached levels of perfection that no man ever has?
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.
The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “Many men reached perfection, but none among women reached perfection except for Aasiyah, the wife of Pharoah, and Mary, the daughter of ‘Imraan, and the superiority of ‘Aa'ishah to other women is like the superiority of Thareed (meat and bread dish) to other kinds of food.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Another version of the hadeeth reads, “...four: Mary, the daughter of ‘Imraan; Aasiyah, the wife of Pharaoh; Kadeejah bint Khuwaylid; and Faatimah bint Muhammad.” [At-Tirmithi and Ahmad]
Scholars underlined that the meaning of ‘perfection’ in the hadeeth is that a thing reaches the ultimate and highest status in its class. The intended meaning of perfection in the hadeeth is the highest level in all virtues and qualities of righteousness and piety... and the most perfect human beings are the Prophets, and then the Siddeeqoon (plural of Siddeeq, i.e. the steadfast affirmer of truth), the martyrs, and the righteous.
Many men attained the highest levels of human perfection and became Messengers and Prophets, caliphs, scholars, and Walis (allies of Allah). Al-Mubaarakfoori said in his commentary on this hadeeth, “Many men have attained perfection and became Messengers, Prophets, Caliphs, scholars, and Allies of Allah...” [Sharh At-Tirmithi]
Al-Haafith Ibn Hajar wrote:
“The statement of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, ‘None among women attained perfection except Aasiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the daughter of ‘Imraan’ was interpreted by some scholars to indicate that they were prophets, because the most perfect human beings are the Prophets. This was refuted by saying that the term ‘perfection’ does not necessarily imply prophethood because it is used to describe anything that is the best in its class. So the intended meaning is that they reached the highest degree in all the virtues that belong to women.” [Fat-h Al-Baari]
Hence, the hadeeth does not mean that Aasiyah and Maryam reached levels of perfection that no man reached, because many men reached the utmost human perfection and became prophets and messengers...; rather, it means that they had reached of perfection what no other women reached. This is why scholars held different views as to whether they reached the level of prophethood or not, because the highest level of human perfection is prophethood, as we mentioned earlier.
A lack of perfection in women does not indicate any disrespect or blame for them in the slightest. Rather, it is to clarify their nature and that they were created as such. Ash-Shinqeeti wrote, “The purpose of mentioning the shortcoming in women is not to blame them for it, because this is the way that they were created.” [Kawthar Al-Ma‘aani]
Zakariyya Al-Ansaari wrote:
“The hadeeth means that the superiority of ‘Aa'ishah to other women of the Muslim nation is like the superiority of Thareed to other kinds of food. This is because Thareed was the best food to the Arabs. This is not an explicit statement that ‘Aa'ishah is better than others in an absolute sense, because Thareed is superior to other foods for the ease of making it and eating it, and because it was the best meal back then. All these qualities do not necessarily mean that Thareed is absolutely the best meal in all aspects. Other foods may be better than it in other aspects.” [Minhat Al-Baari]
“Thareed was used as an example because it was the best meal for Arabs at that time... Thareed is composed of meat, bread, and soup, and no other dish was superior to it. It combines nutrition and tastiness, and it is also easy to make and consume. It is more nutritious, more filling, easier to digest, more enjoyable, and easier to eat. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, used this simile to clarify that she comprised the qualities of female perfection such as good companionship, agreeable speech, eloquence, sound judgment, excellence in winning the love of her husband and other aspects of perfection, just like Thareed comprised the qualities of a good meal. Other women are like wheat, which requires many things in order to be a nutritious meal, as has been explained. Similarly, these women require many disciplinary measures in order to show good companionship and other qualities. So if you come to know that Thareed is the best of food, then know that ‘Aa’ishah is the best of women.” [Al-Mafateeh fi Sharh Al-Masabeeh]
This is the meaning of the hadeeth according to the scholars, and it does not mean that Aasiyah and Maryam reached levels of perfection that no man had ever reached.
Allah knows best.
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