For centuries, the Prophet Muḥammad’s ﷺ Ḥadīth have been a source of light and guidance for every believer. They show one the conduct of those who are near to Allāh, proper human relations, good character, rectification, and everything that a Muslim or a Muslimah must know. For true believers, the Ḥadīth are sacrosanct. There are thousands of them transmitted from our beloved Prophet ﷺ. But keep in mind, there is a pitfall that one must avoid. When a layman studies Hadīth without the guidance of a learned scholar, he may become confused. Just like the great muḥaddith, Sufyān b. ʿUyaynah, said: “Ḥadīth can be misleading for those without deep understanding (fuqahāʾ).” [1]

One ḥadīth that is ambiguous to some is: “The majority of the dwellers of the fire are women.” Upon hearing this, some women become pessimistic and despondent after not finding any suitable explanation for what it means. And some men have used it to control women for their advantage. Here, in this paper, I will clarify some misconceptions surrounding it.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“I was shown hell. I saw that most of its inhabitants were ungrateful women… The Prophet was asked: ‘Were they ungrateful to Allāh?’ He replied: ‘They were ungrateful to their husbands and for the favors and the good done to them. If you show benevolence to one of them and then she sees something in you not to her liking, she will say: ‘I have never seen any good in you.’”[2]

I intend to discuss how the scholars explained this ḥadīth. One should keep in mind that the explanations they give are based on their own reasoning (ar. ijtihād); thus, their differences of opinion should not confound one.

ʿAllāmah Muḥammad Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī’s view is that the women referred to are the women of the Jāhilīyah. These women would habitually curse, swear, and backbite. Acts such as these would lead most of them to the fire. Also, the Prophet ﷺ saw hell during his time, when most of the Muslim women were still alive. This indicates that the women of the Jāhilīyah were intended in the ḥadīth.[3]

For this reason, understanding it to infer Muslim women does not make sense, especially considering that their hearts changed when Islām came to them. They adopted righteous qualities and did not exhibit the sinful qualities that would lead them to hell.[4]

An objection remains. There are Muslim women who have these blameful qualities, would that not infer that most of them could be in the hellfire?

Mawlanā Rashīd Aḥmad Ganghohi said:

“Women, when compare to men, are more. For that reason, one will find that they are the majority in the fire as well as in paradise.”[5] This is proven through a ḥadīth in which the Prophet ﷺ said: “From among the portents of the hour are the following:  …. Men will decrease in number and women will increase in number, so much so that fifty women will be looked after by one man.”[6]

Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī said:

“Initially, the majority of the women will be in the fire, then they will be taken out and shall enter paradise. Thus, the majority will be in paradise. Or, most of them will deserve the fire, but Allāh will forgive them and thus they will be the majority in paradise.”[7]

A question remains, why are women still the majority in the fire?

There is a ḥadīth that Imām Bukhārī related in which the Prophet ﷺ said: “Every one of them (i.e., the people of paradise) will have two wives.” Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar mentioned that the wives refer to the women of this world.[8] He mentioned that Abū Hurayrah cited this ḥadīth to establish that, in comparison to men, most women will be in paradise.[9] But there seems to be a contradiction between these two reports. Ibn Ḥajar reconciles this by saying: “The majority of them being in the fire does not necessitate that the majority cannot also be in paradise.”[10] This is like if someone says, “There are a lot of Muslims in South Africa.” This statement does not mean there are not a lot of Muslims in India. ʿAllāmah Anwar Shāh al-Kashmīrī differed with Ibn Ḥajar on this issue. He said that Ḥāfiẓ (i.e., Ibn Ḥajar) offered a weak response regarding the ḥadīth.  Kashmīrī said: “The wives referred to are the ḥūr al-ʿiīn, like what is related in Bukhārī on Abū Hūrayrah’s authority: ‘For every man, there will be two wives from the ḥūr al-ʿiīn.’” [11] Thus, he reconciles between those two ḥadīth.

Imām al-Qasṭallānī proves that the woman in hell shall be those with these specific qualities. In a ḥadīth related on Jābir’s authority the Prophet ﷺ said:

وأكثر من رأيت فيها النساء اللاتي، إن ائتمنّ أفشين، وإن سألت بخلن، وإن سألن ألحفن، وإن أعطين لم يشكرن. فدلّ على أن المرئي في النار منهن من اتصف بصفات ذميم

“The majority of the women whom I saw in the fire were those who spread secrets when they are entrusted with them. When someone asks them for something, they are stingy. When they ask others, they do so in a demanding way. And when they are given something, they are not appreciative.”[12]

These specific women will be the majority; however, women altogether should not be generalized. If they stay away from these sins, they will be from amongst the dwellers of paradise. Another ḥadīth located in Bukhārī proves this point. The Prophet ﷺ said: “I was shown paradise, I saw that most of its inhabitants were the poor… and I was shown hell, I saw most of its inhabitants were women.”[13] If this was a comparison between men and women, the Prophet ﷺ would instead say the majority of the inhabitants of paradise were men, however, he said the poor which also includes women. This shows that the majority are women who have specific qualities that will lead them to the fire.

This view should clarify the issue, because just like Allāh and His Messenger ﷺ warn men from abstaining from immoral acts, women must abstain from immoral acts too. Not doing so means that women with those qualities will be the majority in hell. Thus, no women should feel despondent, because every Muslim needs a warning. And no man should feel dominant over women because they have also been warned.

[1] al-Jāmʿ fī al-Sunan wa al-Ādāb wa al-Maghāzī 118.

[2] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī #29.

[3] Fayḍ al-Bārī 1:192.

[4] Ibid.

[5] al-Kawkab al-Durrī 3:325.

[6] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī #5231.

[7] Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ 2:532.

[8] Fatḥ al-Bārī 6:325.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Fayḍ al-Bārī 1:192.

[12] Musnad Imām Aḥmad 23:110.

[13] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4:117.