Adam’s Rib – a frequently misunderstood hadith

Treat women with kindness

adam's rib

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said: ‘Treat women kindly. Woman has been created from a rib and the most bent part of the rib is the uppermost. If you try to turn it straight, you will break it. And if you leave it alone, it will remain bent as it is. So treat women kindly.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

A subject of needless contention

Appropriated by those who have used it to suggest that women are inferior to men, and opposed vehemently by those who reject the notion that women are crooked or less than men, this hadith is simply a depiction of the close relationship between men and women, an encouragement for men to be kind to women, to appreciate that they are different, and to appreciate that they complement each other. In Surah Araf, Allah Almighty says:

It is God Who created you from a single soul and out of it made its spouse to bring it comfort. (7:189)

Men and women complement each other

In culture, the rib is used by some men to mean that women are inferior. And many people buy into this. There is nothing in the hadith the implies this.

Men and women complement each other. It is not just one way round, with men complementing women or women complementing men. It is a two way street.

They have the same rights and responsibilities as they receive:

And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed. (4:124)

The believers, men and women, are allies (awliya) of one another. They enjoin the ‘common good’ (al ma‘ruf) and forbid the bad (al munkar), they observe prayers (salat) and give charitable alms (zakat) and obey God and his Prophet. (9:71)

Men need to allow for differences

The Prophet (peace be on her) is saying be kind to her, you cannot change her nature, don’t break her. The hadith, then, means that if a man wants to be happy with his wife, he should not attempt to mould her but accept her as she is. It can be taken as a beautiful hadith recommending tenderness and implying how a wife and husband should treat each other.

Men and women share a closeness

Metaphorically, as she was created from him. The rib extracted from one partner and placed in the other indicates their closeness and sense of belonging to each other.

Ibn Arabi commented on the hadith:

Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer. (Ahmad and An-Nasa‘i)

Therefore he has a longing for her as she is part of him, and she is attached to him like an immigrant to his homeland. Wherever she is, she wishes to return home.

This is the explanation which is in line with shariah. The word haneen is about longing. She is longing for him like a branch for the root.

It is a complete misreading of this hadith to suggest women are inferior. Don’t over analyse this hadith. Don’t over complicate it. Don’t attach meanings to it that are not there.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001.His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College).He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.