The Hadith of woman being created from a bent rib

The following is based on the work of Mufti Taqi Usmani and taken from his book ‘اسلام اور دور ا حاضر کے شبھات و مغالطے’ – Islam and doubts and misconceptions of the modern age. These have not been translated exactly and have been stated in my own words. The target audience are the Muslims but non-Muslims may also benefit from these.

Does Islam defame the women? What is meant by being created from a bent rib?

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: واستوصوا بالنساء خيرا، فإنهن خلقن من ضلع، وإن أعوج شيء في الضلع أعلاه، فإن ذهبت تقيمه كسرته، وإن تركته لم يزل أعوج، فاستوصوا بالنساء خيرا

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “And I command you to take care of the women in a good manner for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, you will break it, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I command you to take care of the women in a good manner.”[1]

Some scholars have said the Hadith means Allah Almighty first created Adam and then created Eve from his rib.[2] However, other scholars have interpreted the Hadith differently (in a figurative sense)[3] stating that the example of a woman is like a rib which appears to be crooked/bent but the real beauty of it is in being crooked. If one tries to straighten it, it will break and then one will have to put it back together, it would not return to its original beautiful state. It is further said in the Hadith:

عن أبي هريرة، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: «المرأة كالضلع، إن أقمتها كسرتها، وإن استمتعت بها استمتعت بها وفيها عوج»

Narrated Abu Hurairah, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “The woman is like a rib; if you try to straighten her, you will break her. So if you want to get benefit from her, do so while she still has some crookedness.”[4]

Here the Prophet (ﷺ) has described the thing using a very strange yet full of wisdom simile that woman’s true self and beauty is in her natural bent state and if she is straightened she will break and suffer.

Some people use this parable to mock or condemn women that they she been created from a bent rib and her nature is bent (or crooked), however, the statement of the Prophet  (ﷺ) does not at all mean this.

Allah Almighty has created man with some qualities and women with other qualities. There is difference in the nature of both. Due to the differences, man thinks that a woman is different from his nature and qualities but this is not a weakness of the woman rather it is her nature. It is similar to the bent rib example; to think that the rib is bent does not mean it is not the way it should be or is against nature. This is the reason why the Prophet (ﷺ) instructed men not to condemn women if they find them different from themselves but to consider the difference as the nature of women. If one tries to straighten the rib or, in this case, modify the woman’s nature, he will hurt her.

Through this Hadith, the Prophet (ﷺ) is explaining that being straight or crooked/bent is relative. If you look at one thing from one angle, you will find it bent and if you look at it from a different angle, you will find it straight. If you look at the road from the window, you might find the road bent but if you see the road from the road itself, you will find it straight. It is the perception that makes it so. Anyhow, what was intended from the hadith is that since the nature of a man is different from that of a woman, the woman would appear strange or different to him whereas in reality it is her true nature.[5] This is the reason why the Prophet (ﷺ) instructed not to make an attempt at changing her as it would break her.[6]

In Mufīd aṭ-Ṭālibīn, a book used for instruction in Arabic language, there is a story of a king’s eagle that flew and came to an old woman’s place. The old woman started to take care of it. When she saw that the eagle’s beak is crooked and its claws are also bent, she felt pity for it and thought that the poor bird would have much difficulty eating due to bent beak and would have difficulty walking due to bent claws. She thought to ease the trouble of the eagle by cutting its break and the claws and thus injured it leading to profuse bleeding. The bird then lost the ability to walk as it used to before.[7] This story has been mentioned as an example of a fool’s love. The old woman did it out of her compassion and love for the eagle but without using her mind. She did not realize that the crookedness and bent of the beak and claws is actually the part of its nature and as such the source of its beauty. Without these crooked parts of body it is not eagle. [Similarly, a woman is different to a man and one should not try to change what is her nature.]

References and notes:

[1] al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Isma’il, as-Sahih, Hadith 5186

[2] Those who say that it refers to Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib present the following arguments;

  1. a) Qur’an says

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا

“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate” (Qur’an 4:1) They say “from it” refers to Adam.

  1. b) The wording of the hadith itself as it says (خلقن من ضلع) “created from rib”

  2. c) Narrations from Ibn ‘Abbas and some early scholars that say Eve was created from Adam’s rib while he as asleep. (al-’Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bāri, vol.9, 253) However, these narrations may have origins in Israliyāt as creation from rib story is mentioned in Genesis 2:22-23

[3] This figurative interpretation is based on a following pieces of evidence.

  1. a) The wording of the hadith in other versions i.e. (المرأة كالضلع) “the woman is like a rib”

  2. b) The hadith says does not say “Eve was created from rib” it talks about the womankind as such and, therefore, it has to be figurative. See, Abu Hayyān al-Andaulsi, al-Bahr al-Muhīṭ fi at-Tafsīr, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr: 1420 AH) 3, 494

  3. c) Women have been related to crooked rib by some poets as well as quoted by Ibn Qutaybah in explanation to this hadith, See ‘Uyūn al-Akhbār, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyyah: 1418 AH) Vol.4, 77; Also see Taqi Usmani, Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, (Beirut: Dar al-Ahya at-Turath, 2006) Vol.1, 136

  4. d) As for Qur’an 4:1 the pronoun in (مِنْهَا) “from it” can be a reference to humankind as a genre and not an individual. See, Abu Hayyān al-Andaulsi, al-Bahr al-Muhīṭ fi at-Tafsīr, 3, 494

  5. e) As for “created from rib” argument it can be understood like the ayah (خُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ مِنْ عَجَلٍ) “Man has been created of haste” (Qur’an 21:37) where it does not mean hastiness was a substance used in the creation of man, rather it mentions a quality in his nature. See, Abu Hayyān al-Andaulsi, al-Bahr al-Muhīṭ fi at-Tafsīr, 3, 494

[4] al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Isma’il, as-Sahih, Hadīth 5184

[5] And it known that what is in the nature is pristine and is according to the “goodliest mould”. cf. Qur’an 95:4

[6] In a talk about hadith reports and people’s hasty reactions, Dr. Jonathan Brown said;

We look at these hadiths and we’re suspicious of them, these are sexist hadiths, like the famous hadith that says that women was created from a bent rib and if you try to straighten her out you’ll break her. So you have to enjoy her as she is, if you try to straighten her out and break her you’ll be divorced from her. People look at this.. “oh this is sexist.” But why is it that we jump to that conclusion? We should actually just look at the meaning of the hadith first.

And the reason I thought about this was because before I got married I was reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus book that everyone was telling me I had to read and what was it saying? It was saying don’t try to solve your wife’s problems for her, don’t expect her to be like you, you have to accept her for as she is. Don’t expect her to change, you just have to be there for her and sometimes she’s going to do things that don’t make sense, you have to accept that. This is because men are from Mars and women are from Venus. And then I realized when I read this hadith, this is exactly the same message. Here it’s talking to men. It’s saying men, and I guarantee you, if you get all the men in this conference in one room they’ll all start talking about how I wish my wife was more reasonable, why doesn’t she just think like I do, why doesn’t she just see it this way. If men sit around like this all the time, they’re going to be miserable and they’re going to end up with miserable marriages because you’re never going to get your spouse to be exactly like you. You’re never going to be able to straighten her out to be with you. You have to accept her for the person she is and then if you do that, you can have a happy life together.

So the reason I thought of this when I was reading this book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, I realized this is the same message in the hadith. when you see on discussion lists or when Muslims get together or when there’s a conference and some speaker comes and talks about hadith, there’s always someone who gets up in the audience and says, “But you know brother, what about the hadith of the crooked rib and isn’t this sexist?” Why is it that we always jump on that bandwagon? Why don’t we stop and say maybe the Prophet  (ﷺ) actually has teachings, has wisdom to offer us? And maybe it’s actually talking to men in this case and telling men that they have to change the way that they look at their marriages and their relationships.

(Dr. Jonathan Brown, Hadith: Between Muslim Conviction & Western Criticism)

[7] Nanotvi, Muhammad Ahsan Siddiqi, Mufīd aṭ-Ṭālibīn, (Delhi: Matb’ah Mujtabai, 1316 AH) 29-30


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