Can a woman attain high spiritual and intellectual levels in Islam?


In Islamic lectures and seminars we hear a lot about male scholars and their achievements, especially about how spiritual high they were, some who could even perform miracles. I would like to ask if there are any female known scholars who reached similar standards? Do they have any work published? Islamically,  is it even possible for a female to reach such high intellectual and spiritual standards?


Gender has no place in spirituality. Thus, it is equally possible for men and women to attain high levels of spirituality and intellectual levels. The Almighty God states: “Whoever works righteously-whether male or female- while he (or she) is a true believer, verily, We shall grant them a pure life (in this world) and reward them (in the hereafter) in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” (16:97)

In fact, often women have achieved higher levels of spirituality than their contemporary men even though they were prophets. For example, holy Mary (s.a) reached a higher level of proximity with God than Prophet Zachariah.  However, God has chosen only men as His Messengers because of the socially hard task of prophecy. The Almighty God out of His infinite Mercy exempted women from many hard duties including running the office of prophecy.

Also, we hear more about male mystics because firstly traditionally Islamic education has been more available to men than women, and secondly women were less vocal and public. In fact, that’s how a real mystic ought to be: remain anonymous.  Nonetheless, history has recorded the biography of many outstanding females who attained inspirational levels of spirituality and proximity with God. They were role models not only for females but the males too.

Please note the following quick examples:

  1. The holy Quran when praising the wife of Pharaoh emphasizes that she was a role model both for men and women: “And Allah has set forth an example for those who believe (men & women): the wife of Pharaoh..” (66:11)
  2. The holy Quran is explicit that ‘angels’ (note the plural) communicated with the holy Mary. (3:42)
  3. As God revealed to Moses as one of His Messengers, He also revealed to the mother of Moses although she was not prophet. (28:7)
  4. As the Prophets knowledge was not humanely acquired, some ladies like Sayyidah Zainab (s.a) according to the testimony of Imam Sajjad (a.s) enjoyed a divinely gifted knowledge.
  5. Apart from the infallible female role models, the Islamic history has recorded many highly learned female scholars, such as the mother of Sayyid Radi (the compiler of Nahjul-Balagha), the daughter of Sh. Al-Tousi, the daughter of al-Allamah al-Majlesi. Also all our Imams had some female students and narrators too. In our modern time also we had a very renown female mystic and Mujtahid known as ‘Sayyida Amin’ who passed away recently. I know a book in Farsi named ‘Zanaan Daneshmand & Raawi Hadith (The learned & narrating women) written by ‘Ahmad Ardestani.

Answered by: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei