ISLAM honors women and regards them as equal and vital to life as men. Generally speaking, we can say that leadership in Islam is based on the ability and qualifications for the job. If a woman is qualified for a job and can do it well, she can be chosen for the position.
A woman’s invaluable work, in fact, is to look after her children and husband. As for employment, which is meant for earning a living, she is permitted to do it provided that the following conditions are met:
First, it should be legal. The Muslim woman is not permitted to work in a place where she will be in privacy with a non-mahram (marriageable) man, or in clubs where she is supposed to offer alcohol to people.
Second, she should abide by the Islamic morals in dress, talk, etc.
Third, a woman’s employment should not be at the expense of her principal work, namely caring about her children and husband.
Accordingly, the Muslim woman is permitted to go to work as long as she is in need of money and there is no person responsible for her maintenance, and the above conditions are met. In this context, we should recall the story of the daughters of Prophet Shu`ayb (peace be upon him) about whom the Glorious Qur’an says: And when at the water (a well) of Madyan (Midian) he found there a group of men, watering (their flocks), and besides them, he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: What is the matter with you? They said: We cannot water(our flocks) until the shepherds take (their flocks). And our father is a very old man. (Al-Qasas 28: 23)
Apparently, Prophet Shu`ayb’s daughters went out to give water to their flocks because their father was an old man and they had no brothers.
Admittedly, the Muslim society is in need of working women in certain fields such as education and medicine in order to educate and treat women.
As for the woman’s work in the judiciary, Abu Hanifah permits her to be a judge in cases that her witness is accepted in, i.e., in cases other than the criminal ones. Ibn Hazm and At-Tabari, however, are of the opinion that the woman can be a judge in all cases.
Here, we should keep in mind that the permissibility of appointing a woman as a judge does not necessitate it. Rather, the public interest of the Muslim society and the welfare of the woman herself and the family should be the main criterion in deciding whether it is necessary to appoint a woman in such a serious position or not.
A woman is not allowed to be a governor, a ruler, or a Caliph of a Muslim state because often she cannot bear the burdens of that tremendous job. We say ‘often’ to refer to the fact that there may be some women who are more powerful and forbearing than some men. Yet, this is unusual and the Islamic rulings, therefore, cannot be founded upon the exceptions.
There is nothing wrong, then, if a woman is appointed as head of an institution, or member of parliament as long as it is within the interests of the Muslim society.