Why does Islam consider men Qawwam over women?

The Quran says that men are Qawwam (maintainers) of women (4:34). This leads to a common misconception that Islam gives a higher status to men than women. According to this verse of the Quran, it does not mean that men have a distinctive status over women – being maintainers of women has never been intended as a form of discriminatory treatment, it rather concerns the practical management of the home, for which the man is held responsible. However, this does not mean that a woman will never be allowed to shoulder these responsibilities. If she finds that she can bear this burden, no objection will be raised from any quarter. One example of this can be found in the Quran with reference to the people of Sheba. They lived in Yemen. The famous dam of Marib made their country very prosperous and enabled it to attain a high degree of civilization. The Quran tells us that they were ruled by a woman (27:23) without disapproving of her rule. Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba was very wise and sagacious, even more so than the men in her court. She did not want to embroil her country in war, while the men advised her to confront her enemies, namely, Solomon’s army. Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes:

“In Bilqis we have a picture of womanhood, gentle, prudent, and able to tame the wilder passions of her subjects.”

It is an accepted principle with the commentators of the Quran that when the Quran reports something without any disapproval, that means that has been approved of by the Quran.

So when we look at this incident in the light of the Quran, we find the status of woman even higher than that of men. A woman is in charge of men and she has shouldered this responsibility with greater efficacy.

Thus the example of the Queen of Sheba having found mention in the Quran shows that rulership is not man’s monopoly. A woman can be a ‘qawwam’ over a man and the Quran has itself testified to it.