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What does this hadith mean, which is apparently agreed apon by Muslim and Bukhari:

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Treat women well. Woman was created from a rib. The most crooked part of the rib is the top part. If you try to straighten it, you will break it. If you leave it, it remains crooked. So treat women well.

What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that women are different and cannot be changed. So don't bother because if you try to change her, she will break? If so, how exactly are women considered different according (in terms of nature) to islam ?

If I have misunderstood the hadith and it is not suggesting that women are defective, please explain what the hadith actually means.

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In our post-feminist world, this is a hadith that many people bring up and use to attack Islam as a backward religion. Let me briefly summarize what this hadith is about.

Rasulullahi (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) indicate that women were crooked/bent/curved, like a rib. This means that they will not be exactly the way you want them to be. They have their own way of doing things, which is not necessarily the same way you would want them to do things.

Based on this, he advised us to not try and "fix" them, but leave them as they are. This does not mean neglecting to teach them their religion, etc. but it means not trying to change their nature. Also, as one companion said, "breaking the rib means divorce." This is also supported by another narration where rasulullah described women as "(delicate) glass vessels."

To summarize: this hadith contains some marital advice: women are different, so don't try to change their nature; accept them as they are.

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I've updated my question accordingly. Excluding the physical stuff, how exactly are women different from men in terms of nature according to islam? –  user3550 Jan 27 '13 at 17:47
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@user3550 that's a question of its own worthy of an involved answer. They are different in their strengths, realms of responsbility, and rights (to each other, children, etc.) Individuals also differ and there are exceptions to generalizations as well. –  ashes999 Jan 27 '13 at 19:53
    
I don't think I am explaining my question very well. Basically, can you give an example of something which is different in a womans nature, which a man might consider different and will have a want to change, that something which if he tried to change will break the woman? –  user3550 Jan 27 '13 at 20:20
    
@user3550 I understood it as "it will vary by person." I don't have my notes handy, sorry. –  ashes999 Jan 28 '13 at 5:11
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A very detailed explanation can be found here.

IMHO you misunderstood the hadith... Allah (SWT) says in Quran (95:4) that human beings (male + female) are made in the best way.

IF you look at a rib it has a function: to protect several important organs including the heart... to fullfill this function it must have a curved form (i.e. be crooked) since the body parts it protects are "not straight" in their form. So the rib has been created by Allah with a "crooked/curved" form to fullfill its function perfectly. The straight rib is a defective one - the "crooked/curved" rib is the one with the perfect form for its function!

It is similar with women: Allah created men and women to fullfill a function - each one fullfills a different function and has thus been created differently. That does NOT mean that men are "better" than women and vice versa. What the Prophet (SAW) said basically means: don't try to change the nature of a woman since that would make her "broken/unfit/unable" to fullfill her function, IMO same is true for man.

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In my opinion it is a metaphor, and women are created as they are and men should not try to change them in every which way. Many men spend their life time changing their spouses and create hostile at home, so leave them as they are, it may be harder for you to change them. To enjoy their presence and comfort, leave them as they are - that is what it means.

Abu Hurairah narrated that:

The Messenger of Allah said: "Indeed the woman is like a rib, if you try to straighten her you will break her, and if you leave her, what you enjoy from her will be with the crookedness." (Sahih)

Here is the reference

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