This article examines the position of the Malay religious elite towards the idea of women as leaders. Based on an analysis of the writings and sermons of a sample of the religious elite, the article concludes that they continue to be of the view that gender roles in modern society are ‘fixed’, ‘divine’, and ‘unquestionable’. By exploring Mohammed Arkoun’s concept of the ‘unthinkable’, I argue that the notion that women are unfit for top political leadership positions, by virtue of their gender, results from a parochial attitude towards traditions relating to women’s role in society and from a general failure to re-evaluate traditions in the light of the modern-day context. By traditions here, I refer not only to the hadiths (recorded sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), but also compilations of Qurʾanic exegesis (tafsīr) and juristic opinions (fatāwā, s. fatwa) passed down from one generation to another in the last 1,400 years of Islamic history. The article also explores how the religious elite’s views of gender equality might be reformed—it suggests that they need to be challenged with alternative discourses in order to transform their attitude towards religious sources from one that is unquestioning to one that is more questioning.