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Sabtu, 20 November 2010


on the issue of:

APRIL 5, 2005
SAFAR 25, 1426
This is in no way a complete collection of Islamic legal opinion on the issue of
women leading men in obligatory (fard) prayers (salat). It does, however,
represent a consensus amongst contemporary Islamic and Muslim legal
scholars on this specific issue.
This is designed with the intent of guiding Muslims to the right path.
The opinions are simply arranged alphabetically.
May Allah accept this as an act of worship by His slave, and forgive him of his
sins, and increase his knowledge, wisdom, and proximity to the Divine.
Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA)…………………………..4
Shaykh Mohammed Nur Abdullah………………………………………...7
Shaykh Muhammad Afifi………………………………………………….10
Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali…………………………………………...14
Dr. Hina Azam……………………………………………………………20
Dr. Mohammad H. Fadel………………………………………………….26
Shaykh Ali Jumu’a…………………………………………………………28
Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi………………………………………………..30
Imam Zaid Shakir……………………………………………………….....35
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi………………………………………………….46
The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA)
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah and may the Prayers and Blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah.
To proceed, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) was asked to clarify the
Islamic legality of a women leading the Friday prayer and delivering the Friday Khutbah, and
this question arose due to what has been publicized that some women are determined to
deliver the Friday Khutbah and lead the Friday prayer in one of the mosques in New York.
The Assembly believes that the position taken is a misguidance, an innovation in the religion,
and it loathes it. It would like to confirm to the Ummah the following facts:
First: The most decisive proof and the highest judge is the Book of Allah and the Sunnah
[of the Prophet (saaw)]. The prophet (saaw) said: “I left with you that which if you hold on
to it you will not be misguided after me ever: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah”. Also, the
Consensus of the Scholars upon an understanding of one of the sacred texts is a decisive
proof [in itself], for Allah has made it impossible that the body of the Muslims to be united
upon misguidance. Whoever strays away from the Consensus of the Muslims over the
generations is opening a door of misguidance, and is following a path other than the path of
the Believers, and Allah Most High has said: “And whoever contradicts and opposes the
Messenger after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the
Way of the Believers, We shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell -
what an evil destination” (An-Nisaa 4:115). In addition, the Prophet (saaw) said in his
description of the characteristics of the Saved Sect opposing the destroyed sects: “Whoever
is upon what I am upon and my Companions”.
Second: Verily, the whole Muslim Ummah in the East and the West has collectively agreed
that there is no leeway for women to deliver the Friday Khutbah or to lead the Friday prayer,
and whoever is part of this prayer then his or her prayer is invalid and nullified whether he
or she is the Imaam or a follower [in the prayer]. There is not one line in any book from the
books of the Muslim [scholars], from what we know, over the generations in Islamic history,
or any verdict from even one faqeeh, whether he is Sunni or Shiite, or Hanafi or Maliki or
Shafi’ee or Hanbali, that allows the women to deliver the Friday Khutbah or to lead the
Friday prayer. So this matter is an innovation in the Religion from all aspects, invalid and
forbidden in all the followed schools of Fiqh, whether it is Sunni or otherwise.
Third: From the proofs of this consensus is what has been established from the guidance of
the Prophet that the women in the prayer are to stand behind the men; so their rows are
behind the rows of the men. The hadeeth of Anas narrated in Bukhari states that the
Prophet (saaw) lead him and his mother or aunt in prayer. He said: “He placed me on his
right, and let the woman stand behind us”. Malik has narrated from
Anas also that he said: “I lined up with the orphan (boy) behind him (saaw), and the old
woman stood behind us.” And this was the Prophetic guidance that was always followed in
his masjid (saaw) and the guidance of the Ummah after him over the generations. The
Prophetic Guidance even made the best rows of the men the first row, and made the best
row for the women the last row. Muslim naraated in his Sahih (authentic book known as
Sahih Muslim) that Abu Huraira (raa) said that the Messenger (saaw) said: “The best row for
the men is the first one and the worst one [for them] is the last one, and the best row for the
women is the last one and the worst one [for them] is the first one.” And this is not except
to protect them from tribulation, and blocking the steps leading to Fitnah from all aspects.
So how can it be allowed for them to climb the pulpits (to deliver the Khutbah) and to step
up to lead the men in Prayer in the public gatherings?
And from the proofs [of this consensus] what has been established that Allah, Most
Glorious and Most High, has dropped the obligation of attending the Friday prayer and the
congregational prayers for women; as the Prophet (saaw) said in the authentic hadeeth that
has been narrated by Abu Dawud: “Friday prayer is a due obligation upon every Muslim in
congregation, except four: an owned slave, a woman, a male child, and a sick person”.
Furthermore, he (the Prophet saaw) made their prayers (the women) in their home better for
them [than in congregation in the masjid] as a mercy to them and to protect them from any
tribulation. The Prophet (saaw) said: “Do not prevent the women to go out to the mosques,
and their homes are better for them” (Naraated by Ahmad and Abu Dawud). So how is it
that he dropped for her the obligation of the Friday prayer and the congregational prayer,
and made her prayer at home better for her than her prayer in her masjid, which fulfilling the
intent of the Lawmaker (Allah) of protecting her and making it easier upon her, and then he
will push her to climb the pulpit to deliver the Khutbah and to lead the rows of men in
Fourth: It has never been established that even one woman in all of Islamic History has went
forth to do this act or even asked to do it, throughout the consecutive ages, from the birth
of Islam; Not in the age of the Prophet (saaw), or the age of the Righteous
Caliphate, or in the age of the Followers (The generation after the Companions), or in any
age that followed after that. This fact is a clear indication that this is an act of misguidance
and calling to it or assisting in it is an innovation [in the religion].
If anything of this sort was permitted then the first people to do it would have been the
Mothers of the Believers, and from amongst them were shining scholars [of the religion],
and some of them relayed a great portion of the Religion. And enough for you is the
eloquent, articulate, intelligent scholar- the Truthful daughter of the Truthful, Mother of the
Believers, Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her. If this act was good they would have beat
us to it and established it for us as a way to be followed. Surely the Islamic history has
known women who were shining scholars of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and trustworthy
scholars of Hadeeth-- great scholars. Indeed the women have exerted a great effort in this
area, and they were known for their honesty and trustworthiness, to the extent that Imam
Adh-Dhahabee said: “It has not been reported that a woman has lied in hadeeth”. And he
said, may Allah have mercy upon him: “I do not know of a woman [who narrates hadeeth]
that has been accused [of lying] or has been abandoned [by the scholars of hadeeth]”. [They
exerted such a great effort] to the extent that Al-Haafidh Ibn ‘Asaakir had amongst his
Hadeeth teachers eighty-some women! Similar to him is Imam Muslim Al-Faraaheedee, the
hadeeth scholar who wrote hadeeth from seventy women. Some of the women in the
history of this
Ummah were teachers to scholars such as Ash-Shafi’ee, Al-Bukhari, Ibn Khalkaan, Ibn
Hayyaan, and others! With all of this, it has not been reported that any one of [these women]
wanted to deliver the Friday Khutbah, or desired to lead the [Friday] prayer, even though
they surpassed many of the men in that day in Understanding the laws of this religion and
narrating [the hadeeth] of the Prophet (saaw).
Verily the Islamic History has the woman to be a worker in all fields. It knew her as a
working woman and a scholar of Fiqh, and it knew her to take part in the congregational
acts of worship, the humanitarian and rescue efforts, and in commanding good and
forbidding evil. However it never knew her as a Khutbah speaker, nor as a leader of a
congregational [prayer] that includes men. Knowing this, it is known essentially and
undisputedly from the religion of the Muslims that manliness is a condition for the [delivery
of] the Jumuah Khutbah and the leadership of a congregational prayer that has men.
And we [like to] give the ones who dispute this fact the lifespan of [Prophet] Nuh [950 years]
to search in the books of Islamic heritage to show us anything of the sort. How Far, Very
Far! Neither would it befit them, nor will they be able to.
Fifth: And for those who alleged this, their extracting this opinion from what has been
narrated that the Prophet (saaw) gave permission to Umm Waraqah to lead the members of
her household… this hadeeth, assuming it is authentic has no relation to what is occurring
now, for [this hadeeth] speaks about the women leading in her house with women in it, and
some men [of her family] according to the most lenient explanations. So how far is this
from delivering the Friday Khutbah and the general leading of the congregational Prayer?
Indeed the Assembly of Muslim jurists warns the Ummah from falling into Fitnah, due to
these misguiding calls, that follow a path other than the path of the Believers, and it calls
them to unite and hold fast to the Book [of Allah] and the Sunnah. The Assembly reminds
them that this knowledge is the religion, so they must look at where they learn their religion.
The one who holds fast to his religion is like the person who is grasping a hot rock. It asks
Allah to protect this Ummah from these severe trials and tribulations, and to carry it to the
most praiseworthy matters according to Him, with the most beautiful outcome. He is the
owner of this and the one able to do this. And Allah is behind every intent, and He is the
Guider to the best path.
Shaykh Mohammed Nur Abdullah
Imam of the Islamic Foundation of Greater Saint Louis
and President of the Islamic Society of North America
[with regards to “Toronto Woman Gives Part of Eid Khutbah”]
To understand the role of woman in Islamic society, it is not sufficient to consider the actual
status of women in one society or another, but one must look at the Qur'an and the Sunnah
of Rasulillah. The main sources of Islamic norms are the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the
Prophet SAW. These sources contain regulation and commandments including some, which
relate to the role of women in Islamic society.
Allah said: "O you who believe, obey Allah, a nd obey the Messenger, and those charged with
authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His
messenger, If you do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best and most suitable for
final determination" (4:59). He also says, "Whoever obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah"
(4:80). And Allah said: "By your Lord they will never attend faith till they make you judge in
all their affairs and then they should find any difficulty in their heart to accept and
submit to you" al Nisa' (4: )
Salat is an act of worship and all acts of worship we have to follow what our Prophet (SAW)
did and after him the Khulafa and Imams of the Ummah. The Prophet (SAW) said: "Pray as
you see me praying." The salat has been a practice of the ummah through 1400 years
and there is no room for modification of the Salat according to the "changing times."
Woman leading the congregation
The scholars have put requirements and qualifications for the Imam of the salat, as they saw
Rasulillah and his companions praying. Those qualifications:
1) To be a Muslim. If a Muslim prays behind a non-Muslim, the prayer should be repeated,
because it is not valid.
2) To be 'Aqil (have a sound mind).
3) To be Baliq (reach the age of puberty). If a minor should lead the prayer, Abu Hanifa says
the prayer (whether Fard or Sunnah) is not valid. Malik and ibn Hanbal allow it though.
4) To be a man. Many fuqaha allow women to lead women in prayer (Hanafi, Hanbali and
Shafi'e). Imam Malik did not allow her to lead the prayer (Ref: Jawahir Al Akil, vol 1, pg 78;
Ibn Abdeen, vol 1 pg 388; Al Dosouqee, vol 1 pg 326).
5) To be pure (have Tahara and Wudu). If someone does not have wudu or breaks his wudu,
he should not lead the prayer.
6) To know the Ahkam (rules) of salat and to be able to read the Qur'an properly.
Women's position in prayer
In a hadith the prophet (SAW) said: "The best line of salat for men are the front and worse
are the last. The best lines of salat for women are the last, and the worst are the front." In a
hadith narrated by Ibn Majah the Prophet said:" A woman should not lead men in prayer,"
(Ibn Majah Vol:1,P343).
According to the general consensus of jurists and scholars of Hadith, a woman is not
allowed to lead men in Fard or Sunnah prayer or in congregation. She is, however, allowed
to lead a congregation consisting only of women. In the latter case, it is not only permitted
for women to do so, rather it may even be considered highly recommended according to
Imam Sha'f'ee, because of the greater rewards of praying in congregation (jama'ah) as
compared to praying individually. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon
him) never said that such rewards are solely applicable to men and that women are
excluded. The authentic practice of the Mothers of the Faithful, such as `Ayesha and Umm
Salamah (may Allah be pleased with them), also confirms this conclusion they lead women in
fard prayer and they stood in the middle of the line (Al Muhalla Imam Ibn Hazem
Vol 4 P 126,127). Ibn Umar (RA) he instructed his daughter to lead women
in Ramadan, and Ayesha RA led women in Tarweeh prayer and in Maghrib
prayer and she stood in the middle of line. Both of the esteemed wives of the Prophet
(peace and blessings be upon him), who were highly regarded for their
deep grasp of religion, used to lead women in Salah (Prayer).
Although the vast majority of scholars are of the opinion that a woman may not lead men at
all, there is a minority of them, including scholars such as Imam Ibn Jarir, and a jurists such
as Abu Thawr and Al-Muzani, who consider it permissible for a woman to lead members
of her own household in Salah.
The last mentioned group of scholars have based their ruing on the following report of Abu
Dawud on the authority of Umm Waraqah: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)
used to visit her in her own home; he appointed a mu'adhin (one who calls the adhan
for Prayer) for her, and ordered her to lead the members of her household (in Salah)."
Umm Waraqah as stated in the sources was an esteemed woman of Al-Ansar who had
memorized the Qur'an. `Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khalid, the narrator of the Hadith, further
states: "I happened to see her mu'adhin, who was a person advanced in age."
Based on the above evidence, some scholars have concluded that a woman is allowed to lead
her own family members in Salah especially in the following cases:
1) If she is exceptionally qualified and others are not so well versed in the rules of Salah and
knowledge of the Qur'an.
2) If her husband is a new Muslim who is struggling to learn the rules of Salah and the
Qur'an, while she herself is perfectly well versed in them;
3) If she is a mother of minors who are still learning the rules of Salah and the Qur'an
What happened in Toronto Canada with a woman giving part of the Khutba, breaks all the
tradition in our religion and has never happened before in the 1400 year history of Islam. No
'Alim who knows and has studied fiqh and the rules of Rasulillah and the Sunnah would
have allowed it. It is Haram and their salat is batil (not valid) according to the 5 main schools
of thought (Hanafi,Maliki, Shafi'e, Hanbali, and Ja'fari, as well as the Zaydi's and the
Shaykh Muhammad Afifi
Shafi`i Faqih
Oxford, UK
[with notes by G.F. Haddad]
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful.
Alhamdulillah al-muwaffiq li-s-sawab!
1. Masha'allah; indeed we are living in interesting times! Aren't we taught to shy away from
the position of Imam and that Imamship is a burden as the Imam acts as the guarantor for
his or her followers? Who would want such a responsibility!
2. It would be best for us not to dignify those who wish to go against the general consensus
[ijma' al-'amma] of the Muslims (may Allah forgive them!) in this mas'ala [legal case] by
responding with a discussion of the scriptural evidences [ta'arrud al-adilla], primary and
otherwise, of why in Islam women simply do not lead men in the formal prayer [Salat]
(just as Catholics think it inconceivable or some Protestants find it damagingly schismatic for
a woman to lead the formal liturgical services), but not so in offering other prayers [Du'a],
conducting a class, or - subject to the differences of opinions, rahmatan [out of
mercy], among the jurists of our ummah - in becoming the judge of a courtroom or even,
executing the affairs of a nation.
3. Instead, a student of fiqh and a jurist can only do what must be done in this case, that is to
inform the Muslim public, and to remind ourselves our knowledge of Fard 'Ayn in this
matter that our daughters and sons should know even before they reach the age of baligh
[pubescent], the legal ruling and the status of the prayer of a woman who has led a mixed
congregation made up among women, men also.
4. As a Shafi'i, I can only relate what our own Mujtahid Imam himself have said in the
motherbook of our books [Kitab al-Umm by Imam al-Shafi`i rady Allahu `anh] about the
status of those taking part in that congregation (and of course, this ruling applies only to
those men whose knowledge of this was before the event and were conscious of what
they were doing):
"If a woman leads men, women and male children, the Salat of the women
[the woman Imam including the women Ma'muns] are valid whereas the Salat
of the men and the male children are invalid. This is because Allah
(Glory and Exalted is He!) has made men supporters of women and has
discouraged them from becoming protectors and so forth. It would not be
permissible for a woman to be an Imam of a man in any prayer at any time
whatsoever. Likewise, were a disputed hermaphrodite [khuntha mushkil;
i.e., his male characteristics being more dominant over his female ones]
to be among those following the woman in Salat, his Salat in her company
would not have been valid." [Umm, 1:292]
5. So, alhamdulillah, if it was a case of leading one of the five daily Salats, the lady and her
women followers are absolved from any misconduct and they would have in this case
fulfilled their minimum religious duty and that only the men who had followed them in this
are sadly the only losers from this affair and will have to make up their prayers [qada'] again.
6. If, however, it was a case of leading the Friday Prayer, then, according to our [Shafi`i]
school, even the Salat of the womenfolk in this case will be insufficient [ghayr mujzi'ah] and
unfortunately invalid in which case everyone there must later make up their Zuhr
7. If it was the case of the Friday Prayer, then I for one, find it humorous why those who are
not obligated to perform the Jumu'ah and have been given dispensation from not doing so
would go heads over heels to attend and moreover lead it. Surely, it will be a hardship for the
umma, especially today, if our women are expected to also perform the Friday
duty. (The original fiqh ruling [asl] for them to attend is only Mandub and not Wajib.) I am
sure that even the "Progressive Muslim" women of Malaysia will not welcome the thought
of relinquishing the *rest* they enjoy that day? Didn't Allah the Most High say: wa-mA ja'ala
'alaykum fI d-dIni min Harajin [He did not impose hardship on you in religion] (al-Hajj, 78)?
And as in the Hadith of Tariq b. Shihab (may Allah be well pleased with him!) makes clear,
our beloved Messenger (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!) said: "al-jumu'atu
Haqqun wAjibun 'alA kulli muslimin fI jamA'atin illA arba'atan mamlUkun wa-mra'atun
wa-Sabiyyun wa-marIdun" [The Friday [prayer] is something obligatory upon every Muslim
in congregation except for four [people]: a slave, a woman, a child, and a sick person.]
(Related by Abu Dawud, al-Hakim and al-Bayhaqi.)
++Fa'ida++ [Benefit]
8. Unlike the Friday Prayer, a woman may even become an Imam for the 'Id Prayer for her
same-sex congregation. She could do all of this except for the formal sermon [khutba] which
has to be delivered by a man since this is among the condition [shart] of the khutba.
However, if the women wanted, (but the hukm is khilaf awla [=status of contrary to best])
they could even do without the man and his formal khutba and have in his place, a woman.
This is permissible and valid in our school-except that that on a point of technicality, her talk
is not called a khutba but a maw'iza. This is made clearly by Imam al-Bujayrimi (may Allah
be pleased with him!) among others in the Hashiya of the Iqna': "Likewise [to have
the khutba after the two rak'as of the 'Id Prayer, even if it is directed to a congregation made
up of only] for women. However, only a man can deliver the formal sermon. On the other
hand, if a woman were to stand and deliver a talk to them without a formal sermon, there is
no harm in doing so." [Bujayrimi, Iqna', 2:447].
9. It is not a surprise therefore that armed with this precedent, for example, we find today in
Indonesia of mosques that offer exclusive 'Id Prayers for women only led by women
scholars. Aren't these the progressive and efficient ones who work within the framework of
our laws and our processes?
[GF Haddad: And among the Hui women of Central China also with their
women-only schools and mosques cf.]
10. One hikma arising from this American event is that it will ironically be something of a
bad press for the "Progressive Muslim" women in a country like Malaysia where the issue of
a woman leading a man in Salat is simply a non-issue nay even a turn off. There, the
general audience, whether men and women will be able to preview the package of
'progressive' light waiting at the end of this tunnel and indeed scare people away from it.
Equally, the other hikma should be a warning for us men who have transgressed and have
been unjust [zulm = wad' al-shay' fi ghayri mahallihi] by abusing his position of authority
and trust; let this episode be a wakeup call for the Muslim communities everywhere
especially if we have denied the rightful rights of our mothers and our sisters to drink from
the founts of knowledge and share our fontes sapientiae. Nothing happens without a reason
and students of theology know only too well that it is but natural (for it is from
Sunnatullah) that all forms of imbalances and injustices will inevitably undergo divine
correction [ta'dil] even if in the process the temporary solutions turn out to be extremely
perverted. The lesson for our men is to be aware that the original grievances and questions
leading to these distorted answers are often right and legitimate. May Allah open our
eyes and make us understand that which we know not!
11. Those who are blessed with knowledge and use their common sense will in the end come
to realize that despite the deviations by certain sectarian groups such as the Khawarij and the
irregularities of at most one or two jurists, the Umma has never practiced nor accepted nor
witnessed a precedent in any of our communities since the earliest times until today the
practice of a woman leading a man in Salat. This indeed is a genuine case of a misguided
innovation [bid'a dalala], a type of khilaf that is not from rahma but of fitna, and a munkar
that deserves to be censured and kept well away from our children. Wouldn't it be more
beneficial for a "progressive" women group to come down from these lofty issues and fight
instead the bread and butter ones and address the real problems faced on the ground by our
sisters today such as their physical welfare and education?
~~Hikaya~~ [A Story]
12. Perhaps, in this group's overzealous calls towards equality and freedom on behalf of our
women, they had overlooked two separate legal issue: the case of a woman leadership vs.
Imamship. For this, we may derive benefit from the following true story that happened in
Malaysia during the recent general election for a parliamentary seat contested by two
candidates: an Imam of a famous mosque vs. a Muslim woman (note: the presence of
Muslim women MPs in this country is a normal sight). During the election campaign, in his
attempt to curry favour with his constituency, the Imam questioned the suitability of the
woman for the office arguing that religiously, she could not even lead the Salat. She
responded famously by saying: "That's OK, let him remain an Imam in the mosque but give
her his parliamentary seat!" In the end, this cost him his seat. fi-ha kifaya li-ahli l-'ilm! [A
sufficient lesson for the knowledgeable]
13. Subhanallah: how true are the words of one of our great predecessors, Imam Abu
Zakariyya al-Razi (may Allah sanctify his secrets!) for both the woman and the man
respectively in this congregation: "I am amazed at someone who seeks something extra while
abandoning a duty!"
14. And masha'allah: this episode shows how appropriate were the words of our great Imam,
Abu Bakr al-Warraq (may Allah sanctify his soul!) who remarked that most of what is spent
in our time are 4 x 4: "(1) the extras over the obligatory; (2) the outer form over the inner
state; (3) other people over oneself; and (4) speaking over action".
I end with a du'a and a reminder for myself mostly: allAhumma innA na'Udhubika min
'ilmin lA yanfa'u wa-min 'ilmin yaSiru Hujjatan 'alaynA fI yawmi l-qiyAma [O Allah, protect
us from knowledge which are useless and from knowledge that will become a proof against
us in the Next world!]
Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
1st Safar 1426
12 III 2005
Select Bibliography:
al-Bujayrimi. al-Bujayrimi 'ala al-Khatib wa-huwa Hashiyat al-Bujayrimi
al-Musammat Tuhfat al-Habib 'ala Sharh al-Khatib al-Ma'ruf bi l-Iqna' fi
Hall Alfaz Abi Shuja'. 5 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1996.
al-Shafi'i. al-Umm. Edited by Mahmud Matraji. 9 vols. Beirut: Dar
al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1993.
End of the response from Shaykh Muhammad Afifi, Allah reward him!
Amin. This response from our dear teacher is better than any response we
might require and any artifice we might deploy to coax our people to
safety and goodness once they decide to stop their ears and follow their
How rewarded and enlightened here and hereafter should US Muslims be to
put aside their natural American hankering for world leadership and
follow instead the excellent models of their true progressive Chinese
and Malaysian sisters who have long since pioneered the establishment of
women-only scholarly centers and mosques! With enough hard work and
prayer, this would be and still can be the Western Muslima's model for
sakina, dhikr, education and dawah. That would be the way of tawqa and
hence the Qur'anic way of competing in leadership. If such a lofty and
licit model were to prevail it would armor our sisters and brothers in
faith against the fitna of our times! Would that not be better than a
bullyish media show that mocks our islamic principles and sets an ugly
precedent of disunity? May Allah save you and me, dear reader, from the
causes of regret and sorrow on the Day of regrets and sorrows. We belong
to Allah and unto Him do we return.
- G.F. Haddad
Can a Woman Lead Men in Salat?
Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
Let's get right to the point.
The first problem with this scheduled event is that the theme is `Muslim Women Reclaim
Right to Lead Prayer,' while it should read `Muslim Women Claim Right to Lead Prayer,'
since there is no basis for the belief that it was ever a right for women to lead a mixedgroup
prayer. And there are no explicit accounts of women ever leading a mixed-group of
men and women in prayer.
Three of the four Sunni Schools of law (Hanafis, Shafi'is, and Hanbalis) permit for a woman
to lead other women in prayer except that the one leading is not to stand out in front of the
row.[1] Rather, she is to remain aligned in a single row with the other women, so as not to
appear to be leading as a man would. They base this on the following reports:
1- Imam Baihaqi, Daraqutni, and Ibn Abi Shayba report from Ra'ita Al-Hanafiyya that she
said: "'Aisha led us. And she stood between us during the obligatory prayer."
2- Ibn Abi Shayba and `Abdur-Razzaq Al-San'ani report by way of Hujayra bint Husayn
that she said: "Umm Salama led us in Salatul- `Asr. And she stood between us."[2]
Imam Al-Nawawwi says about these two hadiths, Daraqutni and Baihaqi related them with
sahih chains.[3]
As for Imam Malik and the popular view held in the Maliki School, any prayer that a
woman leads others in whether women, men, or mixed is invalid. Ali ibn Abi Talib is
reported to have said, "The woman is not to lead (Salat)."[4] This was also the view of
Sulaiman ibn Yasar and Al-Hasan Al-Basari.[5]
As for the other three schools, their position in general[6] was that it is permitted for women
to lead other women in Salat.
As for the cause of this disagreement, we can reasonably say that it is the direct result of the
different views of the Sahaba, in so much as that 3 of the Imams adopted the views of Umm
Salama and `Aisha who were both wives of the Prophet while Imam Malik and
those who held the same view accepted the report of `Ali ibn Abi Talib -.
If we were Hanafis, it would be easy to resolve this matter by just having everyone follow
the particular Companion's opinion we deem most worthy of following.
If one is a Maliki, it would similarly seem easy to resolve by just ascertaining that there was
a consensus found among the scholars of Medinah during Malik's time that went contrary to
these hadiths supported by the majority.
But if a Muslim is one who champions the hadith of the Prophet and doesn't place anything
over it as is the view of Shafi'i and Ahmad, the solution would seem easy to resolve by
simply relying on the most authentic report found that demonstrates what the Prophet's
sunnah was in this regard, since it is possible that some Sahaba heard what others may have
So after searching, we find that the strongest report found that goes back to the Prophet is
the following:
Abu Dawud reports that Umm Waraqa y said, "I said: "O Messenger of Allah! Permit for me
to participate in the raid with you. I'll nurse your sick. Perhaps Allah will grant me
martyrdom." He said: "Remain in your house. For verily Allah I will grant you martyrdom."
And she asked his permission to take a muadhdhin in her home. And he allowed
In another version Abu Dawud reports: "The Messenger of Allah used to visit her in her
house. And he assigned to her a muadhdhin who would make the summons to prayer
(adhan) for her. And he ordered her to lead the inhabitants of her home."
The hadith was reported by Baihaqi, Daraqutni, and Hakim. And Hakim said, "Muslim
advanced Al-Walid ibn Jami' (one of the narrators) as being authoritative.[7] But this is a
hadith with a single chain of narration (sunnah ghariba). I don't know of any hadith with a
connected chain to the Prophet (musnad) in this chapter other than this one." And Imam
Dhahabi concurred with his findings[8].
Al-Mundhiri said, "Al-Walid ibn Jami' is the subject of dispute (fihi maqal). And Muslim has
reported through him." Ibn Al-Qattan said, "Al-Walid's state isn't known."[9] Ibn Hibban
mentioned him in (his book) Al-Thiqat (Trustworthy Narrators).[10] And Ibn Hajar
said, "In its chain is `Abdur-Rahman ibn Khallad (a second questionable narrator). And his
status is unknown (fihi jahala)."
If this is true in that this report has two suspect narrators, Al-Walid ibn Jami' and `Abdur-
Rahman ibn Khallad, then this hadith can't really have much if any authority.
And if it had not been for its weakness, it could be used by those who argue for the right of
women leading men in prayer to support their argument even though the indications in the
hadith are very subtle. That is, the fact that it states that the Prophet assigned
a muadhdhin for her and then ordered her to lead those in her house in prayer, gives the
impression that she led at least one man in prayer who was likely a bondsman or
unmarriageable relative of hers, since she would only be allowed to keep the company of a
bondsman or a male relative, and men are usually those who make the call to
One could just as well assume that the muadhdhin appointed by Allah's Messenger e while
presuming the hadith is authentic was another woman, and that Umm Waraqa led a group of
women in prayer as the other authentic reports make clear.[11]
But all of this is overshadowed by the weakness of the hadith. So it falls as a basis for
Another important point is that Imam Abu Ja'far Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari (died 310 AH) held the
view that a woman could lead Salat in spite of it being a view never accepted by the Ummah,
and it has never been witnessed in all of Islamic history.[12]
Imam Al-Tabari was an absolute mujtahid and is known as the Imam of the Exegetes
(Mufassirin). But his school didn't thrive and it didn't last as the 4 surviving schools did. So
his view is extremely ancient and contradicts what the Ummah later unanimously agreed
upon in that a woman cannot lead a man in prayer.
Add to that, it would difficult to know what exactly Imam Al-Tabari based his ijtihad on
today, since his school hasn't been preserved with an unbroken chain as the 4 schools have.
So are we to accept his opinion just because it was an opinion without proper scrutiny
and research?
Furthermore, what lends to the understanding that a woman's proper place is not leading a
man in prayer are the following:
- If it was permissible, it would have been reported from the Salaf.
- Since the Sunnah for women in prayer is for them to be behind the men, it is known from
that that it is not permitted for them to be in front of them. For Abdullah bin Mas'ud said:
"Put them back to where Allah put them back." Al-San'ani and Tabarani reported it. It is
also mentioned in Majma' Al-Zawa'id. And for that reason, some of the allowed them to lead
other women, since they are all to align straight in one row.
- The Prophet also said, "The best ranks of the men are those at the front. And the worst of
them are those at the back. And the best ranks of the women are those at the back. And the
worst of them are those at the front."
And if the Messenger had intended any other arrangement for women in Salat, then we
would have found him at least on one occasion allow the women to pray directly behind him
or for a woman to lead the men in Salat.
So we are to understand that this is from the divinely inspired direction of the Creator. And
to contravene it would be to question His wisdom. And to question His wisdom, would be
to follow in the footsteps on Satan. And to follow in the footsteps of Satan, one is
surely to be damned as he is.
So it becomes clear that such people who insist on the permissibility of a woman leading
men in prayer have nothing firm to rely on in their position other than the following of their
fancies and what their lusts dictate to them.
The Issue of Apostasy
The next important question would be, are such people Muslims who contravene the
consensus of the Ummah, which upholds that a woman leading men in prayer is prohibited?
The short answer is, no! But that `no' is a `no' that doesn't remove the danger from being
damned by the Almighty One.
In other words, the decisive consensus for Sunnis cannot be violated. Were one to
contravene that consensus, he/she would be considered an apostate from Islam.
But this consensus is one that occurred after a well-known disagreement due to the view of
Al-Tabari and Abu Thawr. And scholars have differed about whether or not contravening
this kind of consensus is enough to expel a person beyond the pale of Islam.[13]
One can also reply that the Shiites do not consider consensus to have the same authority
that Sunnis do. And they do not accept it.
But we can reply that in spite of that Shiites do not allow for women to lead men in prayer.
So even though they may not consider it to be a valid source of law, their practice shows that
they share with Sunnis in their traditional belief that a woman may not lead the Jumu'a
prayer or any other prayer for that matter unless it be a woman leading other women in a
prayer that is not Jumu'a.
So even if Shiites don't accept scholarly consensus as a valid source of law, they do accept
that Allah says in the Qur'an, "Whoever splits from the Messenger after guidance has
become clear to him, and then follows other than the way of the believers, We
will turn him to what he has turned, and enter him into Hell. And how evil a destination!"
And it is the way of the believers that from the time of the Prophet until now that no
woman has ever been reported leading the Jumu'a Prayer, Eid Prayer, or any other prayer
when those being led were a mix of men and women.
In the end, I seriously doubt that many people will be in attendance at this event, at least not
many real men or women.
We know that the enemies of Islam have many tactics they use in trying to get a misdirected
and emotional response out of the Muslims. And perhaps they do that in order to produce a
situation where they can justify taking action against those they label as extremists, radicals,
terrorists, and fundamentalists.
I think that if people want to make up their own religion, let them do as they like. We just
ask them to give us a little respect and not call it Islam, and don't call themselves Muslims.
That's all.
Was Salam
Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
Ustadh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali is the first American to attend and
graduate from the University of Al- Qarawiyeen's Faculty of Shariah
The focus of his study was the understanding of the science of fiqh,
Usool Al-Fiqh, and`Aqeedah. He has studied under some of the top
scholars of Islam including Dr Abdullah Ghaazeewee, Professor of
Usool Al-Fiqh, Sheikh Muhammad At-Ta'weel, Muftee, Scholar, and
Professor of Usool Al-Fiqh, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghaazee Husainee,
Grand Muftee of Morocco and Professor of Al-Fiqh Al-Muqaaran, Sheikh
Ahmad Zweetin, Professor of Fiqhul-Hadeeth and many others!
[1] This was also the view of Imams Awza'i and Thawri.
[2] Ibn Abi Shayba also reports from Umm Al-Hasan that she saw Umm
Salama lead the women. And she would stand with them in their rank.
[3] Al-Majmu' li al-Nawawwi: 4/173.
[4] Imam Sahnun reported it in Al-Mudawwana Al-Kubra from Ibn Wahb
from Ibn Abi Dhi'b from a client of Banu Hashim from `Ali ibn Abi
Talib that he said: "The women is not to lead." [Al-Mudawwana: 1/85]
[5] Al-Majmu' li Al-Nawawwi: 4/173.
[6] Abu Hanifa's view was that it was permitted but with dislike [Al-
Majmu': 4/173].
[7] Just because Imam Muslim relates a hadith on the authority of a
suspect narrator doesn't automatically make that narrator's reports
acceptable in other places, because Imam Muslim merely relates a
report from such a narrator when there are other versions of the
same report that strengthen it.
[8] Imam Hakim Al-Nisapuri has a book he wrote entitled `Al-
Mustadrak', which contains a number of hadiths that fulfill the
conditions of the Sahihs of Imams Bukhari and Muslim that neither of
them reported in their two books. But after the scholars had a close
look at Al-Mustadrak they found that many of the claims made by Imam
Hakim weren't true. For that reason, his claims of the hadiths
reported in that book are usually not accepted unless Imam Dhahabi
concurs with his findings.
[9] To be unknown (majhul) is of two kinds according to the scholars
of hadith. 1) To be an unknown person altogether (majhul al-`ayn),
and 2) to be of unknown status (majhul al-hal) such that a person
may be known but his character and memory will be unknown. Refer to
the books related to the science of hadith like Suyuti's Tadrib Al-
Rawi Sharh Taqrib Al-Nawawi.
[10] Simply to be mentioned in a book dedicated to trustworthy
narrators doesn't render a narrator to be trustworthy, because many
times the author will mention a kind of narrator whose mention
wasn't the original intent of the work. Add to that, a hadith isn't
authenticated just because its narrators are trustworthy.
[11] One might respond that the word used in the hadith was
muadhdhin for the male not `muadhdhinah' for the female. So it
is clear that it was a male. If someone says this, we can respond by
saying two things: 1) Sometimes the male is used and the female is
intended as in most of the verses of the Qur'an and the hadiths, for
example, the hadith that states, "None of you will believe until he
loves for his brother what he loves for his self." Are we to assume
this hadith doesn't apply to women? 2) is that even if we accept
that the muadhdhin was male, the hadith is still not clear in that
he participated in the prayer, since it is possible that all he did
was call the adhan and then leave the room or the house.
[12] Bidaya al-Mujtahid: 1/206. Abu Thaur also held this view.
[13] Refer to Tuhfat Al-Murid Sharh Jawharat Al-Tawhid of Baijuri
A Critique of The Argument For Woman-Led Friday Prayers
Dr. Hina Azam
March 18, 2005
All Muslim eyes today are turned toward New York, where Muslim WakeUp! and the
Muslim Women's Freedom Tour have organized the first public woman-led Friday prayer
service in ... well, perhaps ever. Needless to say, this event has stirred up quite a bit of
controversy. In order to justify the event, MWU has posted an article by Nevin Reda arguing
for the religious validity of female imams for mixed-sex Friday prayers. A few other such
pieces, though not having the depth of Nevin Reda's, also exist on the internet. On the other
side of the court, one can find articles opposing female imams for jumu'ah services. My
contention here is that the argument in favor of woman-led jumu'ah salat is not persuasive,
for reasons that have been only partially explained in some of the existing critiques.
As a starting thought, let me say that PMU/MWU! serves an important function in the
Muslim community in its role as gadfly. Many of the issues they raise, pertaining to women,
sexuality, the use of violence, interfaith relations and the like, are ones that need to be raised
in an open way. They have thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the ummah, and that is
to be lauded. I agree with their overall goal of improving women's position within Islamic
law, and of seeking gender equity. I also support a critique of classical Islamic legal
methodology, and revision where appropriate. As for the issue of women leading salat aljumu'ah,
I have no personal objection to it. However, it is the divine will that I believe we
are charged with discerning, not our personal sensibilities. Thus, my disagreement with the
progressive position is not over the content of the rulings, but with the legal methodology by
which the rulings are being argued, which does not appear to me to be sound.
In order to arrive at any new legal doctrine, or hukm, one must employ a systematic
methodology by which to extract meaning from the sources. Traditionally, this methodology
has been categorized under the rules of ijtihad. If the classical principles of ijtihad are not
viewed by progressive Muslims as being adequate, either in whole or in part, for discerning
the will of God, then they must present an alternative.
The centerpiece of a proper juristic methodology is a sound system of legal reasoning which
is consistent with the texts of the Qur'an and the most-likely-authentic Sunna, and which
emerges from a spirit of piety and submission to Allah (or khushu'). By sound reasoning, I
mean that any argument that is proffered should progress along logical lines that are
internally consistent. The classical jurists of Islam developed such a methodology. They
devised ways of both grading the reliability of, and extracting meaning from, the texts, ways
that by and large are very sound. For example, the fuqaha' isolated different degrees of
textual clarity: Does a text reasonably permit of only one meaning? Two? More? Are there
other texts that help us decide between two possible meanings in the first text? They also
came up with principles for determining when a strict application of the law might be set
aside for reasons of individual or social necessity. The important point for our purposes is
that while jurists might have disagreed about specific rulings, they followed a well-elucidated
methodology that was highly rational, that was consistent with the Qur'an and Sunna/hadith,
and that appears, from my readings, to have emerged from a very real spirit of humility
before God. The classical methodology of discerning the divine intent is truly awe-inspiring,
and a formidable challenge to anyone who seeks to arrive at wholly new hukms, in large part
because -- as a method — it remains highly persuasive.
I do not say that the classical juridical methods were flawless. There were clearly differences
of opinion between the jurists over specific rulings, and these differences arose from
methodological disagreements. However, despite these differences in methodology and
content, there were broad swaths of moral action that were treated in nearly identical fashion
by most expounders of the law. Any attempt to come to fiqh positions that are not given
somewhere within the existing corpus must:
a) explain why the existing methodology is unacceptable (that is, why it necessarily leads to
conclusions that are makruh or haram), and
b) provide an alternate methodology that is more capable than the existing one at discerning
the divine intent.
The proposed ruling — that women may lead men in salat al-jumu'ah -- violates several basic
texts and classical interpretive principles, and its proponents provide neither a sound critique
of the traditional legal methodology or nor an improved one to replace it. The impression
one gets is that there is no consistent methodology, that in fact, the desired ruling (the
permissibility of women leading mixed-sex congregations for salat al-jumu'ah) dictates their
use of texts and of interpretive method. Heaven knows I have wished for women to be able
to lead salat al-jumu'ah. But wishful thinking is not a sound methodology.
Because the arguments in favor of women leading jumu'ah, and mixed congregations
generally, is being made using traditional sources and methodology, let me explain why I
think their argument is flawed.
1. Salat al-jumu'ah and the requirements of the imamah are issues of worship
('ibadat), and thus should not be modified.
Some might ask, is the issue of women leading salat one of social norms or religious law?
Answer: In a nutshell, the laws of Islam have been divided by the scholars into two broad
categories, those that have to do with the rights of God, and those that have to do with the
rights of human beings. Certain acts are purely in fulfillment of one, and some the other, and
some fulfill both. Prayer, as one of the 'ibadat (forms of worship) has been considered to be
almost purely in the category of rights of God. This is in distinction to social, economic and
political activities, which are seen as having to do with the rights of human beings.
The jurists gave human interpretation very little scope in modifying the rules regarding the
forms of worship. They reasoned as follows: The elements of salat — its physical format, the
formulae read within it, the specifics of the surahs that may be read, the rules regarding
special types of salat (such as jumu'ah, eid, janaza), the rules regarding what constitutes
tahara (ritual purification), the number of raka'at in each type, the times of day, the alignment
of men and women, the khutab — all of these were established during the life of the
Prophet under divine guidance. We simply do not know the reasons for their form.
Furthermore, because salat is so critical to proper practice of Islam, it is not an area that one
may tamper with.
Thus, the scholars operated according to the principle that the rule (asl) in social laws
(mu'amalat) is permissibility (ibahah), and the rule in religious observance ('ibadat) is
prohibition (tahrim). In ordinary language, this means that in the area of ordinary life (social
and individual), we may assume that a lack of evidences (dala'il) regarding an activity
indicates that we can do it. In the area of the ibadat, however, we are to take the opposite
approach: Unless there is a dala'il indicating that something is permissible, we are to assume
it is prohibited. It is a very conservative approach to the ibadat, undoubtedly, and I believe
for good reason.
The consensus among the scholars on the issue of leadership of salat (imamah), both in
terms of leading the actual salat and of delivering the khutba, falls under the laws of 'ibadah,
and is not simply a question of social norm. We submit to the form of the salat that the
Prophet did, and pray as he did. Just as we cannot decide that the ritual aspect is oldfashioned
and we now want to pray sitting in pews, we cannot modify the rules of imamah.
A hard pill to swallow for some, perhaps, but the goal is jannah, in the end.
2. Women leading mixed congregations in fard salat does not constitute a grave
need, for which ordinary rules of salat and imamah may be set aside.
According to the traditional methodology, the selection of a weaker hukm over a stronger
hukm can only be done when there is a dire social or individual need, or a threat of injustice
or loss of life. For example, when Umar b. al-Khattab suspended the law of cutting off the
hand for theft in a period of hunger, that was a dire need. When one is permitted to
consume alcohol or pork when on the verge of death, that is a dire need.
Women leading salat simply does not qualify as a dire need, either individually or socially.
Nor does a woman delivering the khutba (which is part of the salat). Nor does bringing the
women up to the front or having a mixed congregation. Furthermore, non-engagement in
any of these actions does not result in a loss of life or well-being, intellect, property, lineage,
or religion. Non-engagement does not constitute injustice. On the level of necessity, then,
this proposed hukm does not pass the muster.
This is not to say that there are not grave problems concerning gender equity in our
community. Women in the Muslim community generally, and in the mosque in particular,
are seen as being "good Muslims" when they are most silent, most unobtrusive, most
compliant with male-driven policies. Walls and curtains, crowded and substandard prayer
areas, prohibitions from entering the "main" area or going through the "main" door, lack of
comfortable and direct access to imams/scholars, gender separation of couples and families
upon entrance into the mosque — all of these contribute to a feeling of alienation among
Muslim women. All of these problems, however, should be rectified without violating the
sanctity of our 'ibadat.
3. Tarawih and leading one's slaves and kin is fundamentally distinct from jumu'ah,
and the rules from one cannot be translated to the other.
Although the majority of scholars said that women cannot ever lead men in jama'ah
(congregation) for any prayer, there were a few (such as al-Tabari, al-Muzani, Abu Thawr
and Ibn Taymiyya) who made exceptions. The exceptions were based not on any one hadith,
such as that of Umm Waraqa, but on all the textual and rational evidences taken together.
These exceptions were of two sorts:
1) That a woman may lead salat al-tarawih if there is no male who has memorized the
Qur'an, as long as segregation and the rows are maintained, and
2) That a woman may lead her own male kin (her husband, her children, her slaves) in her
own household, if she is the most knowledgeable of them.
Each of these exceptions has its particular logic, a logic that cannot be extended to Friday
prayer within the existing interpretive methodology.
Tarawih is distinct from jumu'ah in several key respects: Tarawih is a nafl salat, while
jumu'ah is a fard salat. Tarawih is ideally offered in one's own home, while jumu'ah is the
most public of congregations. Tarawih becomes the grounds for an exception, according to
the Hanbali jurists, because of the importance of reciting and hearing Qur'an during the
month of Ramadan. So important is it, they reasoned, that if a woman were the only one
who had memorized or could read and recite Qur'an, it warranted an exception to the rule of
male-led salat. It is very difficult to argue that in an entire locality, there is no man who is
capable of leading jumu'ah, while for the much smaller tarawih, it is more likely that a
woman may be the one who has memorized most Qur'an.
Leading salat al-fard in one's own household is distinct from jumu'ah in several key respects,
which all stem from the fact that in one's own home, the assumption is that one is leading
maharim (blood-relatives) only, while the assumption is that in jumu'ah, one is leading
mostly ghayr maharim (strangers). The rules for relationship between maharim are wellknown:
A woman need not cover herself or be as concerned for modesty around her
husband, parents, siblings, children. She can touch them, relax, etc.
In short, the jurists who were open to women's imamah still limited their exceptions to
tarawih and household salat. They took the hadith of Umm Waraqa seriously, but did not
run with it to the point of trampling all the other dala'il, as does the progressive approach to
this issue.
4. The hadith of Umm Waraqa does not provide a sufficiently persuasive basis for
women leading mixed congregations in salat al-jumu'a.
At most, one might reasonable argue that a woman can lead her own household, as have a
minority of jurists. The progressives' argument on the general permissibility of women's
imamah hinges in part on the idea that in the hadith of Umm Waraqa, "dar" means area or
locality. While this is one of the possible meanings of "dar," it is highly unlikely in this
context. For example, no one ever suggests that when the early Muslims prayed at the "dar"
of al-Arqam, they were praying in al-Arqam's locality rather than within the confines of his
private residence. Perhaps the strongest evidence that "dar" literally means her home is the
fact that there are multiple variants of this hadith. While in Tabaqat Ibn Sa'd, the word used
is "dar," the version given by Abu Dawud in his Sunan uses the word "bayt," which not only
means "home" but even "room within a home."
Nevin Reda's argument (on the MWU site) is particularly inconsistent on the meaning of
"dar" in Umm Waraqa's hadith. On one hand, she says that "dar" likely means "area," and
that Umm Waraqa was thus designated to be imam of her locality. On the other hand, she
says that "dar" means "home," and that Umm Waraqa's home functioned as the jami' masjid
of her area. Both readings are speculative, and cannot be used as a basis upon which to
construct a general permissibility of women's imamah, especially when there are no other
supporting texts for that idea, and when there are several texts indicating that in all other
known circumstances, men served as imams over other men.
In the same way, the argument that Umm Waraqa's congregation must have included more
than just her 2 slaves and perhaps the elderly man who served as her muezzin can hardly
pass as strong evidence for women leading jumu'ah or mixed jama'ah. Likewise, the
contention that there must have been more than 3-4 people in order for there to have been a
designated muezzin is not strong. There can be a muezzin even for such a small group, and
most jurists held that even a lone man doing salat should call adhan for himself. Numbers
have nothing to do with the need for a muezzin.
In general, the arguments that are given in support of the upcoming female-led jumu'ah, in
combination with the extent of the modifications being made to traditional laws of salat,
reflect an ends-justify-the-means approach. It appears that it has already been decided that it
is permissible for women to lead a mixed congregation in jumu'ah. Any textual or rational
indicants that these rulings might be invalid are conveniently rejected. At the same time,
texts that are seen as supporting the pre-determined ruling are championed in a way that is
highly selective and methodologically inconsistent.
Furthermore, the claims being made are far more sweeping than the evidence warrants. For
example, Nevin Reda writes, "From the above evidence it is abundantly clear that Qur'anic
and hadith evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of woman imams." Can it really be that the
same scholars who preserved for us the hadith of Umm Waraqa could have been so
dimwitted as to have missed "abundantly clear" rulings? That we are the first to realize that
the Prophet had actually established a second mosque in Madina and designated Umm
Waraqa as its imam? While it may be fashionable to ignore or undermine the classical legal
tradition, I have a hard time understanding how one could reasonably think that those
interpretive methods were all flawed, that the jurists were all wrong, and that we have arrived
at the true Islam — which happily enough, matches our own cultural sensibilities.
My recommendation is that we study and critique the tradition, and work on developing a
legal interpretive methodology that leads to more equitable rulings, yes. But I would also
recommend a much greater dose of caution and of humility, in light of the gravity of the
task. I would seek to remind us all that our first priority is to seek the good pleasure of Allah,
whose guidance for humanity may not always be scrutable.
Given both a recognition of the marginalization of women from public religious life and the
need to preserve the sanctity of the 'ibadat, there are other ways for women to become
integrally involved in jumu'ah in a public teaching capacity, and I would encourage masajid
to implement these. I realize that my recommendations will not satisfy those who favor
women leading mixed congregations, and this is fine. I think it is also clear by now that I am
not willing, at this point, to concede the legitimacy of that route, wallahu a'lam. I suggest
these avenues for those who remain unconvinced of the progressive position, who seek to
preserve the integrity of the 'ibadat, but who also would feel that women must have greater
visibility within the religious life of the community:
1) Women may write the Friday khutbas to be delivered by the khatib with proper
attribution to the author. In my experience, imams are more than happy to have someone
else do the work of putting together the khutba, and the practice of khatibs reading sermons
written by others is well-known.
2) Women may deliver public lectures just prior to the khutba. The practice of a public talk
between the adhan and the beginning of the khutba is found in much of the Muslim world
and is an even more direct way than the above for women to communicate their ideas
directly to the congregation. One idea for dual-language communities is that the talk
delivered by the woman can be the basis for the khutba, which would essentially be a
translation of it.
3) Women may be the translators of the khutba, as the translation is not technically part of
the khutba. This is clearly not a function in which her own ideas will be disseminated, but in
many communities, even hearing a woman's voice, either through one's headset or after the
khutba, would be a significant improvement over the status quo.
Some might regard these suggestions, particularly #2, as being so close to women giving the
khutba that I am just hairsplitting. Others may feel that these suggestions do not go far
enough, since they stop shy of restructuring the jumu'ah rules. My hope, however, is that for
those who seek a middle course, these will provide a sound basis for action while remaining
within the parameters of the tradition.
Hina Azam is an incoming Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her specialty
is Islamic law.
Dr. Mohammad H. Fadel
March 21, 2005
Email Correspondence from the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML) email listserv
Salam alaikum,
I will try to give a quick response to [name omitted] points. I think she has
summarized the basic outlines of the issue, but leaves out an important
point regarding the ritual element of the Friday prayer. The
presumption within Islamic jurisprudence is that matters of ritual are
established only by revelation, because the manner by which we worship
God is completely arbitrary. Rules dealing with secular matters,
however, are presumptively subject to rational analysis and can be
subject to change with time in accordance with preserving the goals of
the law. In the case of ritual law, however, the only goal is
obedience, and therefore, it is satisfied whatever the form it takes.
The only question to be determined is to find out how God wants us to
discharge the specific act of worship.
The basic problem that must be overcome with respect to women leading
men and women in prayer is the fact that there were scores of
highly-competent, learned, and eloquent women in various periods of
Islamic history, and there is no evidence that they ever thought to act
as Imam of men and women in congregational prayer. I agree that
history is irrelevant to a question such as whether women can be a judge
or a head of state because these are not matters that relate to worship,
and history is relevant to the way we worship. The Prophet said "Pray
in the manner you see me praying." A basic a ssumption of Muslim
jurisprudence is that the Prophet (S) had an obligation to communicate
the rules of God to humanity. This would be especially true in the case
of matters dealing with ritual. Given the fact that at the time of
Prophet's life there existed women who had the skills to lead men in
prayer, combined with the Prophet's obligation to communicate the rules
of Islam, it's hard to imagine that he would have been silent in the
face of simply social pressures not to allow women to lead men in
prayer, if indeed that was a misapprehension of the community. The
Prophet (S) corrected many misapprehensions of the community, and he
could have easily done so in this case. The fact that he did not
suggests that it was not a misapprehension at all, but that in fact it
is a requirement of a valid congregational prayer which includes both
men and women that the imam be a male. (I would point out that for
technical reasons, one does not say that it is "haram" for a woman to
lead a man in prayer, only that such a prayer is invalid, and must be
repeated. It would only be haram if a person believed it to be contrary
to God's revelation, and did so anyway, as if to prove that he knows
better than God.)
I would add finally that it does not appear to me that there is any
special merit in serving as an imam. While there are special merits for
praying in a congregational prayer, that merit accrues equally to all
members of the congregation, not specifically to the Imam. This is
perhaps further indication of the arbitrary nature of this rule.
I would also agree with [another name deleted] more general point: is this
really the burning issue facing gender relations in our community? It's
conceivable to me that one day, this could be a genuine issue in which
something meaningful is at stake, if it developed organically within the
community. My particular feeling, however, is that it is not "ripe" yet
for mature consideration.
Mohammad H. Fadel earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Islamic Studies from the
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, and J.D. from the University of Virginia.
Shaykh Ali Jumu’a
Mufti of Egypt
Professor of Islamic Jurisprudence, Al-Azhar University
March 20, 2005
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate:
“Ask the followers of Remembrance if ye know not!” (Q:16:43)
All praise is due to Allah, and peace and blessings upon the one after whom there is no
prophet, our master Muhammad the Messenger of Allah and his family, companions, and
those who follow him in righteousness until the last day.”
Q: What is the religion’s ruling concerning a woman leading men in prayer; is their prayer
correct? What is the religion’s ruling concerning the permissibility of a Friday prayer in
which a woman leads the congregation? Is it permissible for men and women to pray in the
same row mixed together? What is the ruling concerning a woman giving the adhan and
calling Muslims to the Friday prayer or any other congregational prayer? What is the ruling
of religious law concerning the new dissenters who want to change fixed elements of the
A: Islam commands chastity and virtue and it forbids adultery and fornication. It is because
of this that we find Islam has commanded both the male and female believers to lower their
gaze in the same fashion, and it has forbidden seclusion that leads to temptation. Islam has
commanded for men to cover themselves between their navels and their knees, and for
women to cover themselves entirely save the face and hands: Allah exalted is He said, “Tell
the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is
Aware of what they do.” (Q:24:30).
And the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Oh Asma’, if a woman reaches the
age of puberty it is not fitting for her to be seen except for this and this” and he pointed to
his face and hands (Abu Daud). One of the Islamic rulings with this intention behind it is
that Allah exalted is He has commanded women to stand behind the rows of men in prayer.
This was done in order to honor women, because the prayer of the Muslims is comprised of
prostration. Thus the command is like the saying of the Arabs “He only held you back so he
could put you forward.” Putting the prayer lines for women behind the prayer lines for men
is not a form of degradation, rather it is a means of raising their station and upholding high
manners and virtue, and it is a means of mutual cooperation for the believing men and
women to follow the command of lowering their gaze. It is for this reason that we see
that the Muslims in the East and the West, during the times of the Pious Forebears and their
successors, have unanimously agreed in practice that women are not assigned to give the
adhan, or be the imam of Friday or [mixed-sex]-congregational prayers.
As for men and women praying in one row mixed together: this is not permissible in any
situation. As for a woman giving the adhan and giving the Friday sermon and leading the
Friday prayer: we do not know of a single difference of opinion between the Muslims
- scholars and laymen alike - concerning its impermissibility and the fact that should such a
prayer and adhan be performed, it would be incorrect.
As for a woman being the Imam of men in an unscheduled prayer: the overwhelming
majority of scholars have said that it is forbidden and the prayer is invalid.
However al-Tabari, and Abu Thawr, and al-Muzani from the Shafi’i School and Muhyi al-
Din ibn Arabi from the Dhahiri School held the opinion that it is permissible
for a woman to lead men in prayer and that their prayer is valid. However, some scholars
have her stand behind the men – even if she were to lead them - taking into consideration
the principles mentioned above. The evidence these scholars used is the hadith
from Abu Daud and al-Darqutni stating that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him,
allowed Umm Waraqa to lead her household in prayer. The majority of scholars have
understood this hadith as referring to supererogatory prayers, or to leading the women of
her household, or as being specific to Umm Waraqa. In spite of this, not a single Muslim
from the East or West has followed this anomalous opinion.
As for what the entire world and we see happening today in the mixing between two issues:
the issue of leading a prayer and the issue of delivering the Friday sermon: the latter was
never permitted by anyone. These confused people who adhere to schools of dissent are
divided into various movements: some deny the Sunna and consensus, some tamper with the
significations of words in the Arabic language, and others call for the permissibility of
homosexuality, fornication, alcohol, abortions, and changing the prescribed portions of
inheritance. These movements appear in almost every age. Then they disappear, and
the Muslims follow the path Allah has made incumbent upon them, bearing the standard of
felicity to all the worlds “Then as for the foam, it passeth away as scum upon the banks,
while, as for that which is of use to mankind, it remaineth in the earth.” (Q:13:17)
Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
March 16, 2005
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Brother, we really do appreciate your question, which shows how interested you are in
becoming well acquainted with Islam and its teachings. May Allah bless your efforts in the
pursuit of knowledge!
The vast majority of scholars agree that it is not permissible for a woman to lead men in
obligatory Prayers. However, there is a minority of scholars who consider it permissible for a
woman to lead members of her own household including men in Prayer, on condition that
she is old and well-versed in the Qur’an and that she stands behind, not in front of
A woman is allowed to lead other women in Prayer, in which case she is to stand along with
them in the row, not in front of them.
As for women’s leading men in general in Prayers, there is a scholarly consensus that it is
impermissible. So is also the case with women’s leading people in the Friday Prayer and
delivering them the Friday sermon, though they may give other religious lessons in general to
In his response to your question, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
Throughout Muslim history it has never been heard of a woman leading the Friday Prayer or
delivering the Friday sermon, even during the era when a woman, Shagarat Ad-Durr, was
ruling the Muslims in Egypt during the Mamluk period.
It is established that leadership in Prayer in Islam is to be for men. People praying behind an
imam are to follow him in the movements of prayer, bowing, prostrating, etc., and listen
attentively to him reciting the Qur’an in Prayer.
Prayer in Islam is an act that involves different movements of the body; it does not consist
merely of saying supplications as it is the case with prayer in Christianity. Moreover, it
requires concentration of the mind, humility, and complete submission of the heart to
Almighty Allah. Hence, it does not befit a woman, whose structure of physique naturally
arouses instincts in men, to lead men in Prayer and stand in front of them, for this may
divert the men’s attention from concentrating in the Prayer and the spiritual atmosphere
Islam is a religion that takes into account the different aspects, material or spiritual, of man’s
character. It does not treat people as super angels; it admits that they are humans with
instincts and desires. So it is wise of Islam to lay down for them the rulings that avert them
succumbing to their desires, especially during acts of worship where spiritual uplifting is
Hence, it is to avoid the stirring the instincts of men that the Shari`ah dictates that only men
can call for Prayer and lead people in the Prayer, and that women’s rows in Prayer be behind
the men. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was reported to have said, “The
women’s best rows (in Prayer) are the last ones, and the worst of theirs are the first ones,
while the men’s best rows (in Prayer) are the first ones and the worst of theirs are the last
Rulings pertaining to leadership in Prayer are established by evidence of authentic hadiths as
well as the scholarly unanimity of Muslims. They are based on religious teachings, not on
social customs as it is has been claimed.
The different juristic schools agree that it is not permissible for women to lead men in the
obligatory Prayer, though some scholars voice the opinion that the woman who is wellversed
in the Qur’an may lead the members of her family, including men, in Prayer on the
basis that there is no room for stirring instincts in this case.
However, there is no single Muslim jurist ever heard to have agreed to the woman’s leading
people in the Friday Prayer or delivering its sermon, though if we review the religious texts
pertaining to the rulings of Prayer, we will not find a text that states pointblank that women
are not permitted to lead people in Prayer or deliver the Friday sermon.
There is only one hadith, which is not well-authenticated, reported by Ibn Majah on the
authority of Jabir ibn `Abdullah in this connection; it is to the effect that “A woman may not
lead a man in Prayer, nor may a Bedouin lead a believer of the Muhajirun or a corrupt
person lead a committed Muslim in Prayer. ” The eminent scholars of Hadith say that the
chain of reporters of this hadith is extremely weak, and hence, it is not to be taken as
evidence in the question in hand.
Furthermore, there is another hadith that contradicts this one. It is reported by Imam
Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and others on the authority of Umm Waraqah, who said that the
Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) appointed a muezzin for her, and ordered her to
lead the members of her household (who included both men and women) in Prayer.
Though scholars of Hadith also regard the chain of reporters of this hadith as weak, yet it
has to do with a special case in which a woman well-versed in the Qur?an led the members
of her family in Prayer where usually would be no place for arousing instincts among them.
Furthermore, Ad-Darqatani reported that the order the Prophet (peace and blessings be
upon him) gave to Umm Waraqah here was that she lead the women among her household
in Prayer.
Commenting on this report of Ad-Darqatani, Ibn Qudamah said in his book Al-Mughni,
“This addition of Ad-Darqatani must be accepted even if it had not been mentioned
pointblank in the hadith in question. It is to be logically deduced from the hadith that the
Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Umm Waraqah to lead the women of
her household in obligatory Prayer, for (according to the hadith) he (peace and blessings
be upon him) appointed her a muezzin, and the Adhan is practiced only in the obligatory
Prayer; besides, there is no scholarly disagreement regarding it being impermissible for
women to lead men in obligatory Prayers.”
Ibn Qudamah then said, “Even had Umm Waraqah been ordered to lead both men
and women of her household in Prayer, this would have been peculiar to her, for no other
woman was appointed a muezzin (by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) as was
the case with her, and hence, it would have followed from this that leading men of her
household in Prayer had been peculiar to her. ”
Ibn Qudamah, moreover, supported his view by saying that since women are not permitted
to call the Adhan for Prayer for men, they are also not allowed to lead them in Prayer.
But I do not agree with Ibn Qudamah that it is probable that the permission given to Umm
Waraqah to lead her household, including men, in Prayer was peculiar to her. I believe that
any woman well-versed in the Qur?an like Umm Waraqah may lead her family members,
including men, in both obligatory and supererogatory Prayers, especially the Tarawih Prayers.
There is a dependable opinion in the Hanbali School of jurisprudence that says that women
can lead men in the Tarawih Prayers.
Az-Zarkashei said in this respect, “According to Imam Ahmad and the majority of his
followers, it is permissible for women to lead men in the Tarawih Prayers.”
This has been also reported by Ibn Hubairah to have been held by Imam Ahmad. (Al-Ifsah
`an Ma`ani As-Sihah, vol. 1, p. 145.)
But it is to be kept in mind that this applies only to women who are well-versed in the
Qur’an when it comes to leading their household and relatives in Prayer. Moreover, some
scholars see that this is confined to women who are advanced in age.
In addition, the author of Al-Insaf said, “A woman may lead (her household of) men in
Prayer, (but) in which case, she is to stand behind them, to be on the safe side (with regard
to arousing instincts).”
Standing behind men in leading Prayer in this case is an exception from the rule that states
that the imam of Prayer is to stand before the people he leads, but it should be done here to
avoid stirring seduction as far as possible.
A Woman Leading Other Women in Prayer
Regarding a woman leading ONLY women in Prayer, there are a number of hadiths such as
The hadith of `A?ishah and Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with them). `Abdur-Raziq
(5086), Ad-Daraqutni (1/404) and Al-Bayhaqi (3/131) reported from the narration of Abu
Hazim Maysarah ibn Habib from Ra’itah Al-Hanafiyyah from `A’ishah that she led women
in Prayer and stood among them in an obligatory Prayer. Moreover, Ibn Abi Shaybah (2/89)
reported from the chain of narrators of Ibn Abi Layla from `Ata? that `A’ishah used
to say the Adhan, the Iqamah, and lead women in Prayer while standing among them in the
same row. Al-Hakim also reported the same hadith from the chain of narrators of Layth Ibn
Abi Sulaim from `Ata’, and the wording of the hadith mentioned here is Al-Hakim’s.
Furthermore, Ash-Shafi`i (315), Ibn Abi Shaybah (88/2) and `Abdur-Raziq (5082) reported
from two chains of narrators that report the narration of `Ammar Ad-Dahni in which he
stated that a woman from his tribe named Hujayrah narrated that Umm Salamh used to lead
women in Prayer while standing among them in the same row.
The wording of `Abdur-Raziq for the same hadith is as follows: “Umm Salamah led us
(women) in the `Asr Prayer and stood among us (in the same row).”
In addition, Al-Hafiz said in Ad-Dirayah (1/169), “Muhammad ibn Al-Husain reported from
the narration of Ibrahim An-Nakh`i that `A’ishah used to lead women in Prayer during the
month of Ramadan while standing among them in the same row.”
Further, `Abdur-Raziq reported (5083) from the narration of Ibrahim ibn Muhammad from
Dawud ibn Al-Husain from `Ikrimah from Ibn `Abbas that the latter said, “A woman can
lead women in Prayer while standing between them.”
Would that our sisters who are so enthusiastic about women’s rights revive this act of
Sunnah, a woman leading other women in Prayer, instead of innovating this rejected novelty:
a woman leading men in Prayer.
The following is stated in Al-Mughni:
“The narrations differ as to whether it is desirable for a woman to lead other women in
congregational Prayer. It is reported that the matter is desirable, as the following scholars
said that a woman can lead other women in Prayer: `A?ishah, Umm Salamah, `Ata?, Athawri,
Al-Awza`i, Ash-Shafi`i, Ishaq, and Abu Thawr. Furthermore, it is narrated that Ahmad
ibn Hanbal (may Allah be merciful to him) said that the matter is desirable. However, ahul
ar-ra?i (scholars who mostly depend on reason in deducing rulings) regard the matter as
undesirable, but if such congregational Prayer is done, it will be sufficient for the women
who perform it. As for Ash-Sha`bi, An-Nakh`i and Qatadah, they say that women can
perform Prayer this way in supererogatory Prayers but not in obligatory ones.”
It is important here to state that the original judgment concerning acts of worship is that
anything not prescribed in Shari`ah in explicit texts is prohibited, so that people may not
innovate matters in religion not ordained by Allah. Thus, people may not innovate a certain
act of worship, change or add things in the ordained ones according to their own fancies
or only because they think such matters are desirable. Whoever innovates anything in
religion or adds to it whatever is not in it that addition or innovation is rejected.
That is exactly what Allah has warned us from in the Qu’an when He dispraised the
disbelievers saying, (Or have they partners (of Allah) who have made lawful for them in
religion that which Allah allowed not?) (Ahs-Shura 42: 21)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also warned against the same wrongdoing in
the hadith which states, “Whoever innovates in this matter of ours (i.e., in our religion)
whatever is not in it, that innovated thing is rejected” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). The Prophet
(peace and blessings be upon him) also said, “Beware of innovated matters, for every
novelty is perversity” (Ahmad in his Musnad and regarded as authentic). All scholars are
resolved that acts of worship are unchangeable and must be taken exactly as Allah has
ordained them.
Other religions were distorted and their acts of worship and rituals were changed when
people innovated in them, and their men of religion did not stand against innovators.
However, as regards matters like transactions and worldly affairs, the original judgment
concerning them is that they are permitted, for the Islamic rule is following in religious
matters and innovating in worldly matters. This was the rule to which Muslims adhered
during the times of their superiority in civilization. They followed in religion and innovated
in life, and that was how they created a lofty civilization. But when their condition worsened,
they reversed the matter; they innovated in affairs of religion and kept the worldly affairs.
A last word to conclude this issue: What is the necessity of making all this fuss? Is that what
the Muslim woman lacks, to lead men in Friday Prayer? Was that one of the Muslim
women’s demands at any time?
We see other religions specifying many matters for men and their women do not protest. So
why do our women do so, exaggerating in their demands and arousing what will cause
dissension among Muslims at such time when they need their unity the most to face
afflictions, hardships, and major plots that aim at their complete destruction?
My advice to the sister referred to in the question is that she should revert to her Lord and
religion and extinguish this strife which is unnecessary to be lit. I also advise my Muslim
brothers and sisters in the United States not to answer this stirring call and to stand as one in
front of these trials and conspiracies woven around them.
I ask Allah to inspire our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters everywhere sound judgment
in speeches and right guidance in deeds. I also ask Him to make them all see what is right
and grant them to abide by it, and see what is wrong and grant them to avoid it. Ameen.
(Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us
mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou art the Bestower) (Aal `Imran
An Examination of the Issue of Female Prayer Leadership
Imam Zaid Shakir
Zaytuna Institute
March 23, 2005
In The Name of God1, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Imam al-Jurjani mentions that fitnah is “that which clarifies the state of a person, be
that good or evil.”2 It is also defined as “Strife breaking out among various peoples.”3 In
both of these meanings the controversy surrounding the “historic” female-led Jumu’ah prayer
is a Fitnah for many Muslims in this country. This is undeniable when we see the deep
divisions, bitter contestation, and outright enmity it is creating in the ranks of the believers.
This is so when we see some people’s very faith shaken. This is so when we see spiteful
accusations hurled by some Muslims at others. This is so when we see non-Muslims of
nefarious intent seeking to exploit the situation to create confusion among the general public
and the Muslims as to what Islam is, and who its authoritative voices are.
As I consider this a fitnah, the first thing I wish to say about this matter is that we
should all stop for a moment and take time to ask God to protect us. We should ask God
that He protects the fledgling Muslim community of this land. We should ask that He bless
us to have wisdom equal to the challenges He has placed before. We should ask Him that He
grants us all strength to continue working for Islam in our various capacities. We should ask
Him to help us resist the many and increasingly sophisticated efforts to divide us.
Now, I wish to clarify my position on this matter. What I write below is based on the
Sunni legal and linguistic tradition, as it has been historically understood. This is the tradition
of the Islamic orthodoxy, which remains to this day, the only religious orthodoxy, which has
not been marginalized to the fringes of the faith community it represents. My comments will
be structured around specific evidences mentioned by Nevin Reda, in an article entitled,
“What Would the Prophet Do? The Islamic Basis for Female-Led Prayer.”4 Of the evidences
ushered by Reda, only one is substantive to the issue at hand. Another is ancillary. The rest
are considerations that would affect how rulings relating to gender issues might be
implemented. However, they have no real weight in establishing a particular ruling in the
divine law.
1 Throughout this article I use the word “God” instead of “Allah.” Use of the word God makes our writing far
more accessible to non-Muslims, without betraying in any sense the essential meanings conveyed by the Divine
Name. For example, in the American Heritage dictionary God is defined as, “A being conceived as the perfect,
omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in the
monotheistic religions.” See William Morris, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language,
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1976) p. 564.
2 Quoted in Salih b. ‘Abdullah b. Humayd, Nadra an-Na’im, (Judda, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1999/1419)
3 Ibid., 5178.
4 See Nevin Reda, What Would the Prophet Do? The Islamic Basis for Female-Led Prayer, March 10, 2005, at
Part 1 The Hadith of Umm Waraqa
As for her lone substantive evidence, it is the following:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded Umm Waraqah, a woman who had
collected the Qur’an, to lead the people of her area in prayer. She had her own
mu’adhdhin [person who performs the call to prayers].5
This narration, found in the compilations of Abu Dawud,6 ad-Daraqutni,7 al-
Bayhaqi,8 al-Hakim,9 the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d,10 and others, is questioned by some scholars of
hadith (prophetic tradition) because of two narrators in its chain of transmission.11 The first is
al-Walid b. ‘Abdullah b. Jumay’12. Imam adh-Dhahabi mentions in al-Mizan that although ibn
Ma’in, Imam Ahmad, and Abu Hatim considered him an acceptable narrator, others refused
to accept his narrations, among them Ibn Hibban. Imam al-Hakim also questioned his
probity.13 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani mentions that al’Aqili said there was inconsistency in his
Although a case can be made for accepting the narrations of al-Walid, based on
those who do affirm his probity, the state of another narrator in the chain of this hadith, ‘Abd
ar-Rahman b. Khallad, is Majhul al-Hal (unknown).15 Al-Walid also relates this tradition from
his grandmother. Imam ad-Daraqutni mentions that her state is also unknown.16 In the
opinion of the overwhelming majority of scholars, the existence of a narrator whose state is
unknown would make the transmission conveyed by that chain, weak.17 This combination
of two potentially weak narrators makes it questionable to use the tradition of Umm Waraqa
as the basis for establishing any rulings in the Divine law. While the questionable nature of
this hadith does not undermine the widespread acceptance it has received from the earlier
scholars, it does make it difficult to use as the primary evidence for a major precept of the
religion, which is the case in this discussion.
Were we to assume that the tradition is sound, it would still be difficult to use it as
the basis for establishing the permissibility of a woman leading a public, mixed-gender
5 Ibid., p. 1.
6 Imam Muhammad al-‘Adhimabadi, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, nd)
2:300-301, #577-578.
7 Imam “Ali b. ‘Umar ad-Daraqutni, Sunan ad-Daraqutni, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya) 1:284, #1071.
8 Abu Bakr Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Bayhaqi, as-Sunan al-Kubra, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata, ed., (Beirut: Dar
al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1994/1414) 3:186-187.
9 Imam Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak ‘ala as-Sahihayn, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya,
1990/1411) 1:320, #730.
10 Muhammad b. Sa’d az-Zuhri, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar Ihya at-Tarath al-‘Arabi) 8:460, #4610.
11 See Ahmad Khan, trans., Sunan Abu Dawud, (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1984) 1: 155-156.
12 His name is properly pronounced in the diminutive form Jumay’ as opposed to Jami’. See Ibn Hajar al-
‘Asqalani, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1996/1417) 6:87.
13 See Shams ad-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad adh-Dhahabi, Mizan al-‘Itidal, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya,
1995/1416) 7:129.
14 Ibn Hajar, at-Tahdhib, 6:88.
15 See Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Taqrib at-Tahdhib, (Beirut: Mu’assah ar-Risala, 1999/1420) p. 281; Ibn Hajar, at-
Tahdhib, 3:339.
16 Imam ‘Ali b. ‘Umar ad-Daraqutni, Sunan ad-Daraqutni, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1996/1417) 1: 284,
#1071. Imam ad-Daraqutni mentions al-Walid as narrating the tradition from “his mother.”
17 See Imam Jalaladdin as-Suyuti, Tadrib ar-Rawi, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1996/1417) 1:268; Mulla ‘Ali al-
Qari, Sharh Nukhba al-Fikr, (Beirut: Dar al-Arqam, nd) p. 519.
congregational prayer, for reasons we shall now mention, if God so wills. First of all, the
Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him, advised Umm Waraqa to stay in her house –
Qarri fi Baytiki. This command is of import, as it creates two possible scenarios for the prayer
she led. Either she remained in her house to lead the congregation, or she went out to lead it
in a mosque outside of her home. If she left her house to lead the prayer, she would have
been acting contrary to the order of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him.
There is no transmitted evidence that the prayer took place outside of her home. Nor does
the literal meaning of the text indicate that. Hence, we can conclude that her mosque was in
her house.
Her establishing the prayer in a mosque located in her home would be consistent
with numerous narrations where the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him,
permitted various companions to establish mosques in their homes.18 Imam al-Bukhari
mentions that al-Bara’ b. ‘Azib led congregational prayers at a mosque in his house –Salla al-
Bara’ Ibn ‘Azib fi masjidihi fi darihi jama’atan.19 Imam al-Bukhari also mentions a hadith where
the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him, went to the house of a blind companion,
‘Itban b. Malik, to establish a mosque there.20 Ibn Majah produces several narrations of this
event.21 In fact, the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him ordered the generality of
believers to establish mosques in their homes. ‘Aisha relates, “The Messenger of God
ordered that mosques be established in the homes [Dur plural of Dar], and that they be
cleaned and perfumed.”22
Based on these and other relevant narrations, we can safely conclude that Umm
Waraqa had a mosque in her house, and that the prayer she led was not in a public place
outside of her home. A more controversial point is who was being led in the prayer? Here
there are three possibilities: her mu’adhdhin and two servants –a male and a female; the
women from the neighborhood surrounding her home; the women of her house. As for the
first possibility, the wording of the hadith, along with the narrations we quoted above, would
lead one to believe that the residents of her house were being led in the prayer. All of those
narrations use Dar to refer to house. This would support the interpretation of Dar as
“house” as opposed to “area.” This interpretation is also consistent with the literal meaning
of the term Dar. Al-Fayruzabadi, Ibn Mandhur, and Raghib al-Isfahani all define Dar as a
walled structure encompassing a building and a courtyard.23 An interpretative principle
relates “the origin in expressions is their literal meaning, there is no resorting to derived
meanings without a decisive proof.”24 Hence, the term Ahla Dariha would best be translated
“the people of her house.”
Based on what has been narrated that would apparently include a male and female
servant, along with the old man who was appointed by the Prophet, peace and blessings of
18 Imam al-Bukhari has included a section in his compendium of rigorously-authenticated ahadith entitled,
“Mosques in the Houses.” Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari: Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Damascus: Dar al-Fayha’,
1997/1418) 1:672.
19 Ibid., sec. 46.
20 Ibid,. #425.
21 Imam Muhammad b. Yazid b. Majah, Sunan ibn Majah, (Riyad: Dar as-Salaam, 1999/1420) 108, #755.
22 Ibid., #759.
23 Tahir Ahmad Zawi, Tartib al-Qamus al-Muhit, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, nd) 2:229; Muhammad b. Mukram b.
Mandhur, Lisan al-‘Arab, (Beirut: Dar as-Sadir, 2000/1420) 5:325; Raghib al-Isfahani, Mufradat Alfadh al-Qur’an,
(Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa) 321.
24 ‘Ali Ahmad an-Nadwi, al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyya, (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2000, 1420) 223.
God upon him, to serve as her mu’adhdhin (caller to prayer).25 Reda rejects this
interpretation, arguing that three people would not need a mu’adhdhin.26 This is not the case.
Those scholars who consider the Adhan (prayer call) a right associated with the obligatory
prayer, or a right associated with the congregation, hold it to be Sunna (highly desirable in
deference to the prophetic practice) to issue the call for any congregation assembled to
undertake the five obligatory prayers.27 The size of the congregation in this regard is
irrelevant. According to a hadith mentioned by al-Bukhari and others, even a person who is
praying alone in an isolated area should make the call to prayer.28 Hence, Reda’s conclusion
is not sound.
On the basis of this interpretation, it is related that Imams al-Muzani, at-Tabari, Abu
Thawr, and Dawud Adh-Dhahiri allowed for females to lead men in prayer.29 Some modern
scholars use this interpretation to allow for females to lead men in prayer in the confine of
their homes, if the males lack the qualifications to lead the prayer.30 The relevant point here
is that the prayer was a private matter, conducted in the confines of Umm Waraqa’s home,
limited to the inhabitants of her house.
Were one to reject this first line of reasoning, a second possibility is that the people
being led in prayer came from the area surrounding Umm Waraqa’s home. This is the
interpretation preferred by Reda. It has a basis in narrations from the Prophet, peace and
blessings of God upon him. In the hadith of ‘Itban b. Malik, it is related that Ahli’d-Dar used
to gather there –fathaba fi’l-bayt Rijalun min ahli’d-Dar. Ibn Hajar mentions in his commentary
on this hadith that Ahli’d-Dar refers to the people of the neighborhood –al-Mahallah.31
Based on this understanding, it is not unreasonable to interpret Ahla Dariha, in the
hadith of Umm Waraqa, as the people of her “area,” as Reda does. However, we are not left
to guess as to who those people are. Imam ad-Daraqutni’s narration of this hadith mentions
that Umm Waraqa was ordered to lead her women in prayer –wa ta’umma Nisa’aha.32 Hence,
if the people praying with Umm Waraqa were from the surrounding area, they were all
women, as Imam ad-Daraqutni’s version of the hadith makes clear. Based on this second line
of reasoning, we have to accept that they were women, in accords with an interpretive
principle, “There is no room for speculation when transmitted evidence exists.”33 Here the
text specifically states, “…her women.” Ad-Daraqutni’s version would clarify a potentially
vague expression in the other versions.
A third possibility, also based on joining between the majority narration and ad-
Daraqutni’s version of the hadith, would lead us to understand that the people of Umm
Waraqa’s house were all women. Hence, Ahla Dariha (the people of her house) being led in
prayer were women. There is no transmitted evidence to the contrary, as the opinion that
Ahla Dariha were the two servants and the mu’adhdhin, mentioned above, is an assumption.
25 See Adhimabadi, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud, 301-303.
26 Reda, 4.
27 For the Shafi’i position on this issue see Muhammad b. al-Khatib ash-Shirbini, Mughni al-Muhtaj, (Beirut: Dar
al-Ma’rifa, 1997/1419) 1:209.
28 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Damascus: Dar al-Fayha’, 1997/1418) 2:116, #609;
29 We will discuss the opinions of these four Imams subsequently.
30 ‘Abd al-Karim az-Zaydan, al-Mufassal fii Ahkam al-Mar’a wa’l Bayt al-Muslim, (Beirut: Mu’assa ar-Risala,
1994/1410) 1:252. Muhammad b. Isma’il as-Sana’ni, Subul as-Salaam, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya) 2:76.
31 Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, 1:675.
32 Ad-Daraqutni, as-Sunan, 1:284, #1071.
33 ‘Ali Ahmad an-Nadwi, Qawa’id, 180, 459.
In al-Mughni, Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi mentions the incumbency of accepting this third
interpretation.34 God knows best.
This latter understanding that Umm Waraqa only led women in prayer is
strengthened by two ancillary evidences: 1) The numerous narrations mentioning that ‘Aisha,
Umm Salama, and other female Companions led all women congregations;35 2) and the fact
that when the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him, established a mosque in the
house of ‘Itban b. Malik, the congregation was all male –Rijalun (men) min ahli’d-Dar. It
would therefore make perfect sense for the Prophet to establish an all female congregation
Summary and Rulings
Based on the hadith of Umm Waraqa, its possible interpretations, and the other hadith
that mention women leading the prayer during the prophetic epoch, the Sunni jurists have
deduced the following rulings:
1. The Shafi’i and Hanbali schools allow for a woman to lead other women in prayer
without any restrictions. She can lead such prayers in the mosque or other places.
The Hanafis permit a woman to lead other women in prayer. However, they hold it
to be disliked.36 All three of these schools stipulate that the woman leading the prayer
should stand in the middle of the front row, without being in front of the women
praying along with her. This is based on the description of the prayer led by ‘Aisha
and Umm Salama. The Malikis hold that a woman cannot lead other women in the
2. Of the three Sunni schools that hold it permissible for a woman to lead other
women in prayer, none of them hold it permissible to lead men. Although there is a
minority opinion in the Hanbali school which permits a woman to lead men in
Tarawih, if certain conditions prevail, providing she stands behind them.38
3. Imam an-Nawawi mentions the following ruling in the Majmu’, “If a woman leads a
man or men in prayer, the prayer of the men is invalid. As for her prayer, and the
34 See Muwaffaq ad-Din b Ibn Qudam al-Maqdisi, al-Mughni, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, nd) 2:34.
35 For a examples of these female-led prayers see For a summary of these narrations see al-‘Adhimabadi, 2:301-
302; Abu Bakr Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Bayhaqi, as-Sunan al-Kubra, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata, ed., (Beirut:
Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1994/1414) 3:186-187; Muhammad b. Idris ash-Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm, (Beirut: Dar al-
Fikr, 1983/1403) 8:117. ‘Abd al-Karim az-Zaydan, al-Mufassal fii Ahkam al-Mar’a wa’l Bayt al-Muslim, (Beirut:
Mu’assa ar-Risala, 1994/1410) 1:251-256.
36 See Muhammad Amin b. ‘Abideen, Hashiya Radd al-Mukhtar, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1995/1415) 1:609; ‘Ala ad-
Din b. Mas’ud al-Kasani, Bada’ii As-Sana’ii Fi Tartib ash-Shara’ii, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyya, 1986/1407)
37 See Ahmad Zarruq and Qasim b. ‘Isa at-Tannukhi, Sharh ‘Ala Matn ar-Risala, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1986/1402)
38 For the Hanafi position on this issue see Ibn ‘Abideen, Hashiya, 1:609; for the Shafi’i position see Abu
Zakariyya b. Sharaf an-Nawawi, Kitab al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, Muhammad Najib al-Muti’I, ed. (Beirut:
Dar Ihya at-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1995/1415) 4:151-152. For the Hanbali position see, Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni,
prayer of the women praying with her, it is sound.”39 As for Jumu’ah, he mentions the
following, “…if a woman leads men in the Jumu’ah prayer, there are two rulings
[concerning her prayer]. They have been mentioned by al-Qadi Abu Tayyib in his
Ta’liq, the preponderant opinion is that her prayer is invalid, the second is that it is
lawfully begun as the noon prayer.”40
4. Some modern scholars hold it permissible for a woman to lead men in prayer within
the confines of her house, if there are no men qualified to lead the prayer.41
5. Imams Abu Thawr, Dawud adh-Dhahiri, and at-Tabari, whose legal schools have
been defunct for centuries, are related to have held it permissible for a woman to
lead men in prayer. This opinion is also related from Imam Muzani, one of the
principal narrators of the Shafi’i school. We will examine this issue in greater detail,
as it serves as one of the evidences offered by Reda for the validity of unrestricted
female prayer leadership.
Part 2 The Ruling of al-Muzani, Abu Thawr, Dawud adh-Dhahiri, and at-Tabari
As for the ancillary evidence42 ushered by Reda, it is her saying:
The above Prophetic tradition (hadith) is the reason why several medieval Muslim
scholars supported female leadership. These include Tabari (d. 310/923), author of
the famous Tafsir: Jami’ al-bayan ‘an ta’wil ay al-Qur’an and Tarikh al-Rasul wal
Muluk, Muzani, Abu Thawr and Abu Sulayman Dawud ibn Khalaf al-Isfahani (d.
270/884, founder of the Zahirite school.43
We mention this evidence as ancillary because it cannot be the basis for establishing a ruling.
None of the extant Sunni schools consider the opinions of extinct schools as independently
valid. This fact is not due to prejudice against the Imams of the extinct schools and unjustly
favoring those whose schools have survived. It is due to a simple methodological issue.
Namely, neither the full corpus of rulings from the extinct schools, nor the details of their
legal methodology have reached us in their entirety. Therefore, we do not know if a
particular ruling attributed to an extinct school has been abrogated. In the case of the
unrestricted female-led prayer, attributed to Imams at-Tabari, Dawud adh-Dhahiri, or Abu
Thawr, we do not know if that ruling has been abrogated by a contrary one.
As for al-Muzani, he was a qualified jurisconsult within the Shafi’i rite and it cannot
be established with certainty that he founded an independent school.44 It is known that he
narrates, in his Mukhtasir, the accepted opinion of the Shafi’i school that a woman can only
39 An-Nawawi, al-Majmu’, 4:152.
40 Ibid., 4:165.
41 See as-San’ani, Subul as-Salaam, 2:76; az-Zaydan, al-Mufassal, 1:252.
42 I use the term “ancillary” to describe this “evidence” as it cannot serve as a primary source of legal rulings. In
some circumstances, it could possibly support or strengthen a ruling established by one of the primary sources
of law. Hence, its description as ancillary.
43 Reda, 1-2.
44 Muhammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2003) 491-
lead other women in the prayer.45 Concerning the opinion of Imam Dawud adh-Dhahiri, Ibn
Hazm attempted to revive his school, based on a coherent, if debatable methodology.46 This
methodology led Ibn Hazm to some very liberal positions, such as an endorsement of music,
and the permissibility of female prophets. However, on the issue of unrestricted female
prayer leadership, Ibn Hazm opined that it was forbidden by consensus. The point here is
that, based on a literalist methodology we can assume to be close to that of Imam Dawud
adh-Dhahiri’s, a contrary opinion has been reached.47
As for the reports of unrestricted female prayer-leadership that are attributed to the
Imams we have mentioned, they have not reached us with unbroken chains, certainly not
with irrefutable chains of transmission–Tawatur, as is the case of the extant schools. In other
words, there is no way for us to say with any degree of certainty that those opinions are
indeed the opinions of Imams at-Tabari, Abu Thawr, and Dawud adh-Dhahiri. That being
the case, there is no basis to establish the preponderance of the position of the extinct
schools over that of the extant schools.48 Since the extant schools have a clear position on
unrestricted female prayer-leadership, and it is established at the highest level of proof, in the
Sunni rite,49 one is obliged to take that position. This obligation arises from a legislative
principle, “Certainty cannot be removed by doubt.”50
Part 3 The Legislative implications of Hadith
The principal basis for Reda’s argument for unrestricted prayer leadership is the
hadith of Umm Waraqa. However, when the evidence advanced by hadith refutes her
contentions, she discards the prophetic tradition. For example, she implies that the word Saff
(rows) mentioned in the hadith narrated by Abu Hurayra has no connection to the prayers,
rather it refers to “battle rows.”51 She arrives at this conclusion based on her position that
this latter meaning of Saff is the only one that comes in the Qur’an.
45 See Muhammad b. Idris ash-Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1983/1403) 8:117.
46 See Ibn Hazm al-Andulusi, al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, Ahmad Shakir, ed., (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida,
1980). The differences between the methodology of Ibn Hazm and the mainstream of Ahl as-Sunnah have
been most prominently highlighted by Imam al-Baji. See, Al-Mustafa al-Wadifi, al-Munadhira fi Usul ash-Shari’ah
al-Islamiyya: Dirasa fi at-Tanadhur bayna Ibn Hazm wa’l-Baji, (Ribat: Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs,
Kingdom of Morocco, 1998/1419).
47 Ibn Hazm, Maratib al-Ijma’, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1998/1419) 51.
48 This point is made for the sake of argument. In reality, the issue under discussion is not one that is eligible to
be settled by establishing preponderance, because one of the conditions for such issues is that the two
opposing positions be acceptable for establishing a ruling. See Imam Sayfuddin b. Abi ‘Ali al-Amidi, Al-Ihkam fi
Usul al-Ahkam, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1985/1405) 4:460.
49 The prohibition of unrestricted female prayer-leadership is established by the consensus of the four Sunni
Imams: Abu Hanifa, Malik, ash-Shafi’i, and Ahmad. A generally accepted principle among the Sunnis is that
what the four Imams agree on is a binding ruling. In the last section of his treatise on the Creed of Ahl as-
Sunnah wa’l-Jama’ah, Muwaffaq b. Qudamah al-Maqdisi writes, “Association with one of the Imams in
jurisprudential matters, such as the four Sunni schools, is not condemnable. Their [the Imams] differing in legal
rulings is a mercy. Those who differed among them are praised for their differences, rewarded for their
assertion [in trying to ascertain the truth]. [Again,] their differing is an expansive mercy, and what they agreed
on is a decisive proof.” Muwaffaq b. Qudamah al-Maqdisi, al-‘Itiqad, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qur’an, nd) 75. Ibn
Hazm, and others, claim that the prohibition of unrestricted female prayer-leadership is established by binding
consensus. See Imam Ibn Hazm adh-Dhahiri, Maratib al-‘Ijma’, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1998/1419) 51. Were it
indeed the case that binding consensus has occurred on this issue, to reject it would be considered disbelief in
the Sunni tradition.
50 ‘Ali Ahmad an-Nadwi, al-Qawa’id, 105.
51 Reda, 7.
An objective survey of the relevant a hadith reveals there is absolutely no way to
support the conclusion that Saff has nothing to do with prayer. Examples of the use of the
word Saff (row) in connection to the prayer are too numerous to mention. For example, the
Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him, is related to have said just before the
congregational prayer, Sawwu Sufufakum fa inna Taswiya as-Saff min Tamam as-Salat “Straighten
yours lines (Sufuf, plural of Saff), for straightening the line (Saff) is from the completion of
the prayer.” Imam Muslim alone, in his rigorously authenticated collection of hadith, relates
six versions of this narration from four different Companions.52 This hadith is also related by
al-Bukhari,53 Abu Dawud,54 at-Tirmidhi,55 an-Nasa’i,56 and Ibn Majah.57
She also mentions that there was no gender segregation in the Prophet’s lifetime,
rather it was introduced later”58 This claim is also refuted by hadith. In addition to the hadith
narrated by Abu Hurayrah,59 which Reda dismisses, there is overwhelming evidence to
support gender segregation during worship services. As for gender segregation in the prayer,
again, proof for that during the prophetic epoch is irrefutable. I will relate a few instructive
examples. Imam al-Bukhari relates in his rigorously authenticated collection of hadith, from
Anas b. Malik, “I prayed along with an orphan boy behind the Prophet, peace and blessings
of God upon him, in my house. My mother, Umm Sulaym, [prayed] behind us.”60 There are
numerous sound narrations of this and similar ahadith.
Another tradition relates that there was an extremely beautiful woman who used to
pray in the congregation behind the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him. Some
of the men would hasten to the front row of men in order not to be distracted by her.
Others would procrastinate in order to be in the last row of men to look behind themselves
at her when they bowed during the prayer.61 This arrangement of the men in front of the
women in the congregational prayer led by the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon
him, is affirmed by the Qur’an, as this incident was the occasion for the revelation of the
verse, We know those of you who hasten forward [to the front prayer rows], and we know those who lag
Imams al-Bukhari63 and Muslim64 produce a tradition relating that the Prophet peace
and blessings of God upon him, used to address the women separately on the day of ‘Eid.
One of Imam al-Bukhari’s versions is particularly instructive as it mentions, “…then he [the
Prophet] advanced, splitting them [the rows of men] until he came to the women.”65 He
would then address them and exhort them to charity. The point here is that if the men and
women were not segregated, as is the custom in our congregational prayers until today, why
52 An-Nawawi, al-Minhaj, 4:376-388, #974-979.
53 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 2:272, #723.
54 Imam Abu Dawud as-Sajistani, Sunan Abu Dawud, (Riyad: Dar as-Salaam, 1999/1420) 107, #668.
55 Imam Abu ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi, Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, (Riyad: Dar as-Salaam, 1999/1420) 72, #227.
56 Imam Ahmad b. Shu’ayb an-Nasa’i, Sunan an-Nasa’i, (Riyad: Dar as-Salaam, 1999/1420) 112, #812-814.
57 Ibn Majah, 140, #993-994.
58 Reda, 7.
59 Ibid.
60 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 275, #727.
61 This narration is produced by Imam al-Bayhaqi in his collection. Al-Bayhaqi, 3:139, #5169, 5170.
62 Al-Qur’an 15:24. For an explanation of the circumstance surrounding the revelation of this verse see Imam
Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, Lubab an-Nuqul fi Asbab an-Nuzul, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1997/1418) p. 172. This
tradition is also related by Imams at-Tirmidhi, an-Nasa’i, al-Hakim, and others.
63 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 2:601, #978-979.
64 An-Nawawi, al-Minhaj, 3:420-421, #2054.
65 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 2:601, #978-979.
would the Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him have to wade through the men to
reach the women? He would have had to first gather the women. Hence, any claim that there
was no gender segregation during the prophetic epoch is baseless. We could bring many
more examples to prove this point, but what we have mentioned should suffice.
Similarly, Reda avoids the implications of hadith when she states, “Moreover, of the
numerous occurrences in the Qur’an of fitnah or its derivatives, none apply to women.”66
Based on this, and the authority of G.H.A. Juynboll, she concludes “…a hadith in which the
Prophet supposedly referred to women as constituting man’s greatest fitnah in life.”67 is
As for the hadith in question, it reads, “I have not left a fitnah (tribulation) more
harmful to men than women.” Al-Bukhari,68 Muslim,69 and at-Tirmidhi,70 have all related this
hadith. Although we could discuss its meaning, the report itself is rigorously authenticated. As
for the authority of Juynboll, Harald Motzki has demonstrated the unreliable nature of his
hadith scholarship. In discussing Juynboll’s effort to discredit all of the narrations from Nafi’
on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar, Motzki shows that his premises, conclusions, and
methodology are all flawed. He notes:
The point of departure for our investigation has been the hypothesis that the main
conclusions of Juynboll’s study on Nafi’ are not tenable. One of his hypotheses
claimed that all of the Prophetical ahadith with the isnad Nafi’ –ibn ‘Umar found in
the “canonical” collections –which are highly esteemed amongst Muslims –do not go
back to Nafi’ but rather to Malik b. Anas.71 We were able to show, using the same
examples as Juynboll, namely the hadith on the alms of the breaking of the fast, that
his hypothesis is wrong. There is no doubt that this hadith goes back to Ibn ‘Umar
and was not invented by Malik.72
Motzki further states:
Juynboll’s conclusions in his article on Nafi’ are generalizations. They are not limited
to the analyzed example, the zakat al-fitr hadith, but are judgments on all the Nafi’ –
Ibn ‘Umar –ahadith. Since we were able to prove Juynboll’s conclusions wrong in at
least one case, his general statements can be refuted.73
Reda presents the thinking of the orthodoxy on the issue of ‘Ijma’ as a state of
confusion. This disguises the fact that after the initial centuries of debate, most of the Sunni
scholars were able to settle on a consistent definition of “Ijma’. Wahba az-Zuhayli captures
this meaning with the following definition, “The agreement of the qualified scholars from
the Community of Muhammad, peace and blessings of God upon him, on a legislative
66 Reda, 8.
67 Ibid.
68 Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 9:172, #5096.
69 An-Nawawi, al-Minhaj, 9:57, #6880.
70 At-Tirmidhi, 627-628, #2780.
71 Juynboll insists that Imam Malik fabricated all of the ahadith he relates from Nafi’.
72 Harald Motzki, “Whither hadith-studies? A Critical examination of G.H.A. Juynboll’s ‘Nafi’ the mawla of Ibn
‘Umar, and his position in Muslim Hadith –Literature Part 2” trans. Frank Griffel. Der Islam 73 (1996): 1.
73 Ibid., 18.
ruling, after his death, during any subsequent era.”74 As this definition hinges on the
agreement of qualified scholars in a particular era, the consensus claimed by Ibn Hazm
concerning unrestricted female prayer-leadership, would not be impossible. The Kharijites,
due to their literalism, are not known to have produced high-level scholars. Hence, in the era
‘Ijma’ may have occurred on the issue of unrestricted female prayer leadership, there could
well have been no qualified scholars among the Kharijites to dissent. As for groups such as
the Ja’fari Shiites, who generally do not recognize the legislative import of ‘Ijma’, their ruling
on the issue being discussed, agrees with the position of Sunnis. Hence, there would likely
be no dissension from their camp. As for the opinions of al-Muzani, Abu Thawr, Dawud
adh-Dhahiri, and at-Tabari, we have mentioned some considerations earlier in this article
which would lead us to reject any statement attributed to them on this issue as being
definitive. Surely, God knows best.
The other evidences mentioned by Reda, numbered from 3-7, dealing with the
Qur’anic story of the Queen of Sheba, gender justice, gender discrimination, justice in
general, and the need for men to listen to women, will not be dealt with in this article
because they have no bearing on the derivation of legal rulings.75 However, they are of
importance in determining how existing rulings are to be understood and implemented. In
this regard, Reda’s passionate plea for greater compassion, justice, and understanding is
From what we have presented above, it should be clear that a woman leading a
mixed gender, public congregational prayer is not something sanctioned by Islamic law, in
the Sunni tradition. Her leading the Friday congregational prayer is even more unfounded, as
she would be required to do things that are forbidden or disliked in other prayers. Saying
this, we should not lose sight of the fact that there are many issues in our community
involving the neglect, oppression, and in some instances, the degradation of our women.
Until we address those issues, as a community, in an enlightened manner, we are open to
criticism, and will likely encourage various forms of protest.
In addition to gender issues, we are faced by many other nagging concerns. These
problems defy simplistic solutions. Only through the attainment of the prophetic virtues that
Islam seeks to cultivate in it adherents will we have a chance to even begin dealing with
them. One of the greatest of these virtues is humility. Perhaps, if the men of our community
had more humility, we would behave in ways that do not alienate, frustrate, or outright
oppress our women. Greater humility will help immensely in improving our condition. Our
Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him, has said in that regard, “No one humbles
himself/herself for the sake of God except God elevates him/her.”76 One interpretation of
this hadith is that the esteem of the humble person will be magnified in the hearts of others.
Certainly, a healthier appreciation of each other would go a long way towards relieving the
growing tension between the sexes in some quarters of our community.
Islam has never advocated a liberationist philosophy. Our fulfillment in this life will
never come as the result of breaking real or perceived chains of oppression. That does not
74 Wahba az-Zuhayli, Usul al-Fiqh al-Islami, (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998/1418) 1:490.
75 Reda, 2.
76 An-Nawawi, al-Minhaj, 9:358, #6535.
mean that we should not struggle against oppressive practices and institutions. However,
when we understand that success in such worldly struggles has nothing to do with our
fulfillment as human beings, we will be able to keep those struggles in perspective, and not
be moved to frustration or despair when their outcomes are counter to our plans.
Our fulfillment does not lie in our liberation, rather it lies in the conquest of our soul
and its base desires. Our enslavement to God is the key to that conquest. Our enslavement
to God in turn means that we have to suppress many of our souls’ desires and inclinations.
Therein is one of the greatest secrets to unleashing our real human potential. This is so
because it is our spiritual potential that separates us from the rest of this creation, and it is to
the extent that we are able to conquer our physical nature that we realize that spiritual
We must all realize that we will never achieve any meaningful change in our situation
relying on our own meager personal resources. The great sage Ibn ‘Ata Allah as-Sakandari
has said, “Nothing you seek through your Lord will ever be difficult; and nothing you seek
through yourself will ever be easy.”77 Now is the time to give ourselves to our Lord, totally.
The trials and tribulations we are currently witnessing will only intensify as we move closer
to the end of time. If we are not living for our Lord, relying on His guidance and help, and
trusting in His wisdom, we will find it very difficult to negotiate our way through this world.
When we live for our Lord it becomes easy to live with each other. If in our personal
relations we can come to embody the spirit of mutual love, mercy and affection, encouraged
by our Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, we will be able to make a
beautiful and lasting contribution towards the uplift of men and women alike. The times we
live in cry out for such a contribution. The question is, “Who will respond?”
Your Brother in Islam,
Imam Zaid Shakir
77 ‘Abdul-Majid ash-Sharnubi, Sharh al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyya, (Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 1992/1413) 38.
Woman Imam Leading Men and Women in Salat
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
President of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California
Islam places no restriction on women to teach, preach and guide both women and men.
“Men and women are supporters of each other. They command what is right and forbid
what is wrong… (Al-Tawbah 9:71) There are many women today who are fully qualified to
be jurists (faqihah) and give religious opinions (fatawa). They do issue fatwa and teach
Qur’an and Hadith in schools, colleges and universities all over the world. Many Islamic
organizations, Islamic centers and mosques in America also have very learned and
knowledgeable sisters who participate in their Masajid’s boards and involve themselves in
administration, teaching, preaching and counseling. Muslims should give them more
opportunities, allow them and encourage them to become full partners in Islamic work.
Leading Salat, however, is restricted to male Imams only when the congregation consists of
men and women both, whether the prayer is performed in the mosques or outside mosques,
whether they are daily Salat or Friday and Eid Salat. Women are not allowed to lead such
This has also been the practice of Muslims all over the world since the time of the Prophet –
peace be upon him. This Shar’i ruling is not because of any notion of spiritual deficiency
among women. Men and women both are equal in the sight of Allah and both of them must
be fully respected and honored. Women are allowed to lead the Salat when the congregation
is all females. They are also allowed to lead the Salat in their homes among their family
members, if they are more knowledgeable of the Qur’an and Islamic rules.
Recently some people have started a controversy about this matter of Shari’ah. Questions are
being asked about the Islamic reasons why women are barred from leading the prayers of
men and women both. In order to understand the rules and wisdom of Shari’ah in this
matter, following points are in order:
There is a difference between Salat and Du’a in Islam. Salat is a fixed and formalized form
of prayer. Its timings, positions, postures, style including the wording and recitations are all
fixed by the Prophet -peace be upon him. It is not permissible to introduce any new style or
liturgy in Salat. Du’a, however, is another form of Islamic prayer that is informal and there is
no restriction as to who performs it and how and when it is performed. It can be performed
in any language. It can be done individually or collectively. It can be led by males or females.
In Salat we are supposed to follow the Sunnah. We cannot add or delete anything from the
Salat if we want our Salat to be valid and acceptable to Allah.
About Du’a one can say that since we are not forbidden to do our Du’a in a particular
manner we are allowed to do it the way we want it; but in Salat every thing is forbidden
unless it is allowed. For example the Prophet –peace be upon him- did not say that Salat
cannot be performed in English. He did not say that you cannot have Salat in congregation
six times a day. Now based on this argument we cannot start having our Salat in English or
six times every day.
In our Salat we stand very close to each other or as we say “shoulder to shoulder and ankle
to ankle” almost touching each other. We stand in straight lines. We make ruku’ and sujud.
We are supposed to pray with sincerity and devotion concentrating our heart and mind
towards the prayer. For this reason the Prophet –peace be upon him- told us that men and
women should have separate lines. The lines of men should be in the front area, then the
lines of children and then women. The Imam should stand in front of the congregation and
should make ruku’ and sajdah before the congregation and they should follow the Imam.
The ideal way in this structure of prayer service is to separate men from women and not
allow a woman to be ahead of all men and bow and prostrate in front of them. Haya’ is a
special character of Islam. It is emphasized that men and women both must observe Haya’
(modesty) always and especially in their places of worship. Prophet’s wife ‘Aishah and his
Companion Ibn ‘Abbas are reported to have said that a woman leading other women in
prayer should not stand in front of them like a male Imam, but in their midst.
Some people refer to the Hadith of Um Warqah who was allowed by the Prophet –peace be
upon him- to lead the Salat. According to the Sunan of Abu Da’ud, the Hadith says: “Umm
Waraqah wanted to accompany the Prophet –peace be upon him- to the battle of Badr, but
the Prophet told her to stay in her home.” Further in this Hadith it is said that the Prophet –
peace be upon him- used to visit her in her home. He appointed a person to give Adhan for
her and he told her to lead the prayer for the people of her house (Ahl dariha). Abdur
Rahman ibn Khallad (the reporter of this Hadith) said, “I saw her mu’adhin who was a very
old man.” (Abu Da’ud 500). In another reports of this Hadith it is said that the Prophet told
her to lead the prayers of the women of her house (nisa’ dariha). (Reported by Dar Qutni).
This Hadith does not give permission to women to lead the Salat of men in the Masjid, it is
restricted to home and according to some version only for the women of the home. Most of
the scholars of Hadith and Fiqh did not use this as a general permission of the Prophet for
women to be Imams of the Masajid and lead men and women in prayers. If this would have
been the general case then many other very able and qualified women in the time of the
Prophet and after him would have been leading Salat in the Masajid.
We pray to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that we sincerely follow His Din without any
innovation or exaggeration. Ameen