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Question 13: We heard that a woman gave a Friday sermon and led the prayer.

What is the Islamic legal opinion on what occurred? Prayer is an act of worship legislated by God. It is not the result of anybodys personal interpretation. God prescribed both its form and its content, and made the validity of prayer conditional to certain precepts. For the congregational prayer to be valid, it is a condition that the imam be a man.1 This is not a special privilege given to men, and it does not diminish the status of women. This is rather a matter of worship in the first degree. Muslims are in agreement that women should be honored. They consider it an honor, not a form of belittlement, that women are prevented from leading men in prayer. With their honor as His objective, God ordered women to stand behind the rows of men during devotional prayers because such prayers contain prostrations. The aim of this injunction is of the same nature as the old Arab saying, He only held you back in order to put you forward. Positioning women in the posterior rows of prayer does not diminish their honor, but instead declares their elevated status. It constitutes a consideration of high morals and modesty, as well as an act of cooperation between believers both men and women to follow the commandment that one should lower ones gaze. The issue of women leading men in prayer can be looked at from two vantage points. The first considers the reality of Muslim practice and its manifestations throughout the ages. The second vantage point is that of the tradition of jurisprudence and the theoretical reality upon which Muslims rely.

i.e. when the prayer is composed of both men and women. [trans] 1

Muslims in both the East and West, in both early and recent times, have agreed in practice that women do not give the call to prayer, lead congregational prayers, or lead the Friday communal prayer. A woman giving the Friday sermon and leading men in prayer is unknown to the history of Islam even during the times when Muslims had female rulers. Shajarah al-Dur ruled Mamluk Egypt, yet she did not give the Friday sermon or led men in prayer. As for the theoretical reality, the jurists defined the leading of prayers as, The linking of ones prayer to another person according to conditions made clear by the law. An individual becomes an imam only when the prayers of his followers are linked to his own. This link is the reality of leadership in prayer, and it is the objective of following somebody in prayer. The legal texts relate two hadiths concerning this issue. Both are widely considered weak, but for the purpose of scholarly thoroughness we will address them. The first hadith, reported by Umm Waraqah bint Abdallah b. al-Harith, states, The Prophet [s] appointed a muadhdhin for her2 and ordered her to lead the people of her home [in prayer].3 The second hadith comes from one of the Prophets [s] sermons. Jabir b. Abdallahs narrates, The Messenger of God [s] said in a sermon, a woman does not lead a man in prayer, nor does [an ignorant] Bedouin lead one of the companions who

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A Muadhdhin is someone who is designated to make the call to prayer (trans.). IBN HANBAL, Musnad Imam Ahmad, 6:405; AL-SIJISTANI, Sunan Abi Dawud, 1:161; AL-BAYHAQI, al-Sunan al-Kubra, 3:130; Ali bin Amr al-Baghdadi ALDARAQUTNI, Sunan al-Daraqutni. Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, 1:403; AL-TABARANI, alMujam al-Kabir, 25:134; Muhammad bin Ishaq al-Sulami AL-NAYSABURI, Sahih Ibn Khuzamah. al-Maktab al-Islami, 3:89; and the phrasing in Ibn Khuzamah reads, The Prophet would say, Let us go visit the martyr. And he gave her permission for the call to prayer to be made for her and for her to lead the people of her home in obligatory prayers, and she had memorized the Quran. 2

emigrated from Mecca, nor does a heretic lead a believer, unless they be compelled to do so by an authority whose sword and whip they fear.4 Some of the foremost hadith scholars, such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, have considered the first hadith to be weak. He said, Abd al-Rahman b. Khallad is in its chain of narration and he is unknown.5 As for the second hadith, most scholars have considered it to be even weaker than the first. Concerning one of the transmitter of this hadith, Abdallah b. Muhammad al-Adawi, hadith scholars have said, Waki accused him of forging hadiths, and Ali b. Zayd b. Jad an, his Shaykh from whom he narrates, is also weak.6 The juristic tradition of the Muslims represents the proper understanding of the general principles of the law, especially if there is a consensus. In this regard, all of the knowledgeable people from the eight schools of law7, as well as the seven jurists of Medina8, have formed a consensus that it is impermissible for a woman to lead a man in an obligatory prayer, and that the prayer performed by a man being led by a woman is invalid. A few scholars such as Abu Thawr, al-Muzani, and Ibn Jarir held the minority opinion that the prayer of a man behind a woman is valid as an obligatory prayer.9 Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-Arabi from the Dhahiri School also adopted this aberrant opinion.

AL-QIZWINI, Sunan Ibn Majah, 1:343; Ahmad bin al-Hussein bin Ali ALBAYHAQI, Kubra, 3:90; AL-TABARANI, al-Mujam al-Awsat, 2:64 5 AL-ASQALANI, al-Talkhis al-Habir, 2:26-27 6 ibid. 7 i.e. The Maliki, Hanafi, Shafai, Hanbali, Jafari, Zaydi, Dhahiri, and Ibadi Schools of Muslim jurisprudence [trans]. 8 Said b. al-Musayyib, Urwah b. al-Zubayr, Ubaydillah b. Abdullah b. Utbah alHudhali, Abd Bakr b. Abd al-Rahman b. al-Harith b. Hisham b. al-Mughirah, Kharijah b. Zayd b. Thabit, Sulayman b. Yasar al-Hilali, and al-Qasim b. Muhammad [trans.]. 9 See KUWAIT, al-Mawsuah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaytiyyah, harf dhal (dhukurah), starting at 21:266-67, which cites Yahya bin Sharf AL-NAWAWI, al-Majmuah. 3

The vast majority of scholars also consider it impermissible for a woman to lead men in supererogatory prayers and in tarawih10. Some adherents of the Hanbali School disagreed, asserting that it is in fact permissible. For example, Ibn Muflih says of women leading prayer, It is valid in supererogatory prayers, and on this premise it is also valid in tarawih. It has been said, [This is valid only] if she is the best reciter. It has also been said, [It is valid even] if she is not as good a reciter as the men are. Another view states, [She may lead them] if she is related [to them] by birth. It is also said, [She may lead them] if she is advanced in age. In any case, she should stand behind them, for that is more modest. Based on these descriptions, she follows the men she is leading in all but the recitation, while one [of the men] makes the intention of being imam. Most [of the Hanbali scholars] have considered such a prayer valid in its entirety due to the general and particular report of Umm Waraqah.11 So we give our fatwa in accordance with the consensuses of the community, past and present, in their words and their deeds, due to strength of the evidence and the depth of their perception. We related the minority opinion of the juristic tradition not to sanction it, but simply to preserve intellectual integrity. Calling for the implementation of this minority opinion would constitute a censure of the community both past and present. The Muslim community never agrees upon misguidance. Consensus is legal evidence,

Matbah al-Muniriyyah, 4:254, Muhammad ibn Muhammad bin Abd al-Rahman ALHATTAB, Muwahib al-Jalil fi Sharh al-Khalil. Dar al-Fikr, 2:92, JawahirIklil, 1:78, Ahmad bin Ghunaym bin Salim bin Muhanna AL-NAFRAWI, al-Fawakih al-Dawani. Dar al-Fikr, 1:238, Masud bin Ahmad AL-KASANI, Badai al-Sanai. Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1:157, and IBN QUDAMAH AL-MAQDASI, al-Mughni, 2:198. 10 The supererogatory prayers performed in congregation during the nights of Ramadan [trans]. 11 Muhammad IBN MUFLIH AL-MAQDISI, Kitab al-Furu. Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2:16 4

and it is through consensus that the legal issues transmitted in the religious sources have been regulated. The wisdom in placing women at a distance when it comes to leading prayers has to do with upholding the commandments concerning modesty, the lowering of ones gaze for believing men and women equally, and the concealing of those parts of the body meant to be concealed (for a woman this is her entire body except for her face and hands). Because Muslim prayer includes prostration, a motion that defines and reveals the form of awomans body, God has ordained that women should stand behind the lines of men in prayer in order to maintain their modesty. As for the confounding of the two issues of a woman leading a congregation in prayer and a woman giving a Friday sermon, nobody has ever permitted the latter. Those who condone the practice are confused and adhere to a schismatic school of thought which takes many forms, some of which deny the Sunnah and consensus, some of which toy with Arabic words, and some of which call for the permissibility of homosexuality, illicit intercourse, wine, abortion, the changing of the shares of inheritance, and similar topics that reemerge every century or so. Despite these confusions, Muslims continue on the path that God commanded them to follow, carrying the message of felicity in both this world and in the Afterlife, to all the worlds. God says, Then, as for the foam, it passes away as scum upon the banks, while, as for that which is of use to humanity, it remains on earth. Thus God coins the similitude [13:17]. Hopefully this short explanation has clarified the legal ruling concerning this issue. And God is Most High and Knows Best.