The Qur’an Puts No Bar Against a Woman Imam from Leading Mixed Gender Prayer

(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed, Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)

Women Imam

This article follows up on Syeda Hameed’s article, ‘A Woman Can Lead Friday Prayers….’ dated Feb. 01 and provides exegetic basis to its claim.

The Qur’an does not connect gender with faith (33:35), offers both men and women a level playing field in earning divine approval (4:124), does not describe menstruation as any lacking in spirituality (2:222), appoints, men and women as protectors (wali) of each other (9:71). The relevant Qur’anic verses based on Yusuf Ali’s translation are listed below:

“For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” (33:35).

“If any do deeds of righteousness,- be they male or female – and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them” (4:124) .

“They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean” (2:221)

Note: The reference to purity only relates to physical cleaning and hygiene [1]. Accordingly the Prophet allowed Asma, the wife of Abu Bakr to participate in the farewell hajj less than a fortnight after her delivery that occurred when she was on way to Mecca (from Medina) in the hajj caravan that the Prophet was leading himself. She was obviously in state of menstruation. [2] The Prophet is also reported to have told Aisha when she got into her period before entering Mecca that God had decreed it for all women, so she could perform all the ceremonies like the rest except for the Tawaf around the Kaba”[3]. He used to lean on Aisha’s lap and recite the Qur’an while she was in menses [4].

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71).
The Qur’an rules out any notion of spiritual or cognitive inferiority of women to men through its following illustrations:

·         The episode of Adam’s exit from the paradise (2:30-38) has no mention of an Eve emerging from his rib, or, prompting him to eat of the Forbidden tree, or earning divine curse for a treacherous role as in the Bible.
·         In the context of the revelation, it empowered Meccan women to take oath of allegiance with the Prophet (60:12) without having their husbands or any male guardians standing by as witnesses.
•      It calls for Muslim women as well as men taking an oath, along with their Christian counterparts, over an issue of utmost spiritual significance: the birth of Jesus (3:61).
•      Women, like men, can act as a witness in equal capacity as men except for commercial contracts, owing obviously to the harsh trading realities of the era that was even harsher for the women (2:282).
•      Women, like men, can have independent income and possess properties (4:32).
•      Women, like men, can pursue universal knowledge and develop their potentials as God’s deputy (Khalifah) on earth (2:30, 6:165, 27:62, 35:39) – created in the finest model and favoured above much of God’s creation (95:4, 17:70).
•      The Qur’an cites the example of a woman (not named) ruling over a land (Sheba) in consultation with her chieftains, and later embracing the true faith (27:32/33, 27:44).

It is clear from the foregoing review of relevant Qur’anic verses and Qur’anic illustrations that it puts no bar against women to leading prayers, including Friday Prayer. Whether the prayer will be attended by only women or both men and women will obviously depend on gender dynamics of the era, but the Qur’an does not prescribe any gender based segregation in public place or place of worship.

It is true that the classical Sharia Law of Islam does not permit a woman to lead men in prayer such as the Friday prayer. This is corroborated by the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi in his following response [6] to a question raised on the subject:

 “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.”

But it is equally true classical Shariah Law of Islam only represents the cumulative opinion or consensus of the jurists of Islam, and is neither divine nor binding on the Muslims until eternity [5]. Thus, with passing of generations, the learned jurists and scholars of Islam can always come up with new insights, interpretations and opinions on religious issues that are not expressly or implicitly covered in the Qur’an. Accordingly, answering a question on the permissibility of a woman leading Friday Prayer, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic Law, UCLA School of Law, writes [7]:
“It seems to me that if a female possesses greater knowledge than a male–if a female is more capable of setting a good example in terms of how she recites the Qur’an and also in terms of teaching the community more about the Islamic faith, a female ought not be precluded from leading Jum’ah simply on the grounds of being female.”

In sum, as Muslim women in many parts of the world including University campuses never enjoyed such level of security and prospects of learning about Islamic message as in this era, they must not be barred from leading Friday Prayer merely on gender ground.
1.     Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Vol.1, The Book of Menses, Chapter 1.
2.     Lings, Martin (Abu Bakar Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, George Allen and Unwin, U.K. 1983.p.332.
3.     Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Vol.1, Acc. 302.
4.     Ibid, Acc. 296.
5.     AN EPILOGUE TO THE RECENT ANTI-SHARIA LAW RALLIES ACROSS AMERICAN CITIES: The Dichotomy between Sharia Law of Islam (Islamic Law) and the Sharia of Islam–the-dichotomy-between-sharia-law-of-islam-(islamic-law)-and-the-sharia-of-islam/d/111595

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

Courtesy: New Age Islam



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