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Can a woman become Imam?

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© Jamia Al-Karam | PDF Download a printer-friendly PDF of this article | Email Email this article to a friend

By Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada, October 2008

Islam

Islam refers to that religion which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) propagated by the will of Allah (Most High), and every word uttered by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a Revelation revealed from Allah (Qur’an 53:3-4). Furthermore, Allah (Most High) has said, “What the Messenger gives you, take it and what he forbids you, abstain from it.” (Qur’an 59:7)

Imamah - Leading the Prayer

The Prayer (Salat) is a pillar of Islam. Concerning its leadership, the statement of the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is absolutely clear, “When the time of Prayer arrives, then one of you men should say the Call to Prayer (Adhan) and the most senior male amongst you should lead the Prayer.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 10, Chapter 17, Hadith 631). It is deduced from this that the Call to Prayer and leading the Prayer are reserved specifically for the man, and are not permissible for the woman.

It is an ‘Emphatic Sunnah’ (Sunnah Mu’akkadah) for men to participate in the Congregational Prayer (Jama‘ah) and the ruling of an ‘Emphatic Sunnah’ is close to ‘Necessary’ (Wajib). It is not ‘Necessary’ for women to attend the Congregational Prayer. If, on the other hand, they wish to participate, and there is no threat to their honour and dignity in doing so, then they can. However, the manner of them standing in congregation is that men will stand in the first rows, followed by children and then women. (Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, volume 5, Collection of Abu Malik al-Ash‘ari).

The wisdom behind this is explained that if a woman stands in the first rows, or if she stands shoulder to shoulder with men, then by seeing the postures of the woman bowing or prostrating, or by touching her body, naturally sexual desires and thoughts will be aroused that cause interruption and hindrance in worship. The noble Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The best row for men is the first and the worst is the last. The best row for women is the last and the worst is the first.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 5, Chapter 28, Hadith 1013). This means that when a man is leading the Congregational Prayer, for a woman to stand behind him and in front of other men is bad and far from good. Then, how can standing upon the Prayer Mat of Imamah and delivering the Friday Sermon be correct?

In short, the Prayer is a sacred and pure obligation in which a human being manifests his servitude to Allah (Most High) with utmost humility and complete satisfaction of the mind and heart. However, if a woman stands before him in the mosque, then due to her feminine voice and sexual appeal, it is quite natural for satanic temptations to be aroused in some minds and this causes anxiety and disarray in worship. Therefore, it is not correct for the woman to be the Imam or Khatib of the men.

Why is only the Man Imam?

All the Prophets that Allah (Most High) sent for the guidance of humanity were all men (Qur’an 12:109); not a single one of them was a woman. The Prayer Mat of Imamah is the heirloom and legacy of the Prophets. Therefore, it is the scholars who are rightfully entitled to it. Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated, “Indeed, the scholars are the heirs of the Prophets”. (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Book 37, Chapter 19, Hadith 2898). Fourteen hundred years of Islamic history testifies to the fact that in mosques only the men have always performed the Imamah and led the Congregational Prayer. Furthermore, the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated, “Behold! No woman should ever perform the Imamah of a man.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 6, Chapter 78, Hadith 1134).

Can a Woman become Imam?

According to Imam Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi’i (ar) and Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (ar), a woman can lead the Prayer of other women. The opinion of Imam Malik b. Anas (ar) is that a woman cannot lead the Prayer of even the women.

Imam Abu Hanifah Nu‘man b. Thabit (ar), on the other hand, is of the opinion that it is ‘Disliked’ (Makruh) for a woman to become the Imam of women, but if she does lead their Prayer in congregation then she should stand in the middle of the first row with the women, and not stand upon the Prayer Mat of Imamah at the front.

Nonetheless, all of the noble Imams unanimously agree that a woman cannot lead the Prayer of men. If, however, a woman leads the men in Prayer then the Prayer of these men is null and void, and they must perform it again.

It is mentioned in the renowned book of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) which is taught in all Islamic institutions, al-Hidayah, that it is not permissible for men to offer their Prayer in the Imamah of a woman (al-Hidayah, Book of Salat, Chapter of Leading the Prayer).

It is also mentioned in al-Fiqh ‘ala’l-Madhahib al-Arba‘ah that amongst the conditions for Imamah is that the Imam must be a man. A woman cannot lead the Prayer of men. There is no dispute in this amongst the four Imams (al-Fiqh ‘ala’l-Madhahib al-Arba‘ah, Book of Salat, Chapter of Women Leading the Prayer).

The entire Islamic Community (Ummah) is in agreement that a woman cannot lead the Prayer of men and it is mentioned in a Hadith that the Ummah will never agree on error. (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Book 29, Chapter 7, Hadith 2320)

The Imamah of Women in America

Dr Amina Wadud is a new Muslim of African descent who is resident in the United States of America. She is not a Muslim by birth and nor was she nurtured and brought up in an Islamic home. Rather, she accepted Islam in adulthood. According to bbcurdu.com: ‘she opposes the Hudud regulations of Islamic Sacred Law. In her view, chopping of a thief’s hand is not a correct punishment (though this has been established by verse 38 of Surat al-Ma’idah of the Qur’an). She insists that such traditions that were made part of Islam during its early years within the context of a specific historical and cultural background should now be changed.”

In March 2005, Dr Amina Wadud tried immensely to become an Imam and Khatib in America and to lead men and women together in Congregational Prayer. She was able to persuade some free thinking men and women to her way of thinking. However, no mosque in America permitted her to lead the Friday Prayer, rather, she was threatened for creating such a Fitna (mischief) in religion. Eventually, about three years ago, on 18 March 2005, under police protection, she practically initiated this Fitna by leading men and women of the same mindset in Congregational Prayer at the Synod House of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York city. It is possible that anti-Islam forces may have encouraged her to accept Islam for this very purpose. After the demise of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), a woman did claim prophecy, but the Muslims rejected her. In the same manner, the issue of women leading the prayer of men will not continue for a long time, since, all schools of thought amongst the Muslims unanimously agree that a woman cannot lead the Congregational Prayer of men. Though, in a Western society where man can marry man, for a woman to lead the men in prayer is not extraordinary!

However, I pay tribute the steadfastness of the American Muslims, who – despite difficult circumstances – did not accept her Imamah in their mosques. Moreover, the men who prayed behind Dr Amina Wadud should ponder deeply that if there was any possibility of a woman’s Imamah in Islam, there would have been no need for her to lead the prayer in a Church under Police security. Hence, men who prayed behind a woman are requested to sincerely repent since death can occur at any moment and the Imamah of a woman will not benefit them in the grave. There, salvation lies in the true adherence to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). The world of Islam is already facing difficulties, by initiating another Fitna do not further increase the difficulties of the people of Islam.

The Imamah of Women in Britain

After failure in America, Dr Amina Wadud now has focused her attention towards Britain. In the history of Great Britain, for the first time a woman shall lead both men and women in Prayer and will deliver the Friday Sermon on 17 October 2008. This has been facilitated by Dr Taj Hargey and the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford (MECO).

On 14 October 2008 in the English section of the Daily Jang, the statement of Dr Taj Hargey was published in which he said, “The holy book of Qur’an is a complete and detailed revelation. Everything that is not Haram in the holy book of Qur’an is Halal. Qur’an doesn’t stop women from leading prayers and delivering Khutbahs, so logically women can lead prayers.”

At this point, can I put to Dr Taj Hargey that the evidence you are presenting concerning the leading of the Friday Prayer and delivering the Sermon; this Friday Prayer has two ‘obligatory’ elements: (1) Praying the two units of Prayer in congregation and (2) delivering the Sermon, I ask where are these two ‘obligatory’ elements of the Friday Prayer mentioned in the Qur’an? … Similarly, in which Chapter of the Qur’an are units of the five daily prayers mentioned? … For those who consider the meat of a dog, a cat, a lion, a leopard and a bird of prey as being Haram, in which verse are all these stated?

As a result therefore, due to the ruling of the Sunnah (Prophetic Practice) by which you offer the two units of the Friday Prayer, it is by the ruling of the same Sunnah that the Imamah of a woman is not correct. If heavenly books themselves were sufficient for guidance, then there would have been no need to send Messengers with them. In fact, the commentary and explanation of the noble Prophets is the original and most perfect means of acting upon the divine word of God.

The Hadith of Umm Waraqah (ra)

In support of the Imamah of Dr Amina Wadud, the Hadith of Umm Waraqah (ra) has been used. This Hadith can be found in Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Sunan Abi Dawud and other Hadith sources. It presents the following narration:

The noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), along with his Companions, would go to visit Umm Waraqah (ra) at her home on the day of Friday. When the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) announced his decision to go to war at Badr, Umm Waraqah (ra) humbly requested, “Grant me permission to go to war with you. I will look after the sick and wounded. Maybe Allah (Most High) will honour me with martyrdom.” The noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, “Stay at your home. Certainly Allah (Most High) will grant you martyrdom.” For this reason she became known as Shahidah (female martyr) from then on.

She requested permission from the blessed Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that if he would permit someone to say the Call to Prayer in her home. (Perhaps she had difficulties in determining the times of Prayer, or wished to gain blessings from the Call to Prayer, as she did not request permission for performing the Imamah). Eventually, the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) appointed an old man as a Mua’dhdhin (Caller to the Prayer) for her and also granted Umm Waraqah (ra) permission to lead her household in Prayer. Umm Waraqah (ra) had already informed her male and female slaves that they would go free upon her death. But this servant and maid, during the Caliphate of Umar (ra), by strangling Umm Waraqah (ra) martyred her. Thus, in accordance with the prophecy of the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), she died as a Shahidah in her own home.

Using this Hadith as a basis, some free thinking people state that Umm Waraqah (ra) was granted permission of performing the Imamah of her household, in which men were also included. Hence, today, a woman can stand alongside men in the mosque and can also perform their Imamah.

In my opinion their objective is not established from this Hadith due to the following reasons:

1. The noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) granted Umm Waraqah (ra) permission to perform the Imamah in her home. He did not grant her permission to go to the local mosque and perform the Imamah.

2. The noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) granted Umm Waraqah (ra) permission to perform the Imamah of her household. He did not grant her permission to perform the Imamah of men who were not her relatives (Ghayr Mahram).

3. The old man who was appointed as her Mu’adhdhin was not from the household of Umm Waraqah (ra). Hence, this permissibility does not include him. He presumably said the Call to Prayer and then went to a nearby mosque to offer the Prayer. If he had performed the Prayer behind Umm Waraqah (ra), then who would have led him in the Prayer during her days of exemption?

4. In the Hadith, there is no mention of Umm Waraqah’s husband or a mature son. If any one of them was alive, then surely they would have said the Call to Prayer, and there would have been no need for Umm Waraqah (ra) to seek a Mua’dhdhin from the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace).

5. There is no explicit mention – not even in the weakest of narrations – that any man performed the Prayer behind Umm Waraqah (ra). In fact, it is not even proven that the old Mua’dhdhin performed his Prayer behind her.

6. In the Hadith, there is only the mention of two household members, one male and one female slave. In my view, the male slave at that time was of an immature age and thus not capable of saying the Call to Prayer. If he were mature, then there would have been no need to appoint a Mua’dhdhin from the outside.

7. This means that the household consisted of only one immature male slave and one female slave, whose Imamah Umm Waraqah (ra) used to perform. The sanction of such an Imamah can be found in Islam.

8. The permission for this Imamah was not for all time, since for ten days of every month, Prayer itself is not obligatory upon women, then how would leading it be?

9. During the Prophetic era, this is the only woman that was given permission to perform the Imamah of her household. There is no mention of any other woman. Hence, it is deduced that this was an exceptional case, which was specific to only the Imamah of Umm Waraqah (ra). This case is similar to when the noble Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) granted Fudalah (ra) permission to miss three Prayers. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 2, Chapter 9, Hadith 428). This permission is specific to only Fudalah (ra). No Mufti, today, can give permission to someone to miss three Prayers.

10. If women were generally permitted to perform the Imamah of the household at home, then first of all Fatimah al-Zahra (ra) and ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra), mother of the believers, would have been permitted. Surely, also, at some point the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would have performed the Prayer behind ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) and Ali (ra) would have performed the Prayer behind Fatimah al-Zahra (ra). However, this never took place.

11. When the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to perform the Supererogatory Prayers (Nafl) and the Tarawih Prayers at home, most of the time ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) would also be present. However, the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) never indicated to ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) to perform the Imamah of even such Prayers.

12. If ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) and Fatimah al-Zahra (ra) did not even lead the Prayer of their close male relatives inside their homes in the Supererogatory Prayer, then how can a woman of today go to the mosque and lead the Obligatory Prayer of non-related men?

13. Even if there was a remote possibility of women performing the Imamah in the mosque, then during the last days surely the noble Messenger (Allah blesss him and grant him peace) would have once ordered ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) to go to the mosque and lead the Prayer, so that the Muslims would have a source for its legitimacy. But the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not do that. Although ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra) was closely present, despite that he sent Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (ra) a message that he was to lead the Congregational Prayer.

14. Women used to come to the Prophet’s Mosque to perform the Prayer, but the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) never gave permission to any woman to even say the Call to Prayer. If a woman is not permitted to say the Call to Prayer, then how can she be permitted to perform the Imamah, which is much more of an important issue! Moreover, if a woman is not permitted to lead a common Prayer in which one is to stand facing the direction of the Qiblah, then how can she be permitted to lead the Friday Congregation, which does not include the mere Prayer but also to deliver a Sermon facing all the people?

15. The noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to go to the house of Umm Waraqah (ra) accompanied by his Companions, but he never offered the Prayer behind her and nor ordered the Companions to do so.

16. In the history of Islam – from the time of the blessed female Companions until today – no woman has claimed the Imamah of men using this Hadith as an example. Then how has a woman of today attained the right to do so?

17. The permission of Imamah that Umm Waraqah (ra) was granted, men were not included in it. This is because the words ‘Ta’umma Nisa’aha’ are explicitly stated in the Hadith mentioned in Sunan al-Darqutni. This means that the noble Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) granted Umm Waraqah (ra) permission to perform the Imamah of the women in her household. (Sunan al-Darqutni, Beirut 1993, 1, 279). In the Hadith of Abu Dawud, it merely mentioned the Imamah of the household, however, the Hadith of al-Darqutni specifies the Hadith of Abu Dawud that this command is specific to the Imamah of the women. Therefore, this Hadith cannot be used as evidence for performing the Imamah of men.

18. From the Prophetic era until today, no woman has had the need to perform the Imamah in the mosque. Then suddenly today, how has this need come about? Have male Imams disappeared from this world?

19. It is not permissible for the woman to perform the Prayer or enter the mosque during the days of menstruation and post-natal bleeding. In this regard, she is a part-time performer of the Prayer, and it does not befit her to lead the Prayer of the full-time performers of the Prayer.

The Friday Prayer is not Obligatory upon Women


Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated, “The Friday Prayer is obligatory upon every Muslim except five: an ill patient, a traveler, a woman, a child and a slave.” (al-Mustadrak ‘ala’l-Sahihayn, volume 1, p. 425, Hadith 1062). When the Friday Prayer is not obligatory upon the woman, why does she need to struggle to lead it?

In another Hadith it is mentioned that the Friday Prayer is not obligatory upon four people: a woman, a slave, an ill patient and a traveler. (al-Fiqh al-Hanafi, volume 1, p. 256)

The Role Model for the Woman

The role models for the Muslim woman are Fatimah al-Zahra (ra) and ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (ra). When they never led the congregation of men, then no other woman should trouble herself in thinking to do so.

Conclusion

Concerning the man and the woman, the scope of rights and obligations of each is different due to each one’s physical composition and natural particulars. For example, if a woman provides milk for the child from her breasts, man provides food for the child through the earnings of his sweat and blood.

In this manner, if Allah (Most High) has granted His Prophet’s Prayer Mat of Imamah to the man, on the other hand, He has placed His Paradise at the feet of the woman (mother). Both have been blessed with unique and honourary attributes according to their nature by Allah (Most High).

Therefore, to try to degrade any aspect in either man or woman is not correct. Since, both man and woman are equal as human beings. Both are Ashraf al-Makhluqat (Supreme Creation). Both are the children of Adam (as) and are members of the human race. However, the best human is the one in whose heart lies the fear of Allah (Most High); whether man or woman.

 
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