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A woman leading men in prayer

Published: 27/08/2011 02:29:00 PM GMT
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Can a woman lead men in congregational prayer? Is this a matter of disagreement among scholars?

Answered by

Sheikh Sâmî al-Mâjid

The vast majority of Islamic scholars deem it impermissible for a woman to lead men in congregational prayer. The only major jurists who differed in this matter were al-Muzanî and Abû Thawr.

Al-Tabarî permitted a woman to lead men in prayer specifically in the Tarâwîh prayer if no man was available to lead prayers who had memorized the Qur’ân. This opinion that a woman can lead men in the Tarâwîh prayer is also one of the opinions related from Ahmad b. Hanbal. For him, permissibility is conditional upon her being an elderly woman and the men being of sound character and their being her relatives.

The Hanafî jurist Ibn `Abidîn al-Hanafî states in Radd al-Muhtâr (1/577): “A man’s following of a woman in prayer is invalid.”

The Mâlikî jurist Abû Zayd al-Qayrawânî writes in his famous legal treatise al-Risâlah: “A woman does not lead obligatory or voluntary prayers – neither for men nor for women.”

The Mâlikî jurist al-Hattâb writes in al-Tâj wal-Iklîl (2/412): “Al-Mâzirî says that a woman’s leading of prayer is not valid and that those prayed behind her need to repeat their prayers, even if the time for the prayer has passed.”

Al-Shâfi`î writes in al-Umm (1/191): “If a woman leads the prayer for men, women, and male children, then the prayer of the women is valid, while the prayer of the men and male children is not. This is because Allah has made men the maintainers of women and not given to women the status of guardianship. It is not permissible for a woman to lead men in prayer under any circumstances.”

The prominent Shâfi`î jurist al-Nawawî writes in al-Majmû` (4/151): “Our scholars are agreed that it is not permissible for either a mature man or a boy to pray behind a woman. The prohibition of a woman leading men in prayer is the same whether the prayer is an obligatory prayer, the Tarâwîh prayer, or some other voluntary prayer. This is our school of thought as well as the school of thought of the vast majority of scholars from both the earlier and later generations. Al-Bayhaqî attributes this view to the seven jurists of Madinah from the generation of the Successors. It is the school of thought advocated by Mâlik, Abû hanîfah, Sufyân, Ahmad, and Dâwûd. Abû Thawr, al-Muzanî, and Ibn Jarîr (al-Tabarî) said that the prayer of men behind a woman is valid. This opinion has been attributed to them by al-Qâdî Abû al-Tayyib and l-`Abdarî.”

The Hanbalî jurist al-Mardâwî states in al-Insâf (2/263): “A woman’s leadership of men in prayer is categorically invalid according to our school of thought. It is related from Ahmad that it is valid for the Tarâwîh prayer and not permitted for any other prayer. On the basis of this narration, it has been said that this is conditional on her being a reciter of the Qur’ân and their being illiterate. It has also been said that it is permitted if the woman is more well-versed then the men. It has also been said that permissibility is contingent on her being more well-versed and a blood relative. Another statement is that she must be a relative and an elderly woman. Al-Qâdî chooses the view that her leadership of the prayer is valid if she is elderly.”

The Zâhirî scholar Ibn Hazm states in al-Muhallâ (2/167): “It is not permissible for a woman to lead an individual man or a group of men in prayer. There is no difference of opinion on this matter. Moreover, the texts indicate that the man’s prayer is nullified if a woman passes in front of him. Then we have the ruling of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that she should necessarily pray behind the men in prayer – while the imam must necessarily stand in front of the congregation.”

It has never been related from any scholar that it is permissible for a woman to act as imam for the Jumu`ah prayer. This is not even related from those scholars who permit a woman to lead the five daily obligatory prayers.

The evidence of those who permit a woman to lead men in prayer:

The evidence for this view is the hadîth in Sunan Abî Dâwûd where the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered Umm Waraqah to lead the prayers for the people of her household.

There are two responses to this line of evidence:

The first is that this hadîth is weak. Al-Bâjî writes in al-Muntaqâ, his commentary on al-Muwatta’: “This hadîth is one of those that should not be relied upon.”

Ibn Hajar says in al-Talkhîs al-Habîr (2/56): Its chain of transmission contains `Abd al-Rahmân b. Khallâd, who is unknown.”

The second response is that the phrase “the people of her household” refers to the womenfolk and not the men. Ibn Qudâmah writes in al-Mughnî (2/16): “The hadîth about Umm Waraqah merely is permission for her to lead (the women) of her household. This is how al-Dâraqutnî relates the hadîth, and this additional information is something we must accept. Had this not been mentioned, we would still have had to assume this to be its meaning, because he had given her permission to lead the obligatory prayers. We know this because he appointed for her a mu’addhin to call the prayers, and the call for prayer is only prescribed for the obligatory prayers. If we are to assume this was for her, then this would be something especially for her, because the two calls to prayer (the adhân and the iqâmah) are not prescribed for women. Therefore her leadership in prayer would be especially for her by virtue of the adhân and iqâmah being especially for her.”

And Allah knows best.

Source: Islam Today

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