Confused about women leading the prayer

  • Author: Fatwa no. 89729
  • Publish date:19/10/2008
  • Sections:FATWA FOR ALL
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Question:  

My wife is a new convert to Islam, she is a English woman and I'm doing my best to help her understand Islam with the little knowledge that I know hoping that God accepts from me. Upon hearing that a Muslim woman is going to lead the Friday prayer for men and women in some US mosque, encouraged by the voices of some associations that fight for the equality of the sexes. I had a discussion with her regarding this matter and as I was myself confused I did not know how to convince her about what's religiously acceptable and what's not.  Please help with advice and feedback. 
 
Fatwa: 
 

All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger.
 
The position of the Islamic Law about a woman leading a man or men in prayer is clear that it is forbidden and it is not accepted for her to lead (them) in prayer. If a woman leads a man in prayer, his prayer is void and he has to make it up. This is a matter which is agreed upon among the jurists, may Allah have mercy on them, with the exception of those who deviated from the correct opinion.
 
The evidence that a woman cannot lead a man in prayer is the saying of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ): "The best rows for women are the last rows and the worst rows for them are the first rows [behind men] and the best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst rows are the last rows." [Muslim] Since the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) described the first rows of women behind men as the worst rows, it is not permissible for a woman to be in front of men and lead the prayer!
 
Another evidence for the invalidity of a woman leading men in prayers is the narration of Ibn ‘Umar may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "Do not deprive your women from attending the houses of Allah (i.e. the mosques), but their homes are better (i.e. more rewarding) for them." [Abu Daawood and Ahmad]
 
When explaining this narration, Imaam As-Sindi  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him stated: 'The saying of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ):  "…their homes are better (i.e. more rewarding) for them" means that they will receive a greater reward for praying at home than if they were to pray in the mosque. This is due to them being further from temptation by remaining at home. This becomes even more apparent and established by the fact that women have begun to adorn themselves and are leaving their homes in a manner which did not exist at the time of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). This phenomenon caused ‘Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, to state that women must be obliged to pray at home.” [End of quote] If they were commanded to distant themselves from men during prayer and the worse rows of women were those closest to men's, how can it be permissible for women to lead men in prayers? 
 
One more evidence is the story of Anas may Allah be pleased with him, which is that once his grandmother, Mulaykah invited the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) to eat food that she had prepared for him. After eating it, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "Stand up so that I can lead you in prayer." Anas may Allah be pleased with him, narrated: "I brought a plastic rug of ours which was stained, and so I washed it with water, then the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) stood up to pray. I lined up behind him along with an orphan who was with us, and the old woman (i.e. his grandmother) stood behind us; the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) then prayed two Rak’ahs." [Muslim] 
  
If this old woman stood behind the boys and not next to them, despite the fact that Anas may Allah be pleased with him, was her grandson, then how can women be allowed to stand in front of a group of men and lead them during prayer? Imaam As-Sindi  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him said: 'This narration is evidence that it is not permissible for a woman to lead men during prayers. Moreover, the fact that she (i.e., the woman mentioned in the narration) was not allowed to line up with the men during this prayer means that it is even more prohibited for her to stand ahead of them.' [End of quote] 
 
The following is yet another proof for the impermissibility of women to lead men during prayers is the statement of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) addressing the companions, may Allah be pleased with them: "Never will they succeed, those who make a woman in charge of their affairs." [Al-Bukhari]
 
The narration of Sahl ibn Sa`d As-Sa`idi may Allah be pleased with him, furthers proves this point, and it is that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "If the Imaam makes a mistake in the course of prayer, men should say, 'Subhaanallaah' (i.e. Glory be to Allah); this is bound to attract the attention of the Imaam, and women should only clap." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] If a woman is prohibited from uttering 'Subhaanallaah' (i.e. Glory be to Allah) during the congregational prayer whilst standing behind men, then how can anyone claim it is permissible for her to ascend the pulpit, deliver the Khutbah, and lead men during prayers?
 
The practice of the Muslims, for the past fourteen centuries, is that women never led men in prayer. Some wives of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and some female companions, may Allah be pleased with them, were more knowledgeable than the male companions, like 'Aa'ishah and Um Salamah may Allah be pleased with them, despite this, it is not reported that one of them led men in prayer.
 
Sound mind and sound natural disposition of men do not accept that a woman would be in front of men as she is a cause of temptation and incites men's desires, standing in front of him bowing down and prostrating, and reciting the Qur'an in an act of worship which is the most important and greatest act of worship. How can men humble themselves in prayer behind her? No sane person would ever say this.
 
Our advice to the dear questioner is that he should teach his wife that the religion of Islam is based on submission to Allah's Decree and the ruling of His Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ). So it is not permissible to contradict the Ruling of Allah and the Sunnah just because of following one's desires. Allah says (what means): {It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.} [Qur'an 33:36]. Allah also says (what means): {O you who have believed, do not put [yourselves] before Allah and His Messenger but fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is All-Hearing and All-Knowing.} [Qur'an 49:1]. Allah further says (what means): {But no, by your Lord, they will not [truly] believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in [full, willing] submission.} [Qur'an 4:65].
 
So what is forbidden is what Allah has forbidden in His Book, or what the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) has forbidden, or what the Islamic nation agreed in a consensus is forbidden. To know what is forbidden from what is not, we have to resort to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ).
 
Moreover, your wife has to know that Islam honoured a woman and gave her the highest position that suits her, Islam honoured her as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, and as a wife. The punishment and reward applies for both men and women equally, she has the same rights as him but she has obligations and duties that correspond with her natural predisposition. The man has also rights that suit his strength, his skin, his physique and his natural disposition, he is her guardian, he protects her with his strength, and spends on her from his earnings. Allah says (which means): {And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect, etc.) to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them.} [Qur'an 2:228]. This degree is that of responsibility and protection, and the husband does not exceed its limits to torment, humiliate her or spoil her right. It is confirmed that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "Women are similar to men in relation to rulings [rights and obligations]." [Ahmad and Abu Daawood]
 
Islam gave the woman her right to spend her wealth as she wishes, and deal in transactions like buying and selling, the right of ownership and the like. Allah says (what means): {For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned.} [Qur'an 4:32]. Islam has also specified their right in inheritance according to their social situation, Allah says (what means): {For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much-an obligatory share.} [Qur'an 4:7]. In addition to this, there is in the Qur'an a chapter entitled "The Women" and there is no chapter entitled "The Men". And women have status and rights that we have not mentioned.  
  
So when Islam forbade the woman to lead men in prayer, it does not mean that she is demeaned and has fewer rights, but she has rights that are in conformity with her and her physique. The wisdom behind the limitations in matters that Islam has placed upon her are to protect her and repel the difficulties of life from her so that she will be as a preserved pearl, honoured and dignified, is served and not a servant, or a cheap object as the people who pretend to call for her freedom want her to be.
 
Allah Knows best.
 
Fatwa answered by:The Fatwa Center at Islamweb

 

 

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