Islam places no restriction on women to teach, preach and guide both women and men. "Men and women are supporters of each other. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong... (Al-Tawbah 9:71) There are many women today who are fully qualified to be jurists (faqihah) and give religious opinions (fatawa). They do issue fatwa and teach Qur'an and Hadith in schools, colleges and universities all over the world. Many Islamic organizations, Islamic centers and mosques in America also have very learned and knowledgeable sisters who participate in their Masajid's boards and involve themselves in administration, teaching, preaching and counseling. Muslims should give them more opportunities, allow them and encourage them to become full partners in Islamic work.
Leading Salat, however, is restricted to male Imams only when the congregation consists of men and women both, whether the prayer is performed in the mosques or outside mosques, whether they are daily Salat or Friday and Eid Salat. Women are not allowed to lead such prayers.
This has also been the practice of Muslims all over the world since the time of the Prophet . This Shar'i ruling is not because of any notion of spiritual deficiency among women. Men and women both are equal in the sight of Allah and both of them must be fully respected and honored. Women are allowed to lead the Salat when the congregation is all females. They are also allowed to lead the Salat in their homes among their family members, if they are more knowledgeable of the Qur'an and Islamic rules.
Recently some people have started a controversy about this matter of Shari'ah. Questions are being asked about the Islamic reasons why women are barred from leading the prayers of men and women both. In order to understand the rules and wisdom of Shari'ah in this matter, following points are in order:
There is a difference between Salat and Du'a in Islam. Salat is a fixed and formalized form of prayer. Its timings, positions, postures, style including the wording and recitations are all fixed by the Prophet . It is not permissible to introduce any new style or liturgy in Salat. Du'a, however, is another form of Islamic prayer that is informal and there is no restriction as to who performs it and how and when it is performed. It can be performed in any language. It can be done individually or collectively. It can be led by males or females. In Salat we are supposed to follow the Sunnah. We cannot add or delete anything from the Salat if we want our Salat to be valid and acceptable to Allah.
About Du'a one can say that since we are not forbidden to do our Du'a in a particular manner we are allowed to do it the way we want it; but in Salat every thing is forbidden unless it is allowed. For example the Prophet did not say that Salat cannot be performed in English. He did not say that you cannot have Salat in congregation six times a day. Now based on this argument we cannot start having our Salat in English or six times every day.
In our Salat we stand very close to each other or as we say "shoulder to shoulder and ankle to ankle" almost touching each other. We stand in straight lines. We make ruku' and sujud. We are supposed to pray with sincerity and devotion concentrating our heart and mind towards the prayer. For this reason the Prophet told us that men and women should have separate lines. The lines of men should be in the front area, then the lines of children and then women. The Imam should stand in front of the congregation and should make ruku' and sajdah before the congregation and they should follow the Imam.
The ideal way in this structure of prayer service is to separate men from women and not allow a woman to be ahead of all men and bow and prostrate in front of them. Haya' is a special character of Islam. It is emphasized that men and women both must observe Haya' (modesty) always and especially in their places of worship. Prophet's wife 'Aishah and his Companion Ibn 'Abbas are reported to have said that a woman leading other women in prayer should not stand in front of them like a male Imam, but in their midst.
Some people refer to the Hadith of Um Warqah who was allowed by the Prophet -peace be upon him- to lead the Salat. According to the Sunan of Abu Da'ud, the Hadith says: "Umm Waraqah wanted to accompany the Prophet to the battle of Badr, but the Prophet told her to stay in her home." Further in this Hadith it is said that the Prophet used to visit her in her home. He appointed a person to give Adhan for her and he told her to lead the prayer for the people of her house (Ahl dariha). Abdur Rahman ibn Khallad (the reporter of this Hadith) said, "I saw her mu'adhin who was a very old man." (Abu Da'ud 500). In another reports of this Hadith it is said that the Prophet told her to lead the prayers of the women of her house (nisa' dariha). (Reported by Dar Qutni).
This Hadith does not give permission to women to lead the Salat of men in the Masjid, it is restricted to the home and according to some only for the women of the home. Most of the scholars of Hadith and Fiqh did not use this as a general permission of the Prophet for women to be Imams of the Masajid and lead men and women in prayers. If this would have been the general case then many other very able and qualified women in the time of the Prophet and after him would have been leading Salat in the Masajid.
We pray to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala that we sincerely follow His Din (prescribed way of life) without any innovation or exaggeration.
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