God says: Say not, of any false thing that your tongues may put forth, “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” ascribing false things to God. For those who ascribe false things to God will never prosper. (Qur’an, 16:116)
Pre-post: People, calm the hell down about the title of this post. There’s nothing “Islamic” about your claims, your hate against female-led prayers. Your threats to those who support female-led prayers and your decisions that those of us who support it are outside the fold of Islam. Remember that the nonsense you’re saying about those supporting such prayers applies to all the scholars of the past, the revered beloved scholars you take seriously in pretty much all other matters, who supported female-led prayers. The death threats women get for leading prayers, the insults they get, the accusations, the other attacks, would you do the same to the men who support female-led prayers? Because, bruh, among the historical scholars who supported female-led prayers *of mixed congregations* are Abu Thawr (d. 854), al-Muzani (d. 877), al-Zahiri (d. 883), Tabari (d. 923), and Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240). This is a reminder to those who think “all the scholars” agree that such prayers are prohibited. And to those claiming that no woman ever led a prayer, 1) so if you find out that a woman DID in fact lead such a prayer in the past, will you then support female-led prayers? If no, then what’re you doing exactly? whass your point? 2) we don’t have a record of every single thing in Islamic history, so it’s very possible that you don’t know about someone who led such a prayer, and it’s not okay to make prohibitions based on assumptions and a lack of information, and 3) actually, we do got women in the past doing this. But at any rate, which past are we talking about? When would a woman have to have led a prayer for you to accept it as legit? If during the Prophet’s time, then if the prohibition itself isn’t from the Prophet (because it’s not), why do you accept the prohibition as valid but claim that you’ll accept an example from the Prophet’s time as sufficiently valid?… am I confusing you yet? No shit. And here we were, thinking Islam was all clear and simple and stuff.
This thing happened a couple days ago. In Kerala, India, a Muslim woman named Jamida Beevi led a mixed-gender prayer. And to those who don’t think this is a big deal, yeah, it kinda is … you see, the woman who led the prayer is receiving death threats now. (Women have been doing this a long while, but this is the latest case of it that made it to the media. Surely, we’ve all heard or read about when Dr. Amina Wadud led a mixed prayer, too.) As usual, Muslim men – and many women, too – are angry as fuck. Male fragility at its finest. Some people love to make issues out of nothing. I’m not even going to comment on the silence of these same-ass people when it comes to actual problems in society, like domestic violence, child sexual abuse (if anything, many of these people actually support the sexual predators and abusive men around us), poverty, violence against religious and ethnic minorities in their own countries, wars, the treatment of the poor and other marginalized community members, and so on. Islam suddenly only becomes relevant when someone’s practice of it infringes on these people’s privilege. More evidence on this in response to my article on women’s marriage to the People of the Book (shocking revelation: the Qur’an doesn’t prohibit it, it turns out).
Now, I’m not writing this to convince anyone that Islam does in fact allow female-led prayer of mixed congregations. The title of this post is a fact, not an opinion. People set in their ways aren’t likely to be convinced – because, when you understand patriarchy, you realize that patriarchy lies at the root of these kinds of oppositions. Islam just makes for a good, easy scapegoat in maintaining the patriarchy.
So this post is actually for those who do already believe Islam does not prohibit female-led prayer of mixed congregations and have a hard time explaining it to others or even to themselves, and they need Islamic evidence. And I’m writing this also more for myself than anyone else because it turns out, this topic keeps coming up in Muslim circles, and I get tired of repeating myself (and I think it’s important to engage certain topics and certain people). Now I can just give them the link to this blog post. Whew.
first of all.
See, the first question I have to ask when addressing the claim that Islam forbids female-led prayer is, what’s “Islam” here? What do we mean by “Islam” when we say it forbids female-led prayer? Because it’s not in the Qur’an, and there aren’t even hadiths about it (see below on the hadiths people do cite about this), so what DO people actually mean? It looks to me like people simply mean some (male) scholars’ conclusion that it’s not allowed. But that’s dangerous. And here’s a liberating fact: there were plenty of scholars in Islamic history who supported female-led prayer. The “majority” of the scholars prohibit it – and who’s to say what “majority” even means, though? – but among those who supported it that we know about are the ones I’ve listed above (Abu Thawr, al-Tabari, Muzani, Zahiri, and Ibn al-Arabi). These folks allowed a woman to lead prayer under all circumstances, in absolute terms, without any qualifications. These scholars permitted a woman’s leadership of prayer – not just of women but also of men, of the whole community – because there’s no scriptural, no textual evidence that supports the prohibition. The prohibition is literally fabricated.
Hanafi and Maliki schools don’t even allow women to lead other women in prayer.
Here’s a fun fact, actually: some of the legal schools (like the Hanafi and Maliki) also forbid women from leading other women in prayer! Ibn Rushd tells us:
“The majority maintained that a woman is not allowed to lead men (in prayer), but they disagreed about her being an imam for women. Shāfiʿī allowed it, but Mālik opposed it (fa-l-jumhūr ʿalā ʾannahu lā yajūz ʾan taʾumm al-rijāl, wa ikhtalafuwā fī ʾimāmatihā al-nisāʾ, fa-ajāza dhālik al-Shāfiʿī, wa mānaʿa dhālika Mālik). Abū Thawr (d. 854) and Ṭabarī departed (from the others’ view) and allowed a woman to be an imam with no restrictions at all (wa shadhdha Abū Thawr, wa al-Ṭabarī, fa-ʾajāzā ʾimāmatihā ʿalā al-ʾiṭlāq). (This is on p. 145 of vol. 1 of Bidayat al-Mujtahid (The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer Volume I), available online in Arabic here; page 161 is where this appears in the English translation, available online here.
You can read more about these positions in Behnam Sadeghi’s book, The Logic of Law Making in Islam: Women and Prayer in the Legal Tradition (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization). These scholars had evidence right in front of them that Umm Waraqa and Aisha had led prayers – Aisha definitely at least other women, but Umm Waraqa the whole community (to be discussed below) – and still, they dismissed these hadiths and decided not to allow a woman to lead other women. Shaybani, a Hanafi scholar, said, “We would not like (la yu‘jibunā) a woman to lead, but if she does, she must stand in the middle of the row with the women, as ‘Aisha did.” And then later, he totally ruled against all female-led prayers, even of a female-only congregation. (This is on page 78 of Sadeghi’s book.) I’m rolling my eyes so hard I worry they might pop out of my head. Patriarchy literally hurts me, folks.
The amount of questions I have about this … see, this is one of the many reasons I don’t buy the pretentious attitude of “scholars” and so many lay Muslims who act like our hands are tied. No, our hands are NOT tied. You have no problem departing from the historical scholarly consensus when you feel like it. Why can’t you in this case, too, assuming, of course, that the consensus even does exist on this matter?
Because today, most Muslims don’t seem to have an issue with a woman leading other women in prayer. And this often goes without saying, for them. They’ll say, “Well, of course a woman can lead other women in prayer. It’s just men we can’t lead in prayer.” And they’re very confident that “Islam,” whatever Islam means here, would obviously support women leading other women in prayer. I mean, what could go wrong, and what could be the evidence not allowing it, right? Or what could even be the reason? It’s not like the women congregants are going to be sexually attracted to the woman leading them, right? (To be fair to one Hanafi jurist, though, al-Sarakhsi, he actually believes that the reason women and men can’t pray next to each other is that there’s mutually sexual desire. #danger.) Yeah, except … Abu Hanifa and Malik are like, na, man, let’s not allow women to lead anyone at all; leadership is about superiority and intellect and a strong spirituality, and we all know women lack in spirituality and intellect, so they must be led; they cannot be doing the leading (recall that hadith everyone knows about that tells us women are deficient in intellect and faith because #insertCircularNonsenseHere). In anything. Again, to quote Ibn Rushd, the scholars “disagreed about the imama of a woman. The majority maintained that she cannot lead men, but they disagreed about her leading women.” If the majority said she can’t lead men, then there must have been a “minority” that said she can. And those in the minority are pretty credible, authoritative scholars. We’re talking Tabari, for instance.
So if the Hanafi and Maliki schools prohibited even woman-led prayers *of other women* but most Hanafis and Malikis today support them, clearly disagreeing with their past consensus, what does that mean about the purpose of these legal schools? What does that mean about Islam? At what point do we get to say, “Yeah, no, that wasn’t okay in the past, but it’s totally fine today”? And who gets to initiate the breaking of that consensus and have their opinion count? Why can’t that apply to all the women and men today, of whichever madhhab, who support female-led mixed prayers? Why can’t their opinions be considered valid? Oh, right – they didn’t study in the right institution with the right people. Yeah, like you’ll suddenly start taking my feminist opinions seriously if I went to al-Azhar and studied under a shaikh you don’t even know exists. Quit thinking you’re capable of fooling me.
the Umm Waraqa hadith.
Imam Zaid Shakir claims (look this up on your own) that Abu Thawr, Tabari, and others who supported mixed female-led prayers held the wrong position because they used the Umm Waraqa hadith to support their position, and Shaki thinks that hadith is weak. Shakir is wrong. Here’s something about the Umm Warraqa hadith that he probably didn’t know at the time of writing his reaction piece to female-led prayers:
Thanks to Simonetta Calderini’s research on this topic, from 2013 (long before Shakir made his claims about its imagined haraamness), we now know that earlier versions of the hadith report use the word “household” (the word dār means community, not just household – think of dār al-Islam/dār al-Ḥarb) while later ones replace it with “her women” (nisā’ahā). The Prophet (s.) told (“ordered”) her to lead her dār in prayer herself and to not come to the mosque in Medina because the mosque in Medina was too far from her, so it was an inconvenience. The Prophet (s.) also assigned her a muaddhin, someone who gives the call to prayer. You don’t need a muaddhin when leading an informal household prayer. For more on this, see Juliane Hammer’s book and this article on the Islamic basis of female-led prayer.
Now, assuming that the Umm Waraqa hadith is weak, like some claim it is, does that mean that women can’t even lead other women in prayer? How convenient that it’s weak, though, no?
Ibn Qudamah (d. 1223) tells us that IF the Umm Waraqa hadith is correct, then that’s a specific case that applies only to her (#whyTho?). Seriously, why? Why does Ibn Qudamaha’s opinion get to matter on this?
Do you see what’s happening here? Are you getting a better sense of the patriarchy of this all? We’re so, so certain that woman-led prayers are unacceptable according to God that we’ll find every path possible to arrive at that conclusion.
And before anyone asks, the Ibn Maja hadith proclaiming “never, ever can a woman lead a man in prayer” is weak for several reasons, like its questionable chain and the racist/classist nonsense it supports. Because the hadith says that “a woman may not lead a man in prayer, nor may a Bedouin lead a believer of the Muhajirun, nor a corrupt person lead a committed Muslim in prayer.” #YeahNo.
Also, the scholars wanted to make sure that we all knew a woman’s place so they said when a woman does lead a prayer (of other women, of course), she must stand in the middle of the women, in the first row with the women rather than ahead of them. Women enjoy an inferior status like that. The male imam is to stand ahead of everyone else, but the female imam is as inferior as the rest of the women, so.
on consensus (ijma’)
People who support the prohibition are confident that the ijma’ says women cannot lead mixed prayers. We have Yasir Qadhi telling us that ijma’ means all the scholars and all the ummah must agree on something. (I’m not going to link this source. This is from a talk of his on YouTube on change, tradition, modernity or something. I watched the whole thing for my research, and it gave me a headache. So a note to those currently invested in self-care: don’t watch it.) This is not only impossible, unless you limit what you mean by “ummah” and “all the scholars,” but it’s also an incorrect definition of ijma’ according to those who say that the term simply applies to the position of majority of scholars (but what do we do when the “majority” changes with each generation?) Look, I’m not saying we have to be consistent all the time on everything, but can we please first have an ijma’ on the meaning of ijma’ before using it left and right to dismiss anyone whose opinion doesn’t fit the ijma’? I mean, YQ tells us that the reason female-led prayer is prohibited is that “all the scholars” and “all of the ummah” disagree with it. WHICH ummah is he talking about? Am I and the thousands others who support female-led prayer a part of that ummah? Are Tabari and the other guys supporting female-led prayer a part of the ummah and/or the “scholars”? Are contemporary scholars a part of the ummah and ijma’ or is it limited to only those of the past? And if the past, why?! Islam isn’t dead. If we had to rely only the opinions of scholars, what’s the point of having the Qur’an?
But here’s the thing. Let’s assume that Qadhi is right in his definition of the ummah/scholars and the claim that female-led prayer is prohibited (he’s wrong, but we’ve already established that). If he were to learn, and he should, that contrary to his assumption and expectation, there were actually scholars who departed from the consensus position on this matter – as on all other matters – would he then support female-led prayers? I highly doubt it. The way it works is that we stick to the patriarchal position so bad that we’ll keep coming up with excuses to maintain it until we can’t anymore. We’ll change once entire rest of the world has changed its position on something before we do it, too, like with slavery or child marriage. Though the latter is still contested. Sighs.
Then we got the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA), who published a piece by an anonymous editor back in 2005 after Wadud’s prayer, consisting of the opinions of all men and one woman, concluding that “the consensus” does not allow female-led prayers. Am I supposed to be grateful that they at least included one female in the list, an academic? Well, I’m not. They clearly hand selected who got to be in their “consensus.” How convenient that they didn’t include, for example, Wadud in the list to show that at the very least, the issue is complex.
My favorite part about ijma’ is when people say – and AMJA does this too – that the reason we must maintain positions of ijma’ for all times is that the scholars would never agree on misguidance. According to AMJA, woman-led mixed prayers are prohibited for several reasons, none of them to do with the Qur’an or hadiths, one stating that the consensus of the scholars is decisive proof, “for Allah made it impossible that the body of the Muslims to be united upon misguidance, and whoever strays away from the consensus of the Muslims over the generations opening a door of misguidance…”… My face literally blanks out at this because I have so much to say all I’ve got is question marks all over it and then they won’t stop so they all just get tired of being on my face. I mean, there’s so much wrong with this. If Allah made it impossible that the body of the Muslims ever be united upon misguidance, how do we explain the historical consensus on slavery? On sexual relations with slaves? Today, that’s a huge no-no. And do we know why that became a no-no? Because people had to fight to make slavery illegal (officially, anyway). People had to fight to declare all humans equal enough so that no one got to buy any other human as a slave. They also once had a consensus that ain’t nothing wrong marrying children. Try telling me this isn’t misguidance, this isn’t bad, this isn’t an injustice, this isn’t a wrong. They ALSO agreed by consensus – literally all of history – that a man can physically hit his wife (read more about this in Ayesha Chaudhry’s book, Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition.)
Are you seriously going to pretend like these men couldn’t hold a wrong opinion? I don’t care at all that they were “scholars” – that means zilch to me if they’re going to exploit their position of authority only to support things that we all hopefully agree are wrong (like the above three examples). Look, I know we’ve imagined these men to have been the most ideal, most perfect Muslims of all times, but they actually were preetttyy misogynistic and racist and had other qualities we consider really horrible today (actually, these qualities were horrible back then too). And that’s not okay. Our definitions of credible sources and scholars should include non-misogyny so that anyone who harbored the kinds of views that we find absolutely unacceptable should not be a legit source. They certainly shouldn’t be a source on anything that’s to do with women, at least.
Just for the fun of it, I’m going to list here the other reasons AMJA gave supporting the prohibition. It’s embarrassing, I know, but patriarchy tends to embarrass the fuck out of itself like this.
Their second reason is: “the whole Muslim Ummah in the East and West has collectively agreed that there is no leeway for women to deliver the Friday Khutbah or to lead the Friday prayer” (I’m all question marks again!) 3) women must pray behind men “to protect them from tribulation and blocking the steps leading to fitnah [disruption] from all aspects” (huh?); 4) women are not obligated to attend the Friday prayer (what’s your point?); and 5) “it has never been established that even one woman in all of Islamic history has went [sic] forth to do this act or even asked to do it, throughout the consecutive ages, from the birth of Islam” (#iroll – the confidence of mediocre men). In none of these reasons is it shown that woman-led prayers, whether Friday or otherwise, are prohibited in the Qur’an or the hadiths. Instead, AMJA appeals to popular Muslim anxieties regarding female modesty and sexuality and the imagined irrepressible sexual urges of men and the obvious nonexistence sexual urges of women to insist on the prohibition.
You should know that the discussion following Wadud’s prayer, to which AMJA’s response speaks, included opinions both supporting and opposing the prayer; yet, AMJA conveniently selected only the opinions opposed to the prayer and presented them as the “consensus amongst contemporary Islamic and Muslim legal scholars” on the issue. Yeah, I literally can’t even.
Speaking of sexual urges – because those babies are always relevant, you understand – did you know that according to historical scholars, a slave woman can pray with her hair and breasts showing? Yeah, free women can’t, but slave women can. Talk about the subjectivity of all this nonsense. This has nothing to do with modesty. This has nothing to do with Islam. It’s to do instead with the social status of a woman. By this logic, though, if men are clearly not sexually attracted to slave women, since they can show their breasts let alone their hair during prayer, can slave women lead prayers? The reason here changes, though: no, slave women cannot lead a prayer because some scholars said that slaves are not allowed to lead free people in prayer. Okay, fine, then can a slave woman lead an all-slave congregation in prayer? lol, silly boo, what you talking. Islam doesn’t allow slavery slash slavery doesn’t exist slash Islam prohibited slavery slash everyone’s equal in Islam. Yeah, well, your favorite scholars don’t think so.
Yeah, let that sink in, beloved Muslims.
Oh, and one more thing about this sexual urges business. It turns out, many scholars were like, na this isn’t about sexual urges or modesty and stuff. Those who relied on the sexual attraction excuse when supporting the prohibition included Ibn al-Humām (d. 1457), Al-Ḥalabī (d. 1549), Abu al-Su’ud (d. 1574), and Ibn ‘Abidin (d. 1836). It was about female inferiority for these superior guys. Bless Sarakhsi (d. 1096) for promoting the idea that it was about sexual attraction, though! (More on this Sadeghi, pp. 60-61.)
where the prohibition stems from.
I don’t want to say too much here, so I’m going to keep this point brief. There was a ridiculous minority view going around in the first century of Islam that declared that women break prayers because of their ability to menstruate, that women transmit ritual impurity because they menstruate. It explained that a man’s prayer is invalidated when a woman prays alongside men, or in a congregation with men, but the women’s prayer isn’t invalidated since – you understand – we’re all walking impurities, so what difference does it make. This applied to all women that a man prayed next to, whether his daughter, sister, mother, grandmother… nothing to do with sexual attraction. Don’t worry – the view later died out. But its powerful patriarchal impact remained. You can read more about this in Sadeghi in his discussion on the adjacency laws (women and men praying next to each other).
If everyone’s bending at the same time during prayer, how does anyone have time to check anyone’s butts out?
Here’s the thing: like everything else patriarchy promotes, the modesty/sexuality explanation makes no sense if you actually think about it even for a moment. Think about it. Women not bending in front of men? Fine, then when the woman is leading a prayer, have the women pray right behind her so the men don’t see her butt like everyone’s afraid men will see and go cray-cray because that’s obviously what’s supposed to happen (that has never happened, though, like ever). Oh, did you just give a rebuttal that actually, having a whole row of women praying in front of men would be worse? Yeah, well, in that case, have you not noticed that everyone’s supposed to go into sujood at the exact same time and get up at the exact same time? At what point are we imagining men to get a glimpse of the women’s butts in front of them and go cray?
And besides, what about what (heterosexual) women want? We, too, have sexual desires, you know? We, too, find men with attractive voice and butts irresistible. If we’re trained to suppress those urges and thoughts because that’s inappropriate in a sacred space, in the House of God, then you (heterosexual) men and absolutely must, too.
Fucking stop twisting Islam to accommodate and honor ridiculous, barbaric male fantasies. Islam isn’t just for men; it’s also for women.
why is prayer an intimate ritual, and why is this intimacy gendered?
Just… just why? To women who support the prohibition using their personal preferences like, “I Just wouldn’t feel comfortable praying in front of men,” all I can say is … okay, that’s totally, totally fair, and that’s totally cool. But that doesn’t mean you get to deny that right to other women who do feel comfortable doing it. No one’s forbidding you to attend a mosque where men lead prayers. Forbidding things like that is a thing of patriarchy. We’re saying instead that there’s nothing invalid about a woman leading a prayer or women praying alongside men (I know this latter point isn’t one I’ve discussed here yet, and I don’t think I will, but I believe in this).
This is the most interesting claim given in support of the prohibition. People say, “it’s just never been done before.” First of all, so what? But also, says who? How do you know that? How can you claim such a thing without any knowledge on the issue? What if it did happen and you just don’t know about it? And when must this act have occurred in order for it to count as precedent? Will our practices today count as precedence for generations of Muslims down the road, say 500 years from now?
Simonetta Calderini has some great points to make about this whole precedence issue, in a talk she presented at George Mason University in 2014. It’s called “Citing the Past to Address the Present: Authorities and Unexpected Interlocutors on Female Leadership of Salat” and is available online here.
I think about this a lot. I think about why it is that precedence is the main thing that comes up particularly in the question of female-led prayer. Why is this? I find this a very dangerous move, actually. I find reliance on historical precedence a very dangerous move. I could easily say that since we’ve got plenty of precedence supporting child marriage and slavery, we can’t prohibit these two. Or that since there is no precedence of scholars interpreting Qur’anic verse 4:34 in a non-violent way in the past, we today also can’t interpret it in a non-violent way. What would this mean?
Besides, let’s not forget that there’s a whole erasure of women’s contributions to Islam that has taken place, and continues to take place, so even if there were many, many women who led prayers or supported such prayers, you wouldn’t know about them.
Also, stop acting like you’ve done enough research on this topic to know whether this ever occurred in the past or not.
where you can and should read more about this.
You begin with Amina Wadud’s Inside the Gender Jihad. It’s a detailed reflection on and discussion of gender, (textual interpretive / religious) authority, patriarchy, and justice – and Wadud’s prayer from 2005 and its aftermath. Reading this book, for me, was an experience. I soaked in every word of it, every page; I felt all of it. (For more on why she led the prayer and her message of justice in Islam, see this.) Also, since too many of us like to pretend that race has nothing to do with Islam, or that there’s no racism in Islam (whatever that means), as if the race of the scholars we admire so greatly and trust so uncritically and often unthinkingly is irrelevant to their conclusions, Wadud also deals with race in this book. She’s one of the first scholars to challenge the now-totally-false binary of “scholarship vs activism,” “academic vs personal.” Because, really, all of us, and especially women and gender/sexual minorities are implicated in all possible interpretations of the Qur’an, and it matters who says what. They affect us on personal, intimate levels. Yeah, I could go on here.
Another of the most important books on this topic is Juliane Hammer’s American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More Than a Prayer. (here’s a review of the book.) Hammer views Wadud’s 2005 highly publicized prayer not as just a prayer but as a symbolic act, as a part of something bigger, of a larger Muslim women’s struggle for authority, as a larger debate and contribution to meanings of tradition, authenticity, leadership, access, and interpretation, all in the context of Islam. It contextualizes the topic, explains that this question of female-led prayer is beyond just prayer and is in fact emblematic of larger questions of authority, gender, patriarchal interpretations of Islam, and so on. We learn some important things about how authority works, too. The book is especially helpful for those who keep saying, “But so what that women can’t lead prayers?! It’s not like they’re being oppressed! There’s nothing wrong with not being allowed to lead a prayer.” Or “*I* don’t wanna lead a prayer, I don’t see why this is even relevant. We need to fight for more relevant things, like actual oppressive stuff.” Or, what so many people keep saying on our FITNA page, “Being allowed to lead a prayer or leading prayer has nothing to do with empowerment. This is a useless battle.” Fine, but read this book anyway.
Marion Katz’s Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice is another useful book on this topic. Among the many fun patriarchal facts we get from this book is that scholars legit claimed that the hadith in which the Prophet says men cannot prevent women from going to the mosque didn’t really mean what it says, and that it certainly isn’t applicable to all cases, that you can certainly prevent women from going to the mosque sometimes or some mosques or some women. In other words, they were like, na, this clearly easily women-friendly hadith means the opposite of what it actually says, thus empowering men and patriarchy one deliberate misinterpretation at a time.
Then there’s Behnam Sadeghi’s The Logic of Law Making in Islam: Women and Prayer in the Legal Tradition. (I mention it earlier.) Sadeghi explores women’s prayer in the Hanafi tradition, including rationales of the prohibition or the different approaches to female-led prayer (mixed or not), communal prayers with women, men leading all-women congregations, and so on, and, in the process, shows how Islamic legal theory works: the rules/claims/conclusions themselves are the starting point for jurists, and the justifications come after. This means that the jurists come up with – in the case of female-led prayer – a patriarchal point, and then they’ll do anything and go to any lengths necessary to defend the heck out of it.
Jonathan Brown, who re-discovered in 2014 the findings of Muslim feminists who had written on this topic a lot earlier on, has a section on female-led prayer in Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy Like the Muslim feminists – but not utilizing the Muslim feminists’ contributions who wrote extensively on the topic – he discovers that contrary to popular assumptions and even scholarly claims, there’s no textual/scriptural evidence supporting the prohibition. (I mean, he doesn’t even mention Reda, Calderini, Silvers, or the others who’ve written extensively on the topic, let alone actually citing them – he does discuss Zaid Shakir, though #butofcourse; he’s even in the index. The only two women he actually names in this discussion are Amina Wadud and Asra Nomani, the latter only to state her thirst for publicity to promote an upcoming book. The former because … I mean, he kinda has to: he wouldn’t have to deal with this issue at all if it hadn’t been for Wadud’s prayer. And Juliane Hammer’s book on this gets a citation and a footnote or two but no engagement at all with it. Hammer’s cited basically to support his condescending opinion of Asra Nomani, almost as if to say, “Hey, I’m not the one saying this.”) The book is available online as a PDF here. Check out page 191 especially, but the discussion is from pp. 189-199 in the text.
Finally, for a more primary text, Ibn Rushd’s Bidayat al-Mujtahid (The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer) is a legal manual where he provides the perspectives of different schools/scholars on pretty much most topics you can think of. Female-led prayer and other rules of imama are covered in vol. 1, available in English online here; the female-led prayer discussion begins on p. 161 of the text, 167 of the PDF. See previous pages for rules of prayer leadership generally because it’s not all that clear cut after all.
Then there are several great articles, including but not limited to:
– what I’ve referenced from Nevin Reda above, like “Women in the Mosque: Historical Perspectives on Segregation” (abstract available here). And her “The Islamic Basis for Female Led Prayers” available here.
– Calderini’s: “Classical Sources on the Permissibly of Female Imams: An analysis of Some Hadiths about Umm Waraqa.” In Sources and Approaches Across Near Eastern Disciplines, ed. Verena Klemm et al. And her talk on this, called “Citing the Past to Address the Present: Authorities and Unexpected Interlocutors on Female Leadership of Salat,” is available online here.
– Ahmed Elewa and Laury Silvers’ “‘I am one of the people’: A Survey and Analysis of Legal Arguments on Woman-Led Prayers in Islam” (JSTOR link here).
Check their bibliographies for more references. If scholarship done by contemporary scholars, especially women, is meaningless to you, chill – you can still learn something from all of this scholarship because these folks engage with your favorite past scholars and their support for their position going either way.
omg so what does this all mean?!
It can mean anything you want it to mean. It’s like with everything else – does Islam allow XYZ? Well, it can and it can’t depending on what Muslims want. Does Islam allow slavery? It once did, yes, because Muslims decided it could; now it can’t because Muslims decided it can’t. Literally the exact same thing goes for everything else. Islam isn’t a dead thing; it’s a living and lived tradition that Muslims are constantly working with and around to get what they want, and there’s nothing wrong with that except when these interpretive choices we make are exclusionary and selective in oppressive ways, further marginalizing already marginalized peoples, like women, LGBTQ Muslims, and so on.
But to me, there’s something even more interesting in all thing.
If the prohibition is neither Qur’anic nor in the hadiths, what does it say about Islam and our sources of it that we’ll pull out a prohibition out of male fragility? (I don’t think it’s debatable that sexist (fine, “gendered”) prohibitions are all, always, about male fragility.) What does it mean that our sources of Islam keep changing depending on the topic in question? I ask people what makes them think that female-led prayers are impermissible, and they first say it must be in the Qur’an. Then I go, and if it’s not? They go, Then it must be in the hadiths. Then I go, and if it’s not? Then they get real confused and say, “Well, there must be some wisdom behind it.” And/or “It just makes sense.” But what about prohibiting women from leading prayers makes sense? Well, that’s pretty obvious: female modesty is mandatory in Islam (what?). Women are sexual creatures – but we’ve already all established that men are not sexual creatures, okay? – and since they’re desirable to men, we must protect men’s ridiculous apparent out-of-place urges by making sure women are as invisible in the mosque and in all spaces as possible. So we’re told this is why the gender separation in mosques is necessary. Because, you know, men are lustful creatures who have no control over their sexual stamina (about which, by the way, here are some fascinating facts).
In other words, we come up with a conclusion slash we make a decision first, and THEN we try to find justifications for it. Which is why the reasons and explanations for the prohibition keep changing.
In conclusion, for the love of God stop pulling out patriarchal rulings out of your asses and calling it Islam. You’re making it really hard for those of us who see religion/Islam as a source and force of guidance and mercy, of compassion for all, and not as one of tyranny.
This isn’t over, people. I’ll be back to write about this later, especially as responses and rebuttals to Yasmin Mogahed’s and Zaid Shakir’s articles on female-led prayer from over a decade ago that are so full of dangerous fallacies and assumptions I can’t believe they exist. So this discussion on female-led prayer is a part of my research, and so it’ll be a part of the rest of my life ❤ I have a whole chapter on this in my dissertation, and I’m happy to share that with anyone interested once the dissertation is publicly availz, inshaAllah.
P.S. No, I don’t think I need to “tone it down” a little so that I’ll be taken more seriously. Do you know me but at all?!
Categories: Death to patriarchy
17 replies ›
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