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Thoughts on the Women’s Mosque of America

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On Friday, January 30th the Women’s Mosque of America will be offering its first woman led Friday prayer exclusively for women and children in Los Angeles. This event will definitely attract a lot of attention from both within the Muslim community and outside of it. Within the Muslim community it has become the topic of number of discussions and debates because of its unprecedented nature. Outside the Muslim community any story with the words Islam and women automatically becomes headline fodder.

The purpose of this article isn’t to question or critique the sincerity, intentions and objectives behind the all-female Friday prayer; this is not an attack. Rather, the purpose is to explore the legal basis for having such an event and to suggest other ways of achieving the same outcome.

Permissibility of Women Imams in Women-Only Congregations

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There’s a difference of opinion amongst the four schools of thought regarding whether or not a woman can be the imām of an exclusively female congregation. According to the Hanafis, Shafi’is and Hanbalis it’s permissible. The Hanafis add that although it may be permissible it’s disliked (makrūh), but the disliked nature doesn’t affect the validity of the prayer. They also add that the woman leading the congregation shouldn’t stand in front. She should stand alongside the other women in the middle of the row. They base their opinion on a few narrations that mention that ‘Aisha and Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) used to lead women in prayer.

‘Abdul Razzāq , Al-Daraqutni , and Al-Baihaqi report from Raitah Al-Hanafiyyah that she said, “’A’ishah led us and she stood between us during the obligatory prayer.

Al-Baihaqi reports from ‘Ata that ’A’ishah used to say the adhan, the iqamah and lead women in prayer while standing among them in the same row.

Ibn Abi Shaybah and ‘Abdul Razzāq report from ‘Ammar Al-Dahni that he stated that a woman from his tribe Hujayrah narrated that Umm Salamah used to lead women in prayer while standing in the same row. The wording from Abdul Razzāq is that “Umm Salamah led us (women) in ‘Asr prayer and stood among us.”

There are a few other narrations that explicitly mention that ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), the wives of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), led women in either obligatory or voluntary prayers.

Another narration that is used as evidence is the hadīth of Umm Waraqah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) narrated in the Sunan of Abu Dawūd, Musnad of Imam Ahmad, and Mustadrak Al-Hakim. Umm Waraqah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said that I said, “O Messenger of Allah! Grant me permission to participate in battle with you. I’ll nurse the sick and perhaps Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will grant me martyrdom.” He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Stay in your house. For very Allah will grant you martyrdom.” She sought permission from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to appoint a muadhin for her home and he granted her permission.” In another version recorded in Abu Dawūd it mentions that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to visit her at her house. He assigned a muadhin to make the adhan for her and ordered her to lead the people of her home.

According to the Malikis it’s not permissible for a woman to lead other women in congregational prayer, regardless of whether it’s obligatory or voluntary.

Based on the above, according to the majority it’s permissible for a woman to be the imām of an exclusively female congregation for both obligatory and voluntary prayers. The question that needs to be answered is does this ruling apply to the Friday prayer as well?

Does the Permissibility Apply to Friday Prayer?

womens mosque2

The narrations that establish the permissibility of a woman leading other women in congregation are referring to the five daily prayers and voluntary prayers. None of them mention the Friday prayer or that ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) or Umm Waraqah used to deliver the sermon. These narrations don’t refer to the Friday prayer. As a matter of fact there’s not a single narration mentioning that any of the female companions ever led or participated in an exclusive all-female Friday congregation. Similarly, there’s no narration mentioning that a female companion ever delivered a Friday sermon. This is something that has no precedent in history or tradition. The issue of precedence isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It plays a major role in formulating legal rulings. If this was something that was considered to be an accepted practice or normal there would be some evidence of it having taken place in the first three generations of Islam. There’s a generally accepted principle of Islamic jurisprudence that states that the default ruling for acts of worship is impermissibility. In order for an act of worship to be permissible there has to be some sort of textual evidence for it in the Qur’ān, Sunnah or even through ijma’.

Interestingly, the narration of Umm Waraqah is also used by a small minority to establish the permissibility of a woman leading men in congregation as well. The problem with that is first and foremost that this narration itself is considered to be weak by the experts of hadīth. According to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence a weak hadīth can’t be used as evidence for a legal ruling. Even if it’s assumed that the hadith is sound it still can’t be used as evidence for the permissibility of a woman leading a mixed congregation. The hadith mentions that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told her to lead the people of her house in prayer. It doesn’t mention who those people were. It doesn’t mention if it included males or not. There’s also another version of the narration that specifies she was told to lead the women of her house.

To add to that the Friday prayer is not like any other obligatory prayer. That’s why it has a different set of conditions and rulings associated with it. All four schools of thought agree that the Friday prayer is not an obligation upon women. Since all of the conditions won’t be met if a women does lead an exclusively female congregation in Friday prayers it would count as a voluntary prayer. They would still have to pray Dhuhr.

Something else to keep in mind is that the Friday prayer is a unique opportunity for the entire local Muslim community to come together and meet on a weekly basis. It’s an opportunity for men, women, children and families of the community to come to the masjid to worship, learn and build relationships. Organizing exclusive Friday congregations would perhaps take away from the spirit of the Friday prayer.

Different Means to the Same End

The Women’s Mosque of America states their objective as the following, “The Women’s Mosque of America seeks to uplift the Muslim community by empowering women and girls through more direct access to Islamic scholarship and leadership opportunities. The Women’s Mosque of America will provide a safe space for women to feel welcome, respected, and actively engaged within the Muslim Ummah. It will complement existing mosques, offering opportunities for women to grow, learn, and gain inspiration to spread throughout their respective communities.”

The objectives and goals behind the idea are definitely noble and highly encouraged. Sisters should be empowered, inspired have access to scholarship and be in leadership positions. They should have spaces where they feel safe, welcomed and respected. These same objectives can be achieved by working with existing institutions. Most of the major Islamic Centers in SoCal are very accommodating. There are knowledgeable, powerful and inspiring female speakers, women led programs, gatherings and qiyāms, and women serving on masjid boards even as presidents. There’s been a lot of progress in the past several years to empower women and increase their involvement in local institutions. Of course there’s a lot more to be done.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a Women’s Mosque of America. Historically, there have been all women’s mosques in places such as China as centers of learning, spirituality, gathering and worship. What is problematic is doing something that has no legal precedent.


Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He regularly delivers khutbahs and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in southern California.

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Shaykh Furhan Zubairi was born in 1983 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, he moved and spent most of his youth in Southern California, graduating from high school in Irvine in 2001. He began his pursuit of Islamic knowledge and spirituality at the Institute of Knowledge (IOK) in 1998, where he started the memorization of the Qur’an and studied the primary books in the Islamic Sciences and Arabic language. After starting college, he took a break and went to Karachi, Pakistan, for 9 months to complete the memorization of the Qur’an at Jami’ah Binoria. He returned home and completed his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine in 2005. He then traveled to Egypt to further his studies of the Arabic language. Thereafter, his pursuit of Islamic knowledge led him back to Pakistan, where he completed a formal ‘Alamiyyah degree (Masters in Arabic and Islamic Studies) at the famous Jami’ah Dar Al-’Ulum in Karachi. He has obtained numerous ijazat (traditional licenses) in the six canonical books of hadith, as well as the Muwata of Imam Malik and Imam Muhammad, and has also received certification in the field of Islamic Finance. Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Dean of the Full-Time and Part-Time Seminary Programs at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He also serves as IOK University Chaplain for students at UCI and Community Chaplain for the local and extended SoCal Community, and he regularly delivers sermons and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in Southern California. Learn more about Institute of Knowledge at www.instituteofknowledge.com.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. masood

    February 2, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    In the same context I have come across an article by Mr. Khalid Baig at albalagh.com—it is very informative and addresses some important issues

  2. Truth

    February 3, 2015 at 10:48 PM

    BEWARE: “Empowering” women means weakening the power of the male! As the white satanic feminists are trying to accomplish in white people’s culture!

    • Nasri

      February 17, 2015 at 6:34 PM

      Empowering women means protecting our rights and making sure we feel accommodated. And no, Feminism doesn’t just belong to ‘white satanic women’. That’s racist and sexist on your part. Ignorance doesn’t cancel out ignorance

  3. Wael Abdelgawad

    February 13, 2015 at 6:09 PM

    Leaving aside the issue of the status or ruling of women-led Jumah prayers, I understand where these women are coming from. Such extreme measures would not be necessary if most masjids welcomed women and allowed them access to scholarship, participation and leadership, instead of relegating them to small dusty rooms and excluding them from participation in most programs.

  4. Hind

    March 2, 2015 at 6:08 AM

    Empowering women means destroying the Ummah. It is important to consider women in decision making and to give them a sense of belonging in the society, but when women begin to claim rights and imitating men, it becomes a problem. It has been clearly defined to us by our beloved prophet (PBUH) that a woman’s place is in the home, and that although women are not supposed to be prevented access to the masjids, the best for her is to pray in her home. so why the controversy, why attach so much importance to something that is not mandatory as going to the mosque when we can gain so much more rewards when we pray in our homes?
    we need to realise that this is part of the plans of the west to destabilise and corrupt Islam. please we need to be warned.

    • Malika Lithgow

      March 31, 2016 at 1:17 PM

      Assalaam Alaykum please notice that the first university in the whole world was invented and founded by a woman (Fatima) in Fes, Marrocco. It was a big university with a masjid, and it still exists with a lot of students. In the years 200 till the years of western colonisation there were al lot of islamic female scholars who narrated the hadith of the Prophet (saw), there students were men and women. In total more than 9.000 famous female scholars where teaching the first generations of muslims. See also more of this on youtube: Female Scholars in Islamic History. It’s an western idea that men feel bad when a woman does something outside the house.

  5. Soumaya

    March 4, 2015 at 7:32 PM

    Salam everyone,
    I usually do not write comments but i had to say something this time. “Empowering women ” is not harming the umma it is creating a stronger and more stable ummah. And who says having a place that women alone pray is imitimiting men. seriously we work ,go to school,and have life outside of the home and I for one will not apologize for that. There is nothing within our religion that holds women back from this. Empowering women is exactly what we need. Instead of the so called Muslim leader worrying about our hijap and where we can and can not prayer, why don’t they speak of the unjustice that our sisters are dealing within through the muslim lands. I am proud to call myself an empowered woman,and I will not apologize for that.It is sad to see a religion that has given women soo many rights used to limit the same exact rights.

    Salam

    • Am

      March 5, 2015 at 9:05 AM

      Exactly. I wish more people knew this.

  6. Rashad

    August 12, 2016 at 4:35 PM

    As long as it’s women only and not women leading men.

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