Amina Wadud Led Prayers

Dr. Amina Wadud, a woman, recently led the Friday prayers of a group of men and women in New York. There has been a lot of discussion and criticism of her action. While I don’t want to delve into whether it was Islamic or not, I have some general thoughts about related matters.

You have probably heard about the Friday prayers in New York led by Dr.Amina Wadud. This event has started a flurry of activity among Muslims; College MSA’s are sending lists of fatwas against this “fitna” to their mailing lists, bloggers are writing about it on their weblogs, and so on.

Hijabman was there and gives us an eyewitness account. He also has links to a couple of other attendees.

One of the better posts in the blogworld making the case for a woman leading prayers was by Nevin Reda at Muslim Wakeup while Hina Azam at alt.Muslim had a good critique of that argument.

I am not going to argue for or against here, but let me make a few general comments. Hina Azam is indeed correct that the traditional methods of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) must be engaged to make a cogent argument. I think there hasn’t been much good work providing a vision and structure to modernist Islam in this direction. However, at the same time, limiting oneself to traditional fiqh could be too rigid and legalistic. There are some interesting issues in this discussion and I might return to it when I review Dr. Fazlur Rahman’s book ‘Islam’.

Among the arguments I have read against a woman leading prayers is that Islam gave women rights 1400 years ago. This is not strictly true, at least not in the sense we understand women’s rights today. Islam did set some basic parameters especially in the context of 7th century Arabia, but the rest of the progress is up to us. As I have written before, I do not think that Islam, as a practical matter i.e. as practiced by actual Muslims, was ever perfect or even can be perfect, but we as human beings have made some progress in minority rights, women rights, etc. and the practice of Islam would (and should) improve with these developments. The rigid idea that Islamic practice, whether women’s rights, slavery or other issues, was fixed in the 7th century (Salafi idea) or the 10th century (traditionalism) is really quite problematic. This obviously does not mean that we discard everything from the Quran, Hadith (narrations of Prophet Muhammad) or even fiqh. But we do need some fresh perspective. Again, this is something Fazlur Rahman discusses in his book.

A common refrain (shades of Larry Summers?) of some Muslims is that men and women are different. While it is true that gender has a genetic basis, there is a strong social aspect to gender conditioning as well. Plus should we generalize to all men and women? Am I a “girly man” for spending time with and taking care of my daughter? How much should the alleged differences between men and women determine the difference in social responsibilities or legal rights? The concept sounds somewhat like “separate but equal,” which is a great way to discriminate against any group.

I have also heard that this act won’t help Muslim women’s rights, which is true as far as that goes. The act of a woman leading mixed prayers is more symbolic than anything else. Symbolism has its uses and benefits but its impact is also at times blown out of proportion. A related criticism is that this was a media stunt. I am not familiar with any of the organizers, other than from reading Muslim Wakeup once in a while. So I can’t say anything about their motives. But media and publicity are absolutely necessary for symbolic acts like this. After all, it’s the media that made this an event everyone knows about.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

16 thoughts on “Amina Wadud Led Prayers”

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  2. I am neither a scholar nor I claim to be a perfect Muslim (who practices exactly according to Qur’aan and Hadith/Sunna), however, it has been my earnest wish to become one. I started learning about Islam by reading & seeking guidance from learned persons when I was in high school (1951-53). In my opinion, before jumping in to discussion whether or not a woman should lead Salat (prayer) in mosque, one should be very clear about the fundamentals.

    (1) What has been decided by Allah or His Prophet, Muhammad, SAS, has to be followed undisputedly. I quote only two verses: Sura 4, An-Nisaa, Verse 59 & Sura 33, Al-Ahzaab, verse 36.
    (2) What is clear from Qur’aan that is final and what is not very clear must be looked for in Hadith/Sunna.
    (3) What is not found in Hadith/Sunna should be made good through Ijtihad.
    (4) Ijtihad has to take guidance from Qur’aan and Hadith/Sunna so that the result in no way clashes any matter contained in Qur’aan and Hadith/Sunna.
    (5) Mujtahid has to be a person who possesses complete knowledge of Qur’aan and Hadith/Sunna and is known to be a practicing pious Muslim.
    (6) Mujtahid has not to work single-handed and pronounce an edict but should discuss his/her views with other scholars of Islam so that wherever he/she is missing some available information, some of others may inform him/her. This has been the practice of Fuqaha, Adu Hanifa, Abdul Malik, Ahmed bin Hanbl, Shafei and others.
    (7) Only that item should be taken up for Ijtihad which, if not properly addressed, could harm an individual or community otherwise there is possibility of some Bida’a coming in because, when asked what is Bida’a, Omar ibnal Khattab, RAA, pronounced, “One is Sunna, and if it is not Sunna, it is Bida’a”.

  3. Apart from “Usul-ul-Fiqh” that I narrated above in my own words, a fundamental principle (rather a must requirement of a Muslim) comes before each and every thought and action. It is “ONLY to please Allah” and NOT even slightest other wish/thought, and has to be in keeping with directions and guidance provided in Qur’aan and Sunna (including Hadith).

    If such tough guide-lines were not there, Islam would have been changed like earlier religions.

    Imamat Salaat Juma by Amina Wadud does not stand the test given at serial # 4 above because some activities were against clear directions: (a) standing shoulder-to-shoulder with “Naa-mehrim” is neither allowed to men nor women (b) some of the women including Sohaila, who recited Adhan, were not properly dressed for Salaat as well as for a mixed gathering © Sohaila, who acted Moadhin, had her shoes/boots on which is prohibited in place of prayer as well as while reciting Adhan or offering Salaat. It can be assumed that Sohaila may have, also, offered Salaat with her shoes/boots on.
    (I was not present in there but have seen pictures of ceremony published in newspapers)

  4. Somehow general belief among our people (Muslims) is that we are bound by fiqh written by eminent scholars, Abu Hanifa and others. These good people, who were blessed by Allah, SWT, worked hard for making things simpler for us to follow and did not ever mean to give us a Madhab of their own or making groups within Islam. It is the later people who added something and made it look so which created distances within Muslims.

    Some authors/supporters of modern/enlightened Islam appear to be selling the idea what was written in Qur’aan or said/done by Prophet Muhammad, SAS, over 1400 years ago may not apply to the developed world of today. Allah, SWT, directs His Messenger (Muhammad, SAS) to tell people, “(Mine is) but conveyance (of the Truth) from Allah, and His messages; and whoso disobeyeth Allah and His messenger, lo! his is fire of hell, wherein such dwell for ever“ Sura 72, Al-Jinn, verse 23 which proves that Prophet, SAS always conveyed to people directions/messages received from Allah and nothing of his own. Thinking that Qur’aan and Hadith/Sunna, being over 1400 years old and not applicable today would mean that (na-oodh billahi min zaalik) Allah didn’t know what was to happen after 1400 years what to say of the Day of Judgment that may take place after time unknown. Thus, where does our belief in Allah stand ?

    The problem is that our involvement in materialism has taken us away from the spirit of Islam and we have become more ritualistic than seekers of Allah’s pleasure.

    Qur’aan supported by Hadith/Sunna gives the most comprehensive constitution of the best way of life for human beings and guarantees amicable rights to all. Most of us think that Islam means Kalima, Slaat, Saum, Zakat, Hajj. Many do not implement the spirit behind even these five fundamentals. It is, generally, ignored that Allah, SWT, has emphasized over 25 other characteristics for becoming a Muslim. These are Haqooq-ul-Ibaad (about behaviour of a Muslim in private, in public, as an official of a government / non-government organization, as sibling / parent / child / neighbour / companion / partner, etc) which fully-well include rights of women. Oppression faced by women is result of our straying away from Islam and not because of being Muslim. Further, Qur’aan deals with all aspects of life including political, educational, economic and social. The irony is that we apply different rules to our education/business/employment/etc and to practicing Islam. Why ? Because we have become self-seekers in stead of seekers of Allah’s pleasure.

    I refer to only some of the commandments that deal with behaviour of a Muslim: Sura 2 (Al-Baqara) Ayat 42,177, 188, 224, 263 & 283, Sura 3 (Aal-i-Imraan) Ayat 118-120, 130 & 175, Sura 4 (An-Nissaa) Ayat 19-21, 29, 30, 36, 58, 86, 92 & 135, Sura 5 (Al-Maaida) Ayat 2 & 8, Sura 6 (Al-In’aam) Ayat 119, Sura 16 (An-Nahal) Ayat 126, Sura 17 (Bani Israael) Ayat 23-26 & 35, Sura 21 (Al-Ankaboot) Ayat 29, Sura 22 (Al-Hajj) Ayat 11, Sura 25 (Al-Furqaan) Ayat 63–76, Sura 29 (Ankaboot) Ayat 2, Sura 31 (Luqmaan) Ayat 18-19, Sura 33 (Al-Ahzaab) Ayat 36& 58, Sura 49 (Al-Hujraat) Ayat 10 & 11, Sura 57 (Al-Hdeed) Ayat 23, Sura 61 (As-Suf) Ayat 2-3, Sura 83 (Al-Mutaffafeen) Ayat 1-6

  5. Captain Arrrgh: What clerical roles are granted to women in Islam?

    Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha has been one of the leading narrators of Hadith and a great teacher of religion to common Muslims. Even men came to her for guidance. So the role of women is there, though it has not usually been out in the front field rather more behind the scenes.

    Then I guess the fault lies with us too that we do not highlight the role of women and usually limit them to the roles society has created for them.

  6. hi i m mudasar imran from malaysia and read the article, posted by Zack named “Amina Wadud Led Prayers”. he said
    “As I have written before, I do not think that Islam, as a practical matter i.e. as practiced by actual Muslims, was ever perfect or even can be perfect, but we as human beings have made some progress in minority rights, women rights, etc. “

    First Question i wanna ask to Zack that r u a muslim or not?
    if yes then u must have conviction that Islam is a complete and comprehensive religion and if it is not complete then y God said tat its a guide book until the “Judgement Day”.
    Muslims are condemned all over the world bcz of u kind of people.
    Holy prophet said that i have complete Islam and cannot be modified and he made his witness to the God for this.
    So plz think twice next time when u write these kind of articles.
    In islam women cannot lead prayer …….cannot means connot…ok
    dont call this act as modernization…….its ignorance…
    regards
    mudasar

  7. mudasar: Read what I wrote again. For your benefit I have bolded the part which you seem to have missed.

    I do not think that Islam, as a practical matter i.e. as practiced by actual Muslims, was ever perfect or even can be perfect.

  8. Zionist influence
    Accordingly, Islam is a comprehensive “religion” that describes the way to fulfill the purpose behind our creation. This purpose is to worship none but our Creator, Allaah: the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, the final and last messenger to all mankind.

    I strongly believe that success of all human beings can be possible through the right beliefs of Quran and Sunnah. The entire Muslim world also believes so, and then what is the reason for different sect (group) in Islam? Here the right and wrong in Islam is distinguished.
    Yes, Allah will accept only one religion that is ISLAM which is explained clearly by Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) through his life and understood by his followers that is Salaf. They understood Islam straight from prophet (pbuh). It is widely admitted that the way of prophet’s life should be inculcated by all Muslims in their every aspect of life. There were enough role models in Islam during Sahabat, the first generation of prophet (pbuh).
    It’s relevant that no ideology can survive but Islam, because it’s from the revelation of the Almighty, the Self Sufficient. Like all ideologies, all innovations, new way of da’wah, deviating from Prophet (pbuh) also will go ultimately in ashtray. Let Allah save us.
    There are many sect derived in the name of Islam with different intentions by forgetting the fundamental principle of Islam that is “Thouhid” there is no God but Allah. If we are analyzing the reason and the source of this entire new sect, finally we will reach in to Jews, the Zionist who experimenting in laboratories to destruct the Islam in its true beliefs and true practises. Shia is a best example for the Zionist influence. From Shia’s religion and the Zionist , many practices has come to other sect of Muslims e.g. Ideal worship, Hukumathe Ilahi , the latest one Islamic Feminism, the woman reading of Quran, consensus of public interest for Da’wah (preaching) etc. If we are examining this, without any prejudice we can understand that all these innovations are apparently a deviation from the Quran and the Sunna. MahadhAllah.
    Being a Muslim, not the name sake of Muslim, we should not hesitate to say about the true Islam, its beliefs and practises, to the world even they hatred us, as the prophets had prophesied to their people. Allah may bless us.
    With prayers for the peaceful life here and here after
    Mammedutty
    Abu Dhabi

  9. Mammedutty: Your comment is so nonsensical I don’t know how to reply to it. Your rant about “Zionists” is completely crazy.

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