June 22, 2005 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 227

First Mixed Friday Prayers Led by a Woman: Muslim Reactions to an Historical Precedent

June 22, 2005 | By Aluma Dankowitz*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 227


On March 18, 2005, for the first time on record in the history of Islam, a woman led a mixed congregation of men and women in Friday prayers. The imam was Dr. Amina Wadud, an American Muslim of Indian origin who is professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the author of the book The Qur'an and the Woman: Rereading the Holy Text from a Female Perspective.

The main organizer of the event was Asra Nomani, an Indian-born Muslim and an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter who initiated the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour project that educates Muslim women and encourages them to demand their rights. [1] Also behind the Friday prayers was the American Muslim organization MuslimWakeup!. [2] The Friday prayers were held at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in New York City, after several mosques had refused to host it, due to threats by extremists.

The call to prayer was also performed by a woman, who in addition to setting this precedent did so with her head uncovered. The service was attended by some 100 men and women.

The organizers of the Friday prayers stated that their aim was to set the question of equal rights for women and men on the Muslim agenda, and stressed that women were entitled to be spiritual leaders in Islam.

A week later, Friday prayers were again led by a woman, this time in Boston, by an American Muslim named Nakia Jackson. Also during this week, Asra Nomani herself led a mixed congregation in prayers at Brandeis University, and stated that she would continue to organize similar women-led prayers throughout the U.S.

Dr. Wadud's act aroused great anger amongst Muslim clerics, who rejected the possibility that Islamic jurisprudence permits women to lead men in prayer. They stated that doing so was an innovation forbidden in Islam, since no precedent had been set for it by the Mothers of the Believers – that is, the wives of the Prophet Muhammad during Islam's formative period. Believing Muslims, they claimed, consider a woman's body "lewdness and pudenda" and as such likely to distract the men from their prayers and from the main aim of their worship, that is, submission to God. For this reason, mixed worship is also prohibited, and it is customary for the men to pray in the front of the mosque while the women pray in the rear.

Beyond the jurisprudence-based objections, opponents of women leading men in prayer also claimed that Dr. Wadud's act was part of an attempt to create an "American Islam," and that this was part of the American attempt to take over the Arab countries.

The following are the prominent mentions of the issue of women leading men in worship, by Muslim clerics and shapers of public opinion.

"Man is No Angel – He Should Not Be Tempted during Prayers"

Most of the Muslim clerics who reacted to the event were vehemently opposed to women leading men in prayers. The Institute for Islamic Jurisprudence in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, called upon all those who had attended the prayers led by Dr. Amina Wadud to repent and fulfill again the commandment of prayer, because their prayers behind Dr. Wadud were null and void and had not "met the required [religious] conditions." [3] Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi explained that according to Islamic law, women are prohibited from leading men in prayer, "whether in Friday prayers, in the five required [daily] prayers, in additional prayers, or in any other prayers." He said, "It is permitted for a woman to lead in prayer only her own gender – because the woman's body is 'lewdness and pudenda' and it is not proper for men to look at her body before them when she leads them in prayer. Although they see her body in [daily] life, it is not proper during prayer, the aim of which is submission [to God]." [4]

Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin Fawzan Al-Fawzan, professor at Al-Imam University in Saudi Arabia, explained: "Even if the imam makes a mistake during prayers, the Prophet banned women from saying 'subhan allah' ['God forbid'] like the men say in such a case… Women must clap their hands [instead]. Why? Because the voice of women is tender by nature, and arouses [urges], and it is improper for men to engage in thoughts about women during prayer…'

"Thus, how can a woman be permitted to become a preacher? Undoubtedly, this is unacceptable, and must be condemned…

"I know of no clerics who permit men to be led in prayer by a woman, not even in the five [required daily] prayers – and all the more so in a sermon… The controversy amongst the clerics concerns women leading women in prayer… [and whether] this is lawful or merely permissible… [Even in this case,] the clerics have determined that a female imam must stand amongst the women, not in front of them, so as not to be like the men [where the imam stands in front of them]. This being the case, how is it conceivable that she deliver a sermon? This is a strange thing… that emanates from lack of faith, from religious weakness, and from laxity in religious knowledge, and also from behaving in accordance with the will of the enemies of the [Muslim] nation – the Jews and the Christians…" [5]

Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a leading authority in Sunni Islam and a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, explained to an interviewer on his weekly religious program on Al-Jazeera TV: "It is permitted for a woman to lead members of her household in prayer – as is related in the Hadith about Umm Waraqa, whom the Prophet permitted to lead prayers for the men and women of her household because she remembered the Koran by heart and recited it better than the other members of her household… Some clerics have permitted women to lead members of their household in Ramadhan night prayers, but not in the required prayers. However, I permit it both during Ramadhan prayers and during the required prayers, as long as limits are maintained – that is, in a family with men, women, girls, and boys, which includes a woman who recites the Koran and who is their mother or grandmother, there is nothing to prevent her from praying at their head…

"In the eyes of women, a woman is not 'lewdness and pudendum' – but a man might give free rein to his imagination, and think how lovely her figure is, how lovely her body is. Prayer is not the time to engage in human, sexual, or other such musings. Islam is a realistic religion… Islam sees the individual as driven by various urges and motives; thus it has forbidden the woman from leading men in prayer…

"Prayer in Islam is not like prayer in Christianity, in which… people perform their supplication while standing. In Islam, worship has movements: standing, sitting, bending, and bowing. [If a woman leads men in prayer,] she will bow her body before the men – and who says that man is an angel, and that nothing will arise in his mind? These matters are unacceptable and illogical. Islam helps the Muslim to concentrate when he stands before Allah [in prayer], and helps him not to look at anything else…

"From where does the problem of the woman emanate? From the fact that sometimes the heritage of centuries of Islamic backwardness dominates us – centuries in which they caged the woman and forbade her to leave [her home] to pray. [This was] even though the Prophet said, 'Do not stop Allah's female servants from coming to His mosque' – that is, a severe warning that the woman should not be prevented from going to pray. [During certain periods], the Muslims banned this [i.e. women from going out to pray]. At first, they said that they would forbid the young women, not the older women, and then they said that even an old woman [might be of interest] to an old man… So they forbade the old woman from [going out to pray] as well. I have been in many Muslim countries, and in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan women do not attend the mosque at all…"

"Americans Have Hamburgers, Cola, and Jeans; They Also Want American Prayer and American Islam"

Al Qaradhawi continued: "The Friday worship that we saw on Al-Jazeera TV yesterday, in which a woman led men in prayer… took place in a church, under heavy security… A bareheaded woman performed the call to worship, even though the call to worship is performed by men… Men and women stood behind the female imam, and among the rows of worshippers a man could be seen with a woman on his right, a woman on his left, and a woman in front of him. Is this Islamic prayer? This is American prayer.

"The Americans have hamburgers, cola, and jeans, and they also want American prayer and American Islam. This American Islam is unacceptable to us, because we learn Islam not from America, but from our sources, which are immune to error. It is unknown in the history of Islam for a woman to lead Muslims in Friday prayers…"

Reacting to Dr. Wadud's statements that she was seeking equality between men and women in conducting religious ceremonies, and that only custom and tradition dictated that women must pray at the rear of the mosque, Al-Qaradhawi said: "This is not custom, but an Islamic system, based on and possessed of the philosophy that it is not proper for an individual who stands praying before Allah to permit his musings to preoccupy him… People are not angels, but human beings, ruled by their urges and emotions, and it is not proper for us to ignore this.

"If the issue is rights, why aren't the Christians demanding women's rights? Have you ever seen a church led by a woman, with a woman as its pastor? Has there ever been a female pope? Has there ever been a single woman among the cardinals who choose the pope?... In the sermons by women in the East and the West, over the past two centuries, from the Renaissance to date, I have never seen a woman claim that leading prayers is one of women's demands…

"Is this all that the woman is lacking? Why aren't we interested in women's education, inculcating knowledge in religious matters, and in matters of [daily] life, so that she will get her rights and not remain always behind the scenes in life?

"The problem is that we are mixing up what it is proper [to change] and what it is not proper [to change]. This confusion harms Muslim women who are demanding women's rights. I support women's rights,... [but leading prayers] deviates from the [question of] rights, and from the boundaries of religious law…"

In response to the interviewer's question about women feeling marginalized because they stand at the back of the mosque to pray, and because sometimes they are partitioned off from the men, Al-Qaradhawi said:

"This is true, and I myself complain about this. For a long time I have been saying: Women used to pray in the mosque of the Prophet. They stood behind the men, and between the men and the women there was no partition – not of fabric, not of wood, not of building materials, and not of anything else.

"It is known that the Arabs used to wear a mantle around their hips, and a robe, and that many did not wear trousers, and therefore the Prophet said to the women: 'Do not hasten to raise your heads [when bowing].' But no one said that there should be a partition…

"Does equality mean equivalence? That is, the man is exactly like the woman? This is not true. By the nature of creation, a man is not a woman. Our God created the man one way and the woman another. The man's nervous system is not like the woman's nervous system, and the man's brain is not like the woman's brain. God determined the roles for each gender. Does the man get pregnant, give birth, and suckle like the woman?...

"Absolute equality is not possible because it is against nature. But a just equality [is required]. With a just equality, every individual can have the rights he deserves without doing the other an injustice…" [6]

Dr. Mansour: "Must We Hold a Beauty Pageant so Men Can Decide Which Women are Seductive?"

A different jurisprudent position was expressed by the progressive Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansour, who was fired from his teaching post at Al-Azhar University because of his approach of stripping the sanctity from the traditions about the life and words of the Prophet (the Sunna) and adhering to the Koran alone. Dr. Mansour stated that women do have the right to lead men in prayer, and found flaws in the claims of Muslim clerics forbidding this. He questioned how a woman can be permitted to lead Muslims politically – as stated in a fatwa issued by the Al-Azhar Sheikh [7] – while leading men in prayer is forbidden. According to Mansour, this ruling is illogical: Islam does not distinguish political leadership from religious leadership, and in Islam the ruler is also the imam.

Dr. Mansour also finds flaws in the view of the Maliki school of religious thought, under which an elderly woman who is no longer sexually desirable may attend Friday prayers, but if she is still desirable this is not permitted. Likewise, a young woman is barred from Friday prayers if there is any fear that her presence will entice men on her way to the mosque or in the mosque itself. In this context, Mansour asks what the standard is for measuring men's susceptibility to enticement by a young or an elderly woman, and how the level of men's desire for a particular woman is to be determined: "Must we hold a beauty pageant so the men can decide which of the women are sexually enticing and which no longer are?"

Mansour finds a similar flaw in the view of the Hanbali school of religious thought, according to which a woman may attend Friday prayers if she is not pretty. But, states Mansour, "the problem is that every woman sees herself as pretty, and [indeed] every woman has a certain beauty. Similarly, men have different tastes in women's beauty. What, then, is the criterion, and how can it be applied? Will we post on every mosque the names of the beautiful women who are barred from entering, and next to this post an announcement welcoming the ugly ones? And if a pretty woman wants to strengthen her faith by participating in Friday prayers, will we say to her, 'Alas, oh beautiful woman, it is better for you to go to a disco so that you do not entice all the righteous men in the mosque?'"

Dr. Mansour concludes that "women's political and social participation is exactly like that of men, and there are no gender-based restrictions in how people worship God and how they fulfill social commandments… In the Koran, there is no prohibition regarding the leading of prayers by women, and therefore it is permitted… When referring to Islamic legislation, what is meant is the Koran alone. The words of the jurisprudents… are not Islamic legislation, but rather the use of independent human judgment in matters of jurisprudence (ijtihadat bashariyya)…" [8]

American Retaliation for 9/11: Eliminate Muslim Pride and Honor, Thus Facilitating Taking Control of Muslim Countries

Alongside the jurisprudent rejection of the precedent of a woman leading men in prayer, it was argued that the move was part of an American battle "to dismantle Islam" and to take control of the Muslim countries. For example, Saudi journalist Muhammad 'Ali Al-Harfi wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Watan: "The issue is not a demand for Muslim women's rights. All Muslims, men and women, are of no value in the eyes of the Americans. It is the beginning of the elimination of all Islam, by eliminating the Muslims' remaining pride and honor. After that, it will be easy [for the U.S.] to completely take over their countries…" [9]

Dr. Abd Al-'Ati Muhammad wrote in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram: "What Amina Wadud did is not far from America 's counter-terrorism campaign and the ideological war being spread by the neoconservatives – most of whom are supported by the Jews. Those conducting this attack have based their propaganda on their assertion that the terrorist groups have distorted and hijacked Islam. This is true, but if their intentions were honest, they would be hastening to condemn what Amina Wadud did as well – because that too is a distortion of Islam and a hijacking of Islam by others who bear the title of Muslims. Yet this condemnation has not taken place…

"... [Wadud's] distortion of Islam is completely in line with the political goals of the American campaign… which is a series of operations to deepen the downfall and defeat within the Islamic societies, in retaliation for the events of September 11." [10]

Fahmi Huweidi: American Muslims are Collaborating in the Battle to Dismantle Islam

Egyptian Islamist writer Fahmi Huweidi argued scathingly that the event was part of a wide-range American battle aimed at dismantling Islam "both in the name of modernizing it and on the pretext of fighting extremism and terror.

"During one of my visits [to the U.S.] I attended a conference of Muslims in Chicago, in which an American Muslim approached one of the participating clerics and asked whether it would be permissible to perform the Friday prayer on Sunday, since his work schedule did not allow him to attend Friday prayers – whereas on Sunday, he had plenty of time to do so…

"At first the question seemed funny. But the man was asking in all seriousness, and seemed upset when told that Friday prayer should be performed on Friday, and that if a Muslim could not do so due to his work conditions, he would be forgiven, and he was not at fault.

"To many American Muslims, his question was logical and natural… just as some of them asked whether it was possible to join Islam by installments – that is, first performing the prayers on a gradual basis, and then, after becoming accustomed to them, moving on to part-time fasting, and then to fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan. Then, after completing the 'section' of fasting, the individual would fulfill the commandment of giving charity, and would then perform the pilgrimage. Anyone who conducts all their affairs on the installment plan – from buying a refrigerator and a car to buying a home – does not think it strange to suggest carrying over the installment plan to joining Islam…

"When you get close to the mentality prevalent in American society, you understand that this superficial thinking stems not only from the excessive naiveté that characterizes a broad sector of the public, but is also connected to the so-called new spirituality. The point of origin of this new spirituality is the needs [of the individual], not troublesome matters and religious obligations; it belongs to secular thought, which sets the individual in place of God.

"When we think of the world of the unknown [i.e., the world of religion and its obligations] as illogical and marginalize it, the individual himself becomes the one to determine his own destiny. Therefore, no teaching, even from a divine source, is 'the final word' for him, but is subject to change, substitution, omission and addition…

"Beyond the framework of naiveté, there is the [attempt to] denigrate and dismantle [Islam], which is carried out by Muslims and which takes two directions. One direction focuses on politics and culture, and the other on values and morality. This is worrying, and what is dangerous in this activity for dismantling [Islam] is that it is based on two fundamental elements: on the one hand, the group of Muslims who are fanatical about certain ideas, and with them the American Jews who support Israel; and on the other hand, those who are hostile to everything Arab and Islamic."

As an example of political activity aimed at spreading "American Islam," Huweidi mentions "the extremist American writer" Daniel Pipes, stating that Pipes' activity led to the establishment of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, whose stated aims, Huweidi says, are to encourage moderate Islam in the U.S. and worldwide, to fight the influence of militant Islam, and to undermine the efforts of extremist Wahhabi groups. The center's director is a Muslim named Stephen Schwartz, whom Huweidi calls a radical Communist who converted to Islam under the influence of Sufism [Muslim mysticism], and today has turned to fighting terrorism. Huweidi says that Schwartz's assistant is Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansour, who was fired from Al-Azhar in the 1980s because he disavowed the Sunna, and who today is active in the U.S. and is one of those calling for a modern American Islam.

Another example presented by Huweidi of this kind of political activity is the Free Muslim Coalition against Terror, founded in Washington, D.C. by Kamal Nawash, an American Muslim of Palestinian origin. According to Huweidi, Nawash tried, without success, to become involved in U.S. politics and then found what he sought in the struggle against terrorism and in aiding U.S. administration efforts in this area.

With regard to values and morality, Huweidi refers to groups "that wave the banner of progressive Islam" and do not want to observe the values, morals, and traditions customary in Muslim society. As an example, he points to Muslim Wakeup!, one of whose activists is "a woman apparently of Pakistani origin [Asra Nomani], who gave birth to a child out of wedlock and is battling to change Islamic thought on this matter." [11]

Dr. Mansour: Huweidi Incites Against Anyone Who Thinks Differently from Him

In a rebuttal to Huweidi's accusations that Muslims in the West are attempting to dismantle Islam, Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansour wrote: "This is not the first time Fahmi Huweidi has attacked me, nor will it be the last. He accuses me of acting together with others to dismantle Islam – even though the Islam in which I believe cannot be dismantled, because it is based solely on the Koran… It can be said that he is confusing Islam and Muslims, and that he is accusing me of acting to dismantle Muslim [unity].

"Yet the Muslims' splitting into groups began in the era of the Companions of the Prophet and the Great Civil War. It then grew and branched out. One thousand years ago, Muslims split into three main groups, the Sunna, the Shi'a, and Sufism. Each of these groups split into schools of thought and various sub-groups.

"In the third century of the Muslim era [the ninth century CE], the Sunna split into four schools of religious thought, the most extremist of these being the Hanbali school. This school, too, split into various extremist groups, the most extremist of these being that of Ibn Taymiyya, which was founded in the eighth century of the Muslim era [14th century CE]. From Ibn Taymiyya's group emerged, in the modern age, an even more violent and extremist group, the Wahhabiyya… and it is to [this school] that Fahmi Huweidi belongs. Huweidi considers Wahhabism to be the only [legitimate] Islam; he rejects [the ways of] all other Muslims, accuses anyone who argues with Wahhabism of enmity towards Islam or of dismantling Islam, and incites against them.

"The terrorists consider Fahmi Huweidi's incitement to be a fatwa permitting murder. Thus it happens that intellectuals and thinkers lose their lives – such as in the case of [the 1992 murder by extremist Muslims of Egyptian secular intellectual] Dr. Faraj Fouda. Or they disappear without anyone taking an interest in their fate – as [in the August 2003 disappearance of Al-Ahram columnist] journalist Ridha Hilal. Or they are forced to emigrate from their land – as happened to me and to [the Egyptian intellectual who authored critical studies of the Koran] Hamed Abu Zeid. Or they [the intellectuals] protest in panic about the fate awaiting them – as in the case of [Egyptian human rights activist and Ibn Khaldoun Center director] Dr. S'ad Al-Din Ibrahim, and others. The victims of Fahmi Huweidi are many, and include those who are already dead, and those who await [death]…"

According to Mansour, "the fundamentalist trend to which Fahmi Huweidi belongs divides the world into two camps. The first camp is the Dar Al-Islam, in which the Sunni school monopolizes religion and accuses the Shiite and Sufi Muslims of apostasy and polytheism. Through political repression, the Sunna persecutes them like the Ahl Al-Kitab – the land's original inhabitants who cling to the religion of their forefathers [i.e. the Jews and the Christians].

"The second camp is the Dar Al-Harb, the lands of the West that must be fought in order to spread Islam within them and force them to accept it. [According to this approach,] Western civilization should be seen as an intellectual invasion, and the catastrophes happening to us should be seen as stemming from a Western conspiracy against us.

"This is the background from which the articles of Fahmi Huweidi and of others like him have emerged. His article on the dismantling of Islam is proof of this..."

On religious freedom in the U.S., Dr. Mansour says: "The bin Laden-supporting extremists are the main exploiters of religious freedom in the U.S. They have established new mosques, taken over the existing ones, and bought churches and turned them into mosques. [Today] they control some 80% of the approximately 1,200 mosques in the U.S. They curse the U.S. from within it night and day in their sermons, prayers, and publications, exploiting American tolerance…

"But Fahmi Huweidi is not satisfied with the freedom enjoyed by his extremist brethren in their war against America on its own land, because he is still unhappy that there are Shiite and Sufi Muslims in America who have not yet joined Wahhabism…

"After the events of September 11, America discovered that extremism had taken over most of the 'Islamic' mosques and schools and the Muslim community in the U.S.. Therefore, it is fighting not only Osama bin Laden but also his [bin Laden's] supporters within America, and [the extremist] thought that controls the minds of millions of American Muslims. Were America to use the methods of the Arab rulers, it would shut down these mosques, execute their owners, arrest those who attend them, and ban their publications. It needs no emergency law, because it is in a state of war with an invisible enemy who uses ideological warfare and turns the ordinary young religious person into a bomb… There are millions of candidates on U.S. soil willing to become suicide bombs if the fundamentalism in the mosques and schools continues to brainwash young Muslims in the name of Islam.

"Had America been fanatical about Islam, it would have chosen this solution, and would have closed all the mosques and charged Islam with being a religion of terrorism… But the American culture has chosen the difficult path… and instead of fighting Islam itself and resorting to violence, it has chosen the solution of peace, that is, of reforming the Muslims within the U.S. and in the Arab homeland…

Mansour complains: "...I fled [from Egypt] for fear for my life because of Fahmi Huweidi's incitement, and I see that he is continuing to persecute me [here too], and to incite against me even in America.

"Where shall I flee from here? I have no other way to defend my life but to turn to the U.N. This article is a public complaint, which I submit to the U.N., against the Egyptian journalist Fahmi Huweidi, who writes in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, and against all those who publish his words and are his partners in the crime of inciting against me and against the supporters of reform." [12]

Jurisprudence Must Be Adapted to the Modern Age

Along with those who rejected outright Dr. Wadud's precedent, a more balanced approach was suggested by Egyptian journalist 'Imad Ghneim. In the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Ghneim wrotethat clerics should develop Islam and adapt it to the circumstances of the time, instead of leaving the reform initiatives to secularists and academics in the West:

"It is easy to make accusations and attribute everything that happens to an international conspiracy against Islam and the Muslims. Perhaps something of this [i.e. conspiracy] does exist in the minds of the Western planners of the reform in Islam. But the fundamental problem remains in us, and it lies in the stagnation that has harmed our clerics from the time of [the cleric who introduced reform in Islam, d. 1905] Muhammad 'Abdo, and perhaps from long before that…

"Religious reform in the West was initiated by priests and monks who proposed changes that would benefit people. In contrast, the reform proposed for Islam is led today by secularists and academics who have lived in and integrated into Western culture and then presented their independent judgment in matters of jurisprudence [ijtihad].

"This comes at a time when the religious institutions are making do with rejecting [any new ideas] without contributing [to solving] the problems facing the Muslims. Amongst them there are no courageous clerics who love Allah and His Messenger and who will solve the problems of the people by constructing a new and progressive jurisprudence appropriate to the time and in line with the precepts of the Koran – instead of leaving the arena to Amina Wadud and her friends and those who will come after them." [13]

Dr. Munjiyah Al-Sawaihi, lecturer in Islamic studies at Al-Zeitouna University in Tunisia, stated that Dr. Wadud's precedent was a provocation. She added that this was particularly true regarding the call to prayer performed by a bareheaded woman, "because every religion has its own ceremonies, and according to the ceremonies in Islam, the rite must be performed with the body completely concealed."

At the same time, she expressed support for Dr. Wadud's actual deed, stating that in her view, "the Arab and Islamic world, in its view of the woman as inferior, needs a severe shock of this kind (a woman leading worship, a bareheaded woman performing the call to prayer) because it is a provocative act that has the power to shock the Arab and Islamic consciousness, to move things that have been frozen in place, and to serve as a warning, [i.e.]: If you do not hasten to take care of [the woman's issues], matters will be in her hands, and she will use them as she wills, and no one will be able to condemn her. [This is] because in most cases, freedom is not given as a gift, but is seized.

"Today the woman has reached a situation in which she can break through the restrictions and take her freedom [by herself]. It is best that everyone reexamine their positions regarding the woman, and put their own houses in order – before someone else comes to put them in order…" [14]

Dr. Aamal Karami, Tunisian lecturer and researcher, stated in an article posted on the progressive website www.metransparent.comthat there was no jurisprudent basis for rejecting prayer led by women, and that the clerics' opposition was aimed at silencing from the outset any additional demands by women for equality. The source of this opposition lay, she said, in the clerics' aspiration to retain for themselves the positions of influence, control, and honor. She wrote: "The Koran is silent on the subject of leading prayer [al-imama al-sughra] and on the subject of political leadership [al-imama al-kubra]. Also, the Prophet was, in turn, silent on this matter...

"If we monitor the reactions of the official religious establishment to prayer led by a woman, it appears that the rejection of the demand for equality between the sexes in leading [prayers] is a tool for rejecting women's participation in political life. This issue has arisen with particular intensity in Egypt.

"...Two trends are at work in this issue, the open and the concealed. The open trend speaks of the clerics' fear for the religion, its 'principles,' and its 'foundations.' The concealed trend exposes the fear that is controlling the clerics: the loss of veneration for them… and fear of female leadership…" [15]

*Aluma Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI's Reform Project.



[1] similar initiative in the framework of the Muslim Women's Freedom Tour was begun in June 2004, when a group of seven Muslim women led by Asra Nomani marched to a mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia and demanded that women be allowed to enter the mosque by the front door and pray in the main hall instead of in isolated rooms.


[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 23, 2005.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 20, 2005.

[5] Al-Majd TV (UAE), March 28, 2005.

[6], March 20, 2005.

[7] The fatwa permitted women to present their candidacy for the Egyptian presidency.

[8], March 24, 2005.

[9] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 29, 2005.

[10] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 22, 2005.

[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 29, 2005.

[12], April 7, 2005.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 5, 2005.

[14], April 5, 2005.

[15], April 6, 2005.

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