‘Religious leadership of women in Islam’: Women can lead prayers, says Javed Ghamidi
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: There is nothing in the Quran or Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)) that says women cannot lead prayers, said Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Islamic scholar and fellow of the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences, Lahore, on Saturday.
He was speaking on ‘Religious leadership of women in Islam’ at Nairang Art Galleries. Bargad, a non-government organisation, under its Bargad Study Circle programme, arranged the discussion.
The issue came up when Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led Friday prayers at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, an Anglican church in Manhattan (New York), in the United States in March 2005. Five days after the first woman-led, mixed-gender Islamic prayer in New York, Asra Nomani, author of ‘Standing Alone in Mecca’ and former Wall Street Journal reporter, led another mixed-gender prayer at Brandeis University in Boston. This started a worldwide debate on whether it was Islamic or not for women to lead prayers.
Ghamidi, a liberal Islamic scholar, said the Holy Quran and Islam did not forbid women from leading society or prayers. “Islam differentiates between haram (forbidden) and controversial issues in society,” he said, “The Holy Quran has created a distinction between men and women only to maintain family relations and relationships.”
He said there was no gender discrimination in Islam and women were allowed to do all the jobs that men were allowed to do. All men and women have equal status and value in an Islamic society.
Ghamidi said that Hazrat Ayesha had led a war and no one had objected. He also gave the example of Ume Warqa, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who he asked to lead mixed prayers at the Mosque of Dar. Hazrat Omar, the second caliph of Islam, appointed Ume Warqa and Samra Binte Wahaib to head the market committees of Medina and Mecca, he said. He quoted various Hadith showing that women did not hesitate to come before the Prophet (pbuh) to ask permission to marry their man of choice.
Ghamidi said women used to pray in mosques in the presence of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Once, a woman was raped in a mosque and another was raped while herding sheep and goats. He said one rapist was warned, as there were no witnesses against him, while the other one was punished. “But Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not stop women from doing both these jobs,” he added. Once, Hazrat Omar got annoyed with his wife for praying in the mosque, but his wife stopped him, asking who he was to stop her when Muhammad (pbuh) had not. Ghamidi said that Islam did not forbid women from leading prayers or from having separate mosques. He said many restrictions on women claimed by other Islamic scholars was situational. He said that women not leading prayers was only traditional and Islam did not bar it.
“Personally, I also favour this tradition but in Islam there is no bar on women leading prayers,” he said. He said that the tradition dating back to the Ummayads, Abbasids and Mughals was not easy to change.
He said that most Islamic scholars confused Fiqah with Shariah. “Fiqah is purely a human work and Shariah is from God, so there is a huge difference in them.” He said Fiqah was based on social norms, human instincts, traditions and thoughts.
Even pardah (veil) was not an Islamic tradition (except some situational incidents) and it came from Christian, Hindu and Iranian origins. He said that Saudi Arabia was once the most liberal country in the world. He also cited a fatwa (decree) by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi supporting the rule of Sultan Jahan Begum in a part of the subcontinent. He said this was the same ruling woman who helped Allama Shibli Nomani in completing his famous book Seeratul Nabi.
He stressed on the need to promote Islam through general education and raising awareness about Islamic concepts.
Sabiha Shaheen and Beensih Rai of Bargad conducted the discussion.
Ghamidi, born 1951, has written and delivered lectures on the Quran, Islamic laws and various aspects of Islam. He is the founding-president of the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences and the chief editor of the Urdu monthly ‘Ishraq’ and the English monthly ‘Renaissance’. Currently, he is writing a Tafsir (description) of the Quran. He has studied traditional Islamic disciplines and is a graduate in English Literature from Government College University, Lahore.
Bargad Study Circle is a component of Bargad’s project on Peace and Youth Cooperation. The objective is to create socio-political awareness among youth.