Muslim Women Leading Prayer


Assessing the Gender Insurgency of Professor Amina Wadud:  Strategic, Tactical, and Legal Perspectives by Robert D. Crane

  On March 18th, 2005, Professor Amina Wadud launched what might be seen as the first intifada in a widespread gender insurgency by serving with much public fanfare as the imamah in a mixed-gender jumu’a salah.  This triggered a flurry of interesting fatwas from every trend of thought and seemingly every country on earth.  Her action may produce an entire literature not only about its legal validity but about the political wisdom of her chosen strategy of “shock and awe.”

  From a strategic perspective one must ask whether it is counter-productive to push this issue when the broader issue of women’s oppression should be our focus.  There are so many worse aspects of gender apartheid than women not leading men in prayer.

    Is Professor Wadud committing a major strategic error by focusing on a peripheral issue like women leading mixed-gender public prayers.  This is the kind of issue that the extremists in NOW (the National Organization of Women) would love to use in attacking Muslim male chauvinism as an opening to attack Islam as a religion.  Secular fundamentalist feminism, known as woman’s liberation, can easily be clothed in religious terms and is growing among Muslim Americans.  This is part of the American cultural baggage that has been brought into the American Muslim umma by social revolutionary converts and by alienated foreign-born Muslim expats. 

  By adopting the standards of modern Western culture (or lack of culture) Sister Amina Wadud is shifting the burden of proof from the West to the East in defining the nature of dignity and justice.  She thereby is buying into the Orientalist insistence that the base case for evaluating Islamic law is Western culture, when she should be comparing Western law with Islamic law as the base case.  She should shift the burden of proof onto the secular fundamentalists by showing how deficient Western positivist legal jurisprudence is compared to the sophisticated normative legal system and code of human responsibilities and rights known as the maqasid al shari’ah. 

  The fact that Muslims have observed this code of human rights primarily in the breech for hundreds of years reflects poorly not on Islam but on Muslims.  Professor Wadud points this out, but she appeals to the Western obsession with freedom rather than to the emphasis of all the world religions and of America’s founders (fathers and mothers) on justice, without which freedom means nothing.  She is caught in the wrong paradigm.

  The tactical blunder of Sister Amina in launching this first intifada of postmodern gender insurgency is to set Muslims up for attack by the Muslim-bashers who can use this to claim that Muslims hate freedom.

  Furthermore, these strategic and tactical blunders may generate what in current parlance is called blowback, as illustrated by the failure so far of the Neo-Con strategy to stamp out chaos in the world.  Since Professor Wadud can’t win on this issue, her intifada will serve as grist not only for those who bash Islam but for those troglodite Muslims who oppose gender equity, i.e., human dignity and rights for women (part of the maqasid known as haqq al karama).  Extremism elicits counter extremism, just as terrorism produces much more terroristic counter-terrorism.  Sister Amina’s confrontational approach mirrors the paradigm of the clash of civilizations, known as the West versus the Rest, which, in turn, gives rise to the counter-paradigm of Al Qa’ida known as the East versus the Beast.

  Even from the legal perspective, Sister Amina Wadud’s counter-cultural crusade is at best problematic.  She tries to defend it in terms of Islamic law simply because her detractors cast it in terms of Qur’anic exegesis, hadith interpretation, and legal commentary.  Many religious people like to reduce complex issues to a simple question of good or bad and right or wrong.  Since the shari’ah or “Islamic law” is so important for Muslims, it is perhaps natural that most Muslims like to label everything as either legal or illegal. 

  Traditionalist thought in all religions teaches the wisdom of respecting the nuances of competing perspectives on what is good.  These cannot be fitted into a narrow legal framework, unless this framework is based on justice, which emphasizes the purpose of the specific legal injunctions.  This is why the maqasid are so important. 

  Furthermore, many Muslims seem to forget that in the shari’ah, unlike in Western law, there is a spectrum of categories from required (wajib) and good (halal) all the way to haram or forbidden.  Most acts fit into categories in between, namely, mandub or desirable and makruh or undesirable, with a large middle category that depends entirely on intention.  The same applies to bid’a.  Not all innovation is bad.  Some is desirable, namely, bida’ hasana, and some is undesirable or even haram.

  The differences in approach may ultimately depend on what aspect of the ‘usul al fiqh one uses.  Adopting the maqasid or universal purposes and essentials of the shari’ah as the starting point for analysis is merely the first step, though the most important one.  The next is to decide what analytical technique one wants to use.  Self-styled liberals, like Professor Muqtedar Khan, may prefer istihsan, which is the most liberal form of jurisprudence approved in the ‘usul al fiqh, based on what the faqih thinks is good or hasan.  Self-styled conservatives, like myself, prefer the istislah, which requires derivation from the Qur’an and Sunnah.  Proceeding from these two approaches, equally competent jurists may end up on opposite sides of important issues.

  Islamic jurists, of course, will always be aware of the difference between applying rational thought to the muamalat or socio-economic and socio-political issues of everyday life and applying such thought to the ibadat or rules of Muslim worship.  The maqasid are ideally suited as a normative framework for analyzing the muamalat, whereas the ibadat, as well as most family law (especially marriage, divorce, and inheritance), are revealed and are not equally subject to reasoned debate for application by and to Muslims. 

  For purposes of teaching courses on the shari’ah, as well as on comparative legal systems and on human rights, I would think that Amina Wadud’s unprecedented intifada designed to legitimize women leading the jumu’a salat should be a perfect case study.  Although I personally think that she is violating the fundamental Islamic principle of mizan or balance, the extreme case she has chosen to raise fundamental issues of human responsibilities and rights should challenge students to approach fourteen hundred years of Islamic scholarship with an open mind. 

  This open-mindedness in the search for knowledge, which is part of the maqsud of the maqasid known as haqq al ‘ilm, is the current task of Muslims in fulfilling the third jihad, the only one mentioned specifically in the Qur’an, namely, the jihad al kabir.  This is the intellectual jihad, which assumes the first two taught by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, the jihad al akbar and the jihad al saghrir.  The jihad al akbar for self purification is fard ‘ain or the individual responsibility of every person.  The jihad al saghrir or use of force within the constraints of a just war doctrine to defend human rights for oneself and others is both an individual responsibility and a group responsibility known as fard kifaya.  The third jihad, the intellectual jihad, in the complexities of the modern era increasingly requires the joint ijtihad of group effort. 

  Each person should educate oneself in order to use individual ijtihad as guidance for one’s own life, just as one should respect personal inspiration or ilham from Allah, but neither this individual ijtihad nor this personal inspiration is applicable to other people, and one certainly should not try to impose it on them.  Group ijtihad evolves to meet the changing needs of the era and of different cultures.  It is an incremental and evolutionary process. 

  Of course, there is the old saw that revolution never pays, except when it does. 


A Prayer Toward Equality, Mona Eltahawy

A Sacred Conversation, Hesham Hessaballa

A Statement From the Organizers of the March 18th Event 

A Sweet Way to Distort the Message 

A Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer, Yasmin Mogahed

American Islam

Announcement of March 18th Friday Prayer Led by Amina Wadud 

Case of the Woman Imam, Yamin Zakaria

Dispute Over Women Imams, Anwer Iqbal  and

Do Female Prayer Protests Miss the Point, Dr. Aslam Abdullah 

Female Led Prayer in the Arab Press 

Female Led U.S. Service Irks Muslims in Mideast

Female Imam Sparks Global Controversy, Shahed Amanullah

Feminism and the Struggle Against Globalization, Farish A. Noor

First Generation of Female Imams Emerges in West China

First Female Imam for Ningxia

Friday Prayers Led By Women, Aslam Abdullah

From rebels to leaders: The Fitna of Women Leading Men in Prayers, by Abid Ullah Jan 

Frontal Assault

Historic Moment for Islam,0,7421771.story?coll=ny-worldnews-headlines 

Inspired By a Woman Leading Prayers, Pamela Taylor

Interview With Dr. Amina Wadud on Controversy  and

Islamic Woman Sparks Controversy By Leading Prayer

Jihadist Message Board Calls for Fatwa For the Death of Amina Wadud

Kyrgyzstan: Girl Pursues A Difficult Dream—Becoming An Imam

Leading Ladies, Ejaz Haider

Making History at the Friday Prayer, Mona Eltahawy

Middle East and Women’s Status

Mideast Muslims Aghast At Mixed Gender Service in NY

Mideast Muslims Outraged 

Mideast Muslims See Conspiracy

Mixed Islamic Prayer, Carole Eisenberg,0,5708609.story?coll=ny-nynews-headlines

Mixed Islamic Prayer in New York 

Much Ado About Nothing,004300140003.htm

Muslim Professor Plans to Keep Teaching at VCU!news&s=1045855934842

Muslim Woman Leads Prayer Service in NYC

Muslim Woman Sparks Controversy By Leading Prayers 

Muslim Woman’s Prayer Causes Stir

Muslim Women Are Finally Demanding Equality, Kamal Nawash

Muslim Women Can Lead Some Prayers Scholars Say

Muslim Women Leading Friday Prayer, Mirza Baig

Muslims Cry ‘Blasphemy’ As a Woman Leads Prayers

Muslims Howl at Woman Led Service

Muslims Split Over Gender Role

Muslims Told to Focus on Ethics, Not Symbols

Nasr Ahmed Said Says Wadud’s Action Important for Muslim Women in America!news&s=1045855934842 

No, We Don’t Have More Important Issues: In Support of Women-Led Prayer
By Sarah Eltantawi

Not Heroic Enough?, Amin Tais 

Outrage As Woman Leads Friday Prayers

Paving the Way for a Muslim Holocaust, Abid Ullah Jan

Pioneering Muslim Women and Amina Wadud’s Initiative

Political Participation of Women in Society, Muslim Womens League

Power of Prayer

Prayer Leader Condemned

Prayers and Protest,0,5878875.story?coll=nyc-nynews-print

Prayers Stir Debate

Real Debate on the Status of Women, Aslam Abdullah

Response to Woman Led Friday Prayer 

Safety of Professor Wadud Discussed by Virginia Commonwealth University!news&s=1045855934842

Scholars Urge Debate on Women’s Role in Prayer

Securing the Campus

Security Boosted for Islamic Activist,1280,-4894643,00.html

Security Concerns for Amina Wadud

Security Level Raised at VCU

Shock and Awe in the First Intifada of American Gender Insurgency: Paradigmatic, Strategic, and Legal Perspectives, By Dr. Robert D. Crane

Showdown With Satan, Jawad Ali

Standing By My Sister, Hesham Hassaballa 

Step Toward Equality in Islam

Understanding Amina Wadud and the PMU, Ahmed Rehab 

University Protects Professor

VCU Professor Threatened

Western Muslims Are Dying to Fit In, Muhammad Elmasry

What A Damn Shame, Hesham Hassaballa

What Would the Prophet Do: the Islamic Basis for Female Led Prayer, Nevin Reda

Will Muslim Women Defeat Tradition, Anwer Iqbal

With Prayer A Call for Equality

Woman Leads Friday Prayer in NYC§ion=0&article=60658&d=19&m=3&y=2005

Woman Leads Muslim Prayer Service 

Woman Leads Prayer Despite Criticism

Woman Leads Prayer Sparking Worldwide Controversy

Woman Led Friday Service Despite Illegitimacy

Woman Led Prayer Sparks Controversy,2106,3222788a12,00.html 

Woman Led Prayer - Views From Europe, Amine Tais

Woman Officiates at Muslim Wedding, Kecia Ali

Women and the Masjid Between Two Extremes, Louay Safi

Women As Imams 

Women Imams and Gender Justice, Nazry Bahrawi

Women Leading Prayers, Halima Klausen 

Woman Led Friday Prayer Sparks Furor in U.S.

Women Leading Friday Prayers: Why Am I Silent, M.A. Muqtedar Khan  Response to Muqtedar Khan’s Article


Another Woman (Asra Nomani) to Lead Muslim Prayers and

Asra Nomani Leads Prayers at Brandeis University


New York Group Spices Up Its Khutbah

The Secret of Why Only Men Can Lead Prayer: An Interview with Saudi Scientist Dr. Muhammad bin Saad an-Nutfah



A Critique of the Argument for Women Led Friday Prayers, Dr. Hina Azam  A response to Dr. Azam’s Critique, Hussein Ibish

Rand Reports Attempt to Change Islam, Abdus Sattar Ghazzali  Response to this article Fighting Manipulation With Conspiracy, Hesham Hessaballa

Women Leading Friday Prayers: Why Am I Silent, M.A. Muqtedar Khan Response to Muqtedar Khan’s Article 

A Womans Reflection on Leading Prayer, Yasmin Moghahed  and A Response to Yasmin Mogahed’s article by Ginan Rauf

Islam’s Encounter With American Culture: Making Sense of the Progressive Muslim Agenda, Louay M. Safi and A Cunning Con-Census, a response by by Hussein Ibish



A Critique of the Argument for Women Led Friday Prayers, Dr. Hina Azam  A response to Dr. Azam’s Critique, Hussein Ibish

Can a Woman be an Imam? Debating Form and Function in Muslim Women’s Leadership, Ingrid Mattson

Examination of Women and Prayer Leadership, Imam Zaid Shakir

Position on Muslim Woman Leading Salat, Sh. M. Nur Abdullah  and 

Position on Women Leading Salat, Yusuf al Qaradawi  and

Position on Women Leading Salat, Islamic Fiqh Academy of the OIC§ion=0&article=60899&d=23&m=3&y=2005  and 

Position on Women Leading Prayers by Muhammad Abdel Ghani Shamaa, an advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf 

Position on Women Leading Salat, Javed Ghamidi, Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan

Women Cannot Be Imams, Datuk Dr Abdullah Mohamed Zin of Malaysia


Position on Women Leading Salat, Sh. Ali Gum’a Grand Mufti of Egypt 

another article saying he gave the opposite opinion 


Mideast Muslims See Conspiracy

Planned Provocation, Norman Griebel

Rand Reports Attempt to Change Islam, Abdus Sattar Ghazzali  and Rand Report Revisited  Response to this article Fighting Manipulation With Conspiracy, Hesham Hessaballa



Free Muslims Against Terrorism

Muslim Women Are Finally Demanding Equality, Kamal Nawash

Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour

Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour

Muslim Wakeup

Mission Statement

Time to Wake Up, Rob Eshman

Progressive Muslim Union (PMU)

A South African View of the PMU, Na’eem Janeh

COLLOQUIUM: ‘Progressive Muslims’ Call for Abandoning Religion in order to Survive?”
By Robert D. Crane

Epicure’s Bastards: Proponents of Religious Anarchy in Islam, by Ayub Khan

Failing to Find Moderate Muslims at the PMU, Daniel Pipes

Progressive Muslim Union Formed

Progressive Muslim Union, Kaleem Kawaja

Progressive Muslim Union, Rachel Zoll

Progressive American Muslims Push for a Reinterpretation of Islam

Re-examing the Practice of Faith 

Why We are Launching a Progressive Muslim Union

SEE ALSO the collection of articles under GENDER ISSUES