Islamic Perspectives

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SOME CURRENT ISSUES

 

(Based on a Friday khutbah delivered on April 15, 2005)

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat


In this khutbah the following issues are examined in the light of Islam:

Call by a Muslim writer to suspend hudud

Threat to Masjid al-Aqsa

Imamah of a woman in salah


Call by a Muslim writer to suspend the hudud

Today the Muslim countries are in the grip of unjust systems created by oppressive dictators and kings and supported by some ‘ulama al-su` (scholars who out of malice or weakness or lack of understanding serve injustice and disobedience to Allah and his Messenger sall allah ‘alayhi wa sallam). In some countries there is no respect for Islam. Things enjoined by Allah such as hijab may be prohibited, as in Tunisia, and things prohibited by him such as alcoholic drinks may be permitted, as in many Muslim countries. In other countries Islamic law is supposed to be in force and therefore hudud (penalties for crimes such as 100 lashes for adultery) are applicable. But the application of these hudud is done in violation of the teachings of Allah and his Messenger. The hudud are applied mostly to the poor and women. A poor person who steals something worth a few dollars can have his hand cut off while a prince can squander tens of millions of dollars of his country’s money without any accountability. A woman can be stoned to death for adultery while rich men brag about their sexual exploits without any consequences. Moreover, when the hudud are applied to the weak and the poor this is done without due process of law and without allowing them to adequately defend themselves. Worst of all, people who commit no crime can be executed simply because they, in fulfillment of their Islamic duty, criticize the dictators and kings for their injustice and their betrayal of Islamic and Muslim causes. The truth is that more than the thieves and the adulterers and the political opponents it is the rulers themselves who deserve the severest punishment, for, in the sight of Allah the biggest criminals are those who oppress people and prohibit what Allah commands and command what Allah prohibits.

It is the duty of every Muslim to fight such an unjust system according to his/her abilities. But one Muslim writer, Tariq Ramadan, has used this situation to call for the suspension of hudud, and in this way arrogated to himself authority over the Law of Allah. There is something pervert about Ramadan’s logic: If men misuse laws or apply them unjustly, suspend the laws rather than fight, with all of one’s might, those who misuse or misapply or reject Allah’s law. He refers to the report that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (radi allah ‘an hu) suspended the hadd for theft in time of a famine. But a famine is an act of Allah and is not to be compared to the unjust conditions that cruel rulers and thoughtless scholars have created. We need to fight those men and those conditions and not the law of Allah. More relevant than the report about ‘Umar is a report about Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with both). He declared jihad against those who refused to respect the Islamic law about zakah.

It should be noted that Tariq Ramadan is not against punishment for crimes such as stealing. He would still allow Western type imprisonment for thieves. He is only against Islamic type of corporal punishments. Now in an unjust system would imprisonment be done justly? Would removing the corporal punishments make the rulers apply the law equally to the poor and the rich and would the accused get adequate means to defend themselves? Obviously not. Thus Ramadan’s proposal would only result in one more step away from Islam and towards secularism without bringing justice.

The fact is that Ramadan’s arrogant proposal is not about justice. It is about integration of Muslims in the dominant culture of this time, an integration that he champions. Hudud are often criticized in the West and he imagines, quite unrealistically, that his call to suspend them will help him and other Muslims integrate in the West.

In addition to the unjust systems imposed on Muslim countries by the dictators, kings, and some dumb ‘ulama, Ramadan uses another fact to argue for his presumptuous proposal. He refers to differences among Muslim scholars about the interpretations of the texts prescribing the hudud and about the required conditions under which they would be applicable. He then concludes: "It is necessary, therefore, to have an open debate to immediately suspend these practices as there is no consensus on the matter." Once again a very pervert logic: if scholars differ about the interpretation of the law, suspend the law. If we followed this logic, hardly any law will remain!!

The proper response to differences of interpretations is to call not for the suspension of the relevant laws but for a process that would allow the informed Muslims to conduct a rational discussion, leading to the formation of a working consensus.

Dear Brothers and Sisters! No person, no matter how brilliant, famous, or influential, has the right to abrogate or suspend the word of Allah. The right attitude of all Muslims is:

 

 

It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and his Messenger to have any choice about their command. If any one disobeys Allah and his Messenger, he has indeed strayed into manifest wrong. (33:36)

It seems that Ramadan should suspend his writing for a while and retreat somewhere for a few months to do some quite thinking and reflection, so that he can recover a truly Islamic perspective on things, fearing none but Allah.


Threat to Masjid al-Aqsa

Recently, we have heard again of Jewish threat to Masjid al-Aqsa. This threat is constant, although we may not hear about it often. Some of the zionists and Christian evangelists are always thinking about harming the Masjid and waiting for the right opportunity. So what should be our response to this threat?

One normally looks towards the governments to take some necessary actions, but, unfortunately, there is very little we can expect from our rulers. They are cruel to their Muslim peoples but extremely soft and friendly to the enemies of Islam and Muslims, in complete contrast to the word of Allah:

Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. And those who are with him are severe against (hostile) unbelievers, but compassionate amongst themselves …. (48:29)

If Allah forbidding, something happened to the Masjid, they will make noise for a few days and then go back into sleep in the laps of their friends among the very people who harmed the Masjid or contributed to the harm.

So it is the Muslim people who have to do something. They should make small groups and think what they can do to prevent the Jewish and evangelists from aggression and how to react if they succeeded in their nefarious crime. At first it would seem to us that there is nothing we can do. But let us remember the power of Allah. This world is full of hidden opportunities that become manifest if we think and make sufficient effort.


Imamah of a woman in salah

In dealing with the question whether a woman can be imam in prayers we need to keep in mind the corresponding question in Christianity: whether a woman can be a priest. For, the question about the imamah of a woman in modern times -- as also that of the rabbinate of a woman in Judaism -- has arisen in the West under the influence of the question of the priesthood of a woman – I say "in modern times" because the question of the imamah of a woman was already discussed by Muslim scholars centuries earlier (in the second century hijrah at the latest); and I say "in the West" because in some other parts of the world such as China women have been for sometime now acting as recognized imams (paid by the community) and probably without any influence from Christian trends.

We need to keep in mind the issue of the priesthood of a woman because it is important that we do not import from Christianity certain assumptions about the issue into Islam.

In Christianity, at least in the mainstream Catholic Christianity, women have always been excluded from priesthood and this exclusion was connected with a belief in their moral and spiritual inferiority and their subjugation to men. The basis for this is provided by the Christian holy book, where we read in New Revised Standard Version:

For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection [or glory] of God; but woman [should because she] is the reflection [or glory] of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman was made from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. (1 Corinthians 11: 7-9)

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1Corinthians 14: 34-35)

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission, I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:11-15).

These texts or any others in the Bible are not explicit in prohibiting women from being priests, but since teaching is one of the functions of a priest, such a prohibition is implicit here. Moreover, since a priest exercises some authority and no woman is to have authority over a man, women cannot be priests, at least not for men. Some church authorities also justifiably argued on the basis of the command to be silent in the congregation: since most priestly functions require some use of speech in the congregation, the command to be silent assumes a prohibition of priesthood. Some writers have interpreted "silence" to mean something like "not chatting unnecessarily". But the words, "if there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home," suggest that even useful talking for the purpose of seeking knowledge is not allowed.

If the Christian Bible is not explicit about prohibiting priesthood to women, it is certainly explicit about their moral and spiritual inferiority and of their subjugation to men, as is clear from the emphasized parts of the New Testament passages quoted above. And in Christianity this inferiority has always been connected with the exclusion of women from priesthood.

It should also be noted that the authority of a priest has a divine sanction in Christianity, so that exclusion of women from priesthood is exclusion from a divinely sanctioned power.

In view of the above, the fight of Christian women to become priests is a legitimate fight for them to break man’s monopoly on a divinely bestowed power and for them to be accepted as moral and spiritual persons equal to men. It is like their other successful fights such as the fights for the right to own property and the right to vote.

In Islam the situation is very different in several ways:

First, women’s right to ownership, their right to vote, and their moral and spiritual equality with men are well recognized in Islam and by a vast majority of Muslims. Also, unlike a priest, an imam does not have any special divinely bestowed power residing in his person after "ordination", from which women will get excluded if they do not act as imams.

Second, in the view of the majority of Muslim scholars the imamah of women is not denied, but restricted to certain situations. The minority view that women cannot be imam under any circumstances is not only without any foundation in the sources of Islam but it also conflicts with the few texts relevant to the subject that we do find in those sources. The view should therefore be rejected as un-Islamic and it should be concluded that there is no absolute exclusion of women from imamah.

Third, the restrictions placed on the imamah of women are not connected with the inferiority of women except in the minds of some Muslims with limited understanding of Islam. Rather, they are connected with a concern to make concentration in prayer easier.

Let us now look more closely at the sources of Islam to see what specifically they say about the imamah of women is prayers.

A) The Qur`an does not say anything about imamah of women.

B) Ahadith found in a majority of collections also do not say anything about the imamah of women. Some ahadith assume that women’s rows in prayers used to be behind the row of men in the time of the Prophet, which is indirectly related by some with the question of the imamah of women.

C) Ahadith found only in a small number of relatively less reliable collections contain the following traditions about the imamah of women.

1) One hadith in Ibn Majah (1071) says that women should not lead men in prayer. This hadith is considered unreliable by most hadith experts, since one of its narrators has received consistently negative comments from scholars, including the comment that he used to lie. But even this hadith does not exclude women from imamah, since it clearly implies that a woman can be an imam for women.

2) A tradition in ‘Abd al-Razzaq, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Daraqutni, and Bayhaqi from ‘Aishah says: "She used to lead women in prayer and used to stand in the center of the row (and not in front)".

3) In a hadith in Abu Da`ud 500, Ahmad 26022-23, Ibn Sa‘d (Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir) it is narrated that, on the order of the Prophet, Umm Waraqah led her household, including a male mu`adhdhin, in prayer:

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا الْوَلِيدُ قَالَ حَدَّثَتْنِي جَدَّتِي عَنْ أُمِّ وَرَقَةَ بِنْتِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْحَارِثِ الْأَنْصَارِيِّ وَكَانَتْ قَدْ جَمَعَتْ الْقُرْآنَ وَكَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَدْ أَمَرَهَا أَنْ تَؤُمَّ أَهْلَ دَارِهَا وَكَانَ لَهَا مُؤَذِّنٌ وَكَانَتْ تَؤُمُّ أَهْلَ دَارِهَا

Abu Nu‘aym related to us saying: al-Walid related to us saying: My grandmother related to me from Umm Waraqah bint ‘Abd Allah bin al-Harith al-Ansari: She used to memorize the Qur`an and the Holy Prophet had commanded her to lead the inmates of her house. And she used to have a mu`adhdhin (to call the adhan) and she used to lead the inmates (in prayer). (Ahmad 26023)

A longer version of this hadith states that Umm Waraqah’s household included more than one male slaves in addition to the (male) mu`dhdhin. We may assume that her household included other male members of the family, since the appointment of a regular mu`dhdhin suggests a rather large household.

Not all the narrators of this hadith are of high rank, but none of them gets as negative comments as does a narrator in the hadith of Ibn Majah. A majority of Hadith scholars trust this hadith more than that of Ibn Majah.

There are very few reported cases of women acting as imam for men in the time of the Prophet and the Sahabah. Apart from this example of Umm Waraqah, there is the case of a Kharijite woman named Ghazalah, mentioned by al-Tabari in his al-Tarikh. Ghazalah had some male warriors whom she led in prayer in Kufah when she controlled the city for one day in 77 H. She apparently memorized the Qur`an well, since she is said to have recited the two longest surahs of the Qur`an during this prayer.

E) Scholars interpret the above facts differently and arrive at different results. Here are the main opinions:

· A woman can act as an imam of other women in all prayers, nafl (supererogatory) or fard (obligatory), but not of men. This view is based on the weak hadith of Ibn Majah. Its proponents also use those relatively stronger ahadith that assume that in the time of the Prophet women’s rows used to be behind those of men. The argument is that if a woman leads in prayer she will stand in front of men and thus violate the sunnah that women should stand behind men. But some scholars have suggested that the woman imam can stand behind men and lead them from there. Also, one can put a screen between her and the male worshippers.

· A woman can lead men in nafl prayers such as tarawih and in funeral prayers but not in fard prayers. This distinction between nafl and fard does not seem to have much support from ahadith.

· A woman can lead men, if they belong to her house, both in nafl and fard prayers. This is based, on the one hand, on the hadith that Umm Waraqah led male and female inmates of her house, and, on the other hand, on the assumption that mixing genders in one’s household is not likely to have any distracting effect.

· A woman can lead men without any qualifications.

No matter which one of the above opinions or their variations we may be inclined to accept, the above review of the sources and their interpretations should make one thing clear to all of us: the imamah of a woman in any type of prayer is not as shocking in the light of the teachings of Allah and his Messenger as it might appear at first. Much more shocking is to call for the suspension of hudud prescribed by Allah and to do nothing in the face of the constant threat to Masjid al-Aqsa.


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