Topic initiated on Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 7:50 PM
|Imāmah of Salāh (Leadership of prayers)|
Salāh is the act of worship in Islam. It is one of the fundamental duties of Muslim. Among all the religious acts the foremost place is occupied by Salāh. In Islam its position is akin to that of the heart in the body. The Imām is a leader or one who goes in front and leads congregational Salāh (prayers). Imāmah is the act of conducting congregational prayers. It, too, is a most important religious function and it entails a heavy responsibility. In his lifetime the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself used to lead the congregation, but when, during his last illness, he ordered that Abu Bakr should act as the Imam who was the worthiest member of the community from the point of view of the knowledge and practice of faith. In a way, Imāmah denotes the deputyship of the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It is, therefore, essential that one who is most suited among the devotees participating in the congregation is appointed as the Imām. The criterion of it can, naturally be relative propinquity with the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and an inner resemblance with him. Since the Qur'an is of paramount importance in that legacy, he must have, after having been blessed with true faith, cultivated a special fondness and inclination for it, learnt it by heart, understood its message and injunctions and translated its teachings into practice. The next standard is that he should have possessed the knowledge of Sunnah and Shariah.
The Iman acts as the representative of the whole of the congregation before the Almighty. It is therefore, the duty of the congregation to appoint the best of its member to the high office of Imamah. It is related by Abdullah bin Umar that the Prophet of Allah said, "Make them the Imam who are the best and worthiest of you because they are your representative in the august presence of your Lord and Master" (Daru Qutni). For the congregation of Salah the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has decreed that the devotees should stand, side by side, in rows. No better and more dignified arrangement could be imagined for collective worship like Salah. The Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has urged that the rows must be perfectly straight with no one being farther ahead or in the rear by an inch. The front row should be completed before the second is formed behind it. Eminent and responsible members of the community and men of learning and understanding should try to secure a place in the front rows, nearer to the Imam, and small children should stand in the rear and if ladies were participating in the congregation, they should form the last row, at the back of all the male worshippers. The Imam is to stand in the center, in front if everyone. It is related on the authority of Anas that" I offer Salah behind the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and with me was my brother, and our mother, Ummi Sulaim, stood at the back of both of us"(Muslim). It is also related on the authority of Abu Malik Ashari that he asked," May I tell you about the Salah of the Prophet of Allah?" He then said," the Prophet of Allah established Salah. He first formed the row of men and behind them the row of children and then led the service. Afterwards the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) remarked, "This is the method of the Salah of my followers" (Abu Dawud).
The aim of it all is to make the congregation flawless and more beneficial. This shows that even if only one woman is participating in the congregation prayer she should stand in the rear, apart from men and children, so much so that even if her own children were forming the front row she must not stand with them but at their back. This is crystal clear gender segregation during the Prophet's lifetime. The Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) gave due attention to these things and also exhorted the Ummah to be particular about them. Occasionally, he would speak of the divine reward that was on observing these directions and warn those who disregarded them of severe chastisement in the life to come.
Regarding the women's Imamah in Salah (prayer) she can lead congregational prayers of women only. It is not permissible for a woman to lead prayer of mixed gender congregation, even if the congregation allows her. Did ‘Ai’sha (R.A) ever lead a mixed gender congregation? The answer is no, she did not. Not while the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was alive and not after he died. ‘Ai’sha (R.A) had led some women in jama’at (congregation) but that she stood in the middle of the row, not in front of it.
This hadith gives clear justification for women's Imamah for women only and rejects her Imamah to mixed gender. If ‘Ai’sha(R.A) like women, the Mother of the Believers and the best woman of creation, did not lead men in prayer then how should 21century women lead men in prayers? Is she think herself superior than ‘Ai’sha(R.A)? Does she feel that she has been cheated or made inferior and that the only way to be intellectually and spiritually equal to men is to claim her leadership in Salah? Why not she feels superiority in giving child birth which is much more important emotionally physically and spiritually than leading congregational prayers? It is actually she who gives birth of Imam. In my opinion her Imamah of mixed gender congregation will change nothing except disorders balance in the Ummah. Instead of this if she use her sincere intentions, correct knowledge of islam and right conduct to make her child Imam that will certainly solve problem that matters in the world. She should look at Fatima (R.A), daughter of the Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), for an example.
Umm Waraqah, the daughter of Abdullaah bin al Harith said, "The Messenger of Allah (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used to visit her at her home. He appointed a mu’adhdhin to call adhan for her and he commanded her to lead her ahla-dar (individuals of her home) in prayer." Abdul al Rhman said, "I saw that her mu’adhdhin was an old man". (Sunan Abu Dawud, Volume 1, hadith No. 592)
It is ignorance and biased approach to infer from this hadith that dar is a larger geographical area which needed the service of a mu’adhdhin. Actually it is not dar only rather it is ahla dar which means her individual home and nothing is evident in this tradition that indicates mu’adhdhin, an old man offered Salah behind Umm Waraqah or she led any man in prayers at all. Also the text says "He appointed a mu’adhdhin to call adhan for her" which here never mean that the mu’adhdhin was to call people to come and pray with her. There are two aspects of adhan. One is that it is the summons to prayers and the other is that it is the call of faith and a public declaration of Islam. In the former case, it is the duty of a Muslim to get ready for celebrating the service as soon as he hears the adhan and reaches the mosque in time while in the latter, he is called upon to affirm both from his heart and tongue every part of the call when he hears it. All the Muslims are, thus, to renew the bond and covenant of faith at the time of every adhan. When mu’adhdhin gives the adhan and proclaim the Glory and Greatness of the Lord and His oneness and the Apostleship of His Messenger and his call, all the creatures, along with men and jinn, hear it, and they shell testify to it on the last Day. (Bukhari) Also it is related by Malik bin Huwaris that "(once) I went to the Apostle of God and my cousin also was with me. The Prophet (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, 'When you are on a journey, say adhan and Iqamah for Salah and the eldest of you should act as Imam and lead the service".(Bukhari)This hadith shows that even two persons have to give adhan.
Further, in terms of authenticity, a stronger hadith in the Muwatta of Imam Malik narrates that in Tarawih ‘Ai’sha(R.A) prayed behind her male slave.
Besides strong authenticity, this hadith is much more strong argument than Umm Waraqah's tradition because `A'isha was a Faqiha of the first rank, the most knowledgeable women of the Ummah or of human history, and if any woman could lead men in prayer it should have been `A'isha.
In addition to the five obligatory congregational prayers, there are a few congregational prayers which are celebrated only and only in congregation. One of these is the weekly Friday Salah (prayer) and the others are the prayers of ‘Id al Fitr and ‘Id al Adha that are held once in a year. As only the Muslims of a limited area or part of a town can gather together for the five daily prayers, a day has been set apart in the week on which the Muslims of the whole town can collect in a large mosque for a special Salah – Friday Salah. The significance attached to the Friday prayer is the sermon of Imam. Women can not lead Friday prayer and can not deliver the Friday sermon. It is related by Tariq bin Shahab that the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, "To offer the Friday prayers in congregation is obligatory for a Muslim. Four kinds of men are exempted from it: 1. the slave who is legally owned by someone, 2. the women, 3. the boy who has not attained majority and 4. the sick". (Abu Dawud) When the Friday prayer is not obligatory on the women then how could she lead Friday congregation and delivering sermon – that too in church – is extremely very distant talk. Those advocating the permissibility of female for leading congregational prayer in Friday and deliver Friday sermons are falling into the trap of hypocrites. They do not obey Allah and His messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). This will lead them astray and finally to hell. The Glorious Qur’an speaks, "The hypocrite men and the hypocrite women are of the same genre, they enjoy what is evil and forbid what is good and they withhold their hands(from charity). They forgot Allah, so Allah has forgotten them. Verily the hypocrites are evil-doers" (9:67)," The male believers and the female believers are each others allies, they enjoin good and forbid harm, they establish prayers, practise charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them Allah will have mercy. Verily Allah is Mighty, Wise". (9:71)
Abdul Wasay Bhat
Department of Islamic Studies University of Kashmir India
Posted - Friday, March 25, 2005 - 1:54 PM
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