Can women be imam for men and women?

The Details of the Question
Can women be imam for men and women?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Jurisprudential aspect of the issue:
• Women’s duty as imam in prayers is divided into two as women’s duty as imam for women and for a mixed community (men and women together) or for only men.
• As for women’s duty as imam for other women, there is information in hadith sources that when Umm Salama and Aisha, wives of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), lead the prayers as imam for women, they did not stand in front of other women and performed the prayer with them in the middle of the first line. Islamic jurisprudents have found it permissible for women to carry out the duty of Imams for other women both in daily prayers and tarawih prayers. However, according to Hanafis, it is abominably permissible.
• As for women’s duty as imam for a mixed community of men and women or only for men, the Prophet exceptionally allowed a woman named Ummu Waraqa, a hafiz of the Quran, to carry out the duty of imam for her own household, which is stated in early hadith sources. Ummu Waraqa’s household consisted of two slaves, one man and one woman, whom she set free on condition that they would be free after her death. The male slave was old. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 61; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, 6/405; Ibn-i Sa’d, Tabaqat, 8/457; Bayhaqi, Sunan-i Kubra, 1/456). Judging by this narration, some scholars such as Imam Ahmad, Abu Thawr, Muzani, Tabari and Ibn Taymiyya stated that women can be imam for men when there is an obligation.

• However, mujtahids such as Imam Azam Abu Hanifa and Shafii and the majority of jurisprudents did not admit it permissible for women to be imams for men. If such a prayer was performed, men’s prayers would be invalid; they have to perform it again; because as it is narrated from Hazrat Jabir and Hazrat Ali, “Women cannot be imam for men” (Bayhaqi, Sunan, 3/90; Ibn-i Abi Shayba, Musannaf, 1/430; Ibn-i Rushd, Bidayatu’l-Mujtahid, 1/114; Zukhayli, al-Fiqhu’l-Islami and Adillatuhu, 2/175; Nawawi, al-Majmu, 4/223; Din İşleri Yüksek Kurulu Kararları, Presidency of Religious Affairs, 23.06.2002)

On the other hand, another narration in Daraqutni is that our Prophet allowed Ummu Waraqa to be imam for other women in prayers. (Daraqutni, Sunan, 1/279). Anyway, it can be seen clearly that our Prophet allowed a woman to be imam in prayers only for a female slave and an old male slave who were in her house. Those people whom she led the prayer for were her own household. And it was a specific case.
In addition, the Messenger of Allah stated that it was more virtuous for women to perform their prayers at home. (Abu Dawud, salat, 53; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, 6/371; Mustadrak, 1/328).
Social and political aspects of the issue:
Today we are faced with the misunderstanding of the issue of woman in Islam. Those who cannot see the whole picture of Islam consider the fact that women cannot be imam in prayers as evidence that women are deemed second-class people in Islam. However, during the times when women were not treated like human beings, humankind saw a true equality between men and women owing to the prophets who are the representatives and conveyors of the divine revelation. Nevertheless, today women’s physical appearance and femininity are highlighted, which is considered to be the freedom of women, and women are put forward as people who have to fight against men. If we can be objective and reasonable we will see that it is indeed Islam that brought true equality between men and women. Islam has not only given importance to women when they had physical attractiveness, but also in their childhood, adulthood, in marriage, as mothers, as aunts and as grandmothers, in short, in all stages of their lives, and respected them.
 It is not inequality but justice to evaluate men and women separately because they are created with different characteristics and different structures. Allah created women with characteristics such as delicacy, chastity, compassion and motherhood. No human being can give women more than what Allah gave them. Every right which seems to be given to women degrades them and makes them look ridiculous; because the Creator knows the best for us; if only we could understand divine revelation truly. There is not a sura (chapter) named “men” in the Quran. It is stated “And in nowise covet those things in which God hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn” in the 32nd verse of chapter an-Nisa, which means “women”.
Allah created both men and women as human beings. However, He placed in their natures different characteristics that complete each other. Regarding them as means of conflict instead of accepting them as pieces that complete each other means to fight against nature.

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