Women’s Equality in the Mosque: How to explain Hadith which seem to discourage Women’s Participation in the Masjid?
by . Kaukab Siddique PhD
Br. S, a well-read, thoughtful and thought provoking Muslim, active in the Muslim community in the London, England area has asked how one can explain hadith which seem to create an impression that it is better for women to pray at home and not go to the mosque. Here is my response:
The Qur’an gives the broad principle about the kind of people who should be in charge of mosques:
“The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and pay the zakat, and fear none (at all) except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance.” [9:18]
[I don’t know about England, but most imams of mosques in America are disqualified by the final condition in that verse, ‘fear none except Allah’, as they are by and large bootlickers of the American power structure and hangers on of the rich and the powerful.]
Obviously 9:18 includes all believers, men and women, who have the given qualities, as those who are entitled to visit and maintain mosques. As Yusuf Ali’s commentary points out (p.502), “ya’amuru” (roughly translated as ‘visited and maintained’) includes all mosque activities:
four of which he lists:
1. To build or repair.
2. to maintain in fitting dignity
. 3. to visit for purposes of devotion
4. fill with light and life and activity.
The concept of “masjid” or mosque as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is so broad and comprehensive that there is no question of keeping anyone out of it who means well:
“Abu Huraira (r.a.) narrates that the messenger of Allah, pbuh, said: The ENTIRE earth has been made for me pure and a masjid.” [Literally: place of prostration in worship.] Hadith, Sahih Muslim, kitabus salat, Tirmizey Sunan, kitabus siir, Ibn Maja’s Sunan, kitabut taharah.
In the pre-Islamic ethos, women were given a secondary position in places of worship. In pagan temples, as in the Hindu religion, they were sent into places of worship to be made into servants of men and sources of entertainment.
Pagan men often thought that women should bring enjoyment for men in places of worship. Islam rejected pagan use of women for entertainment. Hence the new entrants into Islam were very sensitive to the idea of women visiting places of worship.
They did not want mosques to go the way of pagan temples. [This fear was similar to the one related to rituals of Hajj which the pagans had corrupted.
The Qur’an, for instance, taught Muslims that they should run up and down the hills of Safa and Marwa and not stay away just because they had seen the pagans going there. Islam was reclaiming the original worship for those who had cast paganism aside.]
Hence the Prophet (pbuh) commanded:
[From Nafi’, who narrates from Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (r.a.): The Prophet, pbuh, said]: Do not stop the maid servants of Allah from the mosques of Allah. (Hadith, Muwatta of Imam Malik, compiled late in the first century of Islam, published in the second.)
Then there was the element of lawlessness because Madina was under attack and the streets of the city were not lighted. In spite of the element of danger, the Prophet, pbuh, insisted:
[From ‘Amash, from Mujahid from Ibn ‘Umar] The messenger of Allah, pbuh, said: “Do not stop women from going to the mosque at NIGHT.” [Hadith, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmizy, kitabus salat.]
Imam Abu Hanifa, who began his hadith studies in the first century of Islam, and completed his work in the first half of the second century compiled this specific hadith about women’s participation in the mosque prayers at the difficult times of morning, before sun rise, and at night:
“Abu Hanifa narrates from Hammad from Ibrahim from Sha’abi from Ibn ‘Umar (r.a.): The Prophet, pbuh, permitted women to go forth and participate in fajr and ‘Isha. (Musnad of Imam Abu Hanifa, under the heading: The benefit of participation in Fajr and Isha prayers.]
Hazrat ‘Ayesha narrates the ongoing process of women coming for collective [jamaat] prayers in the mosque so early that it was pitch dark and the women could not be recognized:
“From the Mother of the believers, ‘Ayesha (r.a.): After the messenger of Allah completed the fajr prayer, the women, wrapped in their outer garments, returned home. It used to be so dark that they could not be recognized.” [Hadith, Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Nasai, kitabus salat.]
IT APPEARS THAT NOT ONLY WOMEN PARTICIPATED WITH THE PROPHET (pbuh) in the PRAYERS, with male sahaba, companions of the Prophet, the women also HELD THEIR OWN COLLECTIVE PRAYERS IN THE MASJID:
Tamima, the daughter of Salama, narrates that the Mother of the Believers, ‘Ayesha (r.a.) led the women as their imam in Maghrib prayers. She stood in the center (of the first line) and recited loudly. [Darqutni, with reference to the musannaf of Abdur Razzaq, 3:141]
Hujaira, the daughter of Husaain, narrates: Umm Salama, mother of the believers, led us in Asr prayer and stood in the middle (of the first row). [Compiled by Ibn Saad in his Tabaqat, vol.8, p.356. Darqutni has collected this narration from Ibn Abi Shaiba, Abdur Razzaq and Imam Shafi’i.]
Taus narrates that the mother of the believers, ‘Ayesha Siddiqa, (r.a.) used to call the adhan and the iqama (before leading prayers). (The musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaiba, 1:223)
Nearly 99.9% of hadith collected by the scholars of Islam are authentic. There are a very few, however, which are defective or out of context. There are even a couple of fabrications which managed to survive the intense scrutiny of scholars; hence the hadith is put second to the Qur’an, and not equal to it, as the source of Islamic knowledge.
Related to the issue of women’s equal participation in mosques, here is a discouraging hadith which opponents of women’s rights in the mosque, use:
“From Ibn ‘Umar (r.a.): The Prophet (pbuh) said: Do not stop your women from going to the mosque and their homes are better for them.” [Hakim in his Mustadrak vol.1, p.209.]
It is also related in Abu Daw’ud’s Sunan under the heading: “Collective prayer and its blessings.”
As we noticed above, there are hadith with excellent chains of narration from Ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) accepted by the imams of Hadith, Bukhari and Muslim, in which the Prophet (pbuh) commands: Do not stop women from going to the mosque. So why the contradiction in this hadith attributed to Ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) himself?
My understanding is that this hadith is narrating two pieces of narration and has left out what went on between them.
It is narrated that when ‘Ibn ‘Umar (r.a.) narrated the Prophet’s (pbuh) command not to stop women, Ibn ‘Umar’s son objected and said their homes are better for them and that people will use the hadith permitting women to go “to weave the webs of deception.” His son insisted that he would stop his wife. At this ‘Ibn ‘Umar was extremely upset. He said to his son: “I am telling you what the Prophet said and you are saying you will stop your wife!” (Musnad of Abu Hanifa) Other narratives say that ‘Ibn ‘Umar cursed his son for opposing the Prophet’s command. Some even say that he thereafter refused to talk to his son.(Musnad of Ahmed)
My understanding is that the words “their homes are better for them” are a fragment from the bitter words between father and son and have been inserted along with the Prophet’s command into the collections of Hakim and Abu Dawud. [Note that Ibn ‘Umar’s son was not a sahabi and his opinion does not count as a religious text.]
Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim left the fragment “their homes are better for them” out of their collections which are universally accepted as the most authentic of Hadith collections.
Opponents of women in the mosques also bring a narration which says:
“Abdul Hamid bin al-Mundhir Ansari narrated from his grandmother or his mother’s aunt, not clear which, Umm Humaid, as follows: The Prophet, pbuh, said, your prayer in your home, is better than the one you pray with me” (in masjid nabawi): (Ahmed in his Musnad, vol.6, p.371)
This has a number of variations, one of which appears in Ibn Khuzaima’s collection to the effect that “it is better for a woman to pray in the inner little room of her house than to pray in the main room of the house, better to pray in the local mosque than in the main mosque …” (Attributed to hazrat ‘Ayesha in Baihaqi’s Sunan.)
Abdul Hamid al-Mundhir’s narration is not acceptable because the scholars of Hadith say that he is MAJHUL. No one knows who he was. The narrations which support women’s rights have well known, in fact famous, narrators at every level of narration.
The narration attributed to hazrat ‘Ayesha (r.a.), if taken at face value, contradicts the numerous narrations which assert that women used to pray in the mosque in the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and in the caliphate of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Usman and Ali (Allah be pleased with them). In fact ‘Umar and Ali (Allah be pleased with them), leaders, along with ‘Ayesha (r.a) of Islamic thought, took extra efforts to appoint imams to lead women in prayers in the main masjid, especially when the crowds were big in Ramadan and the main imam could not be heard by the women.
‘Ayesha the exalted (r.a.) not only prayed in the masjid BUT LED PRAYERS in masjide nabawi.
I have been trying to trace the cause behind this narration from ‘Ayesha (r.a.) given by Baihaqi.
It appears that there was a woman who was so poverty stricken that she did not have enough clothes to cover herself to travel from her home on the outskirts of Madina to the mosque of the Prophet (pbuh). At the same time she was too self-respecting to accept charity. The Prophet (pbuh) understood her dilemma and her modesty. He gave her a blessing that if she prayed in the innermost closet room of her home, she would get the same rewards as if she was praying in the mosque of the Prophet (pbuh). [Allahu Akbar wa lillahil hamd.] This it was not an effort by the Prophet (pbuh) to curtail the participation of women in the mosques, which would have contradicted his entire mission, but to give special blessings to a woman’s vibrant faith and sincerity.
It would be extremely CONTRADICTORY for all those women to be going to the masjid at FAJR and ‘ISHA (as quoted in sahih hadith above) if they could have just stayed at home and gotten more rewards for praying at home. I don’t think the opponents of women’s rights have a case here.
Finally there are some narrations which claim that ‘Umar (r.a.) did not like his wife to go to the masjid. [Perhaps he remembered how women were used as sources of corruption in the pagan forms of worship even in the most sacred of places, the Ka’aba.] However, remembering the command of the Prophet (pbuh) he never actually stopped his wife. In fact the relevant narration is very instructive about the tension created by the emergence of the new revolutionary Islamic community coming out of a background of jahiliyya and exploitation of women:
“Mu’ammar narrates from Zuhri that ‘Atika, the daughter of Zaid ibn’Umru bin Nufail, was marrried to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (r.a.). She used to pray regularly in the masjid. ‘Umar used to say to her: By Allah! You know that I don’t like this. She would reply: I will not stop until you actually forbid me. ‘Umar would say:, No, I will not forbid you. The day ‘Umar (r.a.) was assassinated, ‘Atika was in the mosque.” (Abdur Razzaq’s collection, vol.3:148)
Ibn Hazm has a superb comment on this situation. He says, ‘Umar (r.a.) could have said that ‘Atika you are doing something inferior (praying in the masjid) as opposed to praying at home which according to the narration we discussed above is superior. Also, I, as husband, disapprove of it. How could a sahabia (‘Atika, r.a.) continue to act in a way which was inferior in worship and aroused the displeasure of her husband, and a husband who was a great Muslim, a great teacher of Islam and the greatest Khalifa the Muslims have ever had. Obviously both ‘Umar (r.a.) and ‘Atika (r.a.) knew that ‘Umar was simply expressing his gut feeling and not an Islamic edict. She was torn by the assassination of ‘Umar (r.a.); she loved him beyond herself. All the women of Madina respected him as their older brother. Their mourning knew no bounds when he was assassinated. He is the one who got down from the mimbar in humility when a woman of Madina objected to a point he had made in his khutba in MASJIDE NABAWI. [I have referenced this incident elsewhere in my writings.]
In ‘Umar’s armies there were thousands of Islamic women, both married and unmarried, who went forth to topple the empires of Rome and Persia. I have documented this fact in a critique I wrote on Fatima Mernissi who was ignorant of basic facts about ‘Umar (r.a.) and made some false statements about this great servant of Allah, great leader and mujtahid.
Excerpted from :
Hadith Studies by Dr. Kaukab Siddique in http://www.newtrendmagazine.org