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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 16:49 GMT
Should women lead Muslim prayers?
Man and woman sit side by side during Islamic prayers New York
A US professor may have become one of the first Muslim women to lead mixed Friday prayers.

More than 100 men and women attended the service, which was held in an Anglican Church building in New York after mosques refused to host the event.

The professor, Amina Wadud, said the service was "symbolic of the possibilities within Islam", but some Muslim leaders said it was against Islamic doctrine.

What do you think of Professor Wadud's decision to hold mixed prayers?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

This is like me trying to breast-feed my two-month-old daughter. I cannot do such a thing in order to feel equal with my wife. Both men and women have different responsibilities in a society. Imitating each others' responsibilities would be unnecessary and foolish.
Ahmet, Istanbul, Turkey

I think she is totally taking this equality issue out of hand. Some things are only performed by a man in Islam and that is perfectly alright. Women are given many rights in Islam and can lead in prayer but only among women.
Mareyem Sareini, Dearborn Heights, USA

The question should have been "Is it allowed in Islam that women lead Muslims prayers?" If it's not, there is no need to discuss such an issue because it is a principle that cannot be changed. It is well-known about Islam that it does not compromise any of its principles for any reason. In fact, Islam is in one of its weakest periods and the media just focuses on the slightest piece of news that is negative about Islam. Also, why was not this question raised about women who cannot lead Christian or Jewish prayers? There should be balance.
Abdul Saleh, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Religion as a component of culture is dynamic. Professor Wadud has done good as a catalyst of change with regard to the Islamic paradigm. Women can pray, too, and that is their fundamental right. Viva Wadud!
Guspec, Dallas, Texas, USA

I appreciate Dr Amina for taking such a courageous step
Hina, Lahore, Pakistan
I have always been a proponent of mixed prayers in the mosques, which serves the very purpose of spiritual and cultural harmony and mutual respect. A woman leading a prayer must not be taken as blasphemy, it only indicates the limitless possibilities in Islam which embraces moderate values and equality for men and women in all issues except for those that are clearly mentioned in Koran. Finally, I appreciate Dr Amina for taking such a courageous step.
Hina, Lahore, Pakistan

I'm not Muslim, but I was raised Catholic and I don't know why so many in the West are championing this professor while simultaneously saying nothing about the patriarchy of the Catholic church. In Islam, at least a woman can lead other women in prayer; in a Catholic church, no woman can give the Eucharist to anyone, even other women. This woman seems focused on a red herring rather than the very real problems of women in many societies.
Christina, Chicago, USA

I do not understand how there can be equality between men and women in Islam as many have written. Some wrote Islam "commands equal rights and respect for all women" and Islam "gives the best place and rights to women." If that is so, then why not let a woman lead prayers? I understand Islam states clear distinctions for the role of men and women. If women are so respected in Islam, then her creativity, opinion and viewpoint must also be respected and equally heard.

How silly it is when people say it is "haram" or forbidden to lead a prayer. Who gave such people the right to make a decision like this? None of these restrictions are condoned in the Koran. It is just the interpretation of a few extremists who want to make Islam more difficult. Whereas Islam is not difficult at all. If you truly read the Koran and nothing else, you will see exactly what I am talking about. How truly sad and embarrassing that a mosque refused to host the prayer and a church accepted it.
Serkan, Toronto, Canada

I'm surprised how many non Muslims here demonise Islam as misogynistic and teaching inequality. If Christianity is so equal what's the furore regarding homosexuals and the church? If we're going to criticize religions when are we going to see a black pope, let alone a female and when are we going to see a true representation of Christ that doesn't show a blond-haired blue-eyed boy. For those that say one day Muslims will see women as equals, you've missed the boat, we already do. However honourable Amina Wadud's intentions were she has only managed to reinforce cultural stereotypes, which are evident in some of the posts on this website.
Imran, London, UK

Islam does not discriminate people on the basis of gender, race, colour, religion, caste or creed. Men and Women are always equal in this beautiful religion. This is a very sad event and we are praying for Sister Amina and the people who attended this event. May Allah show them and keep us on the right path. Innovations in Islamic laws are totally prohibited. It amazes us despite of her deep knowledge about Islam she has not learn the basic tenets of the religion. This is nothing but a coercion in religion.
Aamir Mohammad, USA

It is "haram" or forbidden in Islam for women to lead mixed prayers. However, they can be "imam" to lead women in their prayers but a woman "imam" must not stand alone in front of the rest. As imam she must stand and lead the prayer along side with the rest of the women in the first row. Unlike man "imam", he must stand alone in front of the rest to lead the prayer. All this are rules which must be adhered to in order to make your prayer acceptable and "valid". I think Amina Wadud and her followers are deviating - they must repent and revert to the true teaching of Islam.
Kamarudin, Malaysia

She is shooting in the wrong direction - a social problem being portrayed as a religious one
Hasan, Mississauga, Canada
She is shooting in the wrong direction. A social problem being portrayed as a religious one. While trying to please the US society, they set out to prove something that Islam already stands for. Islam has clearly defined the rights and roles for man and woman in the most clear terms, striking a perfect balance in life. If there are problems, those are because of not following Islam rather than the other way. I cannot help but laugh at the stock of people who made a fool of themselves by achieving nothing with this stunt.
Hasan, Mississauga, Canada

Islam has given the best place and right to women and those women who follow the true teachings of Islam really feel comfortable, blessed and satisfied. A woman leading a prayer in the presence of men is totally forbidden and against the natural modesty of a modest Muslim woman. So Ms Waddud's action is just to deny the fundamental foundation of Islam and is totally un-Islamic.
Irfan Qayyum, Toronto, Canada

This issue of equality is totally misunderstood here. In the eyes of Almighty God they are equal, but each has a specific role which they play. Men cannot have children whereas women can, this is not inequality here. We have to understand that the role of women in Islam compliments men and the role of men compliments women. I agree with Muhammad Omer Iqbal's comments.
Abu Maryium, Reading, UK

I noticed the Muslims who are cheering this confused and rebellious woman are doing it because they are in dire need to please "the West". The reason for accepting or rejecting this should be purely based on religion if you are Muslim. The "maybe the West will like us better now" line is for insecure people with no friends and no self-esteem. I was born and raised in the West and you people are very pathetic to be forming opinions on Islamic reform just to curry favour. Don't get me wrong, I love the West and many of the people here, but pleasing God comes before pleasing fellow humans. There is a barrier between men and women for a reason in Islam and Muslims should bear that in mind when shamelessly forming opinions based on their inner desires to feel accepted.
Mohammad, Jersey City - United States

So let's see how many women have led the Vatican (as the Pope) or is there an example of woman chief rabbi in Israel? Islam has given women the true respect they deserve. Mother in Islam has paradise under her feet and the Koran does not differentiate between a woman and a man for the reward of a good deed. Islam introduced legal inheritance for women. The Prophet raised the status of women by transforming the society at a time when they buried their girls alive. What do people mean when they say women and men are equal? Do they look the same? Do they act and think the same way? It is a question of perception.
Ayaz Ahmad, Toronto, Canada

Women leading prayers is not something new. It might not be common but definitely is not a 'revolution' or 'invention'. One example comes from Muslim Chinese where they have women imams. But nobody mentions that. As for Islam that gives women secondary status I find it ridiculous. Women in the time of Prophet Muhammad had the right to vote and they did so. While now in Saudi Arabia they don't have the right - and this is done in the name of Islam! Besides that many in the West hear what they like to hear about Islam.

I am a Bengali-American Muslim teenager. Islam is a religion which commands equal rights and respect for all women. From the first moment I heard about this event, I knew it was completely wrong. The issue of which gender should be leading prayer doesn't have to be a problem at all. It has already been decided in Islam. The Friday prayer led by Amina Wadud reflects an ignorant person who just wants some popularity and who doesn't understand the beauty of Islam. This event will not benefit the women in Islam or improve the way people view Islam. Tell Amina Wadud that she doesn't have to go change Islam; it's already well established.
Anika Alam, Boston, MA, USA

Julien, Montreal, Canada, I don't understand why you believe women in the Islamic world are disadvantaged. For instance, if you ask men from Syria what they dislike about the roles of the sexes, one thing that will come out on top is the fact that the man must foot the entire bill for getting married, with the woman having little remorse regarding the financial hole she is forcing her husband-to-be to dig himself into in order to get married. It would seem that men in the Islamic world are prepared to put up with materialism from the women in their society that no Western man would put up with.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK

Quite a number of people have talked about 'equality' in the context of this event. Unfortunately, it is only a misnomer causing confusion here. 'Equality' should not mean doing exactly the same as the other gender. It seems that some people in the world have decided that men are better than women and that women should do the same as men, and that is what 'women rights' are. If they do not, they are lesser than men! I feel sorry for such an attitude that exists in the world today.
Muhammad Omer Iqbal, Bellevue, WA, USA

This is not changing Islamic law or fight for equality. It's just something done to gain a space in the field of popularity.
Nuton, NY, USA

I love it. I admire such an action from a Muslim woman. May Allah bless her.
Sam Hamedani, Oklahoma City, USA

I am in no way Muslim or, for that matter, religious, but I have a hard time understanding the origin of the inequality between women and men in Islam, and why the men have apparently come out on top. I therefore believe that woman should be encouraged to hold any position available to men and vice versa. What kind of message is being presented when inequality is being defended with the word of Allah?
Julien, Montreal, Canada

This is a great development, at least now Muslims can remove the curse of women. The world was making fun of Islam as the most discriminatory religion. Muslims can now show the world that they are modern and respect men and women as equal.
Mohd Jameel, Dubai

If a woman has more knowledge about Islam in a particular area or region than men living there then she can lead any prayers including Friday Prayers. Moreover, there is no single verse in the holy Koran or Hadith that prohibits a woman leading any prayers. In this case, the woman is not a common Muslim lady having the basic knowledge about Islam. She is a Professor in Islamic Studies at a university and is supposed to have good knowledge about Islam. I appreciate this initiative. This is the time for Muslim men to learn to respect women's rights. The Koran addresses both men and women equally.
Saghir Anjum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

In any religion men and women should be equal
Aslam Sattar, Sri Lanka
In any religion men and women should be equal. Some Muslim men who want to control women just bring religion in to play and it's shameful. Congratulations to Amina and I hope other women will now have the courage to do same.
Aslam Sattar, Sri Lanka

I am currently studying Islamic law and jurisprudence. Through my studies I have learnt what Mrs Wadud is doing is wrong, all she is doing is creating innovations in our religion. She needs to be stopped, it is completely wrong in Islam. All the people who are following her need to study this certain area before they go following blindly. This should not continue.
Maryam, Preston, UK

I believed some group of people (society) are behind this act. What the Professor Amina did is against the Islamic rule and therefore rejected by Muslims.
Abubakar Isa, Abuja, Nigeria

Dr. Amina Wadud, in a well justified revolution, has done some mistakes. It is a great step she took to start the practice (or rather continue it from ancient times) of women being imams. However, there are Islamic rules that exist for a reason. Women and men are not supposed to be seeing each other while praying. Praying is a spiritual practice, requiring full concentration and detention of all worldly distractions. A woman kneeling in front of a man during a prayer is a distraction. Maybe Dr Amina should consider secluding men and women while imaming them; especially as some of the praying women did not even wear hijab!
Noha Hamed, Alexandria, Egypt

Professor Wadud's stance is a bold one, but surely if she holds a position that is contrary to Islam then she should head out and define a religion within the parameters of Islam that she can live with. I am extremely suspicious of individuals who attempt to impose their values, for whatever reason, on a group or society, rather than living as they wish and allowing others to make the same decision. Brave, but extraordinarily arrogant.
Eric Jacobs, Brighton, UK

I think it's a very interesting phenomenon, it was bound to happen sooner or later. And although I admire Mrs Wadud's courage and initiative, I can't help but feel that there are more essential issues that need to be tackled, where women are concerned. Still, I think this prayer was symbolic and part of a much-needed counterpoise to other interpretations of Islam, like the uncompromising fundamentalism and literalism that is rampant in the Islamic world today.
Will Bustany, Bahrain

How can people with no inside knowledge of Islam make any authoritative statement on this? All I can see non-Muslims here saying is the usual female equality argument whilst knowing nothing of the Islamic laws upon which this is based.
KJ, London

It should be noted that Islam does provide equality more than any other religion in the world, however, where other religions have reformed, Islam cannot be reformed because no-one on earth has the authority. Further to note that in this issue, it is the weakness of the men from which women are being protected. A woman bending in front of a man can be suggestive and lead to unfaithful desires for that woman. It is not to say all men will feel that but because some will, precaution is taken and women are to congregate behind men or in segregation with a veil between them.
Rizwan, Glasgow, UK

From BBCArabic.com:Having women leading prayers is not a new phenomenon in Islamic History and still prevails in some parts of Africa. But one should ask, is it necessary now? If it is, it will be acceptable from a human point of view, but from a religious point of view, it is for Islamic jurisprudence to decide if this is right or wrong.
Mohamed Dhiaa, Kurdistan, Iraq

From BBCArabic.com: They want to invent a modernised version of Islam in which anything goes and everything is debatable.
Ahmed Abdel Lateef, US

From BBCArabic.com: I think it's a good idea and worthy of discussion by Muslim scholars, away from the Arab cultural chauvinism currently prevailing in the Arab world.
Ammar, Baghdad

From BBCArabic.com:If this was permitted, It should have been practiced by early Muslim women such as Khadeeja, the wife of the prophet.
Ahmed al-Hariri, Germany

Women leading men in a prayer is a new oddity. A woman leading other women is acceptable, under the condition that she should be in the middle rows, as ordered by Islam.
Saeed al-Kahtany, Abha, Saudi Arabia

From BBCArabic.com: Women are our equal sisters in Islam. But in case of worship and belief matters we ordered to follow the instructions and deeds of the profit Muhammad - he never gave anyone of his wives known to be mothers of Muslims such authorisation. Therefore a woman imam is a silly invention rejected by us.
Mahmoud Ibrahim, Cairo, Egypt

Professor Amina Wadud, it is not fair for you to say that I feel oppressed when I am not
Fatimah Wadud, Oxford, UK
Being a Muslim, and a woman, I feel she is doing something so wrong. I love my religion because it helps me be myself and not what men want me to be. I feel free and respected and I feel sorry for those who does not see this. Amina Wadud needs to read the Koran and ask herself some very important questions. Professor Amina Wadud, it is not fair for you to say that I feel oppressed when I am not. I am not saying that all Muslim women in this world are treated with equality, there is of course inequality, it occurs when cultural tradition gets muddled up with religious tradition but of course Islam gets the blame.
Fatimah Wadud, Oxford, UK

In Islam, equality is not uniformity. While man and woman are equal before Allah, their roles are not uniform. In Islamic traditions, a woman cannot lead a mixed prayer of men and women. However Amina Wadud's action is an overreaction to the way Muslim women are denied rights. For example in Saudi Arabian municipal elections, they were disenfranchised.
Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, Kampala, Uganda

There is a basis for permitting mixed-gender prayers led by a women, under Muslim law. The Grand Mufti of Egypt and Nevin Reda writing on Muslim Wake Up have given substantial rulings in its favour. It's a shame the event in New York itself was undermined by progressive Muslims turning it into a cheap publicity stunt.
Yunus Yakoub Islam, Huddersfield, England

Why is it inappropriate for male worshippers to look at a female Imam? Is she not leading you in your prayers to God? So why is she deemed a sexual presence rather than a spiritual one? Ibn Ibrahim from London states that no-one else has the right to say what Islam is and what it allows but Islamic culture has been interpreted from the Koran. It is because of this interpretation that Islamic culture is so diverse. In some cultures it is permissible to murder family members, marry children, force marriages, imprison women, take many wives etc. These terrible 'traditions' mostly affect Muslim women - where is the equality? I commend Professor Wadud for her bravery.
Simone Farrington, Manchester, England

The fact they prayed in a church says it all. It's an insult to our prophet's teaching. We don't have men as imams because we choose to denigrate women, we simply follow the commands of Allah and his messenger. This woman and the members of her congregation have taken a step outside the fold of Islam.
Atif, London, UK

Finally it happened...finally someone (Amina Wadud) had the heart to break a old Islamic rule. It may be a small step for Amina Wadud but a big step for the women in the Islamic world.
Hossein, Frankfurt, Germany

It is inappropriate for men to look at a woman
Ali, Sidi Hajjaj, Morocco
This is not a question of equality. It has nothing to do with it. That a man must lead a prayer is not a sign of male superiority over women. Far from that. It is inappropriate for men to look at a woman. A woman can pray for other women or give religious education to other women and men. But she can't pray in front of men. In our societies in some instances women are discriminated against. But the only way to solve this is with the Koran and Islam. Because the Koran and Islam are the biggest supporters to equality between women and men.
Ali, Sidi Hajjaj, Morocco

What this lady has done is a complete mockery to Islam, she or nobody else has the right to say what Islam is and what it allows; this aspect of Islam is for Allah and his messenger alone. This action is considered an act of disbelief in Islam and really shows that her aim is not to please her creator but in fact to insult her creator.
Ibn Ibrahim, London, UK

What Amina Wadud has done is against Islamic law. It's so simple; women are not allowed to lead prayer. Nobody is allowed to change the rules set by Allah. What she has done is nothing to do with Islam apart from an attempt to divide Muslims and gain some personal benefits. If she is a true Muslim, she should be worried about the reward she is going to get in the life after.
Ali, London, England

Her efforts are futile at best in bringing any real change, other than media glory
Faisal Khan, Karachi, Pakistan
Amina Wadud should have chosen a less controversial way of raising the issue of treatment of Muslim women in Islamic societies. She endangers herself and really a woman leading prayers obscures the 'real' issues Muslim women are facing. Her efforts are futile at best in bringing any real change, other than media glory.
Faisal Khan, Karachi, Pakistan

Personally, I don't think anyone can comment on this issue unless they have full knowledge of Islamic law. Islam is a religion based on laws and principles. We cannot have everyone saying if they thought this was good or not. According to correct Islamic law this event was not correct. In Islam, the woman can only lead other women in prayer, and not men. This does not degrade the position of women at all. Each of them, man and woman, have roles in society. We cannot interchange their roles based on what we want. There is a law that is followed. What this woman did was against Islamic principles and is not a part of this religion.

Congratulations to Amina Wadud for her courage. Islam is the religion of equality. If men can do it why not women? When you pray, you should only concentrate on the prayer not to think if a woman or man should be in front of the others.
Leila, Ottawa, Canada

The place of women in this century is somewhat different to that at the time of the Prophet
Chris Waghorn, Wellington, New Zealand
It never fails to amaze me how religious laws and precedents, set in a society over 2,000 years ago are held to be the way things should be done today. The place of women in this century is somewhat different to that at the time of the Prophet so why can they not take a more active part in religious services - no matter if they are Muslim, Christian or any other religious group. It is time for all of the religious leaders of the world, and their hordes of believers, to get a grip of reality and come into the 21st century.
Chris Waghorn, Wellington, New Zealand

No one can change the rules regarding prayers. What happened is wrong and is an attempt to divide Muslims.
Niyazuddin Saiyed, Preston

What I found most disturbing about her Friday Khutbah, is that she actually interchanged masculine and feminine pronouns as if Allah has a gender. It is clearly stated that the creator is not part of the created. Every Muslim knows that the pronoun "He" when referring to Allah, is only used, as we are limited by language. It did not seem to me that she had any purpose other than to be seen and heard by non-Muslims.
Fatima Ali-Salaam, Boston, MA

In my opinion the idea of women leading a Friday prayer for a mixed crowd is not an acceptable one. In Islam there are clear directions on how to carry out Jama for Friday prayer. We can not allow any changes to these rule, although allowing a woman to lead a Jama of all women can be acceptable.
Nadir Khan, Ottawa, Ontario

I hope that one day the Muslim world can learn to accept women as equals. This happened with Christianity a long time ago, and now look at it. Christian men and women are equal! I pray that the same blessing can be bestowed upon the Muslin world!
Maria, New York, USA

The physical placement of individuals during a congregational prayer should not be so narrowly used to define a woman's status in Islam
Sandra Nryan, Michigan
I am a Muslim woman who prays behind men, but this does not mean I do not have a "place" in my religion. The physical placement of individuals during a congregational prayer should not be so narrowly used to define a woman's status in Islam, this is shallow thinking. But congratulations to Amina Wadud for her courage. I would ask those who are protesting against her, who is displaying more of their body, the woman who is dressed in a robe or the man with regular pants who is bending down in front of me?
Sandra Nryan, Dearborn, Michigan

I attended the event. It was beautiful, and it is the beginning of a long struggle for equal space, accommodation, and voice of women in mosques and in the Muslim public sphere.
HijabMan, USA

Kudos goes to Ms Amina Wadud for her courage in taking on this task. This will ensure our hard headliners that women are not a 'property' object just like our clerks claim to say. Now women have there say!
Kadim Al-Shair, Salt Lake City, UT

Yes, women should be able to lead prayers. It's a crucial step for Muslim women seeking to bring down the misogynistic theocracy that rules Islam and keeps the faith in its current state of intellectual stagnation.
Jan Burton, Toronto, Canada

Most religions are used by men to control women and until these male dominated religions change there is no hope for many countries of the world to move forward into developed thriving nations. It's pathetic to see how these religious men are so threatened by women....get a life.
Amanda Chapman, Pine Brook, New Jersey

Islamic law permits women to lead other women in prayer, but not men
Moeen Qayum, Eton, UK
Islamic law permits women to lead other women in prayer, but not men. It is thus completely contrary to Islamic edicts for a woman to lead the Salat (prayers) of a mixed congregation. The minute we begin to radically alter our traditions where there exists no need for change, we lose our heritage alongside the essence of our faith.
Moeen Qayum, Eton, UK

Thank God the rest of the Muslim world has written off Western Muslims. Really I think it's absurd to associate the ethics of Friday congregational prayer with equal rights in Islam. Let them progressives go to Amman, Riyadh, or Jerusalem and pull that act off.. I think we as Muslims should ignore this fringe element of secular extremism.
Omar Abdallah, Detroit USA

Good for her, but she should not call this Islam. It is very clear that a woman can't lead a mixed Friday prayer in Islam. Who gave her the right to change Islamic law?
Imad, Raleigh, NC

While women of faith have different fights for equality in different religious institutions around the world, I am sure most would agree we need to support each other's efforts, whether for Jewish women to pray at the Western Wall, Christian women to shatter the stained glass ceiling in church hierarchies, or our Muslim sisters also struggling to be seen as members of the faith, to be valued and respected alongside their brothers. I absolutely applaud all of these efforts and pray for continued energy for the struggles ahead.
Cait, Boston, MA, USA

There are traditions in religion that extend far beyond ones ideology. If one cannot accept a religion for what it is then they should convert to another. We should be courteous and respectful to traditions. New ideas are what makes the world such a beautiful place, but to be acceptable the idea has to be acceptable at least to a majority.
Tony, USA

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