Can a woman give bay’a (allegiance) in the spiritual way with a male Shaykh/scholar? How? What are the limits? How does the communication take place between the Shaykh and the female murid? My inclination is that communication should be through me. Please could you provide details in the various aspects?
It is perfectly permissible for women to take the oath of allegiance (bay’a) with a shaykh, for this has been explicitly proven in the Qur’an.
Allah Most High says:
“O Prophet! When believing women come to you to take the oath of allegiance to you, that they will not associate in worship any other thing whatever with Allah, that they will not steal, that they will not commit adultery (or fornication), that they will not kill their children, that they will not utter slander, intentionally forgoing falsehood and that they will not disobey you in any just matter-then take their allegiance, and pray to Allah for their forgiveness, for Allah is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah al-Mumtahinah, v. 12)
However, the following points need to be taken into consideration:
1) The Bay’a must not be carried out with holding the hands of the Shaykh, for that is decisively unlawful (haram). The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) also took the oath of allegiance from women (as mentioned in the above verse), but it was done verbally, and not by holding the hands.
Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) says with regards to the women giving their Bay’a to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace): “Whosoever (from among the women) agreed to comply with the conditions stipulated in the allegiance, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) would say to her: “Verily I have taken your allegiance” (qad baya’tuki). It was only said verbally, and by Allah, the Messenger of Allah’s hand never touched the hand of any woman whilst taking the oath of allegiance.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 2564)
Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) also narrates: “A women extended her hand from behind a curtain to hand a piece of paper to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) pulled his hands back and said: “I am unaware if this is a man’s hand or a women’s hand.” A’isha said that it was a women’s hand. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
There are many other narrations of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) indicating that he never held the hands of any women, despite his status as a Prophet. The Bay’a was taken either without holding the hand or with a cloth tied around it. He explicitly informed the women when they extended their hands to him that he did not shake hands with women. (See Muhammad Ibn Sa’d, The Women in Madina, Chapter One: The manner in which the Messenger of Allah received women’s allegiance)
2) The Shaykh with whom one is giving her allegiance must be a genuine Shaykh, in that he must have reached a level of piety and Taqwa, and he himself was trained by a similar Shaykh. This aspect is more important to consider when a woman is giving her allegiance, for at times, not giving this due consideration can bring about horrendous consequences.
3) As far as the interaction with the Shaykh is concerned, this is permissible, for it will be considered to be formal and due to need. A female may seek advice from her Shaykh by speaking to him, wring a letter or any other way provided the rules of Hijab are fully observed. Non observance of the laws of Hijab or being casual is impermissible even with one’s shaykh, for Shaytan is ever ready to launch his attack on the weakest instinct of the human race which is the sexual instinct.
If the husband feels that his wife’s communication with her Shaykh should be through him or at least with his knowledge and permission, then this is his right, and the wife should adhere to his wish. At times, this may be more advisable, especially if the Shaykh is relatively young.
In conclusion, a female may give her Bay’a to a shaykh provided the shaykh is a genuine shaykh, and the rules and regulations of Hijab are fully observed.
And Allah Knows Best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK