In the area that I live in, there is a big problem. There are about 20 Mosques within 5 miles but only a handful allows women to come for prayers. I know that it’s better for women to pray at home but I think facilities should be provided. Sisters go shopping with husbands and the men go for salah on the way and the women can only stay in the car. In winter, within a couple of hours Zuhr, Asr and Maghrib is prayed. The sisters then just do Qadha. How can I sort out the situation? I am deobandi but find it very hard to accept this. What do the deobandi scholars say about this?
Generally, the major Fatawa books of the Indian Subcontinent Hanafi jurists (fuqaha) discourage (quite vehemently at times) women from attending and praying at Mosques. They base their understanding on the fact that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in many Hadiths encouraged women to offer their prayers at home, for example:
Sayyida Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “The best Mosque for a woman is the inner part of her home.” (Musnad Ahmad & Tabrani)
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Do not prevent your womenfolk from attending the Mosque, even though their houses are better for them.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
Sayyida Umm Salama (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “A woman’s prayer in her inner room is better than her prayer in the outside room, and her prayer in the outside room is better than her prayer in the courtyard, and her prayer in the courtyard is better than her prayer in the Mosque.” (Mu’jam of Imam Tabrani)
Indeed, women in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did attend congregational prayers in the Mosque, and they were not prevented from doing so. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself advised against preventing women from attending congregational prayers, for example:
Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “If your wives seek permission from you to go to the Mosque at night, let them.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 827)
Salim narrates from his father that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “If the wife of any one of you seeks permission to go to the Mosque, he may not prevent her.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 442)
However, the understanding of the various classical and contemporary Hanafi Fuqaha is that women in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had the unique opportunity of praying behind the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself- an act that cannot be paralleled today. Secondly, they used to observe all the requirements of Shariah including those of proper covering (hijab), hence they were not prohibited from attending the congregational prayers. Despite this, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) still advised and encouraged them to pray in their homes.
Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) in his time felt that the concession given to women for attending the congregational prayers in the Mosque is sometimes being misused and could be misused even more in the future. He felt that women were no longer taking care of the Shariah requirements as they used to in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and he was also aware of the fact that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) advised women to offer their prayers at home. Hence, keeping all of the above in mind, he issued a verdict that women should no longer attend congregational prayers in the Masjid, and this decision of his was collectively accepted by the other Companions. (See: Ayni, Umdat al-Qari, 3/228)
Similarly, Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) used to refuse women entry to the Mosque for Friday prayers and would say: “Go, your homes are better for you.” (Recorded by Imam Tabrani. See: al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib, 1/190)
Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) said:
“If the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was alive to see what women are doing now (in A’isha’s time), he would surely have prevented them from attending the prayers in the Mosque just as the women of Banu Isra’il were prevented.” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
The renowned Hadith scholar and Hanafi jurist, Imam Badr al-Din al-Ayni (Allah have mercy on him) states whilst commentating on the above statement of Sayyida A’isha:
“Had A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) witnessed what women are involved in the various types of innovations and wrongdoings these days, she would have been even more extreme in her preventing women from entering the Mosques……Also the fact that there had not been a long time between her statement and the demise of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and also the fact that women in her time were not involved in even one portion of a thousand of what women are up to these days.” (Umdat al-Qari, 3/230)
Based on the above, the various classical Hanafi Fuqaha (and also the majority of the contemporary Hanafi Ulama of the Subcontinent) state that it is disliked (makruh) for women, whether married or single, to go to the Mosque for congregational prayers.
Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“It will not be permitted for young women to go to the Mosque for congregational prayers due to the fact that Sayyiduna Umar (Allah be pleased with him) prevented women from doing so. Moreover, women’s going to the Masjid is a cause of mischief (between men and women) and mischief (fitna) is Haram, and that which leads to something Haram will also be unlawful.” (Bada’i al-Sana’i, 1/157)
Another classical Hanafi jurist, Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“It is disliked for women to attend congregational prayers in the Mosque even for the Eid and Jumu’a prayers, and even for old women attending night prayers, according to the more reliable position in the Hanafi School, due to the corruption of the time.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr, 1/566)
It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“The Fatwa these days is that it is disliked for women to go to the Mosque for all prayers, due to widespread corruption.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 1/56)
Based on all of the above evidences, and based on what the classical Hanafi Fuqaha have stated in their respective works, the majority of the contemporary Hanafi Fuqaha of the Subcontinent consider women attending the congregational prayers in the Mosque to be disliked if not disallowed. Their stance is not based on any cultural values or customs (as some people wrongfully believe); rather, they are merely reinforcing what the ‘classical’ Hanafi jurists have stated. Thus, to point fingers at them saying they are culturally oriented is indeed doing injustice to them.
Having said all of the above, the following is worth considering:
In my humble view (and who am I to have a viewpoint, hence what I intend to mention is merely through the blessings of my teachers), the main reasoning behind the classical Fuqaha’s dislike of women going to the Mosques for congregational prayers is the fear of what they term as “Fitna”. The term Fitna means: mischief, harm, corruption and generally the non-observance of the Shariah rulings. Almost all of the classical jurists state that due to widespread mischief and corruption, women no longer should be going for congregational prayers. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) himself never forbade women from attending the Mosques; rather, he said that women should not be prevented from entering the Mosques. Hence, the jurists (fuqaha) have based their ruling on the position of Sayyiduna Umar and Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with them both), and their position was based on the fear of mischief and harm.
They saw that corruption was rife and widespread in their time; hence, women may be harmed by immoral and corrupt people if they emerged out of their homes. They feared that if women are encouraged to go to the Mosques, it could open the door for unlawful intermingling of the two sexes. The main reason, however, was the fear of women being harmed, as pointed out by Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) in his renowned Radd al-Muhtar and other classical Fuqaha. This is the very reason why some classical Fuqaha permitted old women to attend the Fajr and Eisha prayers, for the immoral and wicked people are asleep at that time. Some even allowed them to go for Maghrib prayers, for the immoral people are normally busy eating at that time. Imam Ibn Abidin then states that if there is a fear of the wicked people loitering around in these prayers times, then it will be disliked for women to go for these prayers also. (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/566)
One should always keep in mind the context in which the Fuqaha were giving such verdicts. Life was very plain and simple. Women in Muslim countries and Islamic societies would normally not emerge out of their homes unless absolutely necessary. The need to emerge out of the house was not like the need we have in today’s complicated world. Hence, Muslim women would remain within the confines of their homes, and emerge outside only in certain unavoidable situations.
Keeping this context in mind, one can easily understand why the classical Fuqaha gave such verdicts. By allowing women to frequent the Mosques, they would be giving women permission to emerge out of their homes – women who would have otherwise not emerged outside. Thus, they feared that Muslim women normally do not come out of their homes, and in allowing (and encouraging) them to go to the Mosque, there is a possibility that evil and wicked people may jump at the chance of harming them.
If we were to apply this context to the modern era – where women are all over the market areas, shopping malls, shopping centres, streets and roads – it seems unfair to completely shun them from entering the Mosques. As one scholar of piety and knowledge once said: “We don’t mind women frequenting the most disliked of places in the sight of Allah (abghad al-Bilad) which are the bazaars (aswaq), but we have a major problem with women coming to the most beloved of places (ahab al-Bilad) in the sight of Allah, which are the Mosques!
Therefore, when women are allowed to go to the Bazaars, markets, shopping malls and other such places (and justifiably in many cases), then it does not seem right to completely shun them from coming to the Mosques. The main wisdom behind the position of the classical jurists was the fear of harm and corruption, and in the modern times women (Muslim, non-Muslim, practising and non-practising) are all over the place, hence if evil and wicked people would want to cause any harm to them, they would surely look out for them at other places rather than the Mosques. Also, women generally would be safe in our times from being harmed whilst going to the Mosques.
Secondly, at times there may be a genuine need for women to go to the Mosques, such as when travelling and the prayer time is about to come to an end. There have been many cases where a sister had to miss her prayer, for there were no facilities for women to pray in the Mosque. At times, women may need to go to the Mosque to learn sacred knowledge, attend a spiritual gathering and other such matters, hence she may need to pray her Salat in the Mosque.
Keeping the above in mind, and given the times we are living in, I believe that both of the following two extremist approaches should be avoided with regards to women going to Mosques, and we should adopt the middle way, as “the best of ways is the middle way”:
Some people are quite extreme in their support and encouragement for women attending congregational prayers to the point that they consider women who wish to pray at home to be deprived of the blessings and benefits of praying in the Mosque. At times, men and women are seen praying in the Mosque in such an informal and casual manner that the rules of Shariah are overlooked. The rules of Hijab are violated and men and women are quite willing to intermingle freely and openly in the Mosque. They think that actions are according to their intentions; hence, even if the means taken are unsound, it seems not matter to them. In some Mosques, on the occasion of Eid and other celebrations, women and men dress like they are attending some sort of a fashion show, with the women dressed up in all their make up and powerful fragrance.
This was actually what Sayyiduna Umar and Sayyida A’isha (Allah be pleased with them both) were thinking of when they prevented women from going to the Mosques. One should always remember that “ends don’t justify the means” hence it is vital that in order to do an act of good, one must take means that are sound also. Open and casual intermingling of the sexes is prohibited in Shariah; hence, it will not be permitted for women to go to the Mosque in such a context.
On the other hand, we see that some people are quite extreme in preventing women from attending the Mosques that they don’t even have a designated place for women to pray. If a sister was travelling and was out of the house due to a need, and the time for prayer came in, what would she do? In many cases, women are forced into knocking on people’s doors to allow them to pray. If they are unsuccessful, they have no choice but to miss their prayers. This is another form of extremism which I believe should be avoided.
The middle way is that women should be encouraged to offer their regular prayers at home, and not come to the Mosque habitually without having a need to do so. At the same time, every Masjid should have facilities for a woman’s prayer area, so that if a sister is travelling she is able to make Wudu and offer her prayers without having to miss her prayers altogether. In the case of women coming to the Mosque, extreme care and precaution should be taken of observing the rules of Hijab, so that there is no fear of any Fitna. Both brothers and sisters should have separate entrances, and open intermingling of the two genders must be avoided. Sisters should also be wary that going to the Mosque should not lead to the non-fulfilment of their other household duties.
I believe this is the balanced approach that may be adopted in the west given the times we live in. Ultimately, the main objective of the slave, male or female, is to seek the pleasure of Allah Most High and not satisfy one’s own desire and wish. Hence, one should be content with the command of Allah Most High and His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace) whether it suits one or otherwise. Therefore, Muslim women should understand that praying at home is just as equal in the sight of Allah to men praying in the Mosque. May Allah Almighty give us all the true understanding of Deen, Ameen
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK