An open letter to the Jamiatul Ulama KZN

I trust this reaches you and yours in the best of states, insha Allah.  I write this sorely heartbroken, let down and despondent. As a young Muslim living in South Africa, I have always looked up to the Ulemah for guidance. I have great respect for the scholars of our community, their role in preserving our deen, and their work has inspired me on my own path of the study of deen. It’s been a beautiful journey that edifies my Iman. Alhamdulillah.

This week, however, I received a newsletter from your organization in my inbox that left me shattered. The email entitled “Should Women attend the Eid prayer?” correctly notes that women in our community are being encouraged to attend the Eid Prayer, as well as other prayers in the Masjid.

It goes on to explain that women in the time of the beloved Messenger (SAW) attended prayers at the mosque as well as the Eid prayer. However, it cites that this allowance was unique to that time as the sahabiyaat (May Allah be pleased with them all) were praying behind the Prophet (SAW) and were dressed appropriately but that in today’s time it is considered makruh. Having studied Usul-ul-fiqh I’m surprised at this position as it contradicts a foundational principle of Usul. I’m sure that you are well-versed in Usul yourself and will know that there is no abrogation of Qur’an or Sunnah after the demise of the Prophet (SAW). Anything that was considered mubah or mustahab in the time of the Prophet (SAW) will remain mubah or mustahab, forever. As the divinely-guided legislator, the actions, sayings and tacit approval of the Nabi (SAW) hold the status of immutable law. Umar (RA) demonstrated his understanding of this when he refrained from preventing his wife from going to the mosque despite having a personal preference for her praying at home. In an authentic narration it is narrated that Umar’s wife, Atikah bin Zayd (RA) used to pray both Fajr and Isha at the Prophet’s mosque even though Umar (RA) did not like it. Umar (RA) could not prevent her due to the statement of the Prophet (SAW) “Do not prevent women from going to Allah’s mosques” [Bukhari, Ibn Hibban]. In fact, when Umar (RA) was stabbed in the mosque Atikah bin Zayd (RA) was present in the congregation [Fath Al-Bary]. It’s puzzling that the Jamiat would put out a newsletter to the contrary.

The newsletter further goes on to say that despite women’s mosque attendance, “the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) still advised and encouraged them to pray in their homes”. This is problematic from two perspectives: it uses, as it’s foundational text a solitary hadith wherein the Prophet (SAW) advises a female companion, Umm Humaid (RA), that “your prayer at home is better than your prayer in congregation”. Looking at the full context of this hadith one will uncover that this recommendation to Umm Humaid was not a general one but one specific to her circumstances. Umm Humaid’s husband, Abu Humaid Al-Saedi, was from the family of Bani Saedah, a branch of the Al-Khazraj tribe of Madina. They lived outside the borders of Madina at that time and far from the Prophet’s mosque. They had their own mosque and council [Al-Tabarani, Al-Baihaqi and others]. Therefore the Prophet (SAW) only intended to resolve a marital disagreement between Umm Humaid and Abu Humaid  (May Allah be pleased with them) – where he was unhappy with the long distance she had to walk to pray five times a day at the  (SAW) mosque. The Prophet’s (SAW) advice was therefore that she accommodates her husband’s request and prays at home or at her tribe’s mosque. There is no evidence in the hadith literature that the Prophet (SAW) meant to change the general permissibility or commendation of women praying at the mosque/ in congregation. Secondly, it contradicts the practice of the women of Madina and other authentic hadith. It is clear from Usul ul Fiqh that some statements of the Prophet held a general (aam) application while others pertained to specific cases (khaas) – the case of Umm Humaid is one such case. Furthermore, when the Prophet (SAW) made the statement “One prayer in this mosque of mine is better than one thousand prayers elsewhere, except for the sacred Mosque in Makkah” [Bukhari, Muslim] he (SAW) made no distinction between men and women, and it therefore had a general applicability, for both genders. According to Ibn Hazm, all other ahadith saying that a woman’s prayer is better at home are considered weak (da’if) and will therefore not be discussed here. It should be noted that Muslim women have been praying for more than 1400 years in mosques around the world, including Islam’s holiest mosques – Masjid Al-haram, Masjid An-Nabawi and Masjid Al-Aqsa.

The newsletter goes on to cite a well-known statement where Aisha (RA), the beloved wife of the Prophet (SAW) said: “If the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) was alive to see what women are doing now (in that period of time), he would surely have prevented them from attending the prayers in the Musjid just as the women of Banu Isra’il were prevented.” [Bukhari, Muslim]. While this narration is authentic, it has no general applicability and only applies to that specific context. With regards to this statement the classical jurists, including Ibn Hajar and Ibn Qudamah, conclude that it only applied within a specific context and that it in no way abrogates the teachings of the Prophet (SAW). Imam Malik, who lived in Madinah soon after the era of the sahabah, is recorded to have said, “Women should never be prevented from going out to the mosques.” Ibn Hajar said that Aisha’s (RA) opinion is not universal as she made it contingent on a particular condition. While Ibn Qudamah said “The Prophet’s Sunnah is more worthy of being followed and Aisha’s (RA) statement is limited only to those who introduce unlawful innovations.” As discussed earlier, according to Usul ul Fiqh, after the demise of the Prophet (SAW), no abrogation can take place. Aisha (RA) is not considered to have legislative power and her statement is opinion rather than law. Furthermore, women continued to attend the mosque while Aisha (RA) was alive, indicating that her statement was an attempt to rebuke them – in hyperbole, and not a ruling. An important principle in Islam is that authorities cannot punish someone for the actions of others. Allah says in the Qur’an, “No soul is responsible for another soul” [Surah Al-An’am Verse 164]. Thus, even if a few men or women did something wrong, others are not allowed to be punished for their mistakes.

With regards to Aisha’s (RA) statement, the newsletter further says that women should not attend the Salaah, neither at the Musjid nor at the Eid Gaah because of the “fitna” that is prevalent today. We are often presented with this kind of argument – that women are a fitna and may cause a distraction for men at the mosque. It is imperative that we deal with such instances in a way that conforms to the Sunnah. So what did the Prophet (SAW) do when he received a complaint that men in the back rows were looking at women? He (SAW) advised the males not to look at the women; he did not change the layout of the mosque. He (SAW) did not add a curtain or wall or prevent the women from coming to the mosque. On another occasion, an authentic narration records an incident where a sahabi, Al-Fadl bin Abbas (RA), stared at a beautiful woman. The Prophet (SAW) responded by turning the face of Al-Fadl such that he could not gaze at her. What we learn is that the Prophet (SAW) deals with Al-Fadl with gentleness and does not condemn him. More importantly, he (SAW) does not utter words that would make Al-Fadl believe that the source of the problem was the presence of the woman, and that Al-Fadl had no responsibility in staring at her. On the contrary, he (SAW) gently turns Al-Fadl’s face away, teaching him that he is the one who needs to be responsible for his actions.

As a community looking to the Ulemah for guidance, the Ulemah are obliged to share the full spectrum of opinions and views on a matter where there is clear and legitimate ikhtilaaf (difference of opinion) among the scholars, rather than present a singular opinion, as binding and the only opinion.

I conclude with a narration that specifically pertains to women attending the Eid Salaah. It seems odd that it was omitted from the Jamiat newsletter. The Prophet (SAW) not only permits women to attend the prayer but ordered them to attend, saying that if they did not have an outer garment (jilbaab) to wear; they should borrow one from another woman.

Umm Atiyyah narrated: “Allah’s Messenger would order the virgins, the mature women, the secluded and the menstruating to go out for the two Eids. As for the menstruating women, they were to stay away from the Musalla and participate in the Muslims supplications.” One of them said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! What if she does not have a Jilbab? He said: ‘Then let her sister lend her a Jilbab.’” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi]

I hope that the above discussion will encourage the Jamiat and other Ulemah bodies to be more circumspect in their presentation of Islamic teachings in the future, insha Allah. Good scholarship requires honesty – where all sides of the argument are presented, where the views of all the madhabib are stated, where legitimate scholarly difference of opinion is acknowledged rather than ignored, and where the rules of Usul ul Fiqh are adhered to consistently and accurately.  May Allah’s peace, blessings and guidance be upon us all. Aameen.


Tazkiyyah Amra

Durban #ReclaimTheMosque #Ramadaan1439

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