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Trampling the Grass: Women and Communal Prayer

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WHILST I can’t say that I’m exempt from its symptoms of ignorance, the chronic lack of honesty and ‘ilm reflected by those parading as arbiters of Islam today is absolutely mind-boggling.

Their from-the-holster readiness to declare religious opinion – usually negative and frequently misinformed – is a stark contrast to the scholars of previous times. These are people who regarded opinion as something considered, and certainly not something to be thoughtlessly blurted out.

Nor was their world an absolute one, with hellfire waiting to singe the rear ends of those who differed with them.

When interrogated by his students in Madinah, the great Imam Malik confessed “I don’t know” to more than 60% of the questions posed to him. If anybody could have given an instant reply, it was Imam Malik – and yet he didn’t.

But where Imam Malik feared to tread over 1,000 years ago, our modern-day muftis stampede brazenly like bull elephants after a marula berry orgy. Creating huge clouds of dust, they bamboozle us with bluster, tirade and endless quotation.

Like when the elephants fight, their clamour flattens the grass. The delicacy of a butterfly resting on a ripening stalk, and the sweet fragrance of the flower is forgotten. Beauty and detail disappear.

This one-way world-view, which reduces Islam to a nit-picking parody, puts a pox on the diversity of a creed; a creed whose spiritual leaders have tolerantly and compassionately embraced more cultures on earth than any other revealed religion.

In this process the first assumption of Divine Law, that the universe is permissible by its origin, undergoes an anti-Messianic, Dajjalian transformation – everything halal becomes haram.

So what happens is that we cannot eat fish, or even drink water, until a stamp tells us we can. Our lives become tyrannised by pettiness.

The most recent manifestation of this pettiness – for that’s all I can call it – was just before ‘Eid ul-Fitr. I think I almost fell off the proverbial bus when I heard a mufti declaring, without any range of legal proofs, that women could not attend the ‘Eid prayers.

Had I heard correctly? Was I fasting too hard? No, I wasn’t. The man said that women should not come to the mosque because – as he put it – they would put on perfume and pretty themselves for men.

This dressing up would cause fitnah, and distract the men, he opined.

Well, talk about yourself, I thought.

But what was so despicable about his misogynistic jihad was his neglect of sources, most of which actually militated against his viewpoint. There are just too many authentic traditions allowing women to attend the mosque, and the ‘Eid prayers.

Of course, there is perspective needed here. It is true that women don’t necessarily have to perform prayer in congregation. It is true that it’s not an obligation. And it’s true that some scholars even regard it as makruh (unpleasant but not punishable).

But it’s also true that if women want to go to mosque, it’s their right. For why would someone like Ibn ‘Umar report the Prophet (s) saying that the Companions should not prevent the women from going to mosque (although he did add that their houses would be better for them).

The Muwatta of Imam Malik also says: “Do not stop the maid servants of Allah from going to the mosques of their Lord.” Imam Ahmad, Tabarani and Bukhari all record the Hadith that allows the woman to attend communal worship.

Further Hadith encourage women to attend the jumu’ah and to attend the ‘Eid prayer, which was always regarded by the Prophet (SAW) as an important community event.

I’m certainly no religious scholar, but it certainly doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the Hadith leaves women with choice. Any mufti categorically saying that women can’t attend communal worship simply hasn’t read the Hadith properly.

To deny women their sacred space granted by prophetic ordinance, just because you might harbour personal suspicions about their intentions, is chauvinistic in the extreme.

Then one has to take a straight look at history. In Makkah men and women prayed together. They did so in Madinah initially too. This happened until Safiyyah – one of the wives of the Prophet (SAW) – complained to him that some of the more uncouth types, people fresh to Islam without the development of adab yet, were distracting them.

It’s hugely significant that the Prophet (SAW) did not chase anybody out of the mosque. He told the women to stand at the back with the children in between. In no way did this practical solution to a practical problem infer that women were socially inferior.

Another historical incident only serves to further underline what we are talking about.

This was when the son of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, Bilal, contradicted his father on the very issue of women attending the mosque. Ibn ‘Umar had quoted the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW) related to him by his father, Sayyidina ‘Umar, about communal worship.

To his father’s chagrin, Bilal had said that he would prevent women from attending the communal prayers, quoting a fear of fitnah. For defying the Prophet’s (SAW) injunction ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr did not speak to his son again.

Which makes me wonder: what would happen if we refused, like Ibn ‘Umar, to listen to the nonsense of our self-opiniated arbiters? I know, for starters, that the ringing sound in my head would go away, and that the grass would begin to grow again.

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1 comment

  1. Assalamu Alaykum
    Thank you for you open-minded blog. It’s the first time I am coming across it.The issue regarding Halal and Haraam foods having become a stressful topic to many muslims. It’s really bad as it’s reached the level where I check every product on the shelf before I buy it. Have you heard that SANHA are now stating that Pronutro cereal isnot halal because apparently there is a flavourant called cognac(a certain brandy)used in the chocolate,strawberry and honey melt Pronutros, and even though they dont use this ingredient in the other Pronutro flavours lie Banana, Apple bake etc., they refuse to stamp it halal as the same equipment is used for all the flavours so the “non-cognac” pronutros are contaminated!!! CAn you please tell me your opinion of this? Do you think it’s alla scam?

    On the Jamiatul Ulama website they claim that SANHA knew about this apparent “non-halal” status of Pronutro and didn’t inform muslims as they could cash in on Bokomo. But what I find strange about the Jamiatul Ulama website is they declare all Kellogg’s cereals NOT HALAAL!! I checked my Kellogg’s Cornflakes box and it has a NIHT halal stamp on it. WHat madness is this? I really need people to get talking about this, so please respond, this is affecting us muslims and making us terribly paranoid. My husband says SANHA, MJC, NIHT,ICSA etc. are all competing with eachother.

    PS: Pronutro has always been my favourite!

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