I have received several inquiries on why I have not made any statement regarding the issue of whether a woman can lead both men and women in obligatory prayers and Friday prayers. Here is my brief and general response to them.
1. By habit and purpose I leave matters of Ibadah alone. My Ijtihad is focused on issues ofmuamalath, particularly in the realm of politics, and public policy. I am not interested in devoting hours to do research in that area, I would rather spend it in prayer.
In my Ijtihad on muamalath, I interpret primary Islamic sources not through the lens of tradition and past opinions but on the basis of reason and public welfare deliberately privileging justice and compassion. This formula of mine which guides me to demand gender equality does not work in the realm of Ibadah. What have reason or justice [as humans understand] got to do with salah, its process, its content and its nature? Hence I abstain from Ijtihad in the realm of Ibadah.
2. I am not chickening out as some of you are suggesting. In my book, American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom (pp. 93-94), and in an article titled “The Epistemological Hijab”, I have argued that the problem of Muslim women’s status cannot be resolved until they gain moral equality with Muslim men and they can do this only by reclaiming equal right to interpret and practice Islam. I have no problem if women develop their own madhab (school of thought) and live by it.
3. I maintain that every human being, man and woman, Muslim and non-Muslim has the right to interpret God’s message, because the message is addressed to all of humanity. They must interpret and act accordingly, that is the essence of our humanity. I will not deny anyone, including Amina Wadud and her followers the right to interpret Islam and live by it.
Note To Khaled Abou El Fadl: Everyone has a right to an opinion and the freedom to act on it, but that does not mean that all opinions are right or qualitatively equal. I never claim that everyone’s Ijtihad is valid or correct or good. I only insist that every human being (the vicegerent of God on Earth, Quran 2:30) has the right to interpret his Boss. For example on issues of Islam and democracy, I think my opinions are profounder than yours and on issues such as whether gummy bears are halal, or if Muslims can have dogs as pets, perhaps your opinions are better researched than mine [ specially since you have so many books in your house as you keep telling us all].
4. Finally it is time Muslims remember that there are many ways to understand Islamic injunctions. While Hanafi’s encourage Muslims to migrate to non-Muslim lands, Maliki’s forbid. While some allow women to lead Tarawih prayers others do not. In Saudi Arabia women can go to mosques, in India they usually cannot. Bangladesh has a woman head of state, and Iran a VP, but in Saudi Arabia they cannot drive or vote. There are several interpretations of Islam. The Progressive Muslims of North America are now advancing their understanding of Islam and practicing it. Wallahu Alam. Let us pray that they continue to practice.
5. The last word. I have been following the debate very closely and I find the arguments fascinating. It is intriguing to see who knows what and who quotes whom. I noticed that the traditionalists are long on research but short on analysis, while the progressives are all analysis except for one hadith and the reference to Tabari.
I will however write an analysis on the debate once it rests.