From August 2011

Hamza Yusuf Finally Admits It’s Permissible For Women To Lead Men In Prayer

Full disclosure: In this video, he does not say what his personal opinion is regarding this issue. However, he does finally admit that on every issue, there were multiple opinions. Specifically, on the issue of women leading men in prayer, al-Tabari held that women can lead men in prayer if they are more qualified. In addition, Ibn Taymiyya also held that if a woman was literate while the men in the congregation were not, she could lead them in prayer. This also confirms what Khaled Abou El Fadl has said the tradition states all along, that if women are more knowledgeable than men, then yes, they can (and should) lead men in prayer.

The most significant point that he makes, in my humble opinion, is what I’ve been waiting years for a mainstream Muslim scholar to say: that there were multiple opinions on every issue.

“I would argue that the ‘islamic tradition’ has within itself all of the needs to renovate ‘the house’ but its going to take an immense amount of intellectual energy, it’s going to take very very highly qualified people, which necessitates institutions, that can train and produce the types of people that are needed to engage in this activity.”

This is pretty huge, considering some of Hamza Yusuf’s previous statements. A few years ago, he was adamantly against the idea of women leading prayer. A few years before that he was even more conservative. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn out to be a progressive in another few years time. (I kid, I kid…).

Update: I’ve been thinking about this all day, and it reminds me of a discussion I had with @AzamHussain. When mainstream scholars hold back information that they know is correct but choose to withhold it they knowingly mislead people and disrespect their congregations. The most pertinent example is the subject of this post. When Dr. Wadud was getting (much more than) harassed for leading prayer in NYC, Hamza Yusuf didn’t say a darn thing. Now, years later, he finally admits that, yes, there was debate on the issue and some scholars say it’s just fine for a woman to lead men in prayer. Where was he back then? While I appreciate his and other’s contributions to the American Muslim community, this tendency among ‘mainstream scholars’ to err on the conservative side while withholding the full story still rubs me the wrong way.

This is just one reason why I choose to read the Qur’an in solitude, and not through the lens of the ‘scholars,’ whoever they may be.

Now for a personal note: A big thank you to Dr. Amina Wadud for pushing this issue in our time. I’m afraid the discussions surrounding women’s spaces in mosques (let alone, women leading prayer) would not have happened had it not been for her. May God bless you a thousand blessings, and thank you for being an inspiration to me when we first met in 1999 when I was 16– at the Islamic Hinterland conference in Toronto.

Which reminds me to thank Rahat Kurd and everyone else who made the Islamic Hinterland conference possible. In other words, BIG HUGS.

You can watch the entire discussion here. Here is a transcript of the video clip above plus what he said afterward, to give you some more context:
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