Discrediting Feminists

If you haven’t heard already, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has confessed that originally, in traditional Islam, women are allowed to lead men in prayer.

When I wrote a paper on female prayer, because this was an issue a few years ago, years ago when I was a student in Mauritania, I remembered in a book that Ibn Ayman from the Malaki madhab considered female prayers was permissible, and I remember as a twenty-one year old student underlining that; and I actually went back to the book and found my underlining of that statement. When I studied the prayer issue, I was so stuck by the fact that not only was it debated early on, but there were multiple opinions. Imam Tabari considered it permissible for women to lead the prayer if they were more qualified than men – to lead men in prayer. Ibn Taymiyah himself permitted women to lead men in prayer if they were illiterate and she was literate. He just said that she should lead from the back because she might distract the men if she was leading from the front. Ibn Taymiyeh! Permitting a woman to lead men in prayer!

Oh, so he KNEW this! (Not surprising, even I knew this, and he’s a sheikh.) He knew this “a few years ago” in fact. Very interesting. And he didn’t think to let us know before? He didn’t think to defend Sheikha Amina Wadud when she was being harrassed because she was leading men in prayer? He didn’t think to say anything when a man shouted to the cameras, “If this were an Islamic state this woman would be hanged!”? (Doesn’t say that anywhere, by the way.)

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of scholars to disclose the whole truth. I believe it is our responsibility, as believers, to study our religion. However, when scholars demand that we follow them in unthinking obedience, demand that we adhere to their advice without argument, invalidate all our interpretations on the basis that they are more learned, create a system in which this is socially enforced through fear and ostracism, and then withhold information while women are being harassed for practicing their own faith as it should be practiced–don’t expect me waive responsibility.

I like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. It hurts me to criticize him, especially after this, an absurd combination of bitterness and compassion. It should not be his responsibility to speak up–he doesn’t owe that to anyone, he’s just a person who changes and learns like the rest of us. But he has power. I was in tears of anger, relief, and happiness when I heard him say this, what I have always studied and known. I’m glad he recognizes this history and interpretation, and acknowledges it as valid, particularly considering all his previous statements of the contrary. God bless him.

He has not disclosed his own opinion on the matter.

Dr. Amina Wadud received death threats. She was denounced as heretic. Of course, with the adherents of patriarchy, I don’t expect women to suddenly magically be able to lead prayer everywhere because of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acknowledging diverse scholarly opinions in the Islamic past. But it’s a start. And it’s very interesting, and very unremarkable, that when a woman acts as an agent to bring change to the current state of Islam and return it to its roots, restoring the power given to women by God, her reputation and credibility is destroyed.

Especially if, like Sheikha Amina Wadud, she calls herself a feminist.

That Islam doesn’t need “feminist interpretations” is the claim of pathetic sexist bigots who fear their own privilege challenged and are unwilling to credit those women with a sense of entitlement to their God-given rights. Instead they take it for themselves, a play with words and language–“Okay, okay women can lead prayer. BUT NOT BECAUSE OF THE FEMINISTS!”–in order to secure their own stolen power as soon as they feel a dangerous shift.

I didn’t need your permission. I have the permission of God. Amusing how important this is to you, clearly demonstrating that to you what’s right is not prioritized over pushing your own unIslamic ideology.

It’s a familiar perspective. I’ve heard it before, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “You should do this, because we gave you the right to vote. Maybe we should have never given you the vote!” You did not give me rights, asshat. I already had them, you were just preventing me from practicing them. You can’t keep something from me, allow me to use it after I fought for it to be respected as it should be, and then act like it was a gift of mercy and yours to distribute and I should forever worship your egotistical douchiness.

Feminism is inherent in Islam. Tabari’s interpretations regarding the permissibility of women to lead prayer are feminist. Islam is an egalitarian religion, not a patriarchal one. This discomfort with feminist interpretations, this assertion that they must be biased, is nothing other than a projection of the biased interpretive monopoly of patriarchy.

Muslim men rave about powerful Muslim women in the past. Feminist women. But it appears many of them only love empowered women in theory. Imagine, if those women were alive today!


Leading scholar, Hamza Yusuf, on women leading prayer — AltMuslimah
and commentary from Hijabman

37 thoughts on “Discrediting Feminists

  1. You're so brave, Nahida. I really admire that. You've said things that I doubt I'd ever have the guts to say, but was thinking. Beautiful, passionate post, your pain is so transparent and so important. It's a shame men are so pathetic they try every way possible to dodge responsibility. Truly cowardly and pedantic.


  2. Always nice when a muslim man of prominence has the religious balls to say what muslim women have been saying all along (for the most part). I personally have never particularly liked Hamza Yousuf but this makes him interesting to me now. Will have to read up on it now.


  3. So thankful for this post. I've lost friendships with more conservative Muslims for expressing similar ideas that in my view are grounded in the very spirit of Islam but come off as radical or heretical to others unwilling to question the cultural baggage and patriarchal interpretations that have become hegemonic and unquestionable. I am amazed and inspired by the strength of women like Amina Wadud who continue to speak truth to power and privilege despite the personal consequences.


  4. I didn't appreciate Dr. Amina's status which was calling Sheikh Hamza an opportunist just because he said "what the people at Oxford wanted to hear". I do know where she's coming from, I do know it was extremely awful. But still. If he wanted to be an opportunist he wouldn't have denounced homosexual intercourse (for lack of better description) in that same sermon.He said he was writing an essay on it a few years ago, maybe that's where we should start. PS: Sheikh Hamza was criticizing those who said "Leading prayers today, hellfire tomorrow" and he attacked them. I know he didn't support her with media and whatnot (but then again he was just starting Zaytuna I'll bet that had something to do with it he didn't want to "discredit" himself so to speak, whereas now he has more "scholarly" weight if that makes any sense)Anyway I don't want to sound like an apologist by defending him, but it annoyed me to see such rivalry or bitterness between two scholars I very much admire. She's not helping bridge Islam with that attitude.


    1. charmedshiva

      I agree that sometimes Aminda Wadud, despite her great work, shows an unkind and judgmental attitude on her Facebook posts. I guess I could say that if I went through as much as her I might also have the urge to just let out my frustration…. But nonetheless it’s inappropriate. Insha Allah things are better now, I hope? I don’t know.
      We’ve all got flaws. That’s just being human, I guess.


  5. I don't believe it's the responsibility of scholars to disclose the whole truth. I believe it is our responsibility, as believers, to study our religion. However, when scholars demand that we follow them in unthinking obedience, demand that we adhere to their advice without argument, invalidate all our interpretations on the basis that they are more learned, create a system in which this is socially enforced through fear and ostracism, and then withhold information while women are being harassed for practicing their own faith as it should be practiced–don't expect me waive responsibility.Yes, yes and more yes.I also agree with your thoughts about the inherent Feminist trend in Islam, and especially that no one stood up for Sheikha Wadud when she needed it. They were most likely too scared to do so. No one wants to make a lot of additional noise when the mob's pitchforks and bonfires come out. I have contacts in Al Azhar who say that there are many esteemed Egyptian sheikhs who agree that women can lead prayer, but are practically held hostage by politics and social acceptance. They won't gather enough popular support to effect change and will only secure their own downfall by speaking out.Which is chicken and absolute bollucks to sacrifice others so you can continue to be comfortable. But in a way it's also understandable and while I can't respect hiding an unpopular and correct Islamic position that would improve the status of women, I can understand the need for self preservation.And in Sheikh Hamza's defense (because I like him too), he used to say a lot of things and ignore a lot of things "before." He was more hardcore in the early 2000s, and would frequently speak out against Jews and Christians and even talk about proper hijab for women. But a few years ago he said that he was wrong and had altered his understanding and perception of things.It is possible that he didn't speak out in defense of Sheikha Wadud, simply because back then, he still bought into the status quo. And it wasn't until his views started changing that his memory suddenly picked up on the traditional knowledge in support of women imams. *shrugs* People change. Regardless, he and other leaders SHOULD have come to her defense on some level.And not disclosing his personal opinion tells me that he's also into self persecution. I can discuss what the scholars have said, but I like my position and I don't want to lose it. Social engineering takes time? Maybe more will be discussed in the coming years.Let's hope anyway.


  6. What I choose to get from this post is "Nahida is always right about everything in Islam ever." :) Also, thank you for raising my awareness so much about Islamophobia. I "dude, not cool"ed someone for some Islamophobic shit a few days ago, and I wouldn't even have noticed it if it weren't for you.


  7. coolred: Well to be honest, I have actually met Hamza Yusuf. He was at a dinner party at my cousin's house many years ago. I think part of the reason I'm fond of him is because he was so involved in the community at the local and even personal level, not unattainable like scholarly people often become after they accumulate so much fame. If I run into him again I'm afraid I'm going to say something scathing and sarcastic. "Oh, right, you're the one who said women can lead prayer after all! Ahahahaha–" vanishing smile–"You didn't say anything when Amina Wadud was threatened with death."Safia: That's the hardest part, losing friends. It's absolutely devastating, and the sacrifices these women make in the name of Islam are immense. Some of them lose everything, all sense of community. For the truth.zeina: Yeah, I know. I hate it when two people I really like go at each other. But after being ostracized the way she was… I don't know if I wouldn't have done the same! =/ I don't think I would have meant it, but after all that harassment? It would be difficult to speak pleasantly. We expect her to bridge Islam, but we don't expect him.woodturtle: It makes sense. xD And yes, I think a lot of it might have been careful social engineering.[…] say that there are many esteemed Egyptian sheikhs who agree that women can lead prayer, but are practically held hostage by politics and social acceptance. They won't gather enough popular support to effect change and will only secure their own downfall by speaking out.I've read about this! Cowards! I've also been called a kafir for pointing this out, that religious leaders keep things from the general public and therefore I simply don't trust the interpretations of scholars and I don't care for dropping their names in a debate. Which doesn't even make sense. Kafir? That word… I don't think it means what you think it does. =P It is really a failure to understand feminism and patriarchy and the full extent of systematic oppression against women. It's amazing that sexism is so normalized people don't see it for what it is, and it's feminism they claim is biased because sexism is the norm.And I did raise an eyebrow at him not disclosing his personal opinion. He may be still working it out, giving it some consideration. Here's to hoping for changes soon.Ozy: *MASSIVE HUGS*


  8. Let me first start with saying that when I was your age I wasn’t half as well informed, so someone raised you right. You write that “Feminism is inherent in Islam.” But that is your particular 21st century assumption. There are many passages in the Qur’an, especially when it comes to initiating sexual intercourse, that seem to be exclusively addressed to men. In some respects, the Qur’an does endorse a form of patriarchy. This is explicitly annotated in Kecia Ali’s “Sexual Ethics & Islam”. I bring this up to tell you that you are going to have to struggle a bit more with this religion- but this is the best way and makes you stronger.So what is a girl to do? Is there some survival protection in patriarchal societies? Where are the flourishing matriarchal societies? Do men that are aggressive and sexually protective make better husbands and fathers? Amina Wadud, and many other Progressive Muslims, tell us sometimes you must “just say no to the text”: there are parts, even of the Qur’an, that are outdated or which we need to de-emphasize or ignore. The Traditionalist (Camp Hamza Yusef et al) and the conservatives holler “No way! Good for all times! There is something wrong with YOU if you don’t get it.”The vehemence with which Prof. Wadud was attacked just shows the strength and paranoia of the conservatives. Fortunately, Prof. Wadud lives in the west where her life and livelihood are not controlled by such reactionaries. Which leads to another point: all dynamic thinking about Islamic scholarship must be done in Europe or North America. The repressive regimes of Muslim majority countries have co-opted religion to further their own authoritarian ends.I don’t have answers, I only wrestle with questions.Also, I highly recommend a read of anything by Scott Kugle, bravest man ever and who I would give a hug to if I ever met him in person. This is a person who is saving lives. You can start with his interview in Religion Dispatches.


  9. Actually, that's not a 21st Century assumption.And I'm not a progressive. The Qur'an is good for all times.I'm not a conservative either. Some people just read it wrong.Thank you for the recommendation.


  10. By the way, the verses you speak of that seem to exclusively address men–they don't. They are only read this way. The Qur'an was revealed to a patriarchy, and ever since has been interpreted by the adherents of patriarchy. Essentially, the Qur'an is the Word of God addressing the Prophet. Who yes, happened to have been a man. This is entirely arbitrary. Shall we conclude that only men who have the exact characteristics of the Prophet are the ones addressed? In that case there are many others to consider in conjunction with his sex.Some verses, I would argue, do exclusively address men. And there are verses that exclusively address women, at the request of Umm Salaama if I remember correctly. There are also verses that exclusively address the Prophet's wives. To sum up its target audience isn't simple, and in our attempts we limit our understanding of the richness and variety. Anyone reading the Qur'an would know that about 90 percent of it addresses both sexes–and is very, very specific to address both sexes. Those verses literally say, "believing men and believing women." Of course, you did say verses about initiating sex exclusively address men? Can you give us those verses JDay? Off the top of my head I can only think of two, and those are (1) the one forbidding men from approaching their wives during menstruation because they could hurt them which is quite right in making it the man's responsibility to stay away instead of the woman's responsibility to keep him away–something we can use in this century to be frank especially rape cases with victim blaming and (2) the one telling men that they can have sex in whatever position the couple pleases, because the question itself was specifically posed by a man and the verse was revealed to answer it.


  11. Yes, those are some verses, and then there is the Tradition you have to contend with. To quote from Prof. Ali, "Sex is, by and lage, a male right and female duty, according to fiqh texts, whatever the ethical importance of a husband's satisfying his wife and thus enabling her to keep chaste. The repeated, though unltimately unenforceable, assertions of some scholars as to a wife's sexual rights- or more particularly, the husband's obligations- demonstrate an unresolvable tension. The modern attempt to render the spouse's sexual rights parallel without departing from the overall framework of gender-differentiated rights and duties set forth by classical jurists is destined for failure; the model cannot accommodate piecemeal modifications. The legal tradition fundamentally views marriage as an exchange of lawful sexual access for dower, and continued sexual availablity for support. To the extent that these doctrines still inform Muslim discourses, mutuality in sexual rights cannot be a requirement, merely an ideal." p 13, Sexual Ethics & Islam, ISBN 0781851684564


  12. Yeah, I've read that book.Those are the problems of figh texts, not of Islam, building over the course of "tradition" in an interpretative monopoly by patriarchy through the erasure of women's history and female scholars. The more we learn about history, the more we discover that "traditionalists" are not in fact at all traditional.


  13. "The more we learn about history, the more we discover that "traditionalists" are not in fact at all traditional."Beautifully stated. Thank you so much for maintaining this brave and lovely blog. I come here when I despair of my fellow Muslims.


  14. Its time for Muslim women to just build, manage and maintain their own seperate masjids. If the worlds' male dominanted religions do not want to engage with women on an entirely equal footing, then women should seperate and create their own women-only places of worship.


  15. *claps her hand maniacally* Brava Nahida, brava.On another note I have always dreamed of setting up a Masjid/ Mosque with the same principals as you shared.Going away from the point even more so, I've also dreamt of writing book regarding all the Hadith's pertaining to women and critically analysing them; how they came about; the chain or narration; their authenticity; why people favour certain ones over others. I feel like many times when people bust out negative notions of women, they quickly quote Hadith's more than the Qur'an. And reading your blog and others of like mindedness there seems to be many Hadiths that counteract these negative claims.I really feel a comprehensive female Hadith (both negative and positive in nature) guide could really help a lot of women be confident in discussing the subjects with others.But alas I don't even know where to begin, as I am not an Arabic speaker nor do I feel that I will fit in with any of the established schools of learning that guide people through Hadith. And I can already imagine the comments of "you're shaping Islam into your image" and "you want to cause fitna"Anyway I pray that Allah will make it possible for me one day.Once again great post.


  16. seeking truth

    The only problem with what Sheikh Hamza said and what Amina Wadud did was, she wanted to and did lead the prayer from the front. From the fatwa Sheikh Hamza repeated and underlined was, a female CAN lead the prayer but from behind, as not to distract the male.
    Amina Wadud at times appears to be a feminists first and a Muslima second which is problematic for someone who wants to be considered a leader for other woman. She has said, “I some days don’t wear a scarf because I don’t want to lose my African American identity to being a Muslim”.
    I think your article holds valid points calling for people of knowledge to speak up and defend women’s rights as it stipulated in both the Quran and Sunna. Women must be proactive in seeking knowledge defending their rights, and more importantly understanding their responsibilities in creating a better climate for future generations of Muslims.
    Islam gave rights to women long before any other European state or institution, the thorn in implementing its ideals is cultural suppression and the absence of a true Islamic state. The problem of injustice in modern times is not with the religion, rather the inability of its followers to adhere to its commands. Girls are equal to boys in their importance and significance as humans and as Muslims.


    1. Nahida

      I don’t agree with Amina Wadud’s every perspective, but I don’t find it relevant here. I believe Hamza Yusuf is wrong to still believe that women must lead from the back. Whether Amina Wadud puts feminism first and being a Muslim second (although your example seems to be about putting ethnicity first, not feminism–and considering feminism is a form of jihad I don’t think it’s quite as simple) isn’t relevant to this action.

      Women don’t need to “understand their responsibilities in creating a better climate for future generations of Muslims.” Men need to take responsibility for the damage they have inflicted on the Ummah, act toward fixing what they’ve done, and stop lecturing women about how their duties are to raise children for the future.


    2. charmedshiva

      I really don’t understand her on-and-off hijab practice either. And why would wearing a hijab make a person less of an African American? I actually agree with what you say about women being proactive and taking responsibility. I think sometimes women will resort very quickly to blame men for everything, but look, if we’re sitting back and letting patriarchy take place, well then that’s also our fault. Many Muslim women actually hold the same patriarchal beliefs as Muslim men. It’s not only men who are teaching those things. It’s also women, and it’s also the lack of action from women who aren’t in favor of those teachings.


  17. Ida

    “He just said that she should lead from the back because she might distract the men if she was leading from the front.” is what most scholars view point when I searched into this.
    This is an old subject I happen to have only just Stumbled Upon and I found it really well written.
    I dont entirely agree with you though. I do believe a woman should be a muslimah first and the ideal feminism holds to a more Western idealism.. We’re so busy in pursuing human’s rights that we forget Allah’s rights over us. What was Sheikha Wudud’s intention mixing people to solah in such a way? And the women to not cover her aurah which is clear distinction when performing her duties in solah? Don’t deviate from the essence of the teachings of humility first to God rather than upholding worldly ideas of equal rights of men and women to be yet again politicized by the media. I am sure Sheikha Wadud ( by which scholars and school of thoughts had she received her ijazat?) had her intentions but were they really pure? Was it in all intention for Allah and Allah alone? Were all that present in all the makmun? But she’s the imam and she’ll carry all the weight of the sins of her congregations…AllahuAlam.


    1. Do you cross-examine whether the intentions of male imams are pure with such acute vigilance, burdened by the thought of whether they are truly leading for God with the most impertinent and invasive scrutiny? Do you inquire as to from what innovated schools and prejudiced scholars they have earned their qualifications?

      Islam is as Western as Islam is Eastern.


  18. charmedshiva

    Great post.

    I share many of your thoughts and feelings. I also love Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, but of course, we all understand that human beings have shortcomings and shaykhs are not an exception to that fact. I wish he had the guts to speak up more.
    What’s even more bothersome is the response Imam Zaid Shakir had to the event of a woman leading prayer, calling it an outright fitnah and regression from true Islam. It’s on his website. Although I understand his position, and I know it’s the majority opinion, his reaction struck me as the very same “astaghfirullah! shame on you! bow down to our shaykhs” type of reaction that I see from most religious authorities.

    And boy, do I know what you’re talking about when you speak of the reaction Muslim men have toward feminist views! How many times I’ve seen fingers pointed at people, shaming them for their “unnatural” and “westernized” ideas about women. It’s so annoying. Instead of listening to the reasoning and addressing the issues, they resort to attacking individuals whose opinions differ from those they were inculcated growing up.

    Thanks for writing out your thoughts. May God bless you.


  19. Rationalist

    It’s the year 2015. Why do people still believe these made up fairy tales? The conservative Muslims are idiots, but at least they are intellectually honest in their following of Islam. Liberal “feminist” muslims just pick & choose which texts makes them feel more comfortable about their life choices & make them fit-in to modern society. Both sides need to grow up & give up believing this garbage. Really God is this awesome supreme being, but somehow writes books & gets pissed about everything? Dumb


  20. rosalindawijks

    An interesting & thought-provoking post.

    “Oh, so he KNEW this! (Not surprising, even I knew this, and he’s a sheikh.) He knew this “a few years ago” in fact. Very interesting. And he didn’t think to let us know before? He didn’t think to defend Sheikha Amina Wadud when she was being harrassed because she was leading men in prayer?”

    Yes, full agreement.

    I also, once, liked Hamza Yusuf, untill I heard him comment that a woman who doesn’t wear hijab “dishonors” herself & using the fact that 3Umar Ibn Al Khattab didn’t allow enslaved woman to wear hijab as evidence of the supeririority of the “Islamic system”.

    You can hear his talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qIL5mGtSyY

    And something I wrote about these statements, here: secondlook.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/guest-post-reflections-on-slavery-hijab-male-authority-and-convert-neo-traditionalist-apologetic-bafflegab/



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