Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Women Leading Men in Prayer

“In the early days of the Muslim community, there were women who made the call to prayer, and there were also women who led the ritual prayer not only for women but also for men. In particular, Umm Waraqa bint Abdullah, who was trained by Muhummad himself, acted as the prayer leader for her whole tribe.

“Lady Nafisa, who was known as the “jewel of knowledge” and “the mother of the helpless,” was the great-granddaughter of Hasan, son of Lady Fatima and Imam Ali. Nafisa married Ishaq, son of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq.

“She was reputed to know the Qur’an and the commentaries by heart and was so versed in religious knowledge that even her great contemporary, the Imam al-Shafi, used to come and listen to her discourses and enter into discussions with her; the degree of his respect for the scholarship of this saintly woman and for her sanctity also, may be judged from the fact that he used to pray with her the special prayers for Ramadan.

“Whenever Al-Shafi would fall ill, he would send word with a messenger to Nafisa asking for her prayers and as soon as the messenger would return to Al-Shafi he would find him recovered from his ailment. When he came down with his fatal illness he again sent his messenger to Lady Nafisa but this time she told the messenger to go back and tell Al-Shafi’I that “God had blessed him with the pleasure of seeing His Noble Face”… Al-Shafi knew his time had come to make his final preparation. He made his last will and testament, asking that Lady Nafisa perform the funeral prayers for him when he died. When the imam died, his body had to be brought to her house because she was so weak due to her constant fasting and worship that she could not leave her house…”

Extract from “Women of Sufism” A Hidden Treasure
Writings and stories of Mystic Poets, Scholars and Saints
Selected and introduced by: Camille Adams Helminski
Emphases mine.

10 thoughts on “Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Women Leading Men in Prayer

  1. Shagufta Sifat

    oh finally i found some authentic materials that convincingly impressed me much !! though i’ve always been hopeful i’d definitely find something that’d prove a women as equal to men or at least not just b under veil & b only controlled by men who feel extreme powerful being husbands or fathers !! huh !!.. Muslim men in general should read these blogs i swear !!


  2. I would go to Lady Nafisa’s sermon anytime than any other men’s sermon alive today but I think the only reason women don’t leave prayers is because of (possible) men’s perversion not lack of equality within Islam. And God knows better.


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  9. Darya

    Very interesting article. Can you plz provide more info on women who lead men in prayers and did the call the prayer in the time of the prophet? This seems so different from what is considered “ok” today.



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