Women Leading Men’s Prayer: Defying Inequality or Proving Insecurity?

Last Friday, a Canadian born Muslim author was the first to lead a mixed congregational prayer in Britain. Raheel Raza, was asked to lead the prayer in a small session in Oxford.

The issue of Muslim women leading men’s congregational prayer is according to feminists’ supporters “a reminder to the Muslim community that 50 percent of its adherents are women”. This statement has an underlying assumption that Muslim women are yet deprived of their right to be equal to Muslim men and that leading men’s congregational prayer will set the balance of equality straight.

This understanding of equality lies on the assumption that men and women should be standing shoulder to shoulder while they are praying bowing and prostrating. And it is not only enough that men and women are praying side by side but the optimum level of equality would be if the woman is the one who is leading the prayer.

As a matter of fact, the notion on which this whole phenomenon is built on has a serious flaw in its fundamental base. I guess the Muslim sisters who are supporting this notion are confusing the principle of equality with the principle of equity in Islam.

In Islam the concept of equality means that both men and women have the same duties and enjoy the same rights with no distinctions. This includes that they both have the right to worship in all its forms be it praying, fasting, giving charity…etc and also social rights like owing their own business, having their own properties, choosing their own spouses and they both get rewarded for good deeds as they both are held responsible for their bad ones.

This means that men and women are standing head to head in the working field and their marital rights and their freedom of worship. So now the problem lies for a few of our Muslim sisters in failing to understand the concept of equity which is highly integrated and strongly linked to the concept of equality as together they form the solid balance between men and women. Personally I believe that the concept of equity is the fine line that separates between being at opposite sides wearing boxing gloves and getting ready to knock the other down and between holding hands and walking together towards the same destination.

For example both men and women have the right to choose their marital spouse which is equality but both of them are playing different roles in the household so they complete each other which is equity, like for a woman she is not the one who is responsible to put food on the table and the man is not responsible for bearing children.

Also both men and women are at equal footing in the work field which is equality but sometimes they work at different fields so by completing each other they suffice the need of their community which is equity. For example a woman does not have to work in the mine fields to prove her equality as much as the man does not have to be an alternate mother who breast feeds to prove his equality with women.

Same goes when it comes to freedom of worship, both Muslim men and women are asked to pray the same number of prayers in the exact same form which is equality but they are not allowed to pray side by side which is equity. Both men and women are allowed to lead in congregational prayers which is equality but Men are allowed to lead both men and women in prayers whereas women are only allowed to lead women which is equity.

The reason for Muslim women to cover her head generally and especially in prayer goes hand in hand with the reason why she doesn’t lead men in prayer. It both goes back to the fundamental concept of sanctity of the human body, both men and women in their normal lives are asked to dress modestly, to lower their gaze and do not stare in a lustful way to each other which is equality.

But the way the woman does that differs from a man, which is equity. That is why women are covering their bodies to make sure she won’t allow ill hearted men to navigate through her body. Same goes for men, they are not allowed to wear tight clothes as well as revealing outfits that would incite the other gender to look. So if both men and women are asked to be modest in their daily lives, would it be so hard for us to understand why we should be as modest if not extra modest in our prayers?

This makes me wonder how not allowing men and women to pray in mix or by asking women not to lead men’s prayer to protect the sanctity of prayers for both of them, would be interpreted as a crying out loud sign of inequality.

It saddens me when some women believe they have to wrestle with men in order to prove that they are stronger, or for their faces to be covered with coal in mine fields to tell the world that she is not only his equal but probably she is 10 times the man he is, or to lead them in prayers thinking that this is the way to prove her adequacy. I don’t know if I want to prove to the world that I am physically capable to do what men can do, because simply it is not a competition. Wrestling men or leading them in prayers does not prove anything. It only proves our insecurity of who we are as women and our illogical yearning to be someone we are not.

Why would women want to turn to be just copycats of men? Should we follow every road they take, trace every foot print they make? Is our optimum dream of manifesting our nature of being women would be through imitating men’s actions blindly? Would that make us better women or only half men?

Well…if being like a man is the answer, then probably having transsexual surgery might seem like a good option for these women to consider as well.


Omneya Ayad is a freelancer writer and a former radio presenter and producer at Islamonline radio and former editor at readingislam.com as well as holder of a Bachelor degree in Mass Communication from AUC and currently a student pursuing a bachelors in Islamic studies.

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