Is it permissible in Islam for women to lead salat?

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by

Many arab women believe in the fact that women are allowed to lead salah and they justify their acts by holding Ayisha (RA) as an example as according to them she used to lead salat frequently. Based on my knowledge on Islam ive known that women are not allowed to lead salat. Is it permissible in Islam for women to lead salat?


In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Assalaamu `alaykum waRahmatullahi Wabarakatoh

The question has been dealt in detail in the article “Female Leadership in Islam” by Maulana Mohammad Karolia. Hereunder is an extract of the article pertaining to your question.

The Fuqaha (Muslim jurists) have discussed two types of Imamat viz:

a. Imamat-e-Kubra: Major leadership, referring to the leading of a country.

b. Imamat-e-Sughra: Minor leadership, referring to the leading of the Salâh.

Just as the shariah has reserved imamat-e-kubrah for men only, it has reserved imamat-e-sughra for men only. (Some jurists have permitted female imamat of the Salâh when the congregation is purely female. This will be discussed later Insha-Allâh).

Women Leading Men in Salâh

Most, if not all fuqaha (Muslim jurists) are of the opinion that women cannot lead men in salâh. If any man performs his salâh behind a female imam, his salâh would be null and void. Below are the opinions of each of the four madhahib. 

1. Hanafi Madhab – “And it is not permissible for men to follow a lady in salâh.” (Hidayah vl.1. pg.209)

2. Shafiy Madhab – “And a male following a lady (in salâh) is incorrect.”(Minhâj:Allamah Nawawi vl.1, pg.241)

3. Maliki Madhab – “Salâh will therefore not be correct behind a lady (imam).”(Bulghat-us-Salik: Allamah Sâwi

4. Hambali Madhab -“It is not correct in the opinion of the general fuqaha, for a man to follow a lady (in salâh).”(Al Mughni: Ibn Qudamah vl.2, pg.199)

Ibn Rushd-al-Qurtubi writes: “…. The jamhoor (general majority) are of the opinion that it is not permissible for her to lead the men in salâh ….” (Bidayatul Mujtahid vl.1, pg.105)

Why Can She Not Lead the Men in Salâh?

1. Nothing has been narrated regarding this from Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam or the Sahabah (RA) or the Tabi-een. Had it been permissible, it would have definitely been recorded in the books of Hadith and Fiqh.  (Bidayatul Mujtahid vl.1,pg. 105 & As Saylul Jarrar vl.1, pg.250)

2. On the contrary Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam had commanded the women to stand at the rear of the congregation (if they do attend the congregational salâh). The reason being that women are to be hidden and have been commanded to observe hijâb. If men have to follow a lady imâm in salâh, they would have to stand behind her. This is in total contrast with the rules of hijâb.(Bidayatul Mujtahid vl.1,pg. 105 & As Saylul Jarrar vl.1, pg.250)

A hadith has been narrated regarding women standing at the rear of the congregation: “Place them in the rear as Allâh has placed them in the rear.” (Nasbur Rayah vl.2, pg.36 – quoted from Musannaf Abdur Razzâk- although this hadith is mawqoof, (the chain of narrators terminates on Hadhrat Ali radhiallah anhu, the fact that man should occupy the first rows, therafter the children and behind the children the women is established from other authentic ahâdith – see Bukhari vl.1, pg. 211)

3. Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam said: .”… and a lady should not lead a man in salâh ….” (Sunan Ibn Majah vl.1,pg.250)

4. The generality of the hadith “The nation that has entrusted it’s affairs to a lady cannot be successful,” demands that women do not qualify to be entrusted with any sort of leadership duties. Salâh is the most noble and important matter of the Muslims. Can we entrust it to a lady and hope for success? (As Saylul Jarrar – Allamah Shawkani vl.1,pg.250) 

Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi (RA) after explaining the opinion of the majority writes that some Hambali scholars are of the opinion that “it is permissible for her to lead the men in taraweeh salâh (but) she will stand behind them. It (lady leading the taraweeh) will be permissible because of the narration of Umme Waraqah (RA) that Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam had appointed a muezzin for her who would given azân for her and He commanded her to lead the people (ahl) of her dâr (house) – Abu Dawud has narrated this hadith. (See Abuj Da’ud vol.2 Page 161 Beirut).

Ibn Qudamah however disagrees with these Hambali scholars and refutes their claim explaining that Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam had only permitted her to lead the women of her home (nisâ-e-ahle-dâriha) – this is how Dâr-Qutni has narrated this hadith. When an addition of this nature is narrated, then it is compulsory to accept it. Had the extra word ‘Nisâ’ (women) not been narrated, there would have been some possibility of substantiating one’s claim from this hadith. Besides, this hadith does not pertain to Taraweeh or any other nafl or sunnah salâh because the hadith also says that Rasulullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam had appointed a muezzin to call the azân for her. Azân is not called out for nafl or sunnah salâh. It is only called for the fardh salâhs. (Al Mughni vl.2,pg.199) There is however no difference of opinion even among the Hambali Fuqaha that women cannot lead men in fardh salâh. This hadith is therefore referring to a purely female congregation only.

Apart from the jamhoor (majority), Abu Thour and Tabri have allowed women to lead the salâh even it there are men in the congregation. Ibn Rushd said that they have based their claim on the hadith of Umme Waraqah.(Bidayatul Mujtahid vl.1,pg.105)

Ibn Qudamah’s explanation of the hadith however leaves no doubt that they have erred. Other than Abu Thour and Tabri, the entire ummah has ‘ijmâ’ (unanimous agreement) that women cannot lead men in salâh.

Can a Lady Lead a Purely Female Congregation

* AHNâF: If a lady leads the salâh of a purely female congregation, then salâh will be correct. It is however makrooh tahrimi for women to form their own
congregation. (Hidayah vl.1,pg.305; Bada’i-us Sanai vl.1,pg.157)

* MâLIKIYYA: A lady can in no circumstance be the Imam even if the congregation be entirely female. The salâh of even a lady behind a female imâm is invalid.Bulghatus Salik vl.1, pg.146; Ashalul Madarik, vl.1,pg.241)

* SHAWâFI: A lady can be the imam of a purely female congregation. In fact it is mustahab for them to form their own congregation. (Al Mughni vl.12,pg.199; Bada-i vl.1,pg. 157)

* HANABILA: The salâh of a lady behind a lady imâm is permissible. There is however difference of opinion regarding women forming their own congregation (behind a female imam). (Al Mughni l.12, pg.199)

The Shafi and Hambali scholars substantiate their opinion with the hadith of Umme Waraqah (RA) that was mentioned earlier.

It is similarly narrated that Hazrat Umme Salmah (RA) and Hazrat Aisha (RA) used to lead the women in Salâh. (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah vl.2, pg.88-89)


And Allah knows best


Darul Iftaa, Madrassah In’aamiyyah