For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise,- for them has God prepared forgiveness and a great reward (33:35)
And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” (2:35)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded Umm Waraqah, a woman who had collected the Qur’an, to lead the people of her area in prayer. She had her own mu’adhdhin (person who performs the call to prayers). (Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahman Al-Banna, Al-Fath al-Rabbani li Tartib Musnad al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal al-Shaybani ma’a Sharhihi Bulugh al-Amani (Bayrut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al- ‘Arabi, n.d.) vol.5, 3:1375; Muhammad ibn Sa‘d , Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir (Bayrut: Dar Sadir, 1958) vol.8, p.457.)
The original creation story began with Adam and Eve who were placed in a garden by God. They were told not to eat from the forbidden tree Q 2:35. Unfortunately, they were equally tempted and after disobeying God, they were both banished from the Garden and placed on earth as vicegerents (stewards) of God.
Despite this divine mandate and the role women in Islam have played over the centuries (hadith), such as transmitters of hadith to spiritual, legal, and interpretive authorities, women and girls are largely excluded from Islamic education, Qur’anic interpretation, and religious leadership . They are rendered vulnerable to the misinterpretations fed to them by male religious authorities with outdated attitudes.
Contemporary Muslim women scholars such as Asma Lamrabet, Laleh Bakhtiar, Asma Barlas, Amina Wadud, and others have provided a groundbreaking and egalitarian approach to understanding the Qur’an.
WISE is helping women reclaim their place in the realms of spiritual and religious authority by emphasizing the rights originally affirmed for women. WISE established a global Shura Council comprised of solely Muslim women scholars and activists fluent enough in the language of Islamic law to promote equitable positions for Muslim women’s rights.
Gender has never been regarded as a guarantee for a successful leader. The Quran demonstrates the suitability of women in major religious roles as seen in the story of Mary as a Nazirite (Qur’an 3:35). Ancient Israelite Nazirites had access to the highest religious positions in the land, as can be noted in the case of Samuel and Samson. They had access to the Holy of Holies (mihrab), which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and to which only the religious elite could enter.
The Quran in Surat al-Naml (27:23-44) compares the queen of Sheba and the Pharoah and affirms the suitability of women in major leadership roles. She is an example of a positive Quranic leader, and her method of leadership included transparency, public consultation, and putting the welfare of her people first. Pharaoh, a man, is the Qur’anic role model for negative leadership. Compare his words in verse 79:24— “I’m the big boss.”
The Quran also demonstrates the suitability of women in major religious roles as seen in the story of Mary as a Nazirite (Qur’an 3:35). Ancient Israelite Nazirites had access to the highest religious positions in the land, as can be noted in the case of Samuel and Samson. They had access to the Holy of Holies (mihrab), which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and to which only the religious elite could enter. Whereas Mary’s mother expected a boy, God willed her to deliver a girl, thereby affirming the suitability of women for major religious roles (Qur’an 2:36).
Women around the world are gathering in homes and community centers to read the Qur’an and study it together. The groups READ in Mississauga, Canada and Tajweed Ul Quran for Sisters in Reading, UK are two such examples. Read here to learn how to start a reading group or to learn how to read the Qur’an yourself.
Women are also reclaiming their place in the realms of spiritual and religious authority. China, for example, has a long line of female ahong, or female imams, active since the late 17th century. Moroccan women are now training to become spiritual guides, or mourchidat.
Shahina Akbar, a WISE woman, runs educational training sessions on legal issues related to marriage for women’s groups using the Pakistani legal system and Qur’an as a source of law.
Women can also enroll in the chaplaincy-training program at the University of Toronto, Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, U.S., the muftia-training program in Turkey, or the Moroccan mourchidat training program.