First of all, it should be clear that the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah bear witness to the fact that woman is at least as vital to life as man himself, and that she is not inferior to him nor a lower species. When the Shari`ah restricts some positions to men, it does not mean discrimination, but this should be understood within the frame of the general objectives of the Shari`ah, which are set by the Law-Giver (Almighty Allah) to order the lives of men and women in a way that best suits their natures.
To better look at this topic, it should be talked about in two categories:
1. Woman leading a congregational prayer of females only.
2. Woman delivering Khutbah.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto,Ontario, Canada, states: “According to the general consensus of jurists and scholars of Hadith, a woman is not allowed to lead men in a mosque or congregation. She is, however, allowed to lead a congregation consisting only of women. In the latter case, it is not only permitted for women to do so, rather it may even be considered highly recommended because of the greater rewards of praying in congregation (jama’ah) as compared to praying individually. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never said that such rewards are solely applicable to men and that women are excluded. The authentic practice of the Mothers of the Faithful, such as `A’ishah and Umm Salmah (may Allah be pleased with them), also confirms this conclusion. Both of the esteemed wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who were highly regarded for their deep grasp of religion, used to lead women in Prayer.
although the vast majority of scholars are of the opinion that a woman may not lead men at all, there is a minority of them – including scholars such as Imam Ibn Jarir, the celebrated commentator of the Qur’an, as well as jurists such as Abu Thawr and Al-Muzani – who consider it permissible for a woman to lead members of her own household in Prayer.
The last mentioned group of scholars have based their ruling on the following report of Abu Dawud on the authority of Umm Waraqah: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to visit her in her own home; he appointed a mu’adhin (one who calls the adhan for Prayer) for her, and ordered her to lead the members of her household (in Prayer).” Umm Waraqah—as stated in the sources—was an esteemed woman of Al-Ansar who had memorized the Qur’an. `Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khalid, the narrator of the Hadith, further states: “I happened to see her mu’adhin, who was a person advanced in age.”
Based on the above evidence, some scholars have concluded that a woman is allowed to lead her own family members in Prayer especially in the following cases:
– If she is exceptionally qualified and others are not so well versed in the rules of Prayer and knowledge of the Qur’an;
– If her husband is a new Muslim who is struggling to learn the rules of Prayer and the Qur’an, while she herself is perfectly well versed in them;
– If she is a mother of minors who are still learning the rules of Prayer and the Qur’an.
In exceptional cases such as the above, the Hadith of Umm Waraqah is undoubtedly a great source of relief.”
Moreover, women are not allowed to deliver jum`ah khutbah (Friday sermon), which is part of an act of worship. The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh `Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef states:
“We should know that a woman is not permitted to deliver jum`ah khutbah nor to lead men in Prayer. jum`ah Prayer, in principle, is not an obligation upon women.”