A Tragedy of Sorts
Not much is known about Umm Waraqah although she figures in some two dozen works. That is, she is there, in so many records, but the information they yield is pretty meager. Notwithstanding that, what little is known is quite intriguing.
She is known by her kunniyyah “Umm Waraqah” (Waraqah’s mother), there being no certainty about her name. It is suggested that her name was Umaamah, but this is not well established. She belonged to an Ansari family. That is, a Madinan of pure stock.
She appears first on the pages of history at the time of the battle of Badr which obviously speaks of her early entry into Islam. A report says that she went up to the Prophet and said, “Will you allow me to participate in the battle? I will look after your sick, nurse your wounded, and maybe Allah will bless me with martyrdom.” The Prophet replied, “Allah will gift you martyrdom. Sit back in your house for you are a martyr.”
Hereafter, we do not know anything about her except that the Prophet used to visit her, almost every Friday, and would refer to her as “shaheedah” (the martyred woman).
It is reported that she had memorized the Qur’an.
Subsequently she figures as making a strange request to the Prophet: that she be allowed a mu’adhdhin (Muezzin) to call out for Prayers from her house and she be allowed to lead her homefolk in Prayers. The Prophet allowed her. The man who used to say the adhaan was, as one report asserts, a substantially old person. And it is thought that perhaps she had no more than this old man, her slave-boy and a slave-girl behind her in her five daily Prayers.
The old mu’adhdhin has not been identified. Either he was another slave, or perhaps one of her close relatives. This latter conjecture seems to be more likely. He must have been pretty old to be allowed not to attend to Prayers in the Prophet’s mosque, which was binding on all male Muslims, without exception.
There is no information about how far her house was. Perhaps it was pretty far away from the Prophet’s mosque because one of the reports says that `Umar used to hear her recitation of the Qur’an, and we know that `Umar lived pretty far away from the Prophet’s mosque.
The question however remains as to why she (a lover of martyrdom) chose not to offer Prayers behind the Prophet in his mosque, preferring to do them with her two slaves and an old man, in her own quarters? Was she too old? Or too heavy? Or lived too far away?
A possible explanation is that since the Prophet had told her, “Sit back in your house,” she decided never to come to his mosque, and hence made the request that she be allowed to have a mu’adhdhin to call out for Prayers. It is also possible that the Prophet knew of the inability of the old man to attend Prayers in his mosque, and so decided to make a mu’adhdhin out of him.
In any case, the Prophet allowed her a Mu`adhdhin and allowed her to lead in the Prayers within her quarters.
Another bit of information that we have about her is that once when the Prophet visited her, she was handling some grass.
Thereafter, we draw a blank. History books are quiet about her during the rest of the Prophet’s life, as also during Abu Bak’s life. Dozens of historical volumes, searched in an out, say nothing additional about her. So, she must have spent a quiet life.
It was during the caliphate of `Umar that tragedy struck. She was murdered.
She had made a contract with the said boy and girl-slaves to the effect that they would be free after her death. That is, her inheritors would not inherit the two.
Perhaps they were unskilled, or too lazy, and unable to earn to win their freedom during her life by offering at least equivalent of what she must have spent on buying them. In any case, despite the promise of freedom with her death (or maybe because of the promise) they showed ingratitude. One night they suffocated her with a piece of cloth and disappeared.
Perhaps they were too young and showed haste and impatience, under the impression that sooner or later she will be forgotten and they would not be pursued. But the next day `Umar remarked, “By Allah, I did not hear the recitation of my aunt Umm Waraqah this day.” Later, he went to her house but discovered no signs of life. Upon entering the house he found her lying dead, her face wound with a piece of cloth. He remarked, “How true the Prophet! He used to say, ‘Come, let us go and visit the shaheedah.'”
`Umar announced of the murder and asked the people to be on the look out for the two slaves. At length the two were found. They admitted the crime and were put to death.
There ends her story: with a tragedy. But there starts another tragedy, a millennium and a half later. Her special circumstances and special treatment by the Prophet is cited as evidence by some women of the modern times to set up their own mosques and lead in Prayers.
They have nothing else of her to follow. Where is the desire to imitate her devotion? Where is the desire to go right into a battle-field and let a sword pass through the neck? Where is the desire to seclude oneself in one’s quarter, as she did? Nowhere. But there is the desire to set up a mosque, call for Prayers, and lead in the Prayers as she did. Is it in her imitation?
So what is the position of the scholars of the Ummah with regard to mosques for women, their five time attendance at the mosques, their leading the common public in Prayers, or their leading other women in Prayers?
The answer that comes is unanimous. A mosque set up only for women is an innovation; and every “innovation is in the Fire” – said the Prophet. Women’s five-time presence in the mosques is uncalled for. The Prophet instructed them to do the Prayers at home. Umm Waraqa is one of those who were asked to do their Prayers at home.
But women did attend the Prayers at the Prophet’s mosque, it will be said. Of course they did. But there was a reason: they hoped to receive education, information, admonition. Accordingly, we do not find the Prophet’s own wives attending the Prayers at the mosque. The most knowledgeable of them was `A’isha, who lived in a house adjacent to the mosque. But it is not reported of her that she offered Prayers behind the Prophet in his mosque. She received enough education at home to feel any reason to attend the congregation.
She knew that when in a congregation, each individual offered his or her own Prayer, and each had the chance of his or her Prayer accepted or rejected, on its own merit, no matter how good the Imam’s Prayer, or how good the Prayers of others in the congregation. It is likely that the Imam’s Prayer is accepted but not of one of the followers, or the Prayers of one or more of the followers accepted while Imam’s rejected. She knew all this. She was a scholar.
As regards a woman leading in Prayers with men behind her, there is no difference in opinion that this is not allowable. Neither the ancients allowed it, nor those who followed them.
As for women leading other women, there is again consensus that if there happens to be a group of women, say during a party in a house, and so, one of them leads in the Prayers, then, that is allowable. However, the place of the female-imam is not in front of them all, but in the middle of the row, within the first row.
Why, it may be asked, have the scholars ignored the example of Umm Waraqah? The answer is, there was never an example for others in what Umm Waraqah was granted. During the Prophet’s 8 years at Madinah, no woman ever asked to be allowed to lead in the Prayers, either in his mosque, or in her quarters, neither in Makkah, nor in Madinah, neither in Yemen nor in Oman.
The scholars treat religion in the same manner as a scientist treats the physical world. A scientist does not invent laws. He discovers them. Similarly, Muslim scholars do not invent laws. They discover them. And their sources are those reports that are reliable for their authenticity, such as, for instance, the Qur’an, the most reliable book in the world ever. Next come the authenticated ahadith. And then the practices that prevailed immediately after the Prophet, etc.
This particular case, that is, concerning Umm Waraqa, does not stand any chance of becoming a law. Even if the scholars were to consider it as a precedence, it stands no chance of further discussion. This is because of a serious technical flaw. The reports about she being allowed to lead in the Prayers, in her quarters, do not meet with the stringent requirement of authenticity. They are not reliable. Yes of course, they are more reliable than the reports about the Second World War, which took place just 60 years ago. Much that is reported, contradicts the facts, which are conveniently concealed. Western historians are well known for twisting the facts to suit their people, race, governments and regions. Umm Waraqa’s report is certainly more reliable than the political details of the Second World War. Yet, the reports do not reach the high conditions set by the scholars, and do not meet with other stringent rules and principles laid down by them for making a law, especially law pertaining to worship. They would be the last to see anyone Pray, and then have his or her Prayer rejected, and they be held responsible for it. The Prophet has said, “Whatever is not supported by our command, stands rejected.” The reports then, concerning Umm Waraqah, are flawed in terms of narrators, their integrity, and so forth. And Law is not made on the basis of flawed reports.
Incidentally, there is a report in favor of the prohibition of women’s leadership in Prayers. It is in several books, and is as follows:
وَلا تَؤُمَّنَّ امْرَأَةٌ رَجُلاً
i.e., “Never let a woman lead a man (in Prayers).”
The male dominated world of Fuqahaa’ should pounce upon this hadith using it as evidence that males alone have the right to lead in Prayers. But they do nothing of that sort. Why? This is because they are the last ones to blindly pounce upon reports. In this case, they actually reject the hadith as found in half a dozen collections. Why? On technical grounds. They find fault with the narrators and refuse to accept it for legal purposes. Their prohibition is based on other evidences, which of course, cannot be discussed at this point.
If the scholars have allowed a woman to lead other women in Prayers, it is because of reports which say that women such as, `A’isha and Umm Salamah, both wives of the Prophet, used to, when the occasion arose, lead in the Prayers, but placing themselves in the middle, within the first row, and not out of the row. `A’isha also led some women in Taraweeh Prayers in women’s quarters. But when there was a male around, then `A’isha the most knowledgeable woman then, fell back as a follower; so that, in Ramadan, her slave led her in the Taraweeh Prayers. She did not lead her male slave on grounds that Umm Waraqah had been allowed. She was a scholar.
Nor did the wives of the Prophet conduct five daily Prayers in their houses. The reports of leading in Prayers speak of occasional events. In fact, there is no report about any of the lady Companions of the Prophet leading in a Fard Prayer congregation, even once, either in the city, or when traveling.
Therefore, for some women of our times to consider Umm Waraqah’s case as an example for setting up a women’s mosque, or, for attending five daily congregational Prayers at the mosques, or delivering Friday sermons, is a tragedy of sorts.