||PRETENSIONS OF POSTMODERNISM and the hadith of Umm Waraqah|
Shaykh Taha Karan (South Africa)
The appropriation of the hadith of Umm Waraqah as proof for the permissibility
and validity of a woman’s leading salah in Amina Wadud’s recent episode in New
York throws up some interesting considerations.
Responses have varied. There has been the tendency to question the authenticity
of the hadith; another approach looks at the applicability of the hadith to the
case in question; while a third approach surveys the views and opinions of the
scholars of Islam. While none of these approaches lacks individual merit, it
should not be lost to the observer that there is another side to the issue―a
side that none of us can afford to lose sight of in the present global climate.
The present paper seeks to touch upon each of these various approaches, whilst
not omitting to set the issue within the framework of contemporary affairs.
The hadith of Umm Waraqah has been documented in Sunan Abi Dawud, Musnad Ahmad,
al-Hakim’s Mustadrak, and al-Bayhaqi’s Dala’il al-Nubuwwah.  Its chain of
narrators in all of these sources lead up to a single strand:
al-Walid ibn ‘Abdillah ibn Jumay‘, narrating from his grandmother and ‘Abd
ar-Rahman ibn Khallad, both of whom narrate from Umm Waraqah.
Authenticity rests, to a great (though not exclusive) degree upon the narrators.
As a rule, a hadith will only be accepted as authentic and reliable basis for
law when it meets the requirements of acceptance. In the present hadith the
focus comes to rest upon three narrators: al-Walid, his grandmother, and ‘Abd
al-Rahman ibn Khallad.
al-Walid ibn ‘Abdillah ibn Jumay‘
Hadith critics have differed on al-Walid ibn ‘Abdillah ibn Jumay‘. Ahmad ibn
Hanbal, Yahya ibn Ma‘in, al-‘Ijli, Abu Zur‘ah and Abu Hatim are on record as
having accepted his reliability as a narrator; while Ibn Hibban and al-‘Uqayli
have made disparaging remarks about his credibility. Al-Bazzar adds that he had
certain Shi‘i proclivities in him as well.  Ibn Hajar sums up these various
pronouncements by saying that he was “truthful, prone to err, with an accusation
of Shi‘ism against him”. 
The grandmother of al-Walid
In al-Hakim’s version of the hadith her name is given as Layla bint Malik. There
is general concurrence amongst the muhaddithun that she is unknown.  When a
narrator is unknown the hadith falls short of the requirements of authenticity.
To this may be added the fact that there also exists some confusion with regard
to al-Walid ibn ‘Abdillah’s source. In some versions of the hadith it is his
grandmother; in others it is his grandfather; whilst in yet others his
grandmother is identified as Umm Waraqah herself. What we have here is thus a
case of jahalah (an unknown narrator) compounded by iditirab (confusion).
‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khallad
In ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khallad we have another example of an unknown entity. His
name appears nowhere in hadith literature except in this narration of Walid ibn
‘Abdillah ibn Jumay‘. Ibn al-Qattan states that his condition is unknown,
leading Ibn Hajar to conclude that he is majhul al-hal (a less serious case of
jahalah that would pass as acceptable to some scholars).  A recent recension
of Ibn Hajar avers, however, that this is not a case of jahalat al-hal, but one
of jahalat al-‘ayn, which is considerably more serious. 
Over and above the disparaging claims that have been made about the above
narrators, there is another issue which has a bearing upon the acceptability of
the hadith. Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani points out that the form in which the
chain of the hadith appears in the common sources hides another issue that
impugns its authenticity. Neither Walid ibn ‘Abdillah’s grandmother (or
grandfather), nor ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khallad have received this hadith from Umm
Waraqah directly. Ibn al-Sakan and Ibn Mandah have recorded the hadith via Layla
bint Malik (who is Walid’s grandmother), from her father, from Umm Waraqah;
while Abu Nu‘aym records it via Walid, from his grandmother, from her mother,
from Umm Waraqah. ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khallad too, is on record as having
received the hadith, not from Umm Waraqah directly, but though an unknown
Opinions have differed around this hadith. Objectivity and honesty demand that
both opinions be stated here.
Some have looked upon it as a case of a questionable narrator (Walid ibn ‘Abdillah
ibn Jumay‘) narrating from two unknown narrators, and have therefore concluded
that the hadith is not reliable.
A more lenient opinion asserts that the questionable narrator is reliable to
most critics, while the two unknown narrators corroborate one another. They
therefore claim that the hadith is hasan li-ghayrihi, indicating an intrinsic
weakness augmented by corroboration. The corroboration, however, is a case of
internal corroboration (mutaba‘ah) and not external (shahid). In other words,
this hadith is not supported by any other independent and separate hadith, but
merely by the fact that Walid ibn ‘Abdillah happens to narrate it from two
persons. Al-Hakim al-Naysaburi has conclusively negated the existence of any
other hadith on this issue. 
What this lenient position overlooks is the issue of missing links in the chain.
Such missing links constitute a major problem. We have no idea whatsoever about
the personality, and consequently of the reliability, of the missing persons. An
objective appraisal of the state of the hadith cannot fail to take this hidden
defect (termed an ‘illah in hadith terminology) in consideration. One of the 5
essential requirements of authenticity is that the hadith should be free from
such defects. In the final analysis, the hadith of Umm Waraqah falls short in
authenticity, and has to be dismissed as authoritative grounds upon which to
Applicability, of course, will only come into play if it accepted that the
hadith is acceptable. Assuming therefore that it is in fact a reliable hadith,
the question that should next be asked is whether it does actually indicate what
it is claimed to indicate: that it is fully permissible and valid for a woman to
lead males in salah.
The core of this claim rests upon the part of the hadith which reads
وأمرها أن تؤم أهل دارها
He (i.e the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) ordered her (Umm Waraqah) to
lead the people of her house (dar) in prayer.
There is no express mention of which individuals constituted the members of her
household. There is no mention of a husband, father or son. All that exists is
the fact that the hadith makes mention of the fact that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi
wasallam appointed a male person to be her mu’adhdhin. This has led some persons
into the claim that Umm Waraqah led at least one male in salah.
The hadith, however, does not state that. It doesn’t state that the muadhdhin
actually made his salah behind Umm Waraqah. To assert that would be an
assumption into the text, and not the text itself. Assumptions of this nature
should never be done subjectively, but in consideration of objective factors
known to us through other texts.
The first such factor would be the insistence of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi
wasallam upon congregational salah in the masjid. Well known are the ahadith on
his extreme annoyance at certain persons performing salah at home, to the point
that he threatened to burn down their houses.  Equally well known is the
case of the blind man who came seeking permission to perform his salah at home.
After initially granting him permission to do so, Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi
wasallam recalled him and asked him if he could hear the adhan. When he answered
in the affirmative, he ordered him to attend the congregational prayer in the
masjid.  It has also been stated that in the time of the Prophet sallallhu ‘alayhi
wasallam the only male to stay away from the congregational prayer would be an
open hypocrite or a severely ill person. 
Such a severe attitude against the performance of salah away from the
congregation in the masjid, leaves us with very little option but to assume that
even the mu’adhdhin of Umm Waraqah was ordered to make adhan for her, but
perform his salah in the masjid with the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam and
the rest of the Companions. Any other assumption flies blatantly in face of what
is reliably known to us of the attitude of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi
wasallam and the practice of the community at Madinah.
In short, there exists ambiguity in the text of this hadith. As it stands it
carries the possibility that the people who prayed behind Umm Waraqah included
males; and it carries the other possibility that they were exclusively females.
A cardinal rule with regard to dealing with textual ambiguity is that
consideration must be given to surrounding evidence. Ignoring the surrounding
evidence of attitudes and environment can only be said to be subjective, and
therefore, worthy of dismissal.
As for the argument that the word dar refers to the entire neighbourhood, it
rests upon an even flimsier basis. The literal meaning of the word dar, as
opposed to bayt, is that the word dar applies to the entire structure,
consisting of walls, rooms and inner courtyard, while bayt refers to the
individual rooms within the dar. The extension of the word dar to an entire
neighbourhood is figurative (majaz), and opting for a figurative reading without
advancing compelling objective reason is once again a subjective ploy. The words
dar and bayt are used in the very same hadith in a way that puts paid to any
such extension. Umm Waraqah was eventually murdered by two of her slaves. ‘Umar’s
discover of the body of Umm Waraqah after her murder is recorded by Ibn al-Sakan
as follows: 
فلما أصبح عمر قال: والله ما سمعت قراءة خالتي أم ورقة . فدخل الدار فلم ير شيئا.
فدخل البيت فإذا هي ملفوفة في قطيفة في جانب البيت.
3. OPPORTUNISM OF POSTMODERNISM
It appears from the way in which the hadith of Umm Waraqah has been appropriated
and brandished in the case of Amina Wadud’s Jumu‘ah adventure, that she and her
ilk actually subscribe to the authority of Hadith and Sunnah. A more careful
reading of her writings and the attitude towards Hadith as reflected in them
points to something more sinister at work here.
Amina Wadud is a feminist. That much is as clear as daylight. In the course of
her career as an “Islamic feminist” she has encountered three sorts of
obstacles: cultural attitudes, Qur’anic verses, and Prophetic ahadith. The first
(cultural attitudes) she has dismissed with more than contempt. When it came to
verses from the Qur’an she was more tentative. For many years her attitude has
been one of hermeneutical prevarication teetering on the verge, but never quite
flipping over into blatant rejection. On Sunday 6 February of this year, just a
few weeks before her Jumu‘ah adventure, she finally took the plunge. A fellow
postmodernist would-be reformer, Tarek Fatah, described the meeting in Toronto
in which she finally came out of the closet in the following words:
Midway through her speech titled "The Qur’an, Women and Interpretive
Possibilities," Wadud waded into the minefield by addressing some difficult
passages of the Qur’an. Breaking the ultimate taboo in the Muslim narrative, she
stated that despite the fact the Qur’an explicitly asks for cutting off the
hands of thieves, she did not agree with the Qur’an. She said she understood
that this was a very difficult subject to talk about, but she would be dishonest
to herself if she did not express her views. She maintained that as a Muslim
with Allah close to her heart, in all honesty she could not continue with the
hypocrisy of lying about how she felt about some verses of the Qur’an. The basis
of her talk was "How to be God's agent (khalifa) on Earth; to be a moral agent
of the Creator." In this context, she presented four ways of looking at Qu'ranic
verses which Muslims find difficulty dealing with. She identified the four
methods as: (1) The literal readings of the text, (2) The legalistic arguments
that constrain how verses are applied, (3) Reinterpretation from alternative
perspectives, and (4) Saying "No to the Qur'an" when one disagrees with it.
Pursuing the last point, she declared that she could not intellectually or
spiritually accept some things in the Qur'an, for example some of the hudud
punishments like the cutting of hands or the permission to beat one's wife. She
made it clear that she was denying neither the religion nor the revelation. "It
is the Qur'an," she said, "that gives me the means to say no to the Qur'an."
This is Amina Wadud’s attitude, not towards the Hadith, but towards the Word of
Allah, the Qur’an. She feels herself Qur’anically justified to reject the
authority of the Qur’an itself when it happens to clash with her feminist
agenda. If such is her attitude towards the Qur’an itself, what expectations can
we have for her attitude vis-à-vis the Hadith, rejection of which has always
been the premier qualifying requirement for all would-be reformers of the
modernistic and postmodernistic hue?
Hadith is conspicuously absent from her writings, no doubt on account of the
tendency that Hadith has to restrict the interpretive freedom of the Qur’an’s
exegete―a freedom which is the very life-force of postmodernistic exegesis. It
can be safely concluded that Amina Wadud dispensed with the legal authority of
Hadith and Sunnah a long time ago. When we find her today brandishing the hadith
of Umm Waraqah as her reason for believing that a woman may lead the prayer,
then it is common sense, and not mere suspicion, which compels us to reject it
as a glaring untruth. Amina Wadud does not believe in Hadith. For her to argue
on the basis of Hadith is no less incongruous than the Christian missionary who
attempts to prove Trinity from the Qur’an.
If Amina Wadud was a believer in Hadith, she would have subjected herself to its
authority in all those instances where it overrides her feministic prejudices.
She would have accepted hadith where it says that the prayer rows of women
should be behind those of men. She would have submitted herself to acceptance of
all that the authentic hadith literature contains about women. She would have
conceded to every case which her feminism would otherwise condemn as
“unacceptable”, “biased”, “oppressive”, “chauvinistic” and “masochistic”. But
not only has she never submitted herself to any such authority; she has simply
ignored most of it, in what cannot be interpreted as anything than scornful
Therefore, when we see her and her ilk gloating over the fact that they have
“reclaimed a right granted by the Prophet 1500 years ago”, then we have to
assert our own right to ask: what happened to everything else that the Prophet
sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said? What is it, in the final analysis, that makes
the hadith of Umm Waraqah acceptable when all other ahadith are rejected with
contempt, and when even the Qur’an has finally been flung aside? Is it because
the hadith has been graded by some as hasan li-ghayrihi? Is it because the
hadith is in Abu Dawud’s Sunan which is one of the Six Books? Is it because of a
consistent methodological approach towards hadith? Each of these questions can
only be answered in the negative.
Amina Wadud’s appropriation of the hadith of Umm Waraqah is an entirely
opportunistic one. She uses the hadith because it serves her cause, and not
because Hadith has any inherent authority. In illustration of this fact, let us
consider the following: The hadith goes on to state that two of Umm Waraqah’s
slaves murdered her, on account of which they were brought to justice and put to
death by crucifixion. Would Amina Wadud or any of her enthusiastic supporters
support this form of punishment? After all, it forms part of the very same
hadith which they are euphorically brandishing in support of their Jumu‘ah
adventure. On the contrary, the only response which can be expected would be one
that reads something like, “although the hadith explicitly prescribes death by
crucifixion for such murderers, I do not agree with the hadith.” Thus the first
part of the hadith is fine, while the second part is met with blunt rejection.
A woman asked the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam for permission to join the
military expeditions as a nurse to the sick. He replied, “Stay in your house;
Allah will grant you martyrdom.” Does the command to stay at home, and the
implicit refusal for her to join military expeditions as a nurse smack of sexist
discrimination to Amina Wadud and her followers? If it does, they had better
take care how they respond. Before saying things like “we cannot intellectually
or spiritually accept such things” they should take note that the woman who
asked that permission is our same Umm Waraqah, and the hadith is the very same
hadith in Sunan Abi Dawud. But this was the part about which they were not
A similar attitude was once upon a time displayed by the Jews in Madinah. To
such recalcitrants Allah said:
يا أيها الذين آمنوا ادخلوا في السلم كافة، ولا تتبعوا خطوات الشيطان، إنه لكم عدو
And for the destiny of those who accept what they wish and reject what does not
suit them, to them Allah says:
أفتؤمنون ببعض الكتاب وتكفرون ببعض، فما جزاء من يفعل ذلك منكم إلا خزي في الحياة
الدنيا، ويوم القيامة يردون إلى أشد العذاب، وما الله بغافل عما تعملون.
The Legacy of ‘A’ishah has been something very close to Amina Wadud’s heart,
something about which she is known to wax lyrical. Had she been a true devotee
of Umm al-Mu’minin Sayyidah ‘A’ishah radiyallahu ‘anha, she would have followed
her example in prayer. If any woman in Islam had the right to lead the salah it
would have been Sayyidah ‘A’ishah. But we have nothing, absolutely nothing that
indicates to us that she ever arrogated any such rights to herself. If there was
any place in which she would lead the salah for males it would have been in the
privacy of her own house. But the sources are not only silent in this regard;
they provide us with evidence to the contrary.
It was the habit of Sayyidah ‘A’ishah to have a slave of hers named Dhakwan lead
her in the Tarawih salah during Ramadan. This slave was much less learned than
she was. He did not even memorise the Qur’an, and used to lead her in salah
whilst reading from the mus-haf. Her own degree of learning was vastly above
his. Despite her knowledge and her sublime status as Umm al-Mu’minin it was to
him that she ceded the right to lead salah. 
4. THE BIGGER PICTURE
The times in which we live have brought us more than one tribulation. Where one
the one hand we have those who would invade our lands and slaughter our people
in order to force us by their military might into a submission and acceptance
their ideas of civilization, we have others who would aid and abet the invader
and applaud his oppression. And then we have others who have hitherto been
obscured by the shadows, but whose potential as the invader’s agents, witting or
unwitting, has not gone unnoticed.
In 2003 the National Security Research Division of the Rand Corporation in
America released a study by Cheryl Benard, entitled “Civil Democratic Islam:
Partners, Resources and Strategies”. After categorizing Muslims into
Traditionalists, Modernists and Secularists, this study advances the following
To encourage positive change in the Islamic world towards greater modernity, and
compatibility with the contemporary world order, the United States and the West
need to consider very carefully which elements, trends and forces within Islam
they intend to strengthen; what the goals and values of their various potential
allies and protégés really are; and what the broader consequences of their
respective agendas are likely to be. A mixed approach composed of the following
elements is likely to be the most effective:
Support the modernists first
- Publish and distribute their works at subsidized cost.
- Encourage them to write for mass audiences and for youth.
- Introduce their views into the curriculum of Islamic education
- Make their opinions and judgements on fundamental questions of religious
interpretation available to a mass audience in competition with those of the
fundamentalists and traditionalists who have Web sites, publishing houses,
schools, institutes, and many other vehicles for disseminating their views.
- Position secularism and modernism as a “counterculture” option for disaffected
- Facilitate and encourage an awareness of their pre- and non-Islamic history
and culture, in the media and the curricula of relevant countries.
- Assist in the development of independent civic organizations, to promote civic
culture and provide a space for ordinary citizens to educate themselves about
the political process and to articulate their views. 
The first of these “independent civic organizations” have started to appear in
North America. One of these is a group called the Progressive Muslim Union of
North America. One of those invited to form part of its Advisory Board was a
person called Farid Zakariya. He holds another distinguished post. He is the
founder of a group called “Muslims for Bush”. And this is but the tip of the
What are Muslims to make of Jumu‘ah charade of last Friday? Is this simply a
case of an honest though deluded feminist making a statement for a cause she
passionately believes in? Or is it one of neocon conspiracy, a silent invasion?
In light of what we are blatantly told in the Rand Report, denial of the second
possibility is imbecility.
At best, what we have here is a symbiosis of interdependence and mutual benefit.
The neocon West needs persons like Amina Wadud and episodes like her Jumu‘ah
adventure to achieve its goals. The Amina Waduds of this world stand to benefit
immensely from the exposure and patronage of this government.
The real tragedy lies in the fact that it is the Hadith of Rasulullah sallallahu
‘alayhi wasallam that is cast into the role of the bait.
 Sunan Abi Dawud no. 591-592; Musnad Ahmad vol. 6 p. 405; al-Mustadrak no.
730, vol.1 p. 320; Dala’il al-Nubuwwah vol. 6 p. 382
 al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-Kamal vol. 31 pp. 35-37
 Ibn Hajar, Taqrib al-Tahdhib no. 7432
Taqrib al-Tahdhib no. 8813
 Tahdhib al-Kamal vol. 35 p. 391
 Taqrib al-Tahdhib vol. 3855
 al-Arna’ut & ‘Awwad, Tahrir Taqrib al-Tahdhib vol. 2 p. 317
 al-Isabah fi Tamyiz al-Sahabah vol. 8 p. 289
 al-Mustadrak vol. 1 p. 320
 Sahih al-Bukhari no. 644; Sahih Muslim no. 651
 Sahih Muslim no. 653
 Sahih Muslim no. 158; al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman vol. 3 p. 59
 al-Isabah vol. 8 p. 289
 Sahih al-Bukhari in mu‘allaq form, book 10, chapter 54. The complete hadith
is given by Ibn Abi Shaybah in his Musannaf vol. 2 p. 121
 Benard, C. Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Reosurces and Strategies, pp.
x-xi,Rand Corporation 2003
taken (with Thanks) from WWW.DUAI.CO.ZA