A Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer

3257044979_89c468cf91_bOn March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud led the first female-led jum`ah (Friday) prayer. On that day, women took a huge step towards being more like men. But did we come closer to actualizing our God-given liberation?

I don’t think so.

What we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God—not in relation to men. But as Western feminism erases God from the scene, there is no standard left—except men. As a result, the Western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing, she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. She wanted these things for no other reason than because the “standard” had it.

What she didn’t recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness – not their sameness. And on March 18, Muslim women made the very same mistake.

For 1400 years there has been a consensus of the scholars that men are to lead prayer. As a Muslim woman, why does this matter? The one who leads prayer is not spiritually superior in any way. Something is not better just because a man does it. And leading prayer is not better, just because it’s leading. Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, why wouldn’t the Prophet ﷺ have asked Ayesha or Khadija, or Fatima—the greatest women of all time—to lead? These women were promised heaven—and yet they never led prayer.

But now, for the first time in 1400 years, we look at a man leading prayer and we think, “That’s not fair.” We think so although God has given no special privilege to the one who leads. The imam is no higher in the eyes of God than the one who prays behind.

On the other hand, only a woman can be a mother. And God has given special privilege to a mother. The Prophet ﷺ taught us that heaven lies at the feet of mothers. But no matter what a man does he can never be a mother. So why is that not unfair?

When asked, “Who is most deserving of our kind treatment?” the Prophet ﷺ replied, “Your mother” three times before saying “your father” only once. Is that sexist? No matter what a man does he will never be able to have the status of a mother.
And yet, even when God honors us with something uniquely feminine, we are too busy trying to find our worth in reference to men to value it—or even notice. We, too, have accepted men as the standard; so anything uniquely feminine is, by definition, inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a mother—a degradation. In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigns supreme.

As soon as we accept that everything a man has and does is better, all that follows is a knee-jerk reaction: if men have it, we want it too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in the front rows too. If men lead prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so we want to lead prayer too. Somewhere along the line we’ve accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God.

A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as a standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man.

In fact, in our crusade to follow men, we as women never even stopped to examine the possibility that what we have is better for us. In some cases we even gave up what was higher only to be like men.

Fifty years ago, society told us that men were superior because they left the home to work in factories. We were mothers. And yet, we were told that it was women’s liberation to abandon the raising of another human being in order to work on a machine. We accepted that working in a factory was superior to raising the foundation of society—just because a man did it.

Then, after working, we were expected to be superhuman—the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker—and have the perfect career. And while there is nothing wrong, by definition, with a woman having a career, we soon came to realize what we had sacrificed by blindly mimicking men. We watched as our children became strangers and soon recognized the privilege we’d given up.

And so only now—given the choice—women in the West are choosing to stay home to raise their children. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, only 31 percent of mothers with babies, and 18 percent of mothers with two or more children, are working full-time. And of those working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting Magazine in 2000, found that 93% of them say they would rather be at home with their kids, but are compelled to work due to ‘financial obligations.’ These ‘obligations’ are imposed on women by the gender sameness of the modern West, and removed from women by the gender distinctiveness of Islam.

It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to realize a privilege given to Muslim women 1400 years ago.

Given my privilege as a woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I’m not – and in all honesty – don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.

If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet—I choose heaven.

About the author

Yasmin Mogahed

Yasmin Mogahed

Yasmin Mogahed received her B.S. Degree in Psychology and her Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing her graduate work, she taught Islamic Studies and served as the Sisters’ Youth Director for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. She also worked as a writing instructor for Cardinal Stritch University, and a staff columnist for the Islam section of InFocus News. Currently she’s an independent media consultant and a writer for the Huffington Post, where she focuses most of her work on spiritual and personal development. Her written works, including a book chapter on the portrayal of Islam post-911, have appeared in print and online publications worldwide.


  • Women,

    The whole point is that a MUSLIM submits to what Allah revealed. ALLAH made some of the Sacred Legislation different for men and women. This is why the entire argument of the feminists is skewed–and this is why Muslims have to be aware of where the feminists want to take the argument. Well, first of all, this second wave feminism has nothing to do with Islam–it is an innovation of secularist/Marxist Jews. Secondly, these quasi-muslim feminists do not want to acknowledge what ALLAH has revealed.

    Islam is not based upon equality. Islam is based upon JUSTICE–and justice is understood as complying with the Laws of the One Who created us. Somehow, you think that Allah owes you something. Allah does not owe you anything. Allah created you from body fluids, and Allah will have your soul pulled out of your body, and your corpse will be put in a hole in the ground and the worms will feast upon your flesh. Either you submit to your Lord and the Laws of your Lord–and thereby win. Or you will persist in your state of rebellion–and thereby lose and be condemned to Hell forever. My advice is for you to do the former—immediately—so repent, for you know not when you will die.

    • …..? This annoys me a lot. You obviously didn’t read the article properly, or didn’t understand it.

      Islam is based on both equality and justice. You attain equality through justice, and without equality there is no justice. They go hand in hand. If, as you say, Muslim men and women are to “comply with the Laws of the One Who created us,”
      we rae to ensure Muslim women and men are equal. We know that they are equal before the eyes of Allah, but we also need to establish that men and women were created differently and will always be different. For example, a real man (there are a lot of weird people who undergo operations in order to change their sex legally, this is not becoming a real man) will NEVER give birth. It is humanly impossible.

      • no actually he is correct; islam is based on JUSTICE not equality

        EQUAL in mathematics means “the same”—that is against islam to say that men and women are “the same” –we are not

        JUSTICE assures us that everyone’s rights are preserved and that is the way of islam

  • As mentioned in the article;

    “A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. ”

    Southern Sunni is only saying that reaching this endless search for equality is a form of the degrading process for Women in the west and everywhere.

    I dont think we should even be using the word ‘equality’.
    Allah SWT has given men and women certain rights upon each other. We are borrowing this word from the injustices that the West has caused on certain groups.

    Thus when our brothers in Islam are using culture as a tool we women start looking for ‘equality’. When infact we are looking for the rights Allah has bestowed upon us.

    Sorry Annoymous, this is just a rant and not towards you.

  • Alhamdulillah, excellent post. I especially like the use of the term “gender sameness” instead of “gender equality”

  • Sister,

    You say that women who want to lead are simply trying to be men. You don’t for one moment consider whether they are simply interested in equality, as such, and not in order to consequently be able to do what men do.

    Moreover, your appeal to the mother hadith is strange. You boast that women should be proud that they can be mothers, and therefore have as it were heaven at their feet. But although motherhood is a privilege (in addition to a great responsibility) it’s not something that can be lorded over men. That is to misunderstand the hadith.

    Regarding leading the prayer, you seem to appeal to the fact that since women are different, in significant ways (they can be mothers, for example), that it is meaningless or wrong even to contest the fact that men lead, and that women don’t. But nothing about being able to be a mother, or any of the other differences between the sexes, is relevant to whether women should be able to lead or not. Men and women are different, of course, but whether their differences actually justifies the current prayer leading arrangement is an open question. You do not address it. Since the differences between the sexes, at least the way they’re presented by you, have no bearing on the question of leading the prayer, they are irrelevant. Similarly, men are different in all sorts of ways, but whether one has brown hair and another black is irrelevant to whether one can lead or not.

    Finally, the tone of your post is awfully supercilious. Consider for one second how Wadud and her supporters are interested in equality, not being men. Equality is a very noble ideal that should be championed by all.


    • Saif,

      Thank you for your comment.

      If you dont mind, can you please elaborate on your understanding of what equality is. I believe it is key to outline a definition of equality, before discussing the matter at hand.


    • Saif,

      I suggest you read Gender Equity by Jamal Badwai. Really a great book by great scholar and goes in more in depth and explain this issue much better.

      One of his quotes is men and women are like apples and oranges both are fruit but never be equal. They can have equal equity or worth. Read the book. much better than me or Yasmin a passionate writer than scholar.

    • Salam alaikum brother Saif,

      ” Men and women are different, of course, but whether their differences actually justifies the current prayer leading arrangement is an open question. You do not address it.” EXACTLY! THANK YOUUU! That is why the article didn’t resonate with me at all. It confuses apples with oranges.

      Your reply just made my day!!! I’m so delighted, if I wasn’t at work, I would jump up and down! haaha

      God bless you and yours!

      • i’ll leave it up to you to comtemplate the wisdom behind this because im a little busy at the moment. women aren’t supposed to be in front because they are naturally a distraction from men. during prayer you should be thinking about your Lord, not the woman in front of you who is bending over in ruku.

        • You are correct; you should be thinking about your lord. That does not, however, explain why women should not be in front. I am not suggesting that women SHOULD be allowed to, I am just saying that that does not explain your claim. At all. As far as Islam is concerned women and men are sexual beings- in Islam and the Hadith this is celebrated as a gift from Allah. It does not say that one is more sexual than the other. What you suggest in your argument is that men before women cannot provoke such emotions because women are naturally pious and CAN withhold their urges and concentrate on God. Your concentration in prayer has to do with you. Most men are not so perverted, and most women are not luscious beings at the cusp of youth. I have been to prayers (at home), where my niece has led (because she is by far the most pious of us, and can recite the best) and we have all had a spiritual experience.

        • The Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wa sallam, warned us in many ways about the temptation of women for men. One point about leading salah which clearly shows that women should not be leading men is that women are supposed to harden the voice when speaking to men while in salah, they must beautify it. Clearly, there is a contradiction. The softness of women’s voices isn’t meant to be heard by men; it is alluring.
          When you say that one is not more sexual than the other, it is a lack of insight. Generally speaking, men DO have a higher sex drive. Why do you think one of the reasons the Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said, “I have not left behind any fitnah more harmful to men than women.” We should be respectful to men as they must be to us; each sex must make it easier upon the other by dressing and acting modestly, the ways Allah respectively commanded us to conduct ourselves. Wa Allahu ‘Alim.

    • Saif,

      Equality. Yes. That is precisely the point. They want equality with men. The point of the article is how that “equality” is being defined. When men become the standard–rather than God–“equality to men” becomes defined as “identical to men”. But when God defines the standard of goodness and honor and dignity–and reward–we as women don’t need to do everything men do in order to be honored. Motherhood was one good example of this.

    • Sorry, your arguments don’t seem to be relevant at all. The Qur’an mentions about some people who argue about insignificant and finer points in a matter, rather than make things simple by just following a divine order or Prophetic tradition. The original article is an excellent presentation on the topic. Okay, there will always be a difference of opinion in most things, but that’s where it’s so helpful, that the Almighty is kind and rewards us for sincerity of intention. ‘Submission’ to His will is key.
      Addressing your arguments, I don’t think the writer of the article wants women to lord over men for being mothers. To me, she sounded like she wants them to realize and appreciate the honour bestowed on them by God, and understand the importance of their divinely designated role.
      You also seem to have missed the fact that the most honoured women in Islam never led prayers. Among women, they have certainly been given the methodology of being imaam. And Muslim women, apart from imaamat, were leaders still; cabinet ministers, teachers, healers, scholars, even fighting in wars at times. It’s only that their most important role is creating a good home environment and rearing good future citizens, just like the main role for men is being the bread-winner. All this is really good for a harmonious environment in the home, without putting stress on any ONE individual. Added to that, they can choose whatever they want to do.
      I myself am a University graduate who chose to stay at home to rear 5 beautiful (masha Allah walhamduliiah) children, and believe me, it is not easy. I respect, but pity the working mothers (sorry, but I’m not trying to be patronising) for their difficult life.

    • @Saif & AfricanMuslimah: WORD!

      @Yasmin: why can a womyn not be both a leader and a mother? Both rational and compassionate? You are creating false dichotomies and your reference of the “gender distinctiveness” of Islam is arbitrary. Please elaborate on this “gender distinctiveness.” Motherhood is, yes, inherently female. Fatherhood is, yes, inherently male. Is leadership inherently either? Is leading prayers inherently either? Is rational inherently either? I can go on and on.

      There is NOTHING in the Qur’an that bars womyn from leadership.

      There is NOTHING in the Qur’an that bars womyn from having both a career as well as taking up the responsbility of motherhood. Take Khadijah for example. She was both a businesswomyn AND a mother! And she was the first wife of the Prophet! Now how does her narrative fit into your created dichotomies assumedly based on an Islamic premise?

      There is NOTHING that bars womyn from leading prayers. If men and womyn are spiritually equal, why can a womyn not lead a spiritual endeavor? It’s not about establishing hierarchies or asserting dominance. It’s about reinforcing the fact that, in Islam, men and womyn are SPIRITUALLY EQUAL.

      Maybe–just maybe–if you actually read Amina Wadud’s book, you would see that it is not about becoming or “mimicking” men. It’s contesting the patriarchy that has both historically and presently permeated our mosques; Islamic scholarship and discourse is dominated by men. Interpretation of the texts and the formation of fiqh is dominated by men. Womyn and their experiences are left out of the equation.

      THAT is true degradation.

      • i sent this to AfricanMuslimah and I think I should send it to you too.

        i’ll leave it up to you to comtemplate the wisdom behind this because im a little busy at the moment. women aren’t supposed to be in front because they are naturally a distraction for men. during prayer you should be thinking about your Lord, not the woman in front of you who is bending over in ruku.

        • Again with this “naturally distracting” business. Dear Anonymous Replier, did you even bother to read IslamicFeminist’s reply? I think she had much to say of significance.

          So much of our attachments to Islam are assumptive. There is a deep bred underlying misogyny in Islamic interpretation that has accumulated over the ages. This misogyny did not exist at the start of the Caliphate, however. Clearly, Islam as a cultural accumulation needs to be rethought. There are a number of myths (the dominance of men over women in the public sphere because of these “natural” tendencies) that surround Islam which are simply not part of the original message. When the concrete evidence is not found in the divine text then “naturalities” are used to explain their existence. While women in Muslim societies are tentatively respected for their positions they are, at every corner, subordinated by men. Tell me, for creatures who undergo the pains of motherhood, how is it fair that their journey should further be toughened? Aside from the two arguments, that it was not done, then, and that women are apparently too tempting, why should women not lead?

          Let me refute both respective arguments:

          Islam is an ageless religion precisely because it is founded on the Quran and the Hadith. These two sources create a blueprint for the lives of Muslims, but do not dictate every second of that life. As such, Islam can be super-imposed on any age, and any society. This means that the cultural norms of 14th century society need to be eliminated from the discourse to ensure its flexibility. It is impossible to say that the Caliphate was stripped of all cultural discourses about men and women, and ONLY followed Islam. Islam is a way of life, yes, but it is not all-invasive. There are cultural components in every Islamic society, currently, which means that there must have been cultural components to the Islamic Society of old. As the religion spread, so must have certain cultural components. Therefore, an issue as vaguely addressed as women praying before men is worth the debate. Particularly if the reason against it is not because it is explicitly stated against (which would make it unIslamic) but because it “was not done, then”. Perhaps it was not done because of cultural taboos; because in THAT society it was culturally not appropriate and IMMODEST (which the text is against). And, perhaps, not. But we don’t know, and it is worth the debate. We cannot condone women for conceiving of the possibility.

          If, perversely, the reason is because “naturally” women are distracting to men, then we need to re-address the bigotry that clearly exists within our religious discourses. You cannot subordinate half your population under allegations against them over which they have no control, but you do. If it is men who are so easily distracted, should it not mean that men should not be able to lead or follow rational occupations, since “naturally” they might be distracted at any given moment? Why is that aspect of the argument inconceivable and yet the reverse is? There are so many fallacies in that line of thought as for it to be simply offensive. Men are not so pathetic, and neither are women dangerous creatures. Both are significant portions of society, as to have a prominent role in the public sphere (which makes decisions that will ultimately impact them both). Although you are not asking to subordinate women in all spheres, but only in prayer patterns, that line of thought often leads to a whole series of denouncements of women. That reasoning can apply to women’s distractive qualities on the streets, driving cars, speaking, teaching, leading in any place….etc, etc. Suddenly covering their body and hair is not enough and they need to be further shrouded, so as not to distract, until eventually they are forbidden from the public sphere altogether. There is no clear cut end to that reasoning, it just rolls into chaos. And we know for a fact that women did lead in many of those sectors (where they might have been equally distracting) during the time of the Caliphate.

    • As salaamu alaikum brothers and sisters,

      This is the exact problem of reading anything, everyone has their own interpretation! Alhamdulillah, we are all muslims and be aware that Shaitan loves us to disagree and make a big fuss over SMALL issues. Do you want to play into the hands of Shaitan? Of course not!

      If you haven’t the background information about why this article was written, allow me to enlighten you. I believe it was somewhere in the midwest, a woman who had made hajj decided to create a “women’s masjid” where the women call the athan and lead the salat in congregation, we are not speaking about women praying alone because this is permissible according to SOME scholars…anyway in 2005 these sisters and some men challenged this way and have managed to open their own masajeds. Innovations are not good in Islam. Islam does not permit women to be Imams and if you have a problem with, wait until the day of Judgement to ask your Creator.

      • Women imams are permissible according to SOME scholars, there have been women imams and women mosques in China for generations.

      • I agree with you on the first part, so peace, brother! 🙂

        However, in reply to the second part of your msg I would like to quote the great scholar Mohammad Asad: “For a time, the great thinkers of Islam tried to keep its true ideology aloft and pure; but those who came after them were of lesser stature and lapsed after two or three centuries into a morass of intellectual convention, ceased to think for themselves and became content to repeat the dead phrases of earlier generations – forgetting that every human opinion is time-bound and fallible and therefore in need of eternal renewal.”

      • Where does it say that Islam does not permit women imams? The Quran is the ultimate and only authority of Allah’s commands, and nowhere does the Quran prohibit women imams!

    • equality was what satan wanted when he found that Allah had created adam with attributes not available to satan

      her reference to the fact that women can be mothers and men cannot and that mothers were lauded 3 times by the holy prophet (saws) and men only once in the hadeeth is VERY relevant

      similarly men can be imams and women cannot –i don’t know how that is difficult to understand

  • Dear AfricanMuslimah and Saif,

    You write:
    “But nothing about being able to be a mother, or any of the other differences between the sexes, is relevant to whether women should be able to lead or not. Men and women are different, of course, but whether their differences actually justifies the current prayer leading arrangement is an open question. You do not address it. ”

    I think you may have missed the focus of the article. The article was not written to justify why women can’t lead prayer. For 1400 years the scholars agreed that they cannot. If one wants to argue that point, that is a whole different discussion done between scholars. The point of the article was to say: Who cares? Why would I want to lead prayer anyway, just because men do? If I, as a woman, am not any higher in God’s eyes by leading prayer, why would I care? If God had said that I, as a woman, will become closer to Him by leading prayer, than I would be the first one to fight for this. But if that were the case, then some of the greatest women in history (Khadijah, Aisha, etc) would have done it. The mention of motherhood was to show that God DID say that this special previlage DOES give me the opportunity to become closer to Him. And yet, we often degrade it. The irony I’m showing here is that we degrade what God has clearly said WILL elevate us, and chase after what God has NOT said will elevate us.

  • Salamo Alaykum Sr Yasmin,

    You write: “The point of the article was to say: Who cares? Why would I want to lead prayer anyway, just because men do? If I, as a woman, am not any higher in God’s eyes by leading prayer, why would I care? ”

    The problem here is that you’re saying that these women want to lead prayer, just because they want to be like men. But thats not necessarily the case. What if they have the same reasons for wanting to lead as men do? What if they want to lead because they feel that they have something to contribute and not just because they want to do everything men do? What if they are better leaders than the current male leaders?

    You also wrote: “If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet—I choose heaven.”

    1. Why is it that stoic justice is only for men, and compassion is only for females? Does that mean that I as a male have to be overly rational and be in complete control of my emotions? Does that mean that women have to be overly compassionate and forgo rationality? I don’t condemn any women for choosing compassion, but I do object to a call for women to be more compassionate because its more feminine.

    2. Why would you have to choose between worldly leadership and heaven at your feet? Whose to say that a woman can’t be a good mother and an amazing leader. I completely understand when women want to forgo worldly leadership for heaven at their feet, but at the same time, women shouldn’t be discouraged from becoming leaders. And I don’t think they want to be leaders because they want to copy men; I think they want to be leaders because of the same reasons some men want to be leaders: they think they have something to offer.

    Also, I mean no disrespect by my comments. I just think this is a conversation Muslims should be having.

    • what are you even talking about here?

      the point is if women try to lead prayer (aside from the fact that the prayer is then invalid) they are IN FACT MIMICKING MEN no matter what excuse they give and how they try to rationalize it

    • I agree completely with your comment. I want to see women in the pulpit because I want to hear what they have to say. The jummah khutba is often the only access to religious teaching that people have during the week, and we shouldn’t be limited to the male perspective.

  • I am a former student, and a supporter, of Dr. Wadud’s right to lead prayer if others will pray behind her, but I resonate with the author’s question: Why does it matter?

    The worldly life is just a play, an ephemeral nothing in the vastness of eternity, so why is worldly authority of any concern to a true believer?

    No one has really answered her question.

    What does it matter if I think I am a better leader when God elects those whom He pleases to leadership? What does it matter if I desire equality when only God knows the true value of things?

    God has commanded us to be a community, to support one another, enjoin correct behavior and condemn the wrong. While children are still made orphans, women are raped as acts of war and people still impressed into slavery–it’s just strange to be arguing over symbolic acts.

  • A few years back I listened to an amazing talk from Shaikh Ahmed Hanif on God’s Jamal and Jalal. By far, one the greatest talks on the subject and the speaker did an excellent job in tying in these two attributes into the topic if this article.

  • Assalamu alaykum Br. Hisham,

    Hope you are doing well. You wrote:

    “And I don’t think they want to be leaders because they want to copy men; I think they want to be leaders because of the same reasons some men want to be leaders: they think they have something to offer.”

    So let’s clarify something here. When we use the word “leader” at least in this blog, we are referring to Muslim women leading salah. Islam doesn’t condemn women from being active in the community. I believe it was the wife of Umar who, at one time, was a prison guard during a war. Someone can correct me if I am wrong.

    Now at the end of your post, you said, “I think they want to be leaders because of the same reasons some men want to be leaders.” There is no such thing as someone wanting to be a leader. The Prophet (S) said: “Do not give leadership to those who seek it.” Leadership is a blessing but also a burden. No one in the right mind would seek it. Not even the Prophets wanted it. The reason why they accepted the leadership was because they had no choice. Being a leader is not an easy thing. People don’t become leaders because they want to, because they think they have “something to offer.” They are leaders because they have to, because there is no one else who can do it. That is why they chose Abu Bakr (R). They thought he would be the best successor of the Prophet (S).

    Now that that is clarified, lets get to the crux of the issue, which is the idea of women leading salah. I understand what you mean when you say women think they have something better to offer. However, its not about having something better to offer. It is about pleasing Allah. We are here in this world to serve and please Allah in the manner in which he prescribed in the Quran and the Sunnah. In other words, it is NOT about having something to offer. It is NOT about attaining equal rights. It is about PLEASING ALLAH, and how do we please Allah? By doing that which he has prescribed in the Quran and the Sunnah.

    The fact that there are people who believe that women should lead friday salah is the clear a sign that they have put rationality over divine revelation, when it should be divine revelation over rationale. The religion of Islam has many things that make sense, for example, the prohibition of alcohol. You can find encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about why alcohol is bad. However, there are somethings which doesn’t make sense, for example, circling a big cube (not trying to be offensive but pointing out the fact), or praying in the fashion we pray. But this is what faith is.

    William Chittick and Sachiko Murata, in their book, “The Vision of Islam,” talks about the issue of faith. They states, “Imaan is a confidence in a truth that is really true, not a supposed truth.” What this mean is that you can bring all the evidence and logical proofs in the world, it still won’t waive the fact that this religion is the truth. It still won’t stop me from following what God had revealed in the religion.

    The point of this whole article is to say this: if you want to please Allah, then being the imam of a jumaah salah isn’t the way to go. Allah has already given each gender a cheat sheet as to how to get into jannah. Both of these cheat sheets, however, are differet. Regardless, each one has the formula for success in the next life which is not only Jannah, but more importantly, pleasing Allah.

    I hope inshallah this helps. By the way, women can lead salah in an all women gathering. If there are little boys as well, its fine. I was a preschooler when my teacher who was a female lead the salah. But if there are older males present, then they cannot.

    Not trying to hate on anyone. Just laying out the facts.

    Assalamu alaykum

  • i think some previous posters have pointed out that a woman who wants to work, be a leader, etc. is not necessarily doing it out of a desire to compete with men, there could be a hundred reasons why she wants to, none of which have to do with men. You have to be very careful in this area, because if you start saying ‘women are better suited to taking care of the home, raising the kids’, then its going to just result in the same situation as back home, or as in america in the 50s. Women in the workplace are not taken seriously, treated improperly, and their ability is not recognized? Why? because they are women, ‘better suited for homemaking’. In Muslim countries, with the traditional role for each gender, this is exactly the case, a woman would not be taken seriously in the work force.

    I am sure many sisters have hopes and dreams of doing breakthrough research, being a great doctor, providing legal services for the poor, and these desires are all absent of competing with men. We should be striving to help them achieve those desires and assisting in home duties, rather than consigning women to the house without a choice.

    To the author, I respect your decision to stay at home, but just because you chose to make that decision for your life doesn’t mean that another woman choosing not to a wrong decision, or one that is fueled by warped intentions.

  • In addition, the economic truth is that many women WILL have to work full time in America. In real money, wages have not risen in the last twenty years, and America’s economic future is uncertain. families have compensated for rising costs and stagnant salaries by switching to duel income homes. In this situation, where a woman HAS to work, filling the community with dialogue about how she is better suited to being at home only invites gender discrimination in the work force.

    Also, even if a woman is better suited to homemaking, how is a man better suited to working?

    We fail to realize we live in a post industrial society, where a man’s strength is almost completely irrelevant. Most of us will work on a computer, typing 8 hours a day in excel for the majority of our working life. There is nothing ‘manly’ about this, and either gender can do remarkably well in this regard.

    I think its time for American Muslims to start having a conversation at reexaming gender roles, as living in a weakening America, and a post industrial economic society, along as my point in the previous post (the dangers that arise from assigning a gender role) are all important things we have to consider.

    • Umstah,
      I definitrly can’t suggest any specific role for anyone. But isn’t it obvious that the primary and extremely important role for women is what I mentioned? Scientifically, it has been proven that men and women have certain physical and physiological differences that suit their primary role. Women are generally , I repeat, generally, better at multi-tasking. Also they can focus on fine emotional and relationship issues that help them deal with family matters with more ease than men. I could go on and on. But the key points are what several people have pointed out; pleasing Allah SWT by following His divine will without questioning, and that honoured Muslim women did not lead the prayer ahead of grown men

  • As-Salaamu Alaikum,

    Yasmin, you have written an excellent article, written with knowledge, compassion and understanding. The arguments raised against your logic are futile. It seems some people are missing the point and do not get the simplicity and logic of your statements. And that’s ok. Every one is entitled to their opinion. G-d bless you.

  • I don’t think anyone here disagrees with you guys about whether or not women can work. If a woman wants to work, thats fine. In fact, in the economic conditions we are facing, that might actually be needed.

    As a brother, I would much rather stay at home and chill : ) However, we can’t expect our parents to be providing for us forever.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion as well, as brother Bilal mentioned above. This is after all a dialogue and not supposed to be a “I’m right, you’re wrong, you’re going to hell.”

    However, there are two point that I would like to mention. This is specifically for those people who still feel that it is alright for women to lead a Jummah salah. The question I want to ask is:

    Will you leading your prayers bring you closer to Allah?

    If you say yes, then please provide us proof for that within the Quran and the Sunnah. If you cannot cite proof, then I would recommend you look into what will please Allah as a woman Same with men.

    The second point I wanted to make was with regards to the effect that this kind of action may have on the community. If a women is leading a salah when men are present, whose to say that women can’t pray along side of men? Now some of us might be thinking, “Well, thats the point. We are trying to create equality.” Well, one of the things we must realize is that males and females praying salah next to each other will create unnecessary indirect interaction. Just the mere fact that their shoulders might be touching each other can cause problems in marriages. A wife may say “Why are you praying next to her.” A husband may say, “Well why are you praying next to that guy?” It becomes more problematic if the husband and wife go to the masajid as individuals, meaning not with each other, and a husband is praying salah next to a female he is not allowed to be with or a wife praying next to male she is not supposed to be with, think about what kind of problems that this will pose for their relationship. Think about what it can lead to. And these are married couples. Imagine hormone crazy kids who are just going through puberty and they pray next to a girl they like. Don’t you think this will promote premarital sex even more?

    We need to examine the effects that such actions can have on communities. I know that in my high school which I graduated from a two years ago, there are Muslim kids making out with each other. I know in my college of guys and girls engaging in inappropriate activities, or trying to get other Muslims engaged in inappropriate and immature behavior. Is this the example we are setting for the Muslims?

    Let’s imagine the woman giving the khutbah is beautiful mashallah, and the crowd she is giving her khutba to is a crowd full of beautiful men, some of which are married. Don’t you think it is a problem that married men are looking at someone other than their wife? Don’t you think it is a problem that a single female is looking at a bunch of guys. Doesn’t Allah (SWT) tell the believing men and women to lower their gaze?

    Islam came to create peace and harmony, not chaos. This act of a women leading salah in the presence of men, especially in friday khutbas will create more problems then solve.

    • Actually, this makes a lot of sense. I see where you’re coming from. For practical reasons it does not make sense for a woman to lead jumma or lead men in prayer.

      Just a very minor disagreement: “Let’s imagine the woman giving the khutbah is beautiful mashallah, and the crowd she is giving her khutba to is a crowd full of beautiful men, some of which are married.” I think we have to be careful with this point b/c people can ban female speakers or lecturers on this basis. I think we all agree that sisters can lecture or give talks at conferences and such.

  • why u people r arguing about there silly matters.and why u r comparing with west,today’s islam n prophet ‘s time.all have time depended facts n reasons to justify their rites n wrongs.all have regional cultural evolutional factors .then what s in discussing about one lady going for work or one leading prayer ?and arabian culture s not what we should adapt .islam is the way to eternal bliss n it can only b attained by people who think .it is not a way to imitate.it s a path of freedom .it does not has a dress code or uniform.it s said in Quran ‘i created u all differently n made u different groups n casts n culture’.let us think about our purpose of creation.for that we should kill destroy our inner ‘self’.

  • yeh, this article is good in that it checks the more outlandish views and actions of “feminism,” but does a terrible job of addressing why feminism came about and the reasons for women to challenge male patriarchy. Men Use the identity of a… “man” to confine and suppress women where upon women are turned into a commodity, objectified and well womanized. In short, ignorance breeds ignorance. The root of the problem is not with the feminist but with sexist ideologies prevalent in the Muslim community separate from Islamic ideologies.

  • sr. yasmin — You’ve obviously never been late on a bill or struggling to pay off a ridiculous mortgage bill. then you would know why women go to work and sacrifice time that they would otherwise spend with their kids. I don’t work because I want to be like a man or because I want to spend time away from my children. I work to keep food in my kids’ bellies and roof over their head. this is the real world–not the ideal one.

  • Assalaamu Alaikum 🙂

    Yasmin, I love this article–I think you said exactly what needs to be said. Islam is the ultimate answer for all of humankind’s ills.

    The article was highlighting the real issue of why feminism didn’t work–feminists got the definition wrong. I would much rather be defined by Allah subhanahu wa t’ala than any human being.

    Thanks Yasmin

  • assalamu allaikun to all my dear brothers and sisters ,most all the time ,those that comment gradually move out of what as been posted ,i mean the article. and in other to find what is the next step in solving the problem. it raise to you win, i win. but really my dear sisters and brothers equality can be something impossible in our life even (astagfirulahi) let put islam aside,and talk less of what is concerned about deen. if anyone like to contest ,no one can stop you but dont use your low thinking and high pessure to judge yourself that you have arrived at a good point .how and why human disturb him/her self with what i does not really important,but i want us to remember something ,death .what will you say.when you are ask of question that you can t even try to lie .and we dont know when and where to die.i heard something about female leading prayer and lady working .i think no problem if any lady work due to her own reason and wish .moreover we need our sister in some important field like teaching .doctors and some other important aspect that help the ummah from fitna.and concerning the lady praying .firstly i don t even blame those lady that are laeding mixed pray because they are claiming to be hidden under Islam without any reason for them to do so.is this new converter know much more about islam or those that are with our prophet (saw) and generation after them.if there is no any other thing beside there wish ,how many debate they have had with muslim scholars and they stop not .the famous that people know was about aminah wadud jumat prayer ,even before that time she had already prayed at cape town in south africa beofore this even t came to place in public.
    even what will you tell your Almighty ALLAh upon this kind behavior.what i know is that even if you bring to them all the proof in the Quran and hadith they will not agree with you ,only if ALLAh want ,i pray for all the muslim and those female mixed prayer leader to change before death arrive .what will be your excuse .you can be angry and reget what a man told you,but what about those angel, that do what they are command to do .even remember and take to account the grave.
    sallam .

  • As salamu alaykum,

    Excellent article for me, and I keep this phrase you wrote: “God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to God—not in relation to men.”

  • SubhanAllah!
    What a great article MashAllah! Every so called feminists read to read this….I’m sending the link to my ‘feminist’ friend (:

  • Sis. Yasmin, an absolutely commendable piece of article, bravo to your intellectuality. I was pretty confused on this issue, your article is an article to reflect on , thank you very much for your effort

  • Salaam,

    I agree with some of the postings in that the issue of woman leading the prayer and wanting to be like men is a bit conflated. Addressing the issue and halal-ness of women leading the prayer deserves its own platform for discussion. Also, it is very difficult to talk about what women want to do in their lives, without discussing what men have relegated them to be able to do. I don’t mean to say that this is inherent to Islam but that many of the cultures that appropriated Islam and categorized what is authentic/Islamic, has left a very male hand print. And this is by no means ‘feminist’ talk. If we look at the majority of our scholars, past and present who get any of the limelight, who give fatawa, and represent Islam, they are men. Is it to say there are no women scholars, or that we don’t shine the light on them, or that they haven’t been given agency to be anyone else besides mothers. (One has to wonder what the non-married or mother-less women are to do with their lives.)
    Lastly, I would say that I don’t believe that women are looking for equality, in being exactly like men in look, character, actions, etc, but rather that the desire is for equity, to be treated with fairness and free from biasness for whatever form. We also have to look at society and the ways in which roles are shifting and how we need to not get choked by the strictness of surface meanings, but find room for us to maneuver within the mercies of our Lord.

  • @islamic feminist, Khadijah (RA) was business woman before her marriage, there is not a single hadith to prove she did business after her marriage and when she embraced Islam, there are plenty of other women around Prophet sallahu alaihiwassalam who were highly knowledgeable they never were Imam.

    I dont understand why do we drag Khadijah in every feminist related topic. Why do we argue like Irshad Manji?

    • There is nothing in the Quran that says that a woman cannot do business or hold a job after marriage! Neither is there anything that prohibits women from being imams or religious scholars. Why do we look for guidance from the medieval scholars when the Quran is there to provide us with complete knowledge about Islam. I quote here from the Quran: “And we have revealed the Book to you which has a clear explanation of everything, and a guidance, mercy and good news for those who submit.” 16:89

  • Assalamu’alaikum Sr. Yasmin,
    Truly an excellent, thought-provoking article, MashaAllah!!!
    Allah SWT praises Ibraheem AS in the Quran by Stating that he ‘submitted’ to Him. That gesture itself is the cause of Ibraheem AS as being the ‘Friend of Allah.’ True Muslims of both gender are supposed to ‘submit’ to Allah SWT for success.
    May Allah SWT remove our shackles that are preventing us from truly ‘submitting’ to Him.

  • Assalamu Alaikum!

    I find this article religiously rational.The basic idea is that Islam IS the road map.Prophet Muhammad sal Allahu alayhe wa’ sallum is the teacher.Allah SWT is the Lord-the Judge.He is the one who is the most Merciful,Just and knows all.SO with Him (who can never mistake)defining the good and the bad,the right and the wrong in the Quran and who made the life of the prophet sal Allahu alayhe wa’ sallum a practical example to follow….how can people fall for their own fallible brains’ assumptions and interpretations.

    Allah is the absolute truth.He is the criteria.

  • assalamu aliekum;
    lovely post. very well written and phenomenal ideas. jazaki Allah kheir.
    also, i loved reading everyone’s commentary; broadenign my horizons and whatnot ^____^

  • The argument that women want to work to be like men is the biggest flaw of the argument. Just because women have the special ability to have children, doesn’t mean that is all they can do. Seeking employment out of the home isn’t venturing into the man’s world and abandoning the feminine. Women have brains, intellect, passion and ideas that can help change the world and contribute to the future. We need an outlet just like men to be able to do that. It doesn’t make any sense to say that women are degrading their role by not wanting to be only a stay-at-home mother. I want a job not because I want to be a man and make money, but because I have a passion and want to make a difference. I cannot do that without an education and a career, period. You can see that countries where there is little female employment have less human rights, greater poverty, more oppressive governments, weak social structures and more disease. Women are the foundation of society!

    Also men can be nurturing and responsible which is why they are partners in raising children and some are also stay-at-home dads.

    Leading prayers is a whole different issue, but since women cannot pray in front of men, that’s where it becomes problematic. However, the fact that people don’t want women to lead shows a problem because they don’t want to accept spiritual knowledge and authority from one. It may seem pointless since the imam isn’t more superior than the average Muslim, however if you think about it, the only difference God sees in us is in our faith so because an imam has more knowledge, he would be judged differently and seen as better. Encouraging female scholarship would be immensely beneficial in the global Muslim community’s view and treatment of women earning them respect and admiration. Because even though women are supposed to treated well in Islam, in practice, people don’t seem to have enough reason to do so, because they’re concerned with controlling them and putting them in their place.

    That is why I feel your argument that women are trying to reach equality with men instead of following the standards God set out thus does make sense because you have a your own idea of what standards God put out for each gender.

    Working isn’t a man’s domain, but if a woman doesn’t want to, that’s her right. She shouldn’t have to. It’s all about choice. We shouldn’t ignore the gifts God gave everyone and assume no one really cares and it’s not a big deal. God wouldn’t encourage men and women to be educated, if he didn’t want them to both strive and better themselves.

  • Hi sis well said! People can bang on about equality this and equility that but all I can say is men are men and women are women and they’ll never be equal that’s just the way it is so DEAL With it! My god what is this society becoming into! What next ladies wanting a gender change to actually be a man tut tut!

  • Very well put. It is a shame that both Muslim women and men have lost sight of this, and it seems now that Muslim men have seemingly forgotten to own up to the responsibilites they have towards women. While deriding Muslim women for striving to become westernized they have forgotten that it us incumbent upon them to hold themselves to the same standards yo which they seemingly judge women.
    We need to reeducate both men and women on the responsibilities islam has placed on each gender, but men first because it is their inability to practice what they preach which has caused the women to fight for their rights.

  • Salaam,
    Sometimes, the matters we argue over in this Ummah amaze me.I am a striving muslimah,insha Allah and i try to grow my knowledge of Islam by the day.
    I cant help but notice the ‘hidden’ oppressed tone of the comment of some muslimahs here. Could it be true what the West say about Muslim women being oppressed?
    Please and please…the Qur’an is VERY clear in saying that it may be that a duty prescribed for us is against our will…but Allah is the All-Knowing. Why do we want to put our personal desires over the law of Allah? Astagfirullah!
    The Qur’an also says that it is unbefitting for some one who says he believes, who claims to have Iman in his heart to contest the teachings of Islam. Why do we want to degrade ourselves to hypocrites,my ummah?
    I really commend this article. Lets endeavour to look at it from a more compassionate point of view. The writer isnt generalizing! If you work to fend for your family, Subhan Allah, Allah sees your heart. if not, lets rethink the sincerity in our intentions…Allah knows best.
    Lets stop trying to twist and bend Islam to favour our desires. Islam is TIMELESS! The mere existence of this way of life surpasses our creation. Brothers and Sisters, please fear Allah! JazakAllah-l-khayran! Salaam!

    • This is frustrating. We are all attempting to make arguments, and yet none of us are defining our terms.

      What you, as well as the author and many others, are assuming in your argument, without clearly stating, is that any one who contests the vague areas of islam is clearly “contest[ing] the teachings of Islam”. This cannot be right. There would be NO point to scholars of religion if there weren’t minor issues that needed debating. There would not be so many schools of thought if certain (again, minor) things were not debatable. If scholars, mostly of Arabic and Persian traditions have mostly agreed upon women not leading prayers, and scholars in India and China have supported the contrary, nothing is to say that these scholars were not equally learned. After much study, these two set of scholars came up with different conclusions. Both are to be respected, I think, because they used the same sources for their preliminary research, and as such neither could be accused of contesting the teachings of Islam. This is part of the process of a Timeless Islam; there has to be room for adjustment to those aspects which do not hinder the clear teachings of Islam. It does not say in the Quran or the Hadith that the punishment for stealing should be paused under any circumstance, and yet the Caliph Omar made this decision during a time of scarcity. He did not contest with the teachings of Islam but stretched it to envelope a hitherto untested circumstance.
      We have now reached an age in our ummah’s history that women are becoming increasingly suppressed. Consider, for example, Bibi Khadijja. Can you picture an entrepreneurial woman who employs her husband and is his senior in age living in Saudi, today? Things have regressed. Women do not engage in debates at the mosque over community issues as they did in the Prophet’s day. Women are in the majority of mosques confined to smaller rooms upstairs. The high arching ceilings; the pillars and decor which meets male worshippers are rarely available for female worshippers. The male portion of the mosque, generally, is considered the “main” part of the mosque, so how can the author say that only in the west are men the “standard”. I agree, that I am assuming in my argument that architectural decor heightens the experience of prayer, and it might be refuted that it does not, however the reality stands that however subtle there is a “”hidden”” tone of oppression in muslim society today. I am not contesting Islam when I say this, but the dominant discourse in Islamic society these days. No person on this forum who has disagreed with the view points of the author has tried to refute Islam by suggesting that western ideology is superior. Rather, the Muslim voices who call of equality, or equity, too, cite Islamic sources. They, too are Muslims, and as such completely submissive to the dictation of Allah, the Almighty Creator. Do not assume that women and men who see something integrally wrong with our treatment of women must be anti-Islamic. If I thought Islam was oppressing Muslim women, I would turn my back and never come back. I have full faith that Islam is NOT oppressive. However, neither does it sensationalize the vulnerability of women. Do not question the sincerity of my intentions, because I have been reduced to heart-wrenching tears many times by the societies I have lived in, torn between raging against anti-Islamatism in the West, while begging for a place in the Mosque where I might FEEL as if I am equal with my brothers during our communal experience of Salah. And I am sorry to say that I have not felt equal; and it is not Islam that has made me feel so snubbed.

  • Assalamualaikum sister,
    To say that women work and pursue life goals unrelated to parenting as a result of western feminism wouldn’t hold ground if you consider the fact that women in agricultural societies have worked in fields along with men, long before western ideas about women’s rights became popular. The success of any society is a shared one, not an individual one, even though our efforts and our talents are our own. Women have participated in all aspects of human life for time immemorial. But motherhood, which is also an important role women play, is a common thread that runs through the life of most women, irrespective of where we live, and the life culture that we are used to. It takes a lot of patience and selflessness to be a good and effective mother, which is what has been highlighted with the prophet’s high regard for mothers… Nowadays, fathers also partake in raising kids, much more than in the past, and the selfless compassion that is considered feminine in your article is exhibited by them too. For that matter, if you look at the life of the prophet, we see examples of stoic justice as well as feminine compassion. “We are what we do” is how I would explain these observations.
    Leadership is also a role that women have taken on and Quran hasn’t spoken against it.
    The cultural aspects of arab life has to be considered when we look at the life of the prophet, otherwise, all the manifestations of islam that we see in non-arab regions of the islamic world could be considerd un-islamic by some. What has to be understood from a reading of the Quran as well as the hadith, is the Islamic world view, which is exactly the case that Amina Wadud makes in some of her work. I understand her premise and I don’t consider her actions a pursuit of gender equality, but a pursuit of quranic truth and justice.
    I agree that we end up searching for standards in the dominant and successful strata of the society, in the absence of a proper understanding of Allah and our own life in relation to Him. It leads us astray. But, in His unending mercy and forgiveness, Islam does give us a lot of room and freedom to use our creative spirits and make life a movement rather than a constant in all our endeavors.Muslims should also bring that mercy and forgiveness when we judge others, at the same time, we need to be cautious in our own thoughts and our own actions.

  • More apologetics. *sigh* I wish the author had actually read Wadud’s work, it’s clear she hasn’t if she is reducing Wadud’s action to wanting to be like men. Even if you disagree with their desire, you should delve deeper into the issues behind it. As someone said, feminism didn’t arise for no reason, it arose in response to terrible circumstances for women….circumstances you should be thankful to have avoided. But like all movements, those who benefit most at some point turn their back on it in arrogance, thinking these rights were given to them long before. Sister Yasmin, according to many, many medieval fiqh opinions, you would be in seclusion right now and unable to go out except for very rare reasons that your husband approves of. Other opinions said that you should tolerate your husbands abuse and injustice because you are “ka-mamluka” like a slave (Ibn al-Jawzi). I think you should delve into the underside of the 1400 years of Islamic thought you have evoked. It is not all as rosy as you think. Taking an honest look at how some of the scholars have ruled concerning women in the past up until now would do us wonders.

    • You mention wives not being able to go out except when a husband approves of it…we, as Muslims, should still be doing that. Women are to listen to their husbands. They were made leaders of the family for a reason. Look at the concept of leadership. It is given to someone because any organization/group, especially a family, will fall apart without a leader. Of course, men & women should try to cooperate & negociate, but sometimes their opinions will be different. The husband has the authority here & women are rewarded for deferring to that, even if they disagree. Clearly husbands are trying to make decisions for the betterment of the family (if not, then therein lies a greater problem) so whatever decision is made would likely not be bad for the family. My point is women shouldn’t be ashamed or unwilling to do what their husbands say. There are ahadith which outline the merit of women listening & pleasing their husbands.

      • @Mary: We should still be doing that? What? We should just submit to whatever Mr. Husband says, even it means not allowing us to visit mom or step outside to buy groceries? We should do what Mr. Husband says even if we have clear reason for a better decision, or even if he has no sound reason to limit us? No thanks. I’m better off being treated dignified and as an adult. The patriarchal interpretation of MANY traditional scholars needs to be questioned, and I’m glad to see that some people are finally questioning it. It’s a flaw in logic that multiplied prorogation equates justice or correctness, even if that multiplied prorogation be from scholars.

  • An eye opener. Simply d best I’ve read on the subject. Will save it for my daughter(she’s jst four) and sons for that matter.
    Jazakillah khairan kathiran.

  • Masha’Allah, I agree with sister Hauwa, one of the best I have read on this topic. I too will save it, to read it over many times and show it too whoever would want to read it, ins sha Allah. Young girls and women (especially in the west)are often left confused about this topic. It seems that growing up in the west it means that your either feminist or self hating. This piece puts to words (very eloquently I must say)how many young Muslim women feel about the prevalent radical feminist ideology.

  • This is a truly magnificent article, sister. May Allah give you great reward for trying to clarify the many misconceived notions appearing within today’s society that Islam degrades and undervalues the woman, when in reality, it is Islam that has been one of the very first- and strongest- women’s rights movements that ever occurred on the face of the Earth.

  • Well according to my belief as a Muslim . The word is submission and abide to commands of Allah what is forbidden is forbidden as it could be related to any thing a woman can lead women’s in prayer not man simple as that as for equality or justice what Allah has prescribed for woman or man would only bring good can we challenge Allah no we can’t do just submit ur will and submission is called Islam .

  • While I agree with a lot of this article in theory – the ‘financial obligations’ are not imposed by women aiming to imitate men…. I returned to work fulltime when my son was a baby because I was the only one in my family who could find employment. Without my income, my children and many of their cousins would have gone hungry and without schooling.

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