Simonetta Calderini

Aug 20, 2021

Women as Imams

Classical Islamic Sources and Modern Debates on Leading Prayer

Bloomsbury Publishing 2020

What does Islam say about women’s leadership of prayer? What sources have Muslim scholars used historically to answer this question, and what do those sources say exactly? What are the conditions under which women can lead prayers, and which types of prayers can they lead, if at all? Do Sunnis and Shi’is differ on the matter? How do contemporary Muslims respond to and deal with the issue? These are some of the questions that Simonetta Calderini explores in her new book, Women as Imams: Classical Islamic Sources and Modern Debates on Leading Prayer (I. B. Tauris, 2021).

Simonetta Calderini is Reader in Islamic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London. She has been a post-doctoral research fellow at the Oriental Institute, University of Naples, Italy. She is the co-author of a ground-breaking book on women in pre-modern Islam, Women and the Fatimids in the world of Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

For Calderini, contemporary discussions of woman-led prayers reveal a lot about Islam generally, including questions of religious authority, conceptions of tradition and the the past. But it especially brings to light the role that the past plays in contemporary Muslim attitudes, about the ways that the “normative past” is imagined – even when textual, scriptural evidence is contrary to the dominant or mainstream attitude. Through this discussion, the author also highlights the discrepancy between scriptural evidence and social mores, the latter of which especially in this case has been instrumental to our understanding of woman-led prayers in Islam.

In today’s conversation, Calderini walks us through the many possible answers to the question, can women lead prayers in Islam? These answers range, as with pretty much all other topics in Islam, from yes, women can lead all kinds of prayers unconditionally to no, they absolutely cannot lead anyone in prayer ever. We discuss the ways that female prayer leadership is connected to broader issues, such as of religious authority and an imagined past or consensus. We also talk about some of the Muslim women who have both historically and in more recent times led prayers, as well as scholars and other authoritative figures who endorse female-led prayers.

Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at haqqani_s@mercer.edu.

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Shehnaz Haqqani

Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at haqqani_s@mercer.edu.

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