In a Nutshell:
A valid and widely practised position holds women attending the masjid is disliked and they should be prohibited from this whilst others held the position it is permissible for women to attend.
Those who said it is permissible for women to attend the masjid placed several conditions on this. If the conditions are not met, then attending becomes impermissible. These conditions are found in all schools and, as such, are critical for us to be aware of.
Among the conditions mentioned by all scholars is:
- not wearing perfume (based on multiple explicit hadith),
- not adorning themselves,
- not dressing immodestly
Some scholars mentioned age as a condition and said young women attending is reprehensible.
Others said the permissibility is only for prayers at night because darkness makes women attending less identifiable/noticeable.
Mufti Zameelur Rahman's essay entitled "Women Attending the Masjid: A Clarification" summarises the issue well.
"In his commentary on Mukhtaṣar al-Muzanī, the great Shāfi'ī jurist, al-Juwaynī, explained that in the time of the Prophet ﷺ non-elderly women attended the Eid Ṣalāh, but "today we regard it to be reprehensible for them to emerge," as "it was reported that 'Ᾱ'ishah forbade women from emerging." 'Ᾱ'ishah said: "If the Messenger of Allah ﷺ were alive to see what women are doing now, he would surely have prevented them from attending the prayers in the masjid just as the women of Bani Isra'il were prevented." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Similarly, Imām al-Ghazālī, who was also a Shāfi'ī authority, states: "The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) would allow women to attend the masjids, but the truth today is it is not allowed except for elderly women, and indeed this was deemed sound in the time of the Ṣaḥābah," and he quotes the statement of 'Ᾱ'ishah (raḍiyallāhu 'anhā) as support.
Taqī al-Dīn al-Ḥiṣnī (752 – 829 H), a famous relatively late Shāfi'ī scholar, explains that the original ruling of the madhhab is that it is "reprehensible for an attractive non-elderly woman and those of stature to attend [the Eid Ṣalāh], but it is desirable for an old woman to attend in lowly clothing without fragrance." He then says: "In our time, there should be absolute certainty of it being impermissible for non-elderly women and those of stature to emerge because of the proliferation of corruption. Although the ḥadīth of Umm 'Aṭiyyah supports emergence, but the condition that was there in the early generations has disappeared...That was a period of security: they would not expose their adornment and would keep their gazes low, as would the men lower their gazes. As for our time, they only emerge to show their adornment and do not lower their gazes and nor do the men lower their gazes, and the harms of their coming out have become a reality. It is authentic from 'Ᾱ'ishah that she said, 'Had the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) seen what the women have begun, he would have prevented them from the masjids just as the women of the Israelites were prevented'. Thus, this is the fatwā of the Mother of Believers in the best of generations, so what of this corrupt time of ours?! Many others besides 'Ᾱ'ishah have said it is not allowed for women to come to the masjids...This was at that time. As for our time, no Muslim will hesitate in disallowing them except a fool...Thus, the truth is to have certainty of it being impermissible; and the fatwā is on this."
Taqī al-Dīn al-Ḥiṣnī's position was picked up by Shāfi'ī jurists after him, and they expressed support for it. 'Alī ibn 'Aṭiyyah (d. 936 AH), a Shāfi'ī jurist from the tenth century of Hijrah, quotes the statement of al-Ḥiṣnī approvingly, prefacing it with his statement: "The fatwā in this time of ours according to the people of knowledge and piety is that they are not allowed in the masjids. In fact, 'Ᾱ'ishah issued a verdict on this in her age, the best of ages, so what is your opinion on this corrupt tenth century? Do not think I am alone in this view. A large group of the earlier and later scholars have said this, and from those who said it explicitly is al-Taqī al-Ḥiṣnī."
Similarly, the famous late verifier of the Shāfi'ī madhhab, Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (909– 973 AH), quotes one of his predecessors who approved of al-Ḥiṣnī's fatwā and expanded on it saying that "this has become agreed-upon due to the absence of the condition of the permissibility of emergence in his (ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wasallam) time, which is piety and chastity." Ibn Ḥajar then comments: "How brilliant is this statement and how worthy of being correct!"
It is reported from Imām Mālik that he said when asked about women attending the masjid, "This differs for an elderly woman and a non-elderly woman. The elderly woman may come out to the masjid but should not attend too frequently. The non-elderly woman may come out to the masjid now and then."
One of the major late verifiers of the Mālikī madhhab, Khalīl ibn Isḥāq al-Jundī (d.776 AH), after mentioning the Mālikī position that a non-elderly woman may emerge
occasionally for the masjid, states: "In our time, [complete] prohibition is stipulated (i.e. necessary), and Allāh knows best." He then quotes the statement of 'Ᾱ'ishah (raḍiyallāhu 'anhā) as support.
'Abdullāh, the son of Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (164 – 241 AH), asked his father about women coming out to Eid Ṣalāh, and he replied: "As for this time of ours, then no. Indeed, they are a temptation (fitnah)."42 According to Ibn al-Jawzī (510 – 597 AH), the famous Ḥanbalī scholar, if temptation is expected from women, they are to be prohibited from attending the masjid, and he quoted the statement of 'Ᾱ'ishah (raḍiyallāhu 'anhā) as support. (Note: Temptation or fitnah is defined as being tempted towards "unlawful intercourse and its precursors like lustful glances, solitude, touching and the like.") Ibn Qudāmah (541 – 620 AH), the famous Ḥanbalī jurist, mentioned that the statement of 'Ᾱ'ishah (raḍiyallāhu 'anhā) applies to those who broke the conditions of attending the masjid, amongst which he mentions: not applying fragrance, not wearing clothing that will make them stand out, not revealing any adornment, and not intermingling with men.
Qāḍī Abū Ya'lā (380 – 458 AH), the well-known early Ḥanbalī jurist, writes: "We assert that when [the woman] is non-elderly, it is reprehensible for her to perform i'tikāf in the masjid and pray in it. [Imām Aḥmad] has stated this explicitly in the transmission of Ḥanbal. [Imām Aḥmad] was asked about women emerging for 'Īd and said: 'They are a cause of temptation for people, unless it is a woman far in age.'" He further said that the statement of 'Ā'ishah (Allāh be pleased with her) refers to such non-elderly women.45 More emphatically, Qāḍī Abū Ya'lā elsewhere says women are "prohibited" from attending the masjid.Thus, while describing the official position of the madhhab, later Ḥanbalī authorities have clarified that it is reprehensible for a non-elderly woman or any attractive woman to attend the congregational ṣalāh." Objections
What some mistakenly claim is Muslim women have an unconditional right to attend the mosque in an equal capacity as Muslim men.
Such a claim cannot be found anywhere in the scholarly tradition.
The ahadith that are often cited include:
"Do not prevent Allah's female slaves from the masjids" (Muslim, 886 and Bukhari Vol.1, Nos. 824, 832)
"When your women seek your permission for going to the mosque, you grant them (permission)." (Muslim, No.888)
"The Prophet (saw) said: Do not prevent women from going to the mosque at night. A boy said to 'Abdullah b. Umar: We would never let them go out, that they may not be caught in evil. He (the narrator) said: Ibn Umar reprimanded him and said.. I am saying that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said this, but you say: We would not allow!" (Muslim, No.888)
but have not been interpreted by any traditional scholar as granting such an unconditional right.
The Prophet (saw) himself specified many conditions for their attendance and this is what the scholars across all four schools of legal thought based their rulings on. Conclusion
The conditional nature of the permissibility of women attending mosques needs to be emphasized, but sadly some do not convey these nuances and thus give the wrong impression.