The four mainstream school of thoughts; namely, the Ḥanafī’s, Malikī’s, Shafīʿīs and Ḥanbalī’s, are all unanimous on the impermissibility of a woman leading a man in ṣalāh. It a man does perform ṣalāh behind a woman, the ṣalāh will be deemed invalid.
If a woman performs ṣalāh behind a sane and mature woman, the ṣalāh will be valid; however, is this permissible or not?
The fuqahā (jurists) have differed in their opinions.
According to the Shafīʿīs, and the preferred opinion of the Ḥanbalī’s is that a woman leading a congregation of women is mustahabb (recommended), and according to one narration of the Ḥanbalī’s permissible.
The Ḥanafī’s consider it makrūh, and the Malikī’s impermissible.
After studying various proofs, I (Muftī Muhammad Riḍwan) have found that Islamic law has not encouraged women to perform ṣalāh in congregation, but encouraged them to pray at home. Furthermore, women congregating was not common in the earlier generations, although a few incidents have been recorded. Moreover, many statements of the sahabah (companions) and the tābi‘īn (successors) permit this. On this basis, if a woman was to lead other women, while standing a little ahead of the other women, it will be in itself permissible if there is no other legal violation.
It is questionable to rule it as makrūh tahrīmī (prohibitively disliked) in my opinion. It can be considered makrūh tanzīhī (mildly disliked) at most when done without a valid reason. If done due to a valid reason, it will be permissible without any dislike.
As such, if a hāfizā woman leads other women for the purpose of retaining her Qur’an to memory, it will be permissible.
However, in such a scenario, only women will be able to participate. Similarly, the woman leading will not stand ahead like a male imām would do, but a little ahead of the women.
Furthermore, she should ensure her voice does not reach non-mahram males (males of marriageable kin).
In such a congregation, the women following may assist in the recitation if the need arises.
Disclaimer: The above view is of the respected Muftī Muhammad Riḍwan. Laymen should consult local scholars.
(Adapted from Tarāwīḥ ke Aham Masā’il by Muftī Muhammad Riḍwan. Published by Kutub Khāna Idāra Gufrān, Rawalpindi.)
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