Answer (by Dr. Abdullah Rahim)

Before I comment on your questions and objections I would like to make something clear:

It is definitely more in line with the norms of modesty that a man leads the prayer rather than a woman leading it (when there are men among the followers). The question however is whether we have anything in Sharia that forbids us from having a woman leading prayers for men. It is this aspect of the issue that Mr. Ghamidi has commented on.
I will address some of the questions you raised and then will try to explain why I disagree with your approach to this issue.
- - You asked how authentic the Hadith of Umme Waraqa was, in particular given the fact that you heard one of its narrators, Ibn Kallad, was unknown.
While there are scholars that have considered the Hadith to be weak, there are many others who have considered it to be Hasan. These are Hakim, Zahabi, Daruqtuni, Abu Hatam, al-Ayni, ibn Hajar, Shukani and also the contemporary scholar Imam Albaani. The basis of these scholars for accepting this narration is generally the fact that ibn Khallad was considered trusted by ibn Haban and also the fact that other than ibn Khallad, the Hadith is narrated by Layli bint Malik as well.
Allow me not to go into the details of the other two narrations you mentioned as I think that none of these narrations (including the above) are the main evidences for women leading prayers. These are only secondary evidences. The main evidence is the lack of prohibition in Sharia, as I will explain later.
- - You asked if there have been any prominent scholars of the past who have permitted women leading prayers for men.
The answer is Yes. Imam Tabari (as narrated by Sanayee, in Subul al-Salam) and the Shafe’I scholars Abi Thur and al-Mazni (al-Majmu 4:52, al-Mughni 3:33, Bidaya al-Mujtahid 3:189) and Muhyeddin ibn al-Arabi (as reported by Muhammad Husain al-Jaberi in Bahth fi Imamah al-Mir’ah Li-Rijaal) have allowed women leading prayers for men. Imam Ahmad and the early Hanbali scholars have allowed women leading prayers for men in non-obligatory prayers (al-Mughni 3:33, al-Insaaf 2:264).
So as you can see although it is definitely correct to say that the vast majority of the past scholars did not allow women leading prayers for men, we cannot say that this was the consensus of the past scholars.
Allow me now, as stated earlier, to explain why I disagree with your approach to this issue:
You have assumed that women leading prayers is forbidden unless it can be proved otherwise. In your own words:
“One has to prove that what he/she is doing … is something that is acceptable to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala ....this is the general rule in fiqh. One can't say prove to me where the Quraan or Sunnah says that woman can't lead the prayer to men in Islam , in Islam you have to prove that you should do this ,not prove that you can't do it , its the other way round.”
Although I agree with the general rule you have stated about Ibadaat, I do not agree that this rule applies to the issue of women leading prayers. The above rule is about the internal elements of Ibadaat, not about the external ones. By internal I mean something that is included in the act of Ibadah, by external I mean something that relates to a condition that is outside of the act of Ibadah. I try to illustrate this with an example:
A. I decide that instead of reading three Rak’ah Maghrib prayer I want to read four! Obviously this is wrong. If I say well there is nothing there to say I cannot do it then you have every right to bring the above point to my attention. This is because the internal elements of Ibadaat is prescribed by the Almighty and I am in no position to fully understand the wisdom behind every element and therefore (unlike Mu’amilaat – Transactions) I am in no position to allow myself changing any of it.
B. You decide that you want to attend the prayer of Taraweeh where they finish the whole Qur’an in one month. Now I know definitely that the prophet (pbuh) never did this and that even Umar (ra) did not mean for it to be the way that Muslims do it at present. However I cannot tell you that Taraweeh, the way it is done today, is Haram. This is simply because the addition or the change that has appeared here is not about one of the internal elements of prayer, but is about its external aspects/elements.
Likewise, women leading prayer for men is not changing anything from among the internal elements of prayer, this is about external elements. Therefore when we see there is a lack of prohibition in Sharia about this, we cannot call it Haram or Bid’ah or against the Sharia.
You wrote:
“I believe that Quran and Sunnah do not need to give a Haraam or Halaal ruling about everything that is Haraam and Halaal or am I wrong?”
You are right about the Halal part but I am afraid, in my view, you are wrong about the Haram one. The only source for declaring something Haram is the Sharia, that is, clear and authentic directives of the Almighty. Yes, when the Qur’an says that something is Haram, it does not need to count all forms of that Haram thing in future. However we cannot just deduct rules based on our own analysis and assumption and then call something Haram, as this will be adding something out of our own opinion to the corpus of religion.
At the end of your post you raised some issues that to me are secondary issues. For instance the fact that women are advised to stand behind men. First, this is not an absolute condition for prayer, it is a measure to prevent ill thoughts and maintain modesty, if you have gone to Hajj you have seen that in Masjid al-Haraam this cannot normally be implemented and no scholars there have stopped the prayers because of this. Second, you might be interested to know that Ibn Taymyah, when mentioning that fact that Imam Ahmad allowed women leading men in non-obligatory prayers, states that his condition for this was that the leading lady stands behind men (Majmu al-Fatawa 5:317).
I think and I hope that I have covered the issues that you raised in your post although I might have not specifically referred to all of them. I again emphasize that no doubt, norms of modesty make it perfectly sensible to have men leading women in prayers. However this does not give us permission to announce 'women leading men in prayers' to be Haram.
(Footnote: Recently I heard a video clip from Sheikh Hamza Yusuf where he said that Ibn Taymyah also allowed women leading men in prayers, but with some conditions. I haven’t find this in Ibn Taymya’s writings yet, so I cannot verify it, but overall it is interesting to hear Hamza Yusuf on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x45ysEfSuX0)