Do Muslim Men and Women Pray Differently?
Mostly yes. Men and women are given the same obligation to pray five times per day. According to the classical Islamic books, the Friday prayer is an obligation for men. Whereas women can pray on their own wherever they happen to be, either at home or in the office, etc. However, men are obligated to attend the Friday prayer. Also, the daily congregational prayers are perceived to be obligatory for men to join the prayers. Whereas women could pray at home, in the office, or they can join the congregational prayer.
The postures within prayers, like standing, bowing, prostrating are the same. The recitation is the same between men and women. The prayer is basically the same.
Yet, the postures have been interpreted differently, especially in one school of Islamic jurisprudence known as the Hanafi School.
The Hanafi School is one of the widest spread schools in Islamic history. Currently, Muslims from India, Pakistan, Guyana, and many parts of the world are adherents to that school of Islamic jurisprudence. This is a line of interpretation dealing with very minor and finer points of difference as compared with the other schools. Some interpretations are very clear in the Quran, and very clear in the life example of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is universal among all Muslims. Some interpretations are unclear. It depends on some interpretations, especially finer points. The major schools of Islamic jurisprudence emerge, giving people the details of these finer points. One of those schools is the Hanafi school. The Hanafi school says that the women prayed differently, adopting some postures in prayer, that align with the modesty of Muslim women, especially in traditional social contexts. For example, men would bend over fully in prostration and genuflection. In contrast, women would bend and would allow her palms to rest on her knees. In addition, women would bend her knees slightly.
About prostrating on the floor, rather than going all together on all fours with the rear end being raised, the woman would basically just bend over enough so that her chest would rest against her thighs and her head would reach the floor. However, her body would be quite close to the ground.
These were the prescriptions on minor points that were preserving the modesty of Muslim women. It could be useful if a woman was praying in public, as opposed to when she’s praying at home or in her family setting. Yet, some others who object to this because they would say that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated, “Pray as you have seen me praying.” This was a general instruction for both men and women. Therefore, women do not have some leeway to pray differently. Women can adopt slightly different postures in prayer as being a deviant idea. However, one could not consider it a deviant idea because this is an idea that is one of the classical schools of Islamic jurisprudence. It can be traced back to the reported opinions of very early savings in the Islamic tradition. One needs to be flexible, balanced, and fair in one’s judgment. One cannot just wipe away the interpretations of the classical school of Islamic jurisprudence.
One needs to find a way of accommodating and appreciating that view. When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave the instruction to, “Pray as you have seen me praying.” It was not meant to be an instruction to copy him in all the finer details. Some of the details may not be as important as people have made them out to be. When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Pray as you have seen me praying,” Maybe, he meant the general outline. The general outline of the prayer is the same for men and women in all these schools of Islamic interpretation. One will have so many different postures in the prayer, in a particular sequence, and this is what one would recite in each posture. That is the same for men and women in all these schools of Islamic interpretation.
To sum, men and women pray the same way in the Islamic tradition. However, there are some salient differences on minor points.
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