Can a Woman be a Marja?
Why can’t a female mujtahid become marja’?
There are two different words that need to be defined before this question is answered. A mujtahid is one who has reached the level of ijtihad, meaning one who is able to derive Islamic rulings form their sources. Such a person would have to have mastered a number of academic fields such as the Quran, Islamic traditions, Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence, and many others. This takes a lengthy period of struggle and intellectual adeptness. Those who become known as being a mujtahid have the ijaza (qualification) from a well-known mujtahid and wants this level of knowledge to be known in the society.
A marja’ is one who has reached the level of ijtihad and is followed by others in taqlid. Hence, every marja’ is a mujtahid, but not every mujtahid is a marja’.
Therefore, it is quite possible that many women have reached the level of ijtihad, but are unknown to the masses. Just as is the case with men, many men have reached the level of ijtihad, but are unknown to the society. That being said, there have been popular female mujtahids.
One of the most famous female mujtahids was Mujtahidah Amin Isfahani. Zuhreh Sefaty (pictured) is another female mujtahid who is currently teaching in the female Islamic seminary.
The question was about the female mujtahid becoming a marja’. The main argument that those who support the prohibition of a woman becoming a marja’ use is Islamic traditions prohibiting women from becoming judges. Traditions also state that the judge must be a rajul (male). Since judgment is one of the duties of a marja’, a woman is barred from that position. Another argument used is a consensus amongst the elder scholars, but, such a consensus would not hold weight jurisprudentially.
There are a few reasons that many scholars present, such as women tend to allow their emotions to effect their decisions. Furthermore, a marja’ is a position of Islamic leadership and women cannot lead prayers, are advised to leave congregational prayers in public (according to some), and cannot be a judge. Therefore, she cannot hold that position properly.
This can be argued by stating that first, there are plenty of women who are rational, and second the mere fact that she cannot lead prayers does not mean that she cannot issue a verdict. Those are two unrelated matters. But, when one takes the issue of female judges into account, the argument can change.
The bottom line is that the maraja’, including Sayyid Khamenei and Sayyid Sistani, have issued rulings that one of the conditions of following a marja’ is that the marja’ be male. Their verdicts must be followed. This is one of the areas that is being researched in the Islamic seminary and it is interesting to see where it leads.
What do you think about this issue? Comments welcomed.