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Can a Woman be a Marja?

Posted on Jun 23, 2015 by in Featured, Fiqh, Question and Answer | 8 comments



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.

By Shaykh Hamid Waqar

Danish Translation


  1. On the basis of the above and that there were no female prophets in the Quran, Bible or Torah and on the basis that there are 12 Imams and even though Sayeda Fatima (as) was infallible she was not counted as the Imam(leader) – I believe it is evident and safe to say that women cannot be maraja which are also a form of leaders, that are relieving for our current Imam (aj).

    • Salaams, this article is about her being a marja’ to herself, meaning that she can follower the rulings she derives, but others cannot follow her in taqlid.

  2. In your conclusion you state that because two major marji say a woman can’t be a marja, their ruling must be followed. Is their opinion binding on someone who has taken someone else as their marja?

    • No, it would not be binding on someone who has a different marja’ who states otherwise.

  3. I think the argument regarding judges makes sense. That isn’t a burden placed on women. At the same time, am i correct in understanding that any person who reaches Ijtihad (male or female) must NOT follow a marja? or is it okay to follow a marja even after reaching ijtihad?

    • Salaams, yes that is correct.

  4. The rulings of any of the marji regarding who can or can not be followed can not be binding on anyone because it would lead to circular logic. For example: why do I follow Sistani? Because Sistani says follow a mujtahid.

    That’s circular logic. So based on this impossibility of emulating anyone on the laws of taqleed, if a person is independently convinced that a female can be emulated – just like how I am independently convinced that Sistani can be followed regardless of what he has to say about taqleed – then the person should follow the female mujtahid.

    • Salaams, Nowhere does Sayyid Sistani state that one has to follow him. Rather, he derives the criterion from religious sources as to the qualities of one that must be followed and then the muqallid must find one who has these qualities. Furthermore, there are three options to take: first, one can learn how to derive religious rulings from their sources and he would then follow his own understanding of the religion. Second, one can use precaution, can gather the rulings of all of those who are able to derive religious rulings from their sources. This is the responsibility of one who is not performing taqlid and is not able to derive the rulings himself. Finally, the third is following one who is able to derive religious rulings. If you are proposing that one should follow somebody that is unable to derive religious rulings because one who has the skill is stating that you must follow a person with this ability, it is pretty silly. How can we follow someone who is unable to derive religious rulings? Regarding following women who have this ability, we must refer back to the three options we have. First, if one is able to derive religious rulings and finds scriptural evidence allowing one to follow her than by all means he can issue a verdict stating its permissibility. But, if one is unable to derive religious rulings he must practice precaution or emulate someone who can. Precaution states that one cannot follow a woman…let me know if this doesn’t make sense.

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