Can a woman lead a congregational prayers with men present in the congregation? This question has been raised by some Muslims and many feminists. Although, the question sounds like a call for women's rights, freedom of speech and equality, this call, like everything else, must be analyzed from the Quranic perspective.
Before addressing this issue we must state that the Quran considers women and men equal in belief and in any undertaking in life. The Quran even gives the example of a righteous submitting woman as a leader of a nation (Queen of Sheba). The Quran dictates mutual agreement in both marriage and divorce while most of the so-called Muslims deny those rights. There is no verses in the Quran that denies a woman any kind of social or spiritual right.
God Responds [3:195] Their Lord responded to them: "I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female - you are equal to one another....
Guaranteed Happiness Now and Forever [16:97] Anyone who works righteousness, male or female, while believing, we will surely grant them a happy life in this world, and we will surely pay them their full recompense (on the Day of Judgment) for their righteous works.
It is important to note that having a woman leading our congregational or group prayer with men present is not a call for equality. It is a call for innovation. The truth of the matter is that our practices are inherited and came down to us by universal acceptance since the time of Abraham. Quran teaches us that (3:95; 4:125; 6:161; 12:37-38; 16:123; 21:73; 22:78).
God is the one who mandated the contact prayers (Salah) and specified rituals of individual and congregational prayers (Salah). Like all of our religious practices, the method of performance of Salah has come to us generation to generation from the time of Abraham with the Quran only correcting the corrupted rituals. Ablution and the prayer tone are the examples (5:6, 17:110).
In the act of congregational prayers with both sexes, a man has to lead the congregational prayer. This has been mandated from the time of Abraham with no change. Any change now will be an innovation. A women leading a group or congregational prayer, is a detail that is not mentioned in the Quran, similar to the absence of details concerning rituals of our religious practices. A woman leading a congregational prayer with men present would be a "religious" innovation that contradicts God's system that was inherited and fully preserved since Abraham. The Quran strongly condemns innovation (6:138-140, 7:53, 7:71, 12:40, 16:56, 46:28).
As believers in in the Quran, we should know that our actions are either righteous or not righteous based on the standards set for us by God. The only valid scale to measure our righteousness is given to us by God through His commands in the Quran. Once God and His teachings are no longer the ultimate reference, we start living the illusion of Satan who makes us think that we are righteous. Submitters and believers in the Quran should always be aware of the false righteousness.
It is God who specifies the valid code and the terms for the equality between the believing men and women. Those terms are fully detailed in the Quran. Not only the suggestion of a woman leading our group or congregational prayer, with men present, is an innovation, but also is an invalid call for equality. It is no more than personal opinion and conjecture.
[18:103] Say, "Shall I tell you who the worst losers are?
[18:104] "They are the ones whose works in this life are totally astray, but they think that they are doing good."
[35:8] Note the one whose evil work is adorned in his eyes, until he thinks that it is righteous. GOD thus sends astray whoever wills (to go astray), and He guides whoever wills (to be guided). Therefore, do not grieve over them. GOD is fully aware of everything they do.
[30:29] Indeed, the transgressors have followed their own opinions, without knowledge. Who then can guide those who have been sent astray by GOD? No one can ever help them.
[38:26] O David, we have made you a ruler on earth. Therefore, you shall judge among the people equitably, and do not follow your personal opinion, lest it diverts you from the way of GOD. Surely, those who stray off the way of GOD incur severe retribution for forgetting the Day of Reckoning.