Friday, March 18, 2005

A First for Women in Islam

Mona Eltahawy writes in today's Washington Post

NEW YORK -- Today, somewhere in New York, a Muslim woman will give the sermon that precedes the congregational noon prayers, called Jum'ah, that mark the highlight of the Muslim week. She will then lead men and women in prayer, becoming the first woman on record to lead a public, mixed-gender Friday prayer.

I can't tell you where the prayer will be held because I don't know yet. The location is being kept secret because the original venue backed out after it received threats for opening its doors to such a service.

But I can tell you that the courage of Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University who will lead us all, is impossible to describe. And I can tell you what a thrill it will be to stand before God as the spiritual equal of the male congregants -- praying together, not behind the men and not in another room -- with a woman leading us.

Not surprisingly, conservative scholar Yusuf Qaradawi has condemned the mixed-gender prayer on his weekly show on al-Jazeera. But we were not waiting for his blessing or anyone else's. Many male scholars and clerics have let the Muslim world down. Their apathy and disinclination to speak out -- be it against misogyny or against violence in the name of Islam -- long ago turned many of us off.

Several Muslim organizations in the United States have either condemned Amina Wadud's decision to lead the Friday prayer or have remained silent, choosing to stay on the sidelines of an event that embodies the aspirations of Muslim women to be recognized as men's spiritual equals.

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