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Women-Led Friday Prayer

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    Posted: 17 March 2005 at 9:42pm

Real Debate About the Status of Women
by Dr. Aslam Abdullah

Women and the Masjid between two extremes
by Dr. Louay M. Safi

Woman Imam Leading Men and Women in Salat
by Dr. Muzammil Siddqi

No, We Don't Have More Important Issues: In Support of Women-Led Prayer

by Sarah Eltantawi.

I am in strong support of the mixed gender women's prayer to take place on March 18, 2005, in New York City. While there is no question that Dr. Amina Wadud will make history during April 18th-s prayer, this event is at least as important for its symbolic value, what it implies about Muslim women and it's shattering of a taboo. Muslims - men and women - will sit down after Friday prayers and listen to the Quranic reflections of a sensitive, intelligent and pious member of our community. It will be an honor and a treat for me to precede my prayer by listening to what Dr. Wadud has to say about various Quranic ayat, or a more general theme, or perhaps she will simply reflect on the historic nature of the day. The point is that I will for the first time cease to be robbed of my right to hear the melodic spiritual reflections of a respected member of my community during the hour in which I am supposed to be in community with fellow Muslims. 

Black, White, Asian, Arab, Female, Male: if you are learned and insightful, I want to hear you reflect on Islam during Friday prayer. And I want to hear it live, in a clean setting, with full view of the Imam and with full rights to ask questions. 

I am an intellectually curious being and I will not be relegated to the dungeon of your mosque. No more, not ever again. 

The circumstances of April 18th-s prayer are not perfect, as many have been all too quick to point out. It would surely have been better had the official Muslim community been on board and had we had the support of the establishment. And yet the fact that they have ignored our persistent efforts to explain that this issue is vitally important is their problem, not ours. Just as many of our families fled tyranny in various countries to attempt to lead a better, freer life, a life that made sense, so too will Muslims flee tyrannical, patriarchal mosques in search of freedom, in search of a mosque, or for now, a congregation, that makes sense. These are the way of things, and we are not worried. 

The responses the organizers of this event, Asra Nomani and Saleemah Abdel-Ghafour, received from the more conservative members of our community was to be expected. Many attacked the prayer as lacking grounding in Islamic legal sources, refuting attempts progressives made to ground their activities in precisely this way. When progressives supplied ahadith, conservatives asked why we chose ahadith selectively, supplying a slew of misygonistgic, questionable hadith with which to sully the discussion. When progressives supplied verses from the Quran that upheld women's equality, conservatives hurled more hadith. 

What is truly disappointing, though unfortunately not shocking, is the response of the so-called "moderates" to the mixed prayer. I am not someone who believes that all of our institutions are "bad" or "extreme". I have worked in them long enough to know the terrain is much more complicated than that, and that there are some excellent, dedicated people working throughout our community. Indeed, on many issues, Muslims must stand united. But this is internal, and it's important: I demand to know where the Muslim women's League stands on this issue. I demand to know where the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations stands on this issue. I demand to know where ISNA stands on this issue. Come on guys, take a stand and tell us clearly what you think. Spell it out and stop cowering in the corner. Though I disagree with him, at least Aslam Abdullah of the Muslim Observer has had the guts to add to the dialogue on this issue. He writes in Islamicity that: 

"Those who are seriously concerned about improving the status of Muslim women should devote themselves to identifying with the impoverished, underprivileged and powerless women that are scattered all over the world. To talk about equality in a country that protects equality through constitutional means is a meaningless effort. However, to identify with those who suffer at the grassroots is heroic." 

I beg to differ. "Identifying" with the "impoverished" and "underprivileged" is what is meaningless. Those who believe the rhetoric of identity politics is in and of itself "heroic" are the one's with the problem. An activist who is looking at the wider problems of misogyny understands that the same forces that prevent women from taking leadership roles in mosques, or indeed, entering mosques, are the same forces that encourage and even institutionalize illiteracy (among other forces, or course). An activist, a concerned citizen, should always choose "doing" over "identifying". No one needs over-privileged Western Muslims to "identify" with anything if they are just going to use that "identification" to be smug, self-righteous and give themselves a hip 21st century identity in America, sticking their noses in the air as they claim to be concerned about "more important things" than mere prayer space. This is a smoke screen, and it is cowardly. This behavior suggests nothing more than a lack of moral certitude and conviction. 

Again, if you don't believe women should lead prayers, than have the cojenes to come out and say so. 

And one more thing. I have worked in the mainstream Muslim community for a few years now, and I can tell you what these groups are actually doing about world-wide illiteracy and hunger: absolutely nothing. 

"We Have More Important Issues" 

American Muslims - including American Muslim women - are the most educated and politically free Muslims in the world. With all due respect, there is no point in pretending that we suffer the plight of refugees or illiterate women throughout the Muslim world. Such self-righteous bluster is in fact condescending and disrespectful to actual victims and the real under-privileged. Taking the world-wide view, no Muslim in the United States in under-privileged, unless of course they have been picked up and imprisoned without charge by Ashcroft-s goons, another issue entirely. 

Absent concrete strategies to alleviate serious issues like ending world wide illiteracy, health issues affecting Muslim women, and other serious, deep, institutional social-ills, to prop up these issues as a greater priority amounts to a disingenuous dodge of actual, winnable issues right here and now. It is the singular advantage afforded to only the most over-privileged Muslims on the planet to point plaintively at all the suffering people around the world while systematically undermining and attacking the small steps toward change progressives right here and now, on the achievable planet earth, are affecting before their eyes. It is a cop out. It is cowardice. 

Anyone who has ridden an airplane knows that one is instructed, in case of emergency landing, to put on one's own oxygen mask before helping others put on theirs - even if that person is your own child. I ask the "moderate" detractors - how are we to address world-wide poverty, widespread illiteracy and the plight of refugees if the most privileged, educated, and politically free Muslim women in the world can not so much as pray in dignity in their own houses of worship? Are you not ashamed? What right do you have to talk of the plight of refugee women in Afghanistan if Muslims in this country of excess and privilege are busy discussing whether a woman is in her right mind while menstruating or worrying about whether a man will be able to concentrate on his if confronted with a woman-s backside? Or if a woman should be allowed into a mosque at all? 

How fantastically hypocritical for some women to speak of the ills of women's illiteracy world-wide (a problem that is for these who worry about them, of course, only an abstraction) when these very same women do not believe that they themselves, or their sisters, are intellectually capable of being the spiritual or intellectual leaders of a community! What then, sisters, is the point of this literacy? Do you want to educate illiterate Indian Muslim sisters so that they may sit in the basement of their local mosque, breast-feeding? Should we educate illiterate Egyptian sisters, only to have them worry that raising their voice in the mosque will unleash misyoginistic cries of "awra"? Should we educate illiterate Nigerian sisters, but prevent them from serving as judges in "Islamic" courts that would otherwise be content to sentence them to death by public stoning for adultery? 

Those who want to undermine these efforts to uplift and progress our community must undergo some introspection. What is really fueling your distaste for the progressives? Is it because you didn't do it first? Is it because on some level, you benefit from the current patriarchal structure, having always made compromises and concessions to be the "good" Muslim woman? Are you afraid to lose the approval of sexist men, not entirely sure you can stand on your own two feet? 

Change is happening because it must. American Muslims must get our own house in order before we cry crocodile tears about refugees across the world. Pity is not an honorable emotion. Supporting the change for real equality for our community so that we may be strong enough to really effectively help our sisters and brothers around the world is. We can not be strong unless women are fully empowered. Until then, we can continue to point to refugees in Afghanistan over our lavish dinners and fine teas, lining up behind men, compromising ourselves yet again - for how long, no one can say, and no one bothers to ask. 

Sarah Eltantawi is a co-founder of the Progressive Muslim Union

Edited by Opinion
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote semar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 12:23am

I think we already have enough problems in the Muslim community that must be fixed. Poverty, illiterate among Muslim women in the Muslim country are so high. This problems are real and not arguable, who can prove this less important than above activity (women led prayer). The example that sarah gave "aircraft emergency", it is not comparable at all, with the need of women to lead prayer.  I think this is should be the highest priority for Muslim  women feminist. Introducing Muslim women led Friday prayer in mix congregation is not wise at all. It creates more division, hearting the umah, wasting our energy. Nobody get any benefit, the pro or the contra.

The person who claimed as an intellectual Muslim should be able to prioritize the need of the ummah.

Edited by semar


"We are people who do not eat until we are hungry and do not eat to our fill." (Prophet Muhammad PBUH)

"1/3 of your stomach for food, 1/3 for water, 1/3 for air"
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ummziba Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 6:28am

As salaamu alaikum sister Sarah,

As a western born and raised citizen and a Muslim woman, I am taken far aback by your comments and your attitude.  I am rather amazed that you would wish to be a Muslim at all considering your seeming outright rage and hatred of all things Muslim!  Why did you not join a faith that is closer to the feelings of your heart? 

Through your whole letter you seem to virtually spit venom as you denounce one Muslim law/custom/way/tradition after another.  It seems from what you say that you are against a lot of things that Allah has told us in the Qur'an are what Muslims are to do.  (You cite breastfeeding, stoning to death for adultery, covering our awrah, lowering the gaze - just to name a few). 

I would take from your letter that being a "progressive" Muslim means to throw out our long and beautiful history and traditions, ignore the Qur'an and hadith and  whine and bluster like a spoiled westerner.

I apologize if I sound harsh or even insulting, sister, but I do have the "testicles" to stand on my own two feet and speak my mind.  I don't like most of what you  have said.  I find it very insulting to Muslims and very injurious to the ummah.  You rant about the need for us to stand together all the while you pick us apart.

"Progressives" seem to want to re-write Islam in their own secular, westernized ideal.  Allah Almighty gave us the gift of Islam, the perfect religion.  Humans, however, are far from perfect.  This is what we all must work on, ourselves, our faith and our knowledge.

There can be no Islam without the Qur'an, hadith and shari'ah.  There is nothing unequal, unfair, sexist or patriarchal in Allah's perfect system of worship and living. There are only flawed, or misinformed humans who twist it to their own ends. 

You state "It would surely have been better had the official Muslim community been on board and had we had the support of the establishment."  Does the fact that they are not behind you not give you a clue?

You state "American Muslims - including American Muslim women - are the most educated and politically free Muslims in the world."  On what do you base this?  To a non-American, this sounds like typical American arrogance.  If you are so well educated, why do you not seem to understand the basic principles and concepts of Islam?

I have never compromised nor made concessions in order to be a "good" Muslim woman, nor have I ever sought the approval of any "sexist" man.  The only approval I seek is that of Allah which I do by trying my best to follow His perfect religion, Islam.  I do not seek to change or modernize or westernize or secularize Allah's perfect religion.  Allah willing, I will be the best Muslim I can be, by His grace and mercy.  I pray that ALL Muslims will be guided to the straight path through the blessed mercy and grace of Allah.

Peace, ummziba.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DavidC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 6:37am
Women's literacy is critical - the #1 way to reduce infant mortality - but
individuals must follow their own guidance as to where to put political

The idea of mixed prayer and female ministers is rather new in
Christianity too. When America was founded men and women typically
sat on opposite sides of the church in public areas during services, so
don't let peorple characterize Islam as backwards because of your

Just ask yourselves - "What Would Aisha Do?"


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote abuayisha Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 7:10am

A woman is allowed to be an Imam of women and she can lead the congregation of females only in Salah, but a woman is not allowed to lead the Salah, neither fard salah nor nafl, for a mixed gathering of males and females. It is reported by Aisha, Umm Salamah and 'Ata' -may Allah be pleased with them- that "A woman can be an Imam of women." It is also reported by Dar Qutni that the Prophet -peace be upon him- allowed Umm Waraqah to lead the women of her house in Salah. The woman Imam should not stand in front of the line like the male Imam, but she should stand in the middle of the line of the people praying under her Imamah.

In a mixed gathering of worshippers, the Sunnah of the Prophet -peace be upon him- is that men should stand in the front rows, then children and then women.


This way is most conducive to the dignity of men and women both and it helps both of them to concentrate on their prayers. If a woman were to become the Imam of a mixed gathering of worshippers then she would have to stand in front of them or women have to stand in front of men and she as their Imam would have to stand among them. This will be both a violation of the Sunnah and will disrupt the dignity and the spirituality of the worshippers as well.


In the matters of worship, Islam teaches us that we should follow the commands of Allah and His prophet only and should not do anything that would violate their rules. In our worldly matters, however, we are allowed to make our own experiments as much as possible without indulging into anything Haram.


It is for this reasons that the Muslim jurists say, "The rule in the matters of worship ('Ibadat) is that every thing is forbidden except whatever is allowed; and the rule in the worldly matters ('Adat) is that every thing is allowed except whatever is forbidden."


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rami Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 7:16am
Bi ismillahir rahmanir raheem

assalamu alaikym

Women leading men in prayer

Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed

Translated by Zaynab Ansari


When is a woman allowed to lead a man in prayer if it is allowed at all?


As stated by Imam Nawawi in the Majmu’,the vast majority of scholars from the predecessors and the successors, the scholars of all four schools and others being one in this matter, [agree] that it is not valid for a man to follow a woman. This is based on the hadith of Jabir, may Allah be pleased with him, where he said: The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, spoke to us and said: “A woman should not lead a man.” Ibn Majah and al-Baihaqi narrated this hadith with a weak chain of transmission, but it is strengthened by another hadith whose soundness is agreed upon: “A people who give their affairs over to a woman will never prosper.” This is also established by the fact that women did not lead men among anyone we recognize in any age, because if this were permissible, it would have happened because there would have been a need for it.

A different opinion has been transmitted from Imams Abi Thaur, al-Muzani, and Ibn Jarir where they said: A man’s prayer is valid behind her. Imam Ibn Qudama al-Hanbali mentioned in the Mughni that some of the Hanbalis have said that it is permissible for a woman to lead men in the Tarawih prayer and that she stands behind them, based on what Abu Dawud narrated from Um Waraqa bint ‘Abdullah Ibn al-Harith: “That the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, appointed a muezzin to call the adhan for her, and ordered her to lead the people of her house in prayer.” They said: This [hadith] is general for men and women.

I said: These two opinions go against the position of the majority, as you already know. These [opinions] are an example of an unusual difference of opinion, as explained by Imam Mawardi in the Hawi and there is no sound evidence to prove this [difference].

And the Hadith of Um Waraqa that they have mentioned is not a valid argument, because the Prophet, peace be upon him, permitted her to lead the women of her household, as clearly stated in the narration of Daraqutni from Ibn Qudama.

There is wisdom behind the position of the majority that is understood by everyone with a sound heart and that is: the woman can be a source of temptation or a test [for men], and she attracts their attention. Therefore, a man’s following her in prayer would lead to thoughts of indecency, desire for her, and pursuit of her. This would not be an appropriate situation in a place of worship where the goal is the attainment of piety.

The Muslims need to know that what the majority of scholars have said is from the rulings of the Sacred Law, toward which we must progress, without paying heed to the claims of opponents of Sacred Law and those scholars who say that such rulings devalue and restrict women. All of this is false and goes against the texts of the pure Sacred Law that raised the status of woman and gave her rights that preserved her humanity, dignity, religion, honor, and property – rights that were absent from other laws in the past and the present. We also know for certain that the noble Shari’a tends to curtail women’s exposure to situations and positions where they will mix with strange men. This is not because of some deficiency in her, but because of a wise understanding of her nature from the One who created her. The Exalted has said: “Should He not know, - He that created? And He is the One that understands the finest mysteries (and) is well-acquainted (with them).” This [wisdom] frees her to attain to a tremendous goal that only woman can do and that is: Protecting her household, her husband, and her children who are the men of the society and the defenders of the land and the intellectuals and the scholars. This is in addition to closing the door of the temptation that arises from the mixing of men and women, as is apparent to any intelligent person, whether Muslim or Kafir.

It is the perspective of the Shari’a that we – the Muslims – take pride in, because it is a perspective that is highly accurate for those who are just. And we see today that countries that call for women’s liberation in the wrong sense, are the most morally corrupt places, afflicted with homosexuality, fatal diseases, illegitimate children, destruction of family life and social relations, and the disappearance of the tradition of married life and the father figure, to the extent that the father and the husband are not able to prevent their daughter or wife from having illicit boyfriends or male confidants, and [they are not able to stop] other types of corruption and debauchery.

This is not to say that it is absolutely unlawful for a woman and man to have anything to do with each other. This is not something a knowledgeable person would even say, and the Shari’a would reject this. However, the objective is to caution against the temptation of those who are deluded. As to the legal ruling on contact between men and women, there are parameters and conditions [for this contact] determined by the scholars, which are well-known to the Muslims. [Let me] emphatically direct your attention to the fact that Islamic history is replete with shining examples of great women who had a tremendous impact in many areas of life.

And Allah alone is the Guide and the Facilitator to what is right.


Women's Congregational Prayer in the Hanafi School
Answered by Sidi Faraz Rabbani and Shaykh Ilyas Patel

I understand that a women in the hanafi madhab cannot lead a congregation of women. From what someone had told me, it is considered Markruh Tahrimi. I informed my mother of this. The next time she was with a group of women, they told her to lead. She refused saying that it is Makruh in the Hanafi Madhab. The other women there then said that Aisha (ra) lead a congregation of women, so why shouldn't they pray as such? I was wondering if I could get the daleel for why a women can not lead a congregation of women.

In the Name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate,

On the authority of Aisha (Allah be pleased with her), the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,  “There is no good in the congregation of women.” Ahmad, and Tabrani in Awsat)

At the same time, it is reported by Rayta that Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) led them in the prayers and stood in between, in a fard prayer. ( Imam Abdul Razzaq in his Musannaf)

Imam Zafar Usmani explains the two ahadith by stating that that  first narration explains the general offensiveness of women’s own congregation . Sayyida Aisha's leading of prayer, which is stated in the latter hadith, indicates the permissibility at times and to teach the women the proper method of prayer.

We do not negate the permissibility of this matter, to such an extent that if they were to pray in congregation of their own, we would state the validity of the prayer.  (Imam Zafar Usmani, I’la al-Sunan 4: 215)

Without such a reason, however, a congregation of women would be prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman), [Maraqi al-Falah, Hashiyat Ibn Abidin.] because it is going against that which has been legislated, which is that women either pray alone (given the normal case would be for them to pray at home), or behind a male congregation.

The Hanafi imams also note that had it been something that was a general recommendation or generally permissible for women, then the female companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who were most avid to seek Allah's pleasure would have adopted it as a widespread practice. But there is nothing to indicate that this was the case, from which the Hanafis (and many other mujtahids from the salaf) understood that the narrations of permissibility indicate the exceptional cases, explained above, and not the rule.

It is also important to understand that the nature of legal responsibility differs between men and women. That which is best for men to do is not necessarily best for women, and vice versa. And all are commanded seek the pleasure of Allah, as He wants from them.

And Allah knows best.


Rasul Allah (sallah llahu alaihi wa sallam) said: "Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord" and whoever knows his Lord has been given His gnosis and nearness.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tareenk Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 4:54pm

Astafghur-Allah, What is this world coming to? These ladies are trying to start Fitna. Its not even worthy of a response. A simple comment though, An Imam is traditionally appointed and is expected to lead all five prayers in the masjid. Now lets say for a moment that a woman is elected as an imam,what will she do, take one weeks vacation's during her time of cleansing or is she going to start another fitna and say its ok to lead prayer in that state too!!! This unclensing state is mentioned in the Quran Karim. Let alone lead, women are even excused to offer prayers.

Some women are totally confusing the issue of equality. What are they looking equality in? Women cannot be imam of men, period. Has nothing to do with equality, has a lot to do with Allah Subana Tallah's wisdom. Women have more rights than men. Men are never excused from prayer or fast, Allah has blessed you with that excuse. Stop creating Fitna and mixing the issue of equality and gender. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bob Crane Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 March 2005 at 8:34pm
After the flurry of interesting fatwas from every trend of thought and seemingly every country on earth about the Amina Wadud inbroglio on March 18th, 2005, today in New York, it is refreshing to get Ahmed Rehab's sociological approach pasted below, which is independent of the issue whether according to the shari'ah women leading men in prayer is legal.
    From the non-legal perspective, I see absolutely nothing inherently wrong with having imamas, but it is counter-productive to push this issue when the broader issue of women's oppression should be our focus.  There are so many much worse aspects of gender apartheid than women not leading men in prayer.
     Professor Wadud is committing a major strategic error by focusing on a peripheral issue like women leading mixed-gender public prayers.  This is the kind of issue that the extremists in NOW (the National Organization of Women) would love to use in attacking Muslim male chauvinism as an opening to attack Islam as a religion.  Secular fundamentalist feminism can easily be clothed in religious terms and is growing among Muslim Americans.  This is part of the American cultural baggage that has been brought into the American Muslim umma by social revolutionary converts and by alienated foreign-born Muslim expats. 
    By adopting the standards of modern Western culture (or lack of culture) Sister Amina Wadud is shifting the burden of proof from the West to the East in defining the nature of dignity and justice.  She thereby is buying into the Orientalist insistence that the base case for evaluating Islamic law is Western culture, when she should be comparing Western law with Islamic law as the base case.  She should shift the burden of proof onto the secular fundamentalists by showing how deficient Western positivist legal jurisprudence is compared to the sophisticated normative legal system and code of human responsibilities and rights known as the maqasid al shari'ah. 
    The fact that Muslims have observed this code of human rights primarily in the breech for hundreds of years reflects poorly not on Islam but on Muslims.  Professor Wadud points this out, but she appeals to the Western obsession with freedom rather than to the emphasis of all the world religions and of America's founders (fathers and mothers) on justice, without which freedom means nothing.  She is caught in the wrong paradigm.
    The tactical blunder of Sister Amina in launching this first intifada of postmodern gender insurgency is to set Muslims up for attack by the Muslim-bashers who can use this to claim that Muslims hate freedom.
    Furthermore, these strategic and tactical blunders may generate what in current parlance is called blowback, as illustrated by the failure so far of the Neo-Con strategy to stamp out chaos in the world.  Since Professor Wadud can't win on this issue, her intifada will serve as grist not only for those who bash Islam but for those troglodite Muslims who oppose gender equity, i.e., human dignity and rights for women (part of the maqasid known as haqq al karama).  Extremism elicits counter extremism, just as terrorism produces much more terroristic counter-terrorism.  Sister Amina's confrontational approach mirrors the paradigm of the clash of civilizations, known as the West versus the Rest, which, in turn, gives rise to the counter-paradigm of Al Qa'ida known as the East versus the Beast.
    A troglodite, by the way, was the first life form of record to emerge from the primordial ooze a couple of billion years ago.  A few of them are slithering around in every mosque. 
                                                                           Salam,  Bob Crane

Mr. Ahmed Rehab is an Egyptian-American free-lance writer and IT entrepreneur based in Chicago, Illinois. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

Understanding Aminah Wadud & the PMU
by Ahmed Rehab
(Friday 18 March 2005)

"...Wadud and the Progressive Muslims are shooting for the stars, leaving behind a sorry planet called earth. Moreover, they are doing it for all the wrong reasons."

Today, Dr. Amina Wadud, Islamic Studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, is leading a mixed-gender Friday prayer service in New York. This is the first such recorded instance in Islam’s 1400 year.

Now, I am not a religious scholar, and so I won't even attempt to tackle the issue via theological argumentation. As it so happens, I think there is a more important angle to consider anyway and that is whether or not such a move is relevant to the plight of the Muslim-American community at this time and in this place.

I think that Wadud is being somewhat selfish here, and her supporters, namely members of the Progressive Muslim Union, are being somewhat opportunistic.

Both are fully aware that the token issue they have chosen to trumpet is neither at the forefront of Muslim women's rights/needs, nor at the forefront of the very real challenges facing the Muslim-American community at this stage of its development. Both know that there are far more important, pressing, and less controversial issues that are begging to be served; issues that promise to galvanize a much more constructive reaction from a somewhat dormant community. And yet they choose to forgo these issues and opt for one they know will create more rifts in the Muslim community than amends.

The American-Muslim community is under relentless scrutiny. It is facing intense pressures on many fronts and so is desperately in need of leadership that will unite its members against the injustices they face. It certainly is not in need of leadership that selfishly distracts its focus and wastes its limited energy on campaigns that do not address any of the real problems plaguing our daily lives.

By insisting on taking up fringe causes and overlooking the pressing causes simmering to be served, Wadud does not only undermine the real issues of relevance to her constituency but earns for herself a reputation as an extremist eccentric in the process. As such, she effectively marginalizes herself, robbing herself of the credibility sorely needed to make any symbolic gesture far reaching and change-inducing - historic as it may be.

Even staying within the realm of women’s rights, this seems to apply: as Wadud distracts us with an issue that the majority of Muslims - women included -don’t think much about, we note that the more pressing infringements of Muslim women’s rights continue to run amuck sans sufficient reproach.

As the Progressive Muslims dabble in gray areas for all the wrong reasons, the non-gray, undisputed rights of women’s (Muslim and otherwise) rights continue to be trampled upon here in the United States as anywhere. They continue to lack a vindicating voice of reason and credibility, and they continue to be short of public attention.

Muslim women continue to struggle with the real problems that pan out in their daily lives. Leading men in prayer is not high on that list; many Muslim women still do not have the freedom to choose who to follow, let alone who to lead. They continue to see their rights revoked not just by overzealous Muslim men who misinterpret Islam to their advantage, but by suspicious employers, unaccommodating lawmakers, unsympathetic media commentators, and vigilante street Joes. Yes, it is not just Muslim male extremists who jeopardize the rights of Muslim women, but secular, well-groomed men in suits as well.

So why do this? Why do it now?

For Wadud, ideological confrontation is the name of the game. It's her claim to faim.

She's a "shock Imam" who feeds off tackling controversial issues head on. In this case, she realizes that, though somewhat irrelevant to her community, such an endeavor is historic and so is bound to create ripples.

I am not claiming that Wadud is a hypocrite, only God has the right and the power to judge hearts. As the matter of fact, I have no reason to doubt her sincerity and her belief in, and love of, God. She strikes me as a genuine, intelligent and knowledgeable scholar.

What I am asserting is that her overt actions indicate that she has her priorities badly mixed up. I attribute her lack of clarity of vision to her losing herself to bitterness as she battles a conventional Muslim community that she has come to view with contempt. This as opposed to a non-contemptuous, objective approach peppered with patience and compassion, if not compromises – one that I would argue is in more accordance with the tender spirit of the Prophet Muhammad. I believe her frustration has led her to vent via obstinate confrontation without much concern for the best interest of the community at large.

For PMU/MWU, it’s yet another opportunity to cater to the vociferous calls of the ominous Western critics of Islam who are currently sitting comfortably at the apex of America’s social and political pyramid dishing out reprovals and approvals of Muslims. The MWU folks seem to crave so desperately the much-coveted seal of approval: the “Good Muslim” badge that initiates Muslims into mainstream society as “good ol’ Americans”.

I am not asking PMU or any Muslim to deny the sorry state of women in some parts of the Muslim world. No Muslim should deny that there are legitimate complaints bemoaning the abuse of women’s rights at the hands of certain Muslim factions; complaints that would sound off from within the ranks of Muslim women just as loudly as they do from the ranks of the Western critics of Islam, had these women the complete freedom to complain. These infringements need to be given immediate attention. Yet when I consider the question, “can a woman lead a congregation of men in prayer?”, I cannot ignore the fact that this is just NOT one of those complaints that are festering in the frustrated minds of oppressed Muslim women, but one that is much more at the forefront for the Western critics of Islam.

That is precisely why it becomes crystal clear to me whom MWU is really trying to accommodate with this campaign.

And so I call them opportunistic because I realize that they are taking this on now and here for its publicity value and for its capacity to bring them acceptance, rather than for its value to Muslim women (whose real grievances lie elsewhere).

So who are the MWU Progressive Muslims?

No, they are not CIA agents or undercover enemies of Islam; no, they are not infidels or apostates; kaffirs or Murtads. They are simply – at times - well-intended Uncle Toms vying for “total acceptance”. More often, they are a new generation of Muslim-Americans who are trying to redefine aspects of Islam to fit their comfort zone as set by their American culture. (Ironically, they do so without realizing that their very formation as a group was in reaction to a generation of Muslims before them making the exact same mistake of customizing Islam to accommodate the comfort zone set by their own Arab culture.)

In other words, the Progressive Muslims are as much culturally influenced as those they criticize for being culturally influenced.

Now, it is an unfortunate reality that Wadud and the Progressive Muslims see the rift that this will cause in the community as a small price to pay, or even worse, as a feat in its own right: "good, let them squabble about it - let's shock those stagnant losers into change".

In these trying times, the Muslim-American community deserves leaders and activists who put its best interests first and their personal frustrations last.

Only time will tell how much effect today’s publicity ploy will have on advancing the rights of Muslim women.

Personally, I don’t expect much to come out of it.

Wadud will lead the prayer. She will be hailed by her usual supporters, and condemned by her usual critics; lauded by those who are on an ideological cloud of optimism, and heckled by those who are enraged by her perceived apostasy. It will be business as usual for the “shock Imam”. It will be a media field day. For the rest of us, it will be a chance to read and write about something different, but it will never be anything more.

For now, it seems that when it comes to that cause, Wadud and the Progressive Muslims are shooting for the stars, leaving behind a sorry planet called earth. Moreover, they are doing it for all the wrong reasons.


by courtesy & © 2005 Ahmed Rehab

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