A few weeks ago I was a guest on the Egyptian Dream TV Channel, hosted by Wael Elebrashy. The reason for his interest was a video of my community’s Eid prayer where a young woman led us in prayer and where we prayed desegregated, like we do in Mecca. The video has garnered over 1.3 million views. Along with me as a co-panelist was the Muslim Brotherhood’s second Secretary of Religious Endowment, Sheikh Salem Abdul-Jaleel. You can watch the interview here.
I should have known better than to think that it was going to be a fair and respectful conversation. And, it probably was a good thing the translator didn’t translate the snide remarks. Regardless, I’m not afraid of mullahs. Their faith is based on domination, oppression, disrespect, and sexualization of Islam. And worse, they think they are God.
The first question was along the lines of: “What do you say to people who claim that women leading men in prayer is a sign that the end of the world is near?” Then there was the question of “Do women wear makeup when leading prayer?” And of course, suggestions that a man praying behind and beside a woman is unthinkable, because according to their interpretation, God won’t accept the men's prayers.
He couldn’t win the argument on facts, or answer questions about the places in the Quran where it states that only men can lead prayer. Nor could he deny that the first woman imamah was Umm Warakhah, appointed by Prophet Muhammad himself, and who was also assigned a Mu’adhin (someone who does the call for prayer) for her. He tried to force me to rescind my stance and when that didn’t work, the Sheikh then tried to put fear in me with "the Taliban has a death threat on you."
Women are leading prayer in many communities in North America and in other parts of the world. It is not an issue for us, it is not a freak show, it is simply us coming together to pray in the most humble way, together, as equals. Equality - isn’t that what Islam is about?
In the next 20 years, this will be the norm in America and more acceptable in the rest of the world. And here are three reasons why:
A Sunday school in the suburb of Los Angeles announced recently that they will offer boys instructions on how to lead prayer and do the call for prayer. Disturbed by the gender discrimination a parent protested, stating that this is un-Islamic, and that girls should not be exempted from such instruction. Armed with scholarly writings Muslims for Progressive Values provided from our resources, she argued her case to the school board and won the right for girls to be trained as leaders in the religious domain, long reserved for men. In addition, the girls will be able to practice their new imamah skills with a monthly congregational prayer for girls only. This is the beginning toward the normalization of women imamahs.
To parents out there, email me if you too want to challenge your child’s Sunday school!
In Paris, a chapter of Muslims for Progressive Values, a grassroots organization that I head, has just launched its inclusive prayer space. Again, the values of equality and dignity for all is the foundation from which this space is built on, that is, where no one will be discriminated regardless of gender, race, class and sexual orientation. This essentially means, women and openly LGBTQ can also do the call for prayer, lead prayer, and where prayer spaces are desegregated. To listen to a radio interview on the launching of the Paris chapter click here.
The idea of inclusive prayer spaces is catching on with an MPV Denmark to follow, and a progressive group starting theirs up in London in January.
And lastly, the best results that came out of the Dream TV interview were the supportive emails and even a phone call from men in the Middle East urging us to stay the course. In one email:
"For me and For many many Arab Muslims , we support your movement, we support you because we believe that what you represent is THE REAL ISLAM ... Go ahead and don't give up, we need to reform our religious thoughts.”
To which I say: “Yalla!”
By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist
Photo used with permission from MPV