Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Muslim Women Re-Imagine Worship Experience and Claim Female Voices

(Breaking through Glass Ceilings - picture by Qiyamah A. Rahman,2006)

Following are examples of Muslim women leading various aspects of Muslim worship. This column will continue to be expanded to add new voices and examples of Muslim women claiming self agency and forging new frontiers in Islam:

Dr. Amina Wadud in Barcelona -- One of the world’s leading experts on the Qur’an and its discourse on gender led a mixed-gender congregation in a Friday communal prayer in Barcelona, Spain yesterday.

The impromptu prayer came after Wadud, professor of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, was invited to lead a congregation by several Muslim women during a question and answer period following a talk by Wadud at the International Congress on Islamic Feminism.

After answering a slew of questions on the historic mixed-gender prayer she led earlier this year in New York City, members of Spain’s Muslim community quickly organized a makeshift prayer in a conference room at the Alimera Hotel in Barcelona, where the Congress was being held.

About thirty worshippers participated in the prayer.

Before the prayer a minor controversy erupted about whether Spanish television cameras can record the event, with several congregants refusing to be filmed. Soon, the TV cameras were removed and the prayer began with the call to prayer followed by a short sermon by Wadud.

Ahmed Nassef is editor-in-chief of muslimwakeup.com.

Raheel Raza describes her experience delivering the kutba, Muslim sermon:

It was April 22, earth day and here we were, a motley crowd of some 40 people gathered in a backyard – close to earth. Although the meteorologists had predicted rain, the skies were bright blue, the sun shone and there was a slight breeze. I felt the heavens smiling on us and I took a deep breath of peace. The time for Friday prayers was near.

I wasn’t so calm three weeks ago when Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) asked me if I would lead a mixed gender prayer for the community. My first reaction was to say no because I wasn’t ready to be part of media frenzy.

So Tarek took the petition to my husband who convinced me that it would be a natural progression of the work I do in interfaith, to actually lead a prayer for my own community. I thought about this deeply and realised that there are many Muslim women who don’t have a safe space in which to pray, so this might open some doors. Once my intention was clear in my mind, I agreed. My sons were concerned for my safety, but once I made the decision, I left the rest up to Allah, praying for guidance and strength.

My trepidation was not unfounded because the venue had to be changed twice before it could be considered safe. We finally ended up in Tarek’s backyard which had been cleaned up in a record one hour and had carpets laid out in a row.

About 40 people turned up, more men then women surprisingly, and it was a joy to note the diversity. It was also remarkable to note that this was not a ‘reactionary’ crowd or a battle of ‘progressive vs conservative’ because there was an Imam and women in hijab in the group. I was humbled as I stood before the congregation on this landmark occasion. I thanked them for their trust and confidence in inviting me to lead them in prayer. “Your faith today” I started by telling them, “is the only criterion really required in Islam to empower a person to lead prayer. This is especially heart-warming for me as I’ve lead prayers in churches, synagogues and temples and feel honoured as I stand here with my own community”.

I explained how we would proceed. A young man called out the azaan (call to prayer) and I gave the sermon beginning with the first verse from Sura Nissa (the chapter on women in the Quran).

O mankind fear your Guardian Lord who created you from a single person, created out of it His mate and from them scattered like seeds countless men and women – fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual rights and be heedful of the wombs that bore you for Allah ever watches over you.

I continued “So we know at this moment Allah is watching over us and I believe from my heart and soul that Allah made us equal in creation and wanted all of us to have this equality that is denied to many women today. What we are doing today is not re-inventing our own tradition, rather following in the teachings and role models of our faith. And how auspicious is this occasion today, being the birth anniversary of our beloved Prophet who is a mercy for all humankind.”

The fact that this momentous event was taking place on the birth anniversary of my beloved Prophet Mohammed, was a sign of great blessing for me. Yet I knew that some of these brave men and women, who were here to support me, may have doubts and in the second half of my sermon, I allayed those fears.

I said “I’m often asked where I get the strength of conviction that I’m doing the right thing. I’m inspired by the first woman of Islam – Hazrat Khadija – uumul momineen – mother of believers – it is said that her wealth could cover the grounds around the Kaaba – yet she donated her assets to build that small Muslim community which desperately needed her support. I’m motivated by Bibi Fatima who relayed the Prophets sermons to the larger community and tradition records that when she entered the room, the prophet stood up in respect for his daughter. I draw strength and courage from Bibi Zainab who shook the court of Yazid with her impassioned khutba after the tragedy of Karbala. Here we see a woman building an empire through her financial status, a woman stabilizing that empire though her piety and a woman shaking an empire though her passion for truth and justice. And of course, I’m impressed by Hazrat Ayesha, a theologian and narrator of hadeeth.”

By this time I could see some eyes were getting wet – the message was getting through. I ended with the following words: “Today it doesn’t matter who leads prayers. This event is just to break the domination of a few misguided bigots who try to reduce God to a policeman and who’s only interest in ‘profit’ is the kind that comes out of their bank account. Each one of us today is empowered to take with us a message of peace, justice, equality, tolerance, compassion and open mindedness. This is not my message or that of our host – this is the message of the book”

We ended with a dua, but as we rose to our feet to meet and greet each other, I was overwhelmed with tears and so were others. Some of the women told me they had not prayed in years and were ecstatic to come back into the fold. For at least one person, this was their first congregational prayer so this auspicious occasion was blessed from the inception and became a ‘first’ for many of us, held together by love of Allah and His Prophet.

No comments: