Monday, April 11, 2005

Female-Led Prayers: A Step Forward for Women?

On March 18, 2005 Amina Wadud led the first female-led Jumu`ah Prayer.
On that day, women took a huge step towards being more like men. But,
did we come closer to actualizing our God-given liberation?

This answer was kindly provided by Sister Yasmin Mogahed, a member of
Ask About Islam Editorial Staff. Yasmin is an Egyptian-American
journalist based in Wisconsin, USA. She is currently studying for a
Master's degree in Journalism.

Thank you for your inspiring question!

Well, answering your question, I can say that I don't think so.

What we so often forget is that God has honored women by giving them
value in relation to God-not in relation to men. But as Western
feminism
erases God from the scene, there is no standard left but men. As a
result, the Western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to
a man. And in so doing, she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has
accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full
human being until she becomes just like a man-the standard.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a
man joined the army, she wanted to join the army, and so on. She wanted
these things for no other reason than because the "standard" had it.

What she didn't recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in
their distinctiveness, not their sameness. And on March 18, Muslim
women
made the very same mistake.

For 1,400 years, there has been a consensus of scholars that men are to
lead Prayer. As a Muslim woman, why does this matter? The one who leads
Prayer is not spiritually superior in any way. Something is not better
just because a man does it. And leading Prayer is not better just
because it is leading. Had it been the role of women or had it been
more
divine, why wouldn't the Prophet have asked Lady `A'ishah or Lady
Khadijah, or Lady Fatimah-the greatest women of all time-to lead? These
women were promised heaven and yet they never led Prayer.

But now, for the first time in 1,400 years, we look at a man leading
Prayer and we think, "That's not fair." We think so, although God has
given no special privilege to the one who leads. The imam is no higher
in the eyes of God than the one who prays behind. On the other hand,
only a woman can be a mother. And the Creator has given special
privilege to a mother. The Prophet taught us that heaven lies at the
feet of mothers. But no matter what a man does, he can never be a
mother. So why is that not unfair?

When asked who is most deserving of our kind treatment? The Prophet
replied "your mother" three times before saying "your father" only
once.
Isn't that sexist? No matter what a man does, he will never be able to
have the status of a mother.

And yet even when God honors us with something uniquely feminine, we
are
too busy trying to find our worth in reference to men, to value it or
even notice it. We too have accepted men as the standard; so anything
uniquely feminine is, by definition, inferior. Being sensitive is an
insult, becoming a mother is a degradation. In the battle between stoic
rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered
feminine), rationality reigns supreme.

As soon as we accept that everything a man has and does is better, all
that follows is just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it, we want it
too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we
want
to pray in the front rows too. If men lead Prayer, we assume the imam
is
closer to God, so we want to lead Prayer too. Somewhere along the line,
we've accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership
is some indication of one's position with God.

A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has
God
as a standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn't need a man
here.

In fact, in our crusade to follow men, we, as women, never even stopped
to examine the possibility that what we have is better for us. In some
cases, we even gave up what was higher only to be like men.

Fifty years ago, we saw men leaving the home to work in factories. We
were mothers. And yet, we saw men doing it, so we wanted to do it too.
Somehow, we considered it women's liberation to abandon the raising of
another human being in order to work on a machine. We accepted that
working in a factory was superior to raising the foundation of
society-just because a man did it.

Then after working, we were expected to be superhuman-the perfect
mother, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, and have the perfect
career. And while there is nothing wrong, by definition, with a woman
having a career, we soon came to realize what we had sacrificed by
blindly mimicking men. We watched as our children became strangers, and
soon recognized the privilege we'd given up.

And so only now-given the choice-women in the West are choosing to stay
home to raise their children. According to the United States Department
of Agriculture, only 31 percent o f mothers with babies, and 18 percent
of mothers with two or more children, are working fulltime. And of
those
working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting Magazine in 2000,
found
that 93 percent of them say they would rather be home with their kids,
but are compelled to work due to "financial obligations." These
"obligations" are imposed on women by the gender sameness of the modern
West and removed from women by the gender distinctiveness of Islam.

It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to
realize
a privilege given to Muslim women 1,400 years ago. Given my privilege
as
a woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I'm not, and
in
all honesty, don't want to be-a man. As women, we will never reach true
liberation until we stop trying to mimic men and value the beauty in
our
own God given distinctiveness.

If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose
compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven
at my feet, I choose heaven.

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