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Triumph of Bigotry

 

 By Ali Sina  

On Friday, March 18, 2005 a Muslim woman made history. For the first time in 1400 years a female led an Islamic prayer service Friday with men in the congregation. This event drew a lot of attention from the western media who, eager to see some reformation in Islam, gave it full coverage. It also drew sharp criticism from Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East who complained that Wadud violated centuries of tradition.  

Significantly the prayer was not led in a mosque but in a church. Three New York mosques had refused to host the service. Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University , led the service at Synod House at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, an Episcopal church in Manhattan , after an art gallery that had earlier been selected for the service, received a bomb threat.  

"The issue of gender equality is a very important one in Islam, and Muslims have unfortunately used highly restrictive interpretations of history to move backward," Wadud said before the service. "With this prayer service we are moving forward. This single act is symbolic of the possibilities within Islam." She said,  

About 80 to 100 people attended the service, and the group appeared evenly divided between men and women. “The event was meant to draw attention to the inequality for women in Muslim spiritual life and Muslim life in general,” said Asra Q. Nomani, an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter who was the lead organizer of the prayer.  

“We are standing up for our rights as women in Islam. We will no longer accept the back door or the shadows,” Nomani said. “At the end of the day, we'll be leaders in the Muslim world.”  

This event drew the protest of Muslims even in US and heavy police presence was required to protect the worshippers from being assaulted by the angry Muslims demonstrating outside the building. One U.S. born, bearded protester said Wadud was not representative of Muslims. He carried a placard calling for Allah's curse to be upon Nomani. “She is tarnishing the whole Islamic faith. If this was an Islamic state, this woman would be hanged,” he told the Associated Press. Another protester had a large placard that read: “Mixed Gender Prayer Today: Hellfire Tomorrow”. 

One organizers of the event said, “It is not about telling other Muslims how they should worship. We just need to be open to new ideas."  

The problem is that new ideas are not allowed in Islam. New ideas are called bid’a (innovation) and this is a major sin. Muhammad claimed that his religion is complete (5:4) and so there is no need of addition and deletion. According to one tradition he said: “There is nothing that will take you closer to paradise but that I have enjoined it upon you, and there is nothing that will take you closer to hell but that I have warned you from it" [Musnad ash-Shaafi'ee and others]  [source]

Not surprisingly, the event drew widespread condemnation from Islamic scholars worldwide.

The sheik of Cairo 's Al-Azhar mosque, one of the world's top Islamic institutions, said Islam permits women to lead other women in prayer but not a congregation with men in it.  

“A woman's body is private,” Sheik Sayed Tantawi wrote in a column in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram in which he was asked about Wadud's planned prayer. “When she leads men in prayer, in this case, it's not proper for them to look at the woman whose body is in front of them. Even if they see it in their daily life, it shouldn't be in situations of worship, where the main point is humility and modesty.”  

Abdul-Aziz al-Khayyat, a former minister of religious affairs in Jordan and a Muslim cleric, also said it would be forbidden under Islamic doctrine, and that the prayers of men who participated would not count.  

"Prophet Muhammad and all the scholars did not allow the woman to lead ... mixed congregations, not even to allow her to pray at the side of the man," al-Khayyat said. "She can only pray behind him."  

The daily Ummat of Pakistan in an editorial titled as “New Fitna” (sedition), wrote that a woman leading Jummah Prayer is another Western conspiracy to modify Islam and make it a more liberal religion.

In the news section they also connected Dr. Wadud to Salman Rushdie. As for Asra Nomani the daily ummat wrote that she is a woman of bad character who slept with Daniel Pearl. This is so typical of Muslims who resort to slander and character assassinations as soon as they fail in logics.

One Muslim scholar wrote: 

“The first problem with this scheduled event is that the theme is `Muslim Women Reclaim Right to Lead Prayer,' while it should read `Muslim Women Claim Right to Lead Prayer,' since there is no basis for the belief that it was ever a right for women to lead a mixed-group prayer. And there are no explicit accounts of women ever leading a mixed-group of men and women in prayer.  

He went on to say that three of the four Sunni Schools of law (Hanafis, Shafi'is, and Hanbalis) permit for a woman to lead other women in prayer except that the one leading is not to stand out in front of the row. Rather, she is to remain aligned in a single row with the other women, so as not to appear to be leading as a man would.”  

 

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