A Woman Can Lead Friday Prayers
BY: Syeda Hameed
I was a member of the National Commission of Women in 1998 when I met Daud Sharifa, who was building a mosque for women at Puddokotai, Tamil Nadu, since women were denied entry into mosques there. Last week, I read reports that a woman in Mallapuram district led the Friday prayers, which was attended by 50 people. Speaking to reporters, the woman, K Jamitha, said Islam does not forbid women to be imams, it only refers to Momins (faithful) men and women and so what she did was in keeping with the spirit of Islam.
However, a recent piece — Aurat ki Imamat — published in the Urdu media has listed many reasons why a woman leading the prayer is against tenets of Islam. Much of the article is a deliberate misreading of the teachings and spirit of the religion. This is nothing new. Ever since the advent of Islam, misreading and misrepresentation have been a patriarchal campaign, which flies in the face of the words of Allah, the sayings of the prophet and his exemplary life.
One of the main arguments against women imams and Qazis has been that these women do not have a proper understanding of the Quran. The word used for women by most Muslim clerics is “Naqesul Aql”, meaning “mind-cancelled”.
Islam has unflinching regard and respect for women. The Quran, the Hadith, and the Sunnah are imbued with raising the status of women in a brutal, misogynist, patriarchal Arab society. Its most revolutionary act in a society that buried its girl children at birth was to give women property rights.
At a time when women were inferior to domestic animals and chattel, Islam enjoined women to become ‘Shahid’ (witnesses) in legal disputes. The Quran says two women are equal one man, but that was only to ‘begin with’. Unfortunately, 1,436 years later our community is still stuck in that ancient time warp; what Islam brought to the Arab world was light years ahead of prevalent social practice. What progress have we made since the beginning of that Hijri calendar and Quran’s revolutionary injunctions?
Allama Iqbal, the great poet, was referring to Muslims when he wrote:
Na Samjhoge To Mit Jaoge Ai Hindustan Walo/ Tumhari Daastaan Tak Bhi Na Hogi Daastanon Mein
(If you don’t understand, you will vanish, citizens of India/Even your story will not remain in the stories)
The first word of Quran is ‘read’. That one word is the key to moving on, to explore new frontiers of understanding. Surah Al Baqr of the Quran refers to Summun, Bukmun, Umiyun, (deaf, dumb and blind) those who will not heed the words of Allah and will apply their own Kufr (heresy) to create mischief (Fasad) in the world.
Muslim men have rarely projected the gendered face of Islam. The more they say that women are inferior, the more the world turns away from a faith, which came as Rahmat ul Alameen (mercy to humankind) to the world and taught the lesson of Mussawaat (equality) to those who listened.