Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Female Mosques and Female Imams in China

I just came across this happy news through Unsettled Soul's blog.

In a country with about 21 million Muslims, women also have their own mosques to worship in
China distinguishes itself in the Muslim world with a long tradition of female imams.

These imams or ahong – a Persian derived word – perform many of the same duties their male counterparts do. They lead prayers and teach the Qur'an but can’t lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses.

"In a country with about 21 million Muslims, women also have their own mosques to worship in – another practice different from other countries," said Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences who co-authored a book on the subject. Women administered these mosques and women serve as the imams there.

In many other countries women attend the same mosques as men but pray behind partitions or in separate rooms. Many women’s mosques in central China began in the late 17th century as Qur'anic schools for girls. Then about 100 years ago, they evolved into women’s mosques.

Female imams can earn as little as $40 a month which is one-third of what’s earned in other jobs. This wage is not enough for women who need to support their families. This worries third-generation imam Sun Chengying who has been practicing for 21 years.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she said. “Women don’t want to be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

But the state-controlled Islamic Association of China has given political help to establish some women’s mosques in northwest China, where historically there were no such mosques.

While most Muslims in central China support female mosques, some Muslims who live closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t approve.

"Educating Muslim women is an important job," said Guo Baoguang of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But Baoguang admitted he was criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to participate in together.

Guo dismissed comments that women shouldn’t take part in social activities and should be restricted to the home.

“Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world,” Guo said. “The development Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslim elsewhere in the world.”

While Muslims may debate about whether women can be imams, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction training female religious leaders in 2006.

Original Source: ILLUME

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Prophet's Wives: Khadija and Aisha

I've recently been coming across some interesting perspectives on the two honorable ladies, Khadija and Aisha (God be pleased with them), and what they represent.

Leila Ahmed discusses the two and what they represent greatly in her book Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, but the first time I read about them was in "Women, Islam, and Patriarchalism" by Ghada Karmi in the book Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, edited by Mai Yamani. In the article/chapter, Ghada Karmi questions the claim that the status of women before Islam was horrific. She uses the example of the Prophet’s first wife, Khadija, to prove that, while some women may have been oppressed, it certainly was not the case with Khadjia; she was, after all, a businesswoman, proposed to the Prophet for her own hand, was fifteen years older than the Prophet, and did not have any co-wives, as did the Prophet’s wives whom he married after Khadija. Karmi also reminds he readers that while Aisha’s role as a political leader was not controversial during the transition from jahiliya ("time of ignorance") to early Islam, it became so only in the minds of later scholars of Islam. ('Tis truuuuuuue!!)

So, Aisha represents the transition from women's liberation through Islam to their oppression during the later eras of Islam. However, let's not the following also: Aisha represents the woman after Islam and Khadjia represents the woman before Islam.

Now it all makes sense, but I'd never thought of the two like this. Makes for an interesting study of classical women's texts!

In the next blog, I'm gonna paste and excerpt from Leila Ahmed's (or is it Fatima Mernissi's? Not sure yet) text on women/feminism and Islam, a conversation between the Prophet and a woman from the "jahiliya." It made me realize what all we've done to the "jahiliya" period just to claim that before Islam, women were oppressed and so terribly treated that had it not been for Islam, women would be treated like dirt -- all over the world. Uh, wrong.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Response to "A Woman's Reflection on Leading Prayer"

I once read an article called A Woman's Reflection on Leading Prayer, and I would like to share my response to it here.

But before I explain why I disagree with her (like more than strongly), it seems that we're more for choice, right? (The author herself doesn't say anything like "it's haraam to lead!" If it was haraam, she wouldn't have to write that article; it would be understood, and there'd be no point in debating it.) As in, if a woman doesn't want to "be like a man" (lol?), then she doesn't have to lead men in prayers, right? But if she wants to do so, then she can? (Um... no, I don't think that to lead someone in prayer or in any other way is to be like a man -- to me, that shows that we subconsciously see men as better leaders than women by nature. And I don't think men are better leaders than women naturally; it varies from person to person.

As can be noted, I completely disagree with the author, Yasmin Mogahed. It’s the typical perspective that most Muslims hold, so nothing new there, really. I wish men and women who are against female imams would come up with more creative reasons and explanations, since this is getting just too redundant and I don't find it cogent at all.

Allow me to explain -- though, before that, I'd like to request my readers that if you agree with Yasmin and disagree with me, refute my *justifications*, not my conclusion.

Clearly, author Yasmin believes that the only people who can have “equal rights” are those who *look* the same, are born the same. This, too, is a typical perspective; nothing new. But why do we have to define equality to mean sameness? Equality does not equal sameness. Why do we have to look the same in order to have equal rights? If we're gonna use this argument, even then it's flawed. All men are men, yes. And all men are equal, since all of them look the same, right? Wrong. They might be "equal" but they do not look the same at all. The only thing they have in common with each other is their reproductive organs, nothing more. An example would be ... oh, I don't know - I guess that Chinese man doesn't look like a South Asian man?

Certainly, we all agree that there are basic rights that ALL humans should have, regardless of their gender and class, right? Those might include the right to education and the right to work if one wants and the right for one to choose one's partner and so on. The problem is, who defines “basic” rights? Who said working falls under "basic" rights? Who said education has to fall under “basic rights”? And what law is there that says leading doesn’t fall under it? What if, to me and millions of others, being able to lead men in prayer should be a basic rights *available* to women? (And, no, not just leading children and other women but leading men as well. If men can lead women in prayers, what is it ABOUT women that says they should not or cannot?)

Also, I don't think that doing things that men do (if women are just as capable of doing them as men are) should mean that women want to be like men, or that they see men as superior.

Something else I’d like to know is ... what IS it about women that screams, “I am not allowed to lead prayers *because* I am a woman”?

And what does this have to do with westernization? I mean, did you guys know that in 1991, a British priest denied his position – as respected as he was all over Britain – because, he said, “I fear that women are now denying God’s commands, which clearly state that women may NOT become priests. I cannot lead such a corrupt society.” (I read this in one of Karen Armstrong’s books; don’t remember the title of the book, though, sorry.) So, really, it has nothing to do with the west, because even the west is still against it.

Now on some comments in the article.

For 1400 years there has been a consensus of the scholars that men are to lead prayer.

So? Author Yasmin forgets that this “consensus” was done by a group of CERTAIN men *who mattered*. Why does it have to become "Islamic" just because they decided on it? And you seriously mean to tell me that no one disagreed with them, that every single person in the group actually agreed to that? I guess that means that if you got someone in the circle who wants to say, “Wait, wait, why shouldn’t women be allowed to lead men in prayer again?” he’s kicked out of the circle.

At leas the author realizes that there’s nothing WITHIN Islam that says women can’t lead prayers; it’s the interpretations of scholars, and not just any scholars but male scholars. No, I do not deny the scholarship of the male scholars like Abu Hanifa by any means, but I’m only trying to remind us that women were never allowed to present THEIR stance on ANY issue in Islamic thought. I find that rather unfair and incomplete.

Besides, can we say that the REASON they denied women the right to lead men in prayers is that it was absolutely forbidden in practically all religions and cultures? Women just weren’t allowed.

The author above also seems to think that only men can join the army. Umm... she must be reminded that Aisha led the Battle of Camel (against Ali). What do we call that? Not just JOINING the army: even leading it, too!

The one who leads prayer is not spiritually superior in any way.

But, oh, I disagree – I think the one who leads the prayer IS considered spiritually superior. Think about it: Will we pick just ANYONE form the street and ask him to be our imam? Would we choose someone we know drinks, sleeps around, doesn't respect elders, rarely prays, etc., etc.? No, we’re going to choose someone whom we KNOW to be a righteous, good practicing Muslim. That, to me, shows that the person has to be (outwardly) better spiritually in the community.

Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, why wouldn't the Prophet have asked Ayesha or Khadija, or Fatima-the greatest women of all time-to lead? These women were promised heaven-and yet they never lead prayer.

Just because the Prophet didn’t ask Khadija or Aisha to lead prayer doesn’t mean it’s forbidden. Not a good argument to tell me why a woman shouldn't lead prayers. It's all contextual. Perhaps it has to do with the social norms of a time (not that I believe that breaking a norm is un-Islamic at all, though, but just saying that the Prophet's not saying women CAN lead men in prayers doesn't mean they can't). We’re forgetting that our scholars, as knowledgeable and brilliant as many of them have been, were products of their society. This doesn’t mean they were wrong; it means that there was only so much they could say that would be against the norms of the societies that bred them. You see, there's nothing in the Quran that tells us that women can't marry Christians or Jews; the Quran is silent on women's marrying men from the people of the book -- it says MEN can, but it doesn't say women can't. Does that mean women can't? For over 1400 years, it's agreed upon that Muslim women cannot marry Christians/Jews. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

On the other hand, only a woman can be a mother. And God 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?

Wait, did I really just read, "Why is it not unfair that a man can't be a mother?" . . . What?! He gets to be the father, and the woman gets to be the mother. What's the point? Or is the author asking why it's not unfair that heaven lies beneath the feet of the mother but not those of the father? That calls for an interesting discussion, but here's what I can say at the moment: The woman goes through a hell of pain to give birth; the man doesn't go through ANY pain whatsoever leading a group of people in prayer. Again, there’s nothing inherent about a woman that denies her the position of leading prayer – but there’s everything inherent about a woman that gives her the position of motherhood. So when the dear author above says that women are honored with the position of motherhood, it doesn't tell me ANYTHING about why a woman/mother can't lead prayers. The Great Amina Wadud, for example, doesn’t deny her motherhood; on the contrary, she is a proud and loving mother of several children (I'd know because I'm on her FB friends list.) Also ... there's a HUGE difference between a "mother" and a "wife" (or just a woman in general). You can't compare wife to mother, really. We all know that Islam highly respects mothers, even hadiths respect them and all scholars agree on the position of *mothers* in Islam -- but it's the position of wives that they do not agree on. So, for the author to say, "God has honored the woman by making her a mother" is not a good enough argument because just as a woman can be a mother, a man can be a father. So, what about men (who can be fathers) says that they can lead women in prayers while women (who can be mothers) can't lead men in prayers?

But just because the woman goes through monthly pain of menstruation and the extreme pains of labor during birth doesn’t mean she can’t lead men in prayer. I guess what I'm asking for is ... biological proof that the woman should not lead men in prayers. (I'll explain the whole feminine figure thingie and a woman's voice being "naturally hotter, sexier, more seductive" than men's later.)

And there’s also nothing inherent about a man that MAKES him a leader, be it a leader of a congregational prayer or of a household or of a country or of a community. So when this author says:

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

it seems to me that she's saying that men are NATURALLY better leaders that women are. How is leading people in prayer being man-like? Aren’t you giving a man the honorable position of leading while utterly forbidding it on the woman?

Then, after working, we were expected to be superhuman—the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker—and have the perfect career.

Okay, so don’t work. Why do people make it seem like feminism demands that all women work? Not at all. Feminism demands that women be given choices, that they be allowed to speak for their own selves and make their own decisions when they want. It doesn’t say that any woman who doesn’t work is oppressed or uneducated or illiterate. There's a difference. In the same way, (some Muslim) women want to be ALLOWED to lead prayers if they want to do it; they are not saying that we should be obligated to do it.

Feminism doesn’t say that women should be the perfect homemaker and perfect housewives: in fact, it is completely against the idea of reducing women to domestic life. Feminism honors the woman by saying, “Woman, you have SO much more to offer this world; not only do you have the natural ability to give birth, but you also have the intellect to excel in business, commerce, scholarship, the arts, the sciences, and so on. Why not discover your skills and put them to use if you want?”

No woman should feel obligated to work – but my belief is that no man should either. We need to stop with our double-standards.

It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to realize a privilege given to Muslim women 1400 years ago.

Aaaannd ... exactly what privilege would that be? And what if I disagree that it’s a “privilege” to be at home all day long (especially if you don’t want your life that way)? What if you WANT to lead men in prayer but are forbidden so by a select group of people (by people, I mean men)?

I could go on and on with the millions of holes I find in this author’s arguments against feminism and women leading prayers, but more some other time.

One thing though … if someone wants to argue that the reason women shouldn’t lead men in prayer is that when they bend down for ruku and sajda, their backs show, I must ask ... but men’s backs show as well; what are women supposed to do then? Or are women like precious little barbie dolls and therefore don't have any desires or feelings -- or, no wait! They're not allowed to have desires! Shucks. And if it’s her voice, what about the man’s voice? I am sure most girls are likely to say, “No, no, men’s voices aren’t THAT hot! Who gets turned on by them?!” Well, I disagree: Many orators of the Quran have voices that have the power to KILL a woman because they’re so damn hot that one could listen to it ALL day long. If you find this disgusting, then allow me to say: I find it disgusting that women are not allowed to lead prayers just because their voices are SOMEHOW ‘naturally hotter’ than men’s, OR that the reason we don’t have any female orators is that men might get turned on by their voice. That’s not disgusting?

And what DO we make of the woman when we deny her these positions of leadership just because of her shape? Sorry, but I find that degrading because it reduces the woman to a sexual object. (More on this in another blog post.)

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.

1. The author acknowledges that the fact that women are not allowed to lead men in prayer is unjust!
2. She fails to explain what the leading of women has to do with "compassion" and/or why a woman who leads prayer is no longer compassionate (what?).
3. She implies that you either get to have heaven lie beneath your feet OR lead prayer. Since when did this become the case? And, again, the whole heaven deal applies only to mothers, not to just women in general :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Hijab as the Solution to Rape?

About a year ago, I realized something: We're told to wear the hijab in order to avoid being molested, and I, along with many other Muslim women, have actually fallen for this! We are also told that we are demanding respect by wearing the hijab. For some 21 years of my life, I was totally okay with this, believed it to be true, thought it made the most perfect sense in the world, and even accepted the head scarf as a commandment of God. Boy, was I wrong -- so, SO wrong.

Of course, I'm all for choice. As long as you choose to cover your hair (and anything else, for that matter, be it the face), it's all good. But I fear many Muslim women wear the hijab claiming it's out of choice but at the same time believing that it's *mandatory*. I'm not sure if that's a choice any longer, but I mustn't get into the whole philosophy of choice just yet. For now, I can say this much:

Why do I have to cover my hair to demand respect? Can I not demand it so in the millions of other ways available to me as options? Sure, if that's the only way you can get respect from others and it actually works for you, by all means hold strongly to it. But it doesn't work for everyone; even if it does work, it's not the only option. Only a man raised to believe that a woman whose hair isn't covered is inviting molestation or rape or troubles of other sort would assume that the woman has no respect for herself or her body just because her hair is not covered.

One way to view the hijab, especially for the reasons I stated above (respect, not inviting rape, etc.), is this: "People, the ONLY way men will respect me is if I wear the hijab, and so here I am." In other words, "I don't know how else to prove my worth to people, and the only way that I've been taught is by covering my hair."

So, yeah, many Muslim females falsely believe that by wearing the hijab, you're demanding respect and telling society, "You BETTER accept me for what I am. I'm not giving this up just to please you." What we don't think about is .. are we saying something else, something different, the opposite, when we choose not to wear the hijab? I mean, what about a non-hijabi woman screams, "People, feel free to disrespect me!" Why're we assuming that the non-hijabi Muslim woman has "given up" the hijab to please whomever?

Besides, here's something else we say when we wear the hijab: "I'm nothing but a dangerously sexy and naturally seductive being -- all because I was born a female -- and so the only way to make myself be seen as a NON-seductive individual is if I cover my hair/face."

No, no - don't get me wrong. That's not all there is to the hijab; I'm just reminding you that your way of seeing the hijab isn't the only way. And neither mine nor yours is the correct, or the only correct, way. But both are equal in value, and both views need to be acknowledged.

I find both ways insulting -- the view that the ONLY way men will leave me alone is if my hair is covered and the view that I'm a naturally seductive being. For God's sake, there's SO much more to a woman than just her body. And the niqab and hijab actually tend to objectify the woman at least as much as, if not more than, they "humanize" her by portraying her as a human rather than a sex object. Every Islamic/Muslim forum you ever go to talks about hijab; every debate on Muslim women revolves around women's hijab. Like, yo! Is there NOTHING more to my humanness, my womannness, my Muslimness, my identity than the piece of cloth I choose or am forced to wear on my head?

We're also told that wearing the hijab reduces our chance of being raped/molested/teased otherwise. But, but, but, but . . . but here's the problem with that: By covering ourselves so much, are we REALLY helping solve the problem of those hungry beasts who are looking for women to rape? Or are we submitting to their beliefs and wishes and placing on women ALONE the burdens of morality and peace and stability in our society, which we share with our male counterparts as well? Are there any other solutions to the problems of hungry beasts, or is this the only one?

We may not realize it, but it's time we do: When we tell the woman to wear the hijab so she can avoid being molested, we're evading the REAL problem of our society: criminals, rapists justifying their evil actions against women who choose not to cover. Hungry men roaming around, looking for a female whose hair is uncovered (no, really?) so they can rape her. And what are we doing, folks? We're JUSTIFYING rape! We're saying, "That woman deserved to be raped. She should've covered her hair, and then nothing would've happened. Let's make all girls cover their hair. Problem of rape solved!" Oh, I don't think so. I've read some conflicting statistics on the rates of rape in Muslim societies where women have to cover their hair as well as in non-Muslim societies where women don't have to cover their hair, so I really don't know which stats to trust. But for those of us, like Zakir Naik, who think that AMERICA represents the ultimate non-Muslim society in which women don't have to cover their hair, that America's high rape rate represents EVERY non-Muslim society's rates, I'm not convinced! America isn't all there is, you see. There's Canada, too, and Iceland and Germany and Japan and Mexico and Brazil . . . and the list is never-ending.

My intention is not to make women take the hijab off. No. What they do with their lives, whether by choice or compulsion, is entirely their business -- or maybe the business of those who are in charge of them. But I want only that we see how many different ways our dress code can be seen, and I don't want us to accept any unless and until we've understood more than what we are used to. That way, our ultimate decision was made upon serious contemplation and not just imitation of someone else's beliefs or understanding/interpretation.

But do understand that if your wearing the hijab has anything to do with your sex/gender/physiology, you are essentially sexualizing yourself and bring more attention to your sexual parts than repelling attention from them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Am I Pretty?"

I found this on Sarah's blog, and I'm grateful! It's already touched the lives of many who have seen this!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Female Giving a Khutba

Something very, VERY interesting -- and uplifting -- I'd like to share here.

Sa'diyya Shaikh giving a khutba (the Friday sermon).

Click here to watch.
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