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 :)


  1. Hi Serenity,

    I fully agree with you. I think that women who try so hard to justify why women shouldn't lead men in prayer essential put themselves in an inferior position and the woman who wrote that article proves it. i'm really sorry for such women.

    thanks for sharing your response. I look forward to more!

  2. I think some women have swallowed sexism and patriarchy whole, and sometimes do more harm to their own kind than men do. Women who uphold sexism for men are allowing men to justify what they enforce because "see, these women agree" and then we are shamed into thinking we are the ones who are wrong, because our own sisters are telling us this.

    I like the quote "there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women." LOL

  3. Hi, Zarina! Welcome to the blog :) Thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    LOL @ the quote, Sarah! I agree!

    You're right that such women allow men to justify what they enforce, and men then get to say, "See? It's not just us! Even women agree!" :| And that puts us as abnormal women or something 'cause how can we not agree with other women out there agree?

    Ugh. Someone explain to them the psychology of women like the one who wrote the above article to help them understand why they do submit to such patriarchal and misogynistic rulings.

  4. Thank you Serenity! Absolutely love your response to that article, and yes I agree with Zarina and Sarah as well, that these women do much worse things to other women than men could ever do by themselves. The quote Sarah had, is actually also the title of a book in Swedish/Danish about feminism in modern day Scandinavia.

  5. You're very welcome, Becky!

    I wasn't aware of that -- that look like a book worth a read, eh! Thanks for informing me about it!

  6. Unfortunately I don't think it's translated into English, but do have a look for it. It's written by Liza Marklund and Lotta Snickare.

  7. Oh! I'll be looking out for it. Will let you know when I come across it, then.

  8. I agree, there really is nothing explicit within Islam that says women cannot lead prayers. I think that your article on Women Immams in China is a case in point. We could learn alot from our chineese counterparts.

  9. Where do u place the sunnah then? I thot the sunnah was meant to be practiced by true muslims? I thought we are allowed only to go round the circle of sunnah and not to bypass it. If we are only believers that believe in the sunnah then we wud gladly agree that no woman led prayer during the time of the prophet pbuh or during the reighn of the four rightly guided caliphs. If thiz iz the case, then the case is simple. Woman cant and shudnt, why coz it is un-sunnatic, it is a bidi'a(religious inovation) rather, and we all know what the prophet said concerning bidi'a.

  10. I hate how Ms. Mogahed's article implies women want to lead prayers because men lead prayers and they want to be like men. Or that women want to have careers because men have careers and women want to be like men. What if I want a career because I WANT A CAREER? I don't care whether men have careers or not! I know what I want and what other people have doesn't matter to me!

    She says motherhood is a privilege. And that women are giving up this privilege so they can chase a man's dream. But what if I don't WANT this privilege? What if I want to CHOOSE not to have children? Her article frustrates me so much, because she says women don't need to be like men, hence they don't need to have choice. Women don't need to be like men, and hence they should just stick to society-defined roles. I find that sickening.

    P.S. I'm really glad I stumbled upon this blog. :)

  11. Sadly the author does not provide any evidence from Qur'an or Sun ah that would tell us that women can lead prayers. Islam is not what one thinks or how one thinks, Islam is Qur'an and Sunnah.


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