Thursday, October 13, 2011

Women working in mosques.

There's a debate going on in the forums of Berita Harian (BH), the Malay-language newspaper in Singapore right now, about whether women should serve on the administrative board of mosques. Not about women working in mosques per se -- they're fine with women serving as secretaries, doing data entry, collecting zakat and other sai kang stuff like that.

It all started when the head of MUIS (Islamic Religious Authority of Singapore) published an article on the front page of BH on 26 Sep this year, encouraging administrative boards of mosques to mobilise men and women to work for them. Specifically, he proposed gender quotas (touchy subject!), proposing that 1 or 2 women be hired in higher positions such as a Secretary or Treasurer -- notice that he didn't propose quotas for the Chairman or Vice-Chairman. However, he did not refuse the possibility of a Chairwoman someday. And this touched so many (Muslim Malay male) nerves!

Then on 1 Oct came a flurry of responses to the Forum of BH. One was from Md Maidin Packer Md, whose main argument was that it's not good (tidak elok) for women to administratively lead in a mosque. Unfortunately, all these articles are in Malay, so you can't read for yourself the gems that this man has written. Basically his arguments for not hiring women are:

  1. There are enough talented men working. Administrative work requires talent in... filing? Making phone calls?
  2. Not all mosques will agree.
  3. Men are doing a good enough job now. What value can women add? Perhaps ensuring that there will be clean female prayer spaces, non-misogynist sermons, and the possibility of not entering the mosque via the toilet?
  4. No Islamic precedence. Managing and attending mosques are men's jobs. So you do know what patriarchy means. While we're at it, let's say that Islam is a religion exclusively for men!
  5. Women's menstruation will affect their work. Can I bang my head against a wall?
  6. Hiring women is an innovation (bid'ah) and an evil progressive notion. Because you label everything you dislike as 'modern', 'progressive', 'liberal' or 'secular'.
  7. There will be sex scandals akin to the Catholic Church. Um, I think he just insulted all the men who currently work in mosques!
  8. Only men should sacrifice themselves for this great and noble work. Right on, keep thinking that.

On a side note, I love the word elok (lit. good). It's so vague and can be used to enforce any number of customs, traditions or personal preferences in a gentle way. For example, jangan keluar rumah lepas maghrib, tak elok (lit. Not good to go out after sunset) or tidak elok anak dara bersiul (not good for unmarried women to whistle), or as it has been used in his article, Tidak elok wanita pimpin masjid (lit. Not good for women to lead a mosque).

There's no rational reason for it, it's just not... good. And these people just want the best for you, you know?

Maidin found an ally in Nordin Amat, who wrote on 12 Oct 11 that female leadership in a mosque will bring about fitnah. Fitnah is another great word. Originally from Arabic, it appears in the Qur'an to mean discord or dissension between people who disagree over meanings of verses (3:7) or between those who believe and disbelieve (2:102, 9:47-48, 22:53), great corruption/transgression/oppression such as being expelled from where you live (2:191-193, 4:91, 8:73), among other meanings.

However, when used by Malays in a religious context it is conventionally taken to mean temptation that women can exercise over men. This is potent when combined with the meanings of chaos or disorder, because then it evokes the idea that women can seduce men and thus cause chaos on Earth. Or in this case, in the offices of mosques.
Nordin is another example of a discourse in our community that forbids the use of our own God-given gifts of intellect and rationality as they can lead us astray. A tactic of a growing group of disgruntled, educated and 'anti-West' Muslims, he uses labels such as 'relevant', 'progressive', 'liberal', 'secular', and 'modern' to make the whole move by MUIS seem like they are pandering to the modern, Westernised, Singapore state. (Because gender equality, contraception and anything involving giving women more control over their life here on Earth is Western and atheist and therefore evil.)

The best part of his article is his citations of verses from the Qur'an (the highlighter version, i.e. out of context) and some hadith (obviously, the best and most misogynist ones that contradict the Qur'an). Here's what he cited from the Qur'an:
And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance. (33:33)
He conveniently does not add in 33:32 for more context, because then we would know the subject of this verse which has been clearly stated -- the wives of the Prophet (The Qur'an is specific about who it addresses when it says 'O (title of people)' e.g. 'O believers!' 'O submitters!' 'O Prophet' or 'O wives of the Prophet'. So if you're a non-believer, or not a wife of the Prophet, you can bet God is not addressing you.) Even the rest of 33:33 gives more context, that this refers to ahl al-bayti, the members of this (the Prophet's) household.
And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way. (17:32)
Um, who's having sex in the mosques in the first place?

Fortunately, two voices of reason (male of course, to speak back to these men) prevailed. Muhammad Haniff Hassan, a religious teacher and researcher on terrorism, wrote in on 8 Oct to destroy the previous two men's arguments from a well-argued, jurisprudence point of view. He clarified that Islam does not forbid women leading a mosque administratively. I think this is really responsible of him as a religious teacher and knowledgeable scholar to step up and clarify when women's rights are being discursively threatened.

Most importantly, he stated that there is no single verse in the Qur'an that clearly forbids women to lead in a mosque management board or to be a leader in general. All verses relating to female leadership are speculative and ambiguous, meaning that no single interpretation can be fixed to it.

Likewise, another young man named Nuzulul Qadar Abdullah, a graduate from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, warned against ignoring the rights of women in Islam. He highlighted the differences of opinion among ancient scholars regarding this matter, and the specificity of the quoted hadith. I was especially tickled that he brought of the issue of Maidin Packer's discomfort (ketidakselesaan) with having a woman as a boss over the male imam and muezzin.

Some men are too chauvinist and egotistical to accept a female boss. But using religion to defend preferences? I mean, I don't like mutton and I don't like men saying that women are the source of chaos but I'm not about to quote verses out of context and claim that God forbade the eating of mutton or free speech.

What's interesting is that although the later two men argued against the earlier two, they distanced themselves from promoting the idea of women taking up these higher position or to go as far as encouraging women to do so. Oh well.

Here's a great video (in Dutch, unfortunately with no subtitles) of a tour to Esmaa Ihlas, a Turkish mosque in Geleen, as led by Leila Ã‡akir, the first female president of the mosque as elected in 2001. I am absolutely bowled over by the fact that her hair is not covered, and by the ease with which they sat down to eat cake with other men and women at the mosque.

Slowly does it! (:


House of Delight said...

My humble opinion, muslim man generally hv this kind of mentality because they have been brain washed by Some the so called “Ustaz /asatizah” ever since they were young - woman in general cannot lead period - , the lucky ones who uses their brain and explore the world and understood the essence of Quran and sunnah and the Islamic history will think otherwise.
“Ustaz /asatizah” are one of the most important Icon/people in our society. As long as these some “Ustaz/asatizahs” said so the society will hold it forever without a doubt. Our Society relies on them as they are so called “alim” in their area of specialization. Some Issues such as Woman being a leader in Islamic perspective needs further explanations as it is a huge topic, However issue like this will only be discussed by the surface as they were afraid further explanations will open a can of worms.
I dun blame Md Maidin parker for his controversial comment. His comment has just proven me that “Ustaz and Asatizah” are not doing their job or rather misuses their status in educating the society. Therefore the outcome, mana2 wanita yang layak menjadi ketua sesuatu organisasi akan menjadi permasalahan dikalangan Lelaki as if kalau wanita menjadi ketua akan melemahkan kelakian mereka..lolz.
They Refuse or I shall assume they dun really knw yang dalam perundangan Islam Seorang Perempuan Boleh menjadi Qadi (Judge) dalam bidang tertentu diantaranya urusan yang berhubungan Administrasi, berhubungan dengan isu kekeluargaan dan sebagainya kerana perempuan itu lebih ahli dalam bidang2 tersebut berbanding lelaki.
Therefore I think it can diqiaskan dalam permasalahan Wanita menerajui Masjid. :)
~ cheers~ Humairah Al-isnain

Sya said...

Mas! So glad to finally have your very valuable (fiqh) input on my blog. (:

I definitely agree on the fear of emasculation (melemahkan kelakian).

I think Md Haniff brought up the argument that women can be judges. So is LPM so great and important that it falls outside this ruling?

Again, like you said, these 'ustaz/azatizah' need to be more responsible!

orange streaks said...

I love the sarcasm you've used here - both written and visual. May I share the link to this blog post of yours in my FB? Anyway, you may want to download and save a soft copy of those articles in as they archive articles after a period of time and anyone clicking on those links in the future may not be able to access them.

Sya said...

Yes please share it! The more people read it the better. And thanks for the tip -- I'll be sure to download those articles!


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