Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why women shouldn't lead prayer: Prologue

Sometimes, people write my posts for me. An acquaintance, whom I knew in high school, and whom I never spoke too much with (even until today), appears to have discovered a new level of spirituality -- something I noticed was so common among my friends who hit the mid-twenties and start searching for meaning.

In young women, this often manifests itself as the decision to wear hijab. In both young men and women, this is manifested by the switching of Facebook profile pictures, notes, and photos with more Islam-oriented ones. Statuses are used as a channel for public supplications, photos of nature and/or some sort of peaceful scenery replace photos of their actual faces, and quotes from religious texts proliferate.

I had seen, a few weeks ago, this young man in question post a message aimed to dispel the notion that Islam oppresses women (le sigh, Islam doesn't, Muslims do). His contribution to this tired debate was a hadith telling people to treat their women kindly.
"The believer with the most complete faith is the one with the best character, and the best of them are those whom treat their women the best." (Tirmidhi)
But why don't people see that just because the Prophet said do something, it doesn't mean that we human beings actually act that way?

Articles with titles containing 'women', 'Islam', and 'status'/'role'/'rights' are inevitably going to be apologist, quoting religious texts on the rights of women (which can be used either way, mind you), dismissing oppression as unrepresentative of this mysterious monolith called 'Islam', and then usually concluding with praising the elevated status of mothers (and you wonder why you have to tell Muslim women who are stressed about getting married that that shouldn't be their main focus in life). (PS: not every woman can or want to have children, okay?)

I know people have the best intentions, but some people who know I have an interest in gender and Islam think that I am interested in the abovementioned genre of articles. So for the record: NOT INTERESTED. Make an effort to understand the diversity of women's movements within Islam first.

Source


Now on to the good stuff! Recently this article 'Dr. Amina Wadud and the Progressive Muslims: Some Reflections on Woman-Led Prayer' was sent to me as a sincere (read: patronising) aim at correcting my 'twisted' views on women in Islam, as represented by my gushing over this beautiful article by Asma Barlas on the need to claim for all of us to read and understand the Quran, and to remove the monopoly of interpretation from the authority of the (male) ulama. (Since the source links in that one suck, here's another.) The article by Asma Barlas touched briefly on why people need to chill TF out over Amina Wadud's imamate:
"...At least the people who prayed behind her have democratically selected her. The authority of an imam or leader of prayer is not the same as a priest or a pope. Nobody is going to be forced to obey her. An imam can be anybody leading the prayer. If people want to pray behind her, why not? If she is the most knowledgeable Muslim in that room and she can lead the prayer: why not?"
Health warning: Feelings may range from empathy to outrage, or flit back and forth while reading this article. This may or may not be good for your own emotional well-being and self-esteem.

In general, the author seemed to be torn between two camps: the mainstream, and her own gut feelings of being treated like crap in the mosque and in social interactions just for being a woman. She seems to go back and forth between demonising this strangely-homogenous-sounding group called the 'Progressive Muslims' and highlighting legitimate concerns of feminist Muslim scholars.

As an appetiser, I picked out a whole load of assumptions from the article...
  1. Progressives are one homogenous group of people as represented by PMUNA.
  2. Quran = Sacred law = Sharia law = Sharia of Allah.
  3. Feminist scholars have biases, but male scholars are unbiased.
  4. Progressive movements have no credibility because they promote sex outside of marriage.
  5. Non-Muslims have values different from 'traditional Islamic values'.
  6. Hadith should be accepted at face value, especially those with certain names in its transmission.
  7. Mainstream scholars agree that a woman cannot be imam. Two scholars said it was possible on certain conditions. These two are the minority and so the majority opinion wins.
  8. Female imamate divides society, so we shouldn't discuss it.
  9. Women's biological conditions (i.e. menstruation, pregnancy, post-partum bleeding) prevent 'complete' prayer.
    • Menstruation should not be advertised.
    • Prayer requires bowing and prostrating. 
  10. Women praying next to men does not produce an environment of mutual respect and piety.
    • Mixed congregation = touching each other's bodies.
    • Men will harass women once they are close to them.
    • Women are responsible for NOT being harassed.
  11. Prayer is either valid or invalid, according to jurisprudence.
  12. Shari' conceptions of gender identity exist. These are the true forms of gender identity. 
  13. Western scientists, Western gender theorists, Western feminists exist. They are inferior to Muslim scholars.
  14. Harsh male imams prevent women from going to the mosque. Not humiliating women will make them feel welcome in the mosque.
...which would make for an crazy long post if I were to address them all, so I've decided to split it up over 3 separate blog posts. Bon appetit!

  1. Quran = Sacred law = Sharia law = Sharia of Allah.
  2. Hadith should be accepted at face value, especially those with certain names in its transmission.
  3. Feminist scholars have biases, but male scholars are unbiased.
  4. Most Sunni and Shia scholars agree that a woman cannot be imam. Two scholars said it was possible on certain conditions. These two are the minority and so the majority opinion wins.
  5. Western scientists, Western gender theorists, Western feminists exist. They are inferior to Muslim scholars.
  6. Shari' conceptions of gender identity exist. These are the true forms of gender identity. 
  1. Prayer is either valid or invalid, according to jurisprudence.
  2. Women's biological conditions (i.e. menstruation, pregnancy, post-partum bleeding) prevent 'complete' prayer.
  3. Women praying next to men does not produce an environment of mutual respect and piety.
Why women shouldn't lead prayer Part III: On society
  1. Progressives are one homogenous group of people as represented by PMUNA.
  2. Progressive movements have no credibility because they promote sex outside of marriage.
  3. Non-Muslims have values different from 'traditional Islamic values'.
  4. Female imamate divides society, so we shouldn't discuss it.
  5. Harsh male imams prevent women from going to the mosque. Not humiliating women will make them feel welcome in the mosque.

    2 comments:

    Gose Halima said...

    I'm looking forward to reading your articles!

    aletha said...

    Hurry up and write! Haha

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