"Allah is not prejudiced. Are you?"
This past Friday, Muslims in the New York City area were shown an example of a more inclusive, tolerant faith when Dr. Amina Wadud, a woman, led a prayer service. By doing so, Dr. Wadud broke a long-standing Islamic tradition which dictates that only men may serve as imams (prayer leaders). Not only that, but there was no separation of men and women among the congregation, an Islamic tradition I had seen myself on a visit to a local Muslim prayer hall. Men and women prayed together at this event, which took place despite negative reaction from area mosques and even a bomb threat.
Not surprisingly, this incident has sparked a lot of controversy in the Muslim world. In the Middle East, some clerics have angrily denounced the practice while others have defended it. I noticed that on Al-Jazeera's English website, a largely negative report of the event was one of the most e-mailed stories.
The article did note, however, that in China women "routinely lead mixed Muslim congregations." So the practice is certainly not without precedent, and hopefully will receive more support from American Muslims. Here is as good a place as any to overturn a practice that is not even supported by the Koran.
Despite a lot of research on my part, I am thus far unable to find a reason why this practice has gone unchallenged for so long. If the matter were a central aspect of Islam, that would be a more difficult matter, but surely mainstream moderate Muslims don't believe that women are naught but distractions to men.
Searching the Internet for more reactions from Muslims, and coming across too many in the vein of this Morocco Times piece, I was heartened when I saw in an Arab News article the quote that led off this post. Those who are not fundamentalists, especially Muslims in this country, should ask themselves that question seriously. Change is overdue.