Muslim Prayers in New York,
Sparking Worldwide Controversy
19 March 2005
Schoetzau report - Download 414k
Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia
Commonwealth University, below, leads prayer in New York
Controversy erupted in New York Friday and spread across the Islamic
world as a woman Islam scholar led Friday prayer services. The service opened
with a call to prayer by another woman whose grandfather once led the call to
prayer in Cairo,Egypt.
Organizers say it is the first time on
record that a woman has led the Muslim Friday prayer service. Men and women
generally sit separately during Muslim services and the role of prayer leader
has been reserved for men, although some Islamic scholars say they are aware of
a few other mixed-gender services led by women.
Amina Wadud has now taken a step
to change Islamic traditions. An Islamic scholar at Virginia Commonwealth
University, Professor Wadud describes herself as a lonely scholar who took this
most public of steps to symbolize the possibilities for gender equality within
Islam. She led the mixed-gender service at a building on the grounds of the episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine after the
original venue was changed following threats.
Several religious leaders in the Middle East have criticized the event, saying it violates
centuries of tradition. But in her sermon, Professor Wadud
said it is a violation of god's integrity to try to reduce half of God's
creation. "Allah is always present whether we acknowledge it or not,
whether we agree with it or not, whether it is convenient for us or not, women
and men both are necessary and essential to Allah's plan for creation and women
and men both have the capacity to reach more moral excellence," she said.
About one-third of the approximatively 100 congregants were men. Among them, a
graduate student named Enis from Turkey called the service an historic event. "This is the beginning of an end to
male domination in religious authority," he said.
Participants came from as far away and Kentucky and Michigan.
The location of the service was kept secret until the last moment because of
threats and dozens of police guarded the area, keeping about two dozen
protesters at bay. The protest groups included men and women.
Male Protester: "They are trying to bring change in the Koran.
If Islam goes with what you feel, then it is not a religion, it is an option.
We are against her because she is trying to offend 1.4 billion Muslims and as a
Muslim it is our duty to forbid what we see as evil."
Woman Protester: "I am against what she is saying because
it has never been allowed, since the 14th century until now all the religious
scholars never allow a woman to be an Iman."
Some observers say the event represents a
split between the thinking of older Muslims and a new generation born and bred
in the United States.
Others say the event was to help publicize a new book written by one of the
organizers. Either way, the small service has ignited a debate on the role of
women in Islam throughout the Muslim world, thanks in large part to the Internet.