Until the 15th Century the Friday khutbahs were preached in the name of the queens and women heads of states in Yemen and Iraq. That is an extreme honour because these women literally dictated the sermons so, in effect a woman did ‘deliver’ the khutbah. I have been told that there are also a couple of ahadith that suggest that women led prayers in the Prophet’s time and he acknowledged that.
However, traditionally the Friday prayer has become men’s hanging out time in a ‘religious manner.’ It is a time to create brotherhood bonds, discuss religion and politics, and generally ‘chill out’ Islamically. That is why, I believe, Friday prayers should be a soothing experience and the sermons should stimulate the intellect.
On the other hand, we must realise that women are increasingly getting involved in politics and work outside the home. They need intelligent conversation too. Where I live I have plenty of relatives living in the same town. However, all my cousins are homemakers who haven’t studied beyond high school or best attended some college courses. I share no interests with them and our conversations become extremely boring after a while because despite my efforts I cease to contribute effectively.
I think women also need congregations where their concerns are raised. I don’t want to discuss anything with men. I don’t want them to pray with me. I don’t want men to pray behind a woman. I don’t care for all that. That is not equality and that is not what interests me. I want to discuss investment opportunities for Muslim women within Islamic means and regulations. And I want to discuss it with a woman who knows about Islamic finance because I know that a man will tell me to sell jam.
We need to hear from another woman and not a man what lies for us in religion. Blogosphere is not our khutbah place. We need to connect with women in the real world. At least I need that. I want to hear what a Muslim woman like me thinks about politics, religion, feminism, marriage, child-bearing and child-raising. I want to know what God says about women. I want to know what lies in Heaven for women. I want to know how God feels about lesbians. I want to discuss the feminine side of God; how He loves us like 70 ‘mothers.’ I want to know what should be done to men who rape their wives. Sorry but the khutbahs don’t tell me all that. I want to do more than swap recipes and talk about fashion with women.
Consequently, I don’t look forward to Friday for spiritual revitalization. I wish I could look forward to it as a day when the entire family can go out and meet like-minded people; where we can spend a good hour or so praying and talking about what is important to both men and women in Islam.
Therefore, I feel that it is important for women to be included in Friday sermons. One way of doing it could be to have separate sections in the mosque where two separate khutbahs could be delivered – for men and for women by men and by women respectively. Having it on any other day after any other prayer will dampen the spirits of the many interested women because Friday prayer is so hyped up in Islam. Mosques should ideally arrange for a child-minding facility while mothers congregate because many women can’t attend Friday prayers as they have to stay home and look after their children. This way women will be able to see and communicate with the khatibah rather than peek through screens to see the khatib.
So here is what I think: feminists should stop trying to tame the shrew. Sermonizing men and women and leading them in prayer is the end product; the process is different. Women like Wadud are jumping at the result without going through the process.
First, we need to convince women that it is important for them in the 21st Century to get involved in religion and politics. Women should reach out to like-minded women and tell them that it is equally important for women to communicate and share ideas. I am very sure that women who have no where else to go if they need answers or if they are in abusive marriages will love the idea of meeting up once a week for Friday prayers and opportunities for discussions.
Would I pray behind Wadud? Yes, I would. I would do it for the novelty of it. And I would because I haven’t prayed behind an imam in many years. I don’t want to pray behind a man who has no interest in me as a human being. In all the khutbahs that I have attended, none ever addressed women issues. When Muslim men believe that woman outnumber men, shouldn’t they discuss issues that plague women? I am certain listening to Wadud speak in the khutbah would have been rejuvenating for me.
If I were in Wadud’s place I would insist on separate prayers and discussion opportunities for women. I have both led women prayers in my school and prayed behind women. It was the single most uniting experience for me. I wouldn’t care about men praying behind women just because I don’t even bother about their religiosity.
What are your thoughts on this? How many of you think equality is achieved through men praying behind women? How important is this issue for you as a feminist?