Monday, April 18, 2005

Defining our roles

"God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness, not their
sameness." - A profound insight!

March 30, 2005
Female-Led Prayers: A Step Forward for Women?
On March 18, 2005 Amina Wadud led the first female-led Jumu`ah Prayer. On
that day, women took a huge step towards being more like men. But, did we
come closer to actualizing our God-given liberation?

This answer was kindly provided by Sister Yasmin Mogahed, a member of Ask
About Islam Editorial Staff. Yasmin is an Egyptian-American journalist
based in Wisconsin, USA. She is currently studying for a Master's degree in

Salam, Sarah.

Thank you for your inspiring question!

Well, answering your question, I can say that I don't think so.

What we so often forget is that God has honored women by giving them value
in relation to God-not in relation to men. But as Western feminism erases
God from the scene, there is no standard left but men. As a result, the
Western feminist is forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in
so doing, she has accepted a faulty assumption. She has accepted that man
is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she
becomes just like a man-the standard.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man
joined the army, she wanted to join the army, and so on. She wanted these
things for no other reason than because the "standard" had it.

What she didn't recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in
their distinctiveness, not their sameness. And on March 18, Muslim women
made the very same mistake.

For 1,400 years, there has been a consensus of scholars that men are to
lead Prayer. As a Muslim woman, why does this matter? The one who leads
Prayer is not spiritually superior in any way. Something is not better just
because a man does it. And leading Prayer is not better just because it is leading.
Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, why wouldn't the
Prophet have asked Lady `A'ishah or Lady Khadijah, or Lady Fatimah-the
greatest women of all time-to lead? These women were promised heaven and
yet they never led Prayer.

But now, for the first time in 1,400 years, we look at a man leading Prayer
and we think, "That's not fair." We think so, although God has given no
special privilege to the one who leads. The imam is no higher in the eyes
of God than the one who prays behind. On the other hand, only a woman can
be a mother. And the Creator has given special privilege to a mother. The
Prophet taught us that heaven lies at the feet of mothers. But no matter
what a man does, he can never be a mother. So why is that not unfair?

When asked who is most deserving of our kind treatment? The Prophet replied
"your mother" three times before saying "your father" only once. Isn't that
sexist? No matter what a man does, he will never be able to have the status
of a mother.

And yet even when God honors us with something uniquely feminine, we are
too busy trying to find our worth in reference to men, to value it or even
notice it. We too have accepted men as the standard; so anything uniquely
feminine is, by definition, inferior. Being sensitive is an insult,
becoming a mother is a degradation. In the battle between stoic rationality
(considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine),
rationality reigns supreme.

As soon as we accept that everything a man has and does is better, all that
follows is just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it, we want it too. If
men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in
the front rows too. If men lead Prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so
we want to lead Prayer too. Somewhere along the line, we've accepted the
notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of
one's position with God.

A Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as
a standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn't need a man here.

In fact, in our crusade to follow men, we, as women, never even stopped to
examine the possibility that what we have is better for us. In some cases,
we even gave up what was higher only to be like men.

Fifty years ago, we saw men leaving the home to work in factories. We were
mothers. And yet, we saw men doing it, so we wanted to do it too. Somehow,
we considered it women's liberation to abandon the raising of another human
being in order to work on a machine. We accepted that working in a factory
was superior to raising the foundation of society-just because a man did

Then after working, we were expected to be superhuman-the perfect mother,
the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, and have the perfect career. And
while there is nothing wrong, by definition, with a woman having a career,
we soon came to realize what we had sacrificed by blindly mimicking men. We
watched as our children became strangers, and soon recognized the privilege
we'd given up.

And so only now-given the choice-women in the West are choosing to stay
home to raise their children. According to the United States Department of
Agriculture, only 31 percent o f mothers with babies, and 18 percent of
mothers with two or more children, are working fulltime. And of those
working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting Magazine in 2000, found
that 93 percent of them say they would rather be home with their kids, but
are compelled to work due to "financial obligations." These "obligations"
are imposed on women by the gender sameness of the modern West and removed
from women by the gender distinctiveness of Islam.

It took women in the West almost a century of experimentation to realize a
privilege given to Muslim women 1,400 years ago. Given my privilege as a
woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I'm not, and in all
honesty, don't want to be-a man. As women, we will never reach true
liberation until we stop trying to mimic men and value the beauty in our
own God given distinctiveness.

If given a choice between stoic justice and compassion, I choose

And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet, I
choose heaven.