Mixed gender prayers and female Imams

British Islam conference

Speaker: Fahad Rahman

We are taking the literal words of scripture and zooming out to understand the principles and then zooming back in to apply them to the current context.

There are a number of different terms to describe those who adopt the above approach; including progressive, literal and modernist.

Mixed gender prayers, female imams and inclusive mosques are not simply a topic of academic debate but a matter of real life lived experience.

The group believes in engaging with tradition; Quran and Hadith. There is a focus on social justice. In the post 911 world Muslims have become more conscious of their religious identity.

The topic of women in ritual leadership in Islam reflects similar trends in Christianity and Judaism. The Quran neither permits nor forbids female leadership of congregational prayers.

Proponents of women being allowed to lead congregational prayers reference a Hadith which states that Umm Waraqa, a female, was given permission by the prophet to lead her household in prayers. There is some dispute as to whether this included male members of the congregation. It is used as evidence of a precedent being set that a woman can have leadership in religious worship.

In terms of fiqh the Maliki tradition forbids it completely. The Hanafi tradition considers it Makruh meaning it is disliked but forbidden. Other traditions allow it with certain conditions.

The Inclusive Mosque Initiative (INI) was founded in 2012 by two Muslim women. It currently has six female board members and about thirty volunteers. Its inclusivity includes both Sunni, Shia, non-believers and people from a broad socio economic spectrum.

They hold fortnightly Friday congregational prayers (Jummah) following different ways of praying such as Sunni and Shia. The sermons are translated into British Sign Language for deaf participants. There is no segregation with Men and women praying side by side. Women can and do lead these prayers. They can also perform the call to prayer; Azaan.

The INI also provides Nikah marriage ceremony services. A key difference of the ceremony as compared to other mosques is that there is no requirement for a Walli who is someone that ceremonially gives the bride away.

The INI is an example of how discussions around gender equality have transferred from being an academic discourse to practical life.

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