Monday, April 11, 2005

OPINION: A WOMAN'S REFLECTION ON LEADING PRAYER

OPINION: A WOMAN'S REFLECTION ON LEADING PRAYER By

Yasmin Mogahed Middle East Times ----------------------------------------------------------- On March 18 Amina Wadud led the first female-led Jumma (Friday) prayer. On that day women took a huge step toward being more like men. But did we come closer to actualizing our God-given liberation?
I don't think so.
What we so often forget is that God has honored woman by giving her 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 men. 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 men cut their hair short women wanted to cut their hair short. When men joined the army women wanted to join the army. Women wanted these things for no other reason than because the "standard" had them.

What women didn't recognize is 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 among scholars that men are to lead prayer. Why does this matter to Muslim women? 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's leading. Had it been the role of women or had it been more divine, wouldn't the Prophet have asked Aisha or Khadija, or Fatima - 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 men 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 God has given special privileges to mothers. The Prophet taught us that heaven lies at the feet of mothers. And no matter what a man does he can never be a mother.

So why is that not unfair? 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. We, too, have accepted men as the standard; so anything uniquely feminine is, by definition, inferior.

Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a mother - 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 that 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.

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 men. 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 society told us that men were superior because they left the home to work in factories. We were mothers. And yet we were told that it was women's liberation to abandon the raising of another human being in order to work on a machine. 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 US Department of Agriculture, only 31 percent of mothers with babies and 18 percent of mothers with two or more children are working full-time. And of those working mothers, a survey conducted by Parenting magazine in 2000 found that 93 percent of them say that 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 compassion. And if given a choice between worldly leadership and heaven at my feet - I choose heaven. Yasmin Mogahed is an Egyptian-American freelance writer.

Acknowledgement to Media Monitors Network (MMN)

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