When Zariah Horton stepped to the entrance of a mosque in Los Angeles final 12 months and ready to deal with a congregation of Muslim ladies, she was assuming a place she by no means imagined being in. She had attended jumu’ah, or Friday prayers, at mosques in america for many years, however the thought of main prayers herself had by no means felt like an possibility, as a result of she had solely seen males within the function.
“It by no means occurred to me, I suppose as a result of gender issue,” she stated.
However when the Ladies’s Mosque of America opened in Los Angeles in 2014, Horton’s concepts started to alter. The Ladies’s Mosque is completely for ladies. Ladies lead all points of the Friday prayer service, together with making the decision to prayer, delivering the sermon, and main the congregation in prayer—actions historically carried out by males. (In keeping with most Islamic students, ladies aren’t permitted to guide males in communal prayer, however they’ll lead different ladies.) The Ladies’s Mosque meets on the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, remodeling a room within the church by placing up banners emblazoned with the names Muhammad and Allah in Arabic calligraphy.
Final September, Horton determined to guide the prayer, an expertise she stated was initially scary, however finally necessary for growing spiritual management expertise. “It’s necessary that ladies put ourselves on the market,” stated Horton, a psychotherapist and life coach based mostly in Los Angeles.
The Ladies’s Mosque is one instance of the methods Muslim ladies in america are taking over new positions of non secular management. With out difficult the custom that solely males can lead mixed-gender congregational prayers, ladies throughout the nation are assuming all different points of non secular management, together with pastoral care and training, and increasing the thought of what Muslim authority appears to be like like.
Zaynab Ansari, ladies’s scholar in residence at Tayseer, an Islamic seminary in Knoxville, Tennessee, stated that males’s function as prayer leaders has lengthy created the notion that ladies don’t have any place in religious management. Ladies in positions like hers are difficult the neighborhood to suppose in a different way.
“Swiftly a neighborhood can see that ladies can serve in some type of capability as a spiritual or religious chief,” she stated. “It’s impressed folks to consider the probabilities of ladies in management in numerous methods.”
Ladies’s management within the Muslim neighborhood will not be actually new, stated Sylvia Chan-Malik, writer of Being Muslim: A Cultural Historical past of Ladies of Shade in American Islam and a professor of ladies’s and gender research at Rutgers College. Within the early 20th century, she stated, ladies had been key to African-American Muslim teams such because the Nation of Islam, and girls constructed lots of the establishments that helped it thrive.
Throughout the construction of the Nation of Islam, Chan-Malik stated, ladies’s actions within the dwelling and in educating youngsters had been seen “as integral elements of nation-building, of constructing a robust black nation that may liberate African People and provides political, financial, cultural and social energy to African People. So ladies had been at all times central.”
Muslim immigrants began coming to america in better numbers following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which expanded the variety of immigrants who may enter the nation from the Center East, South Asia, and North Africa. As Muslim ladies entered the professions, they began forming skilled teams, Chan-Malik stated, equivalent to associations for Muslim ladies docs and attorneys. In addition they begot here leaders of Muslim nonprofits, charities, media, academic establishments, and interfaith teams, making them public figures exterior the realm of the mosque. Maybe essentially the most high-profile instance of such a frontrunner was Ingrid Mattson, who in 2006 grew to become the primary feminine president of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of Muslim teams.
Although indirectly difficult custom, ladies are taking over new management positions.
Securing official management positions inside mosques took longer. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, professor of the historical past of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University, stated a turning level for ladies’s visibility was the terrorist assaults on September 11, 2001. When the rhetoric of struggle on terror emphasised liberating Muslim ladies from the oppression of Islam, she stated, Muslim males in america combatted that concept by making house for ladies as leaders.
“9-eleven in a way had males stepping again from management positions,” stated Haddad, writer of the 2006 guide Muslim Ladies in America. “The ladies had been pushed ahead to say, ‘We don’t want liberation, Islam liberates us.’”
For Ansari of Tayseer Seminary, the emergence of ladies as spiritual leaders has been a part of the evolution of US mosques. As American Muslim communities grew in dimension and affluence, they expanded the sorts of actions and companies that they provided—and that created new areas for ladies to guide.
In america, the function of imam has expanded “far past what you would possibly see in premodern or conventional texts, the place the imam was only a prayer chief,” Ansari stated. “The imam’s function has needed to develop within the American context, and with that brings alongside roles for ladies.”
Ansari has seen this alteration in US mosques firsthand. After spending a decade within the 1990s finding out at Islamic seminaries within the Center East, she returned to her dwelling in Atlanta and located that her alternatives to show had been restricted. “Instructing within the mosque wasn’t actually an possibility at that time,” she stated, as a result of many mosques had “very conservative understandings of ladies’s function within the public sphere.” As an alternative, Ansari began educating in her dwelling, the houses of feminine college students, and on-line.
In 2014, the Muslim Neighborhood of Knoxville invited Ansari to function ladies’s scholar-in-residence, an endowed place that gave her an opportunity to show domestically and journey the nation to present workshops and have interaction in interfaith dialogue. She accepted the place, and in 2015, when the mosque launched Tayseer, one of many first Islamic seminaries in america, Ansari’s place was shifted to the seminary.
“Often ladies discover themselves in supporting roles or volunteering roles or behind the scenes work,” stated Ansari. In creating her place, the neighborhood “was very deliberately creating and endowing a place for a girl to have spiritual management,” she stated. “It’s nonetheless fairly a pioneering function. You’re not going to see plenty of communities, even well-established communities, which have official positions for ladies at mosques or main establishments.”
College students at Tayseer are taught topics equivalent to Qur’anic recitation and Islamic spirituality. Ansari stated there’s additionally nice curiosity amongst her feminine college students in topics equivalent to Muslim ladies in the course of the Prophet Muhammad’s time, ladies within the Qur’an, and marriage in Islam. Maintaining with the demand for studying has been difficult.
“To see a spiritual chief who’s a lady, who’s versed within the traditions of the Prophet, and who has gone to a few of the conventional facilities of studying within the Muslim world—that’s one thing that’s very interesting to the Muslim neighborhood,” she stated.
Ieasha Prime, director of ladies’s programming at Dar al-Hijrah, a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, stated ladies’s involvement locally and the demand for lessons and occasions designed for ladies was so excessive that in 2017 she determined to create a complete division of the mosque devoted to serving ladies’s wants.
As a result of Muslim ladies have been actively concerned in Dar al-Hijrah since its inception, it’s not one thing new for ladies to take positions of management, stated Prime, who spent seven years finding out Islamic sciences in Egypt and Yemen. “It’s not one thing new for them to arrange beside their male counterparts, neither is it new for them to deal with their wants. However it’s new to say, ‘Let’s formalize the problem.’”
The ladies’s division on the mosque provides pastoral care and counseling, hosts weekly lessons on ladies’s points, organizes an annual management summit to coach ladies as leaders in broader society, and places on the annual DC Muslim Ladies’s convention, which offers intensive coaching in gender-based social justice activism.
Prime, who in 2017 spoke on the Ladies’s March in Washington, DC, stated the spiritual training and coaching ladies obtain within the mosque additionally helps them exterior the mosque.
Faith will not be one thing that’s solely practiced inside the house. “It’s the very foundation for why we imagine in constructive engagement with the bigger neighborhood,” she stated. “It’s necessary that ladies have a way . . . that not solely is your voice necessary within the mosque, but it surely’s necessary in all of society.”
Some roles ladies now have in mosques mirror positions ladies maintain within the Center East.
In keeping with Haddad of Georgetown, a few of these new roles for ladies in mosques mirror the sorts of spiritual management ladies maintain within the Center East. In international locations equivalent to Syria and Jordan, she stated, ladies preachers educate in houses and converse in mosques throughout nonprayer occasions. As a result of they serve an completely feminine viewers, Haddad stated, the ladies aren’t seen as pushing the boundaries of what’s religiously permissible. “There are quite a lot of enterprising ladies searching for house to function.”
Tamara Grey, founding father of the Minneapolis, Minnesota–based mostly academic nonprofit Rabata, stated as a result of Islam is a faith with out clergy, a few of the challenges Muslim ladies face in achieving spiritual management are distinct from these many Christian ladies face.
“Not having a clergy is type of a catch-22,” she stated. “On one hand, we are able to say issues like, ‘There isn’t a hierarchy that may cease you, like a glass ceiling.’ There’s no specific physique that’s telling ladies, ‘Oh, you can’t maintain management positions otherwise you can’t be taught this materials.’ However, we additionally don’t have a physique that’s a legitimizing power.”
The trail to management in Islam is thru scholarship. Muslims can attend seminaries and examine one-on-one with academics with a purpose to attain an ijaza, or conventional certificates in a selected topic or textual content. An ijaza permits Muslims to show that topic and, ultimately, to put in writing opinions on learn how to interpret Islamic legislation and custom. “You may’t attain spiritual management with out information,” stated Grey.
Whereas there aren’t any guidelines stopping ladies from pursuing one of these spiritual training, many Muslim ladies in america nonetheless face obstacles. Islamic seminaries like Tayseer are few, and historically skilled feminine students, equivalent to Ansari, Prime, and Grey, are additionally uncommon. And feminine college students could also be reluctant to have an in depth relationship with male academics to keep away from impropriety, stated Grey—an issue in a practice by which relationships with academics are a significant path to religious and mental development.
These obstacles are one thing Grey has got down to change. After spending twenty years in Syria and incomes a number of ijazas, she returned to america in 2012. She was struck by the shortage of alternatives that Muslim ladies within the US have in comparison with Damascus, the place she had quick access to lessons and feminine students to review with.
“After I got here again to the US, I met all these Muslim ladies who had been very well-educated so far as their secular life—they had been engineers, docs, businesswomen, had grasp’s levels in training, all kinds of training—however when it got here to fundamental spiritual information, there was an actual hole,” she stated. “So I made a decision I may give Muslim ladies of this nation what I had been capable of entry in Damascus.”
That very same 12 months, Grey launched a pilot course for what would turn out to be Ribaat, an internet Islamic seminary by and for ladies. The concept was to show the Islamic sciences in a standard means however in a secure house for ladies wherever within the nation, or the world. Grey stated that 150 ladies signed up for the pilot class. Since then, Ribaat has expanded to supply 24 topics, such because the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, Qur’anic recitation and memorization, Arabic, Islamic legislation, hadith, and theology.
For Grey, it’s “completely crucial” for Muslim ladies to have entry to non secular training in order that they’ll take part within the authorized and theological debates that form the faith. Ladies’s voices had been an necessary a part of constructing the early foundations of Islamic legislation and theology, she stated, however in trendy occasions, they’ve largely been excluded.
“When ladies’s voices are there, it turns into a ruling, a call or a dialogue for everybody,” she stated. “When it’s solely males, as honest as they’re, pretty much as good as they’re, they only don’t have the identical life experiences as ladies.”
Grey stated that she hopes to see extra mosques rent ladies scholars-in-residence, to fill the management hole in Muslim homes of worship. Packages equivalent to Ribaat, she stated, are constructing a pipeline of ladies who can ultimately fill these roles. “It’s necessary to have ladies able to take these jobs as soon as they open up,” stated Grey.
Whereas training and scholarship is the trail to non secular management for a lot of Muslim ladies, for some, like Rabia Keeble, founding father of Qal’bu Maryam Ladies’s Mosque in Berkeley, California, it’s communal prayer management that’s in want of reform.
After years of seeing ladies “deliberately segregated in mosques,” Keeble got down to create a brand new paradigm. In 2017 she opened Qal’bu Maryam, a mosque run by ladies, the place, not like most mosques in america, ladies aren’t restricted as to the place they’ll sit or which rituals they’ll carry out. However not like the Ladies’s Mosque in Los Angeles, Keeble’s mosque is open to women and men, so ladies usually lead males in prayer.
“I simply allow them to naturally resolve how they match the place they need to match,” Keeble stated. “In the event that they need to be taught to do the decision to prayer, they’ll do this. I’ve had a number of sisters do this. They’ll say, ‘I need to discover ways to do that, as a result of I’ve at all times wished to discover ways to do that.’ And it’s like, ‘Cool.’ And I’ll assist them discover individuals who can educate them.”
Qal’bu Maryam builds on the work of Amina Wadud, an African American Muslim scholar who in 1999 revealed the guide Qur’an and Girl, a gender-inclusive exegesis that claims the Qur’an advocates for ladies’s equality and argues that any concepts of ladies’s inferiority come from the lads studying and deciphering the sacred textual content. Her exegesis grew to become the theological backing for Wadud main a mixed-gender prayer service in New York in 2005, which was stated to be the primary of its form in america. (Wadud beforehand participated in an analogous occasion in South Africa.)
Wadud’s actions led to monumental media protection, however—apart from Qal’bu Maryam—the thought didn’t catch on in US mosques. The concept ladies ought to have the ability to lead males in prayer stays very a lot a minority view.
In keeping with a 2018 ballot by the Institute for Social Coverage and Understanding, a analysis institute for the American Muslim neighborhood, the highest methods US Muslim ladies stated mosques could possibly be made extra welcoming to them can be to have ladies’s committees, interesting ladies’s areas, entry to the primary prayer corridor, and equal sources for ladies’s applications. Ladies’s prayer management didn’t make the record.
“There’s a reverence for the custom because it pertains to the teachings and the experiences of the lifetime of the Prophet, and Muslims are very reluctant to tamper with issues like ritual prayer and the best way ritual points of worship are enacted,” stated Ansari. “Whilst you would possibly see rising demand inside mainstream communities for the empowerment of ladies, it doesn’t prolong to having a lady on the entrance of a prayer line.”
Chan-Malik, of Rutgers, stated that whereas the thought of ladies main males in ritual prayer continues to be exterior the Muslim American mainstream, she has seen mosques throughout the nation experiment with different types of ladies’s prayer management, which, just like the Ladies’s Mosque, match into conventional interpretations of Islamic legislation. One such approach, she stated, is to have a lady provide a dua, or supplication, on the finish of every Friday prayer service.
“Plenty of mosques and congregations try to not duplicate that energy construction,” Chan-Malik stated. “So even simply the act of getting a lady standing in entrance of the congregation is symbolically saying, ‘We perceive that we have to do that.’”
However for Keeble, Qal’bu Maryam—which she stated has about ten folks attending Friday prayer companies—isn’t nearly ladies asserting their religious authority. It’s additionally about making a sacred house the place everybody feels welcome.
“They are often who they authentically are, whether or not they’re homosexual, lesbian, trans, no matter it’s,” she stated. “They definitely aren’t certain up by custom anymore.”
“It’s exhausting to inform any individual you possibly can’t give a sermon however you may be in Congress.”
Maybe the largest problem for Muslim ladies’s management is one that every one ladies face. “Ladies are struggling to be seen as leaders as a result of Muslims are used to imagining males as leaders, and we share that with our sisters and brothers in different Abrahamic faiths,” stated Grey. “Typically it’s not about legislation or theology—it’s about customized and what individuals are used to. If you say to somebody ‘spiritual chief,’ they think about a person.”
Ansari stated the issue isn’t simply with males: some ladies may additionally have problem accepting the thought of a feminine instructor or chief. “I don’t need to say it’s internalized misogyny,” she stated. “However I believe it goes again to the function fashions ladies had been offered with of their adolescence. Ladies are taking a look at male students, the shaykh, as their path to religious development and improvement, they usually don’t see ladies as providing them that potential. And that may be a drawback.”
Nonetheless, Ansari sees change taking place as ladies in positions like hers function a mannequin for what ladies’s management in a mosque can appear to be. She stated that sooner or later, she expects mosques to rent ladies as “assistant imams” to do all the work that imams do (together with pastoral care, counseling, and training), besides main Friday prayers. These kind of roles for ladies could also be theologically acceptable for many Muslims, but it surely’s usually tough to persuade mosques to allocate the sources to fund ladies to do them.
“You must persuade the committee that it’s worthwhile to spend money on,” stated Haddad.
For Horton, who led the Ladies’s Mosque in prayer final 12 months, the reason for ladies’s management is being aided by the various Muslim ladies making headlines exterior the mosque, equivalent to Ibtihaj Muhammad, the primary US Olympic athlete to put on a hijab, who received a bronze medal on the 2016 Summer season Olympics in Brazil.
With this 12 months’s swearing in of the primary two Muslim congresswomen in US historical past, Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, Horton stated the case for Muslim ladies’s spiritual management is stronger than ever.
“It’s exhausting to say you’re not certified or succesful while you’re doing one thing else that exhibits power of character, exhibits religion, exhibits management,” she stated. “It’s exhausting to inform any individual you possibly can’t do one thing—you possibly can’t give a khutbah (sermon)—however you may be in Congress.”
A model of this text seems within the print version below the title “New mosque leaders.”