There has been a huge buzz about Professor Amina Wadud and her plan on leading a Friday khutbah on March 18. This story raises the larger issue of Muslim women and their place in Muslim society. Then I came across an email by a very good Muslim sister, Amina Peterson, who lives here in the Chicago area. What she said really blew my mind, and I had to write about it. It is very fitting given that International Women’s Day is March 8.
Sr. Amina began by saying,
“I won’t go as far as to say that the breakdown of family equality and social justice is caused by the segregation of women in our community, but it is definitely somewhere very close to the root cause.”
Well, then let me go so far: the segregation of women in our community has decimated the health of our community, and as long as our sisters are not fully engaged, we will be as a one-legged runner trying to win the Chicago Marathon.
The sister continues:
“When you can justify segregation of women in worship, which is the one place where desegregation should begin, then you can justify the second class citizenry of women in all aspects of daily life.”
What a powerful statement. Nothing more should be said.
Go on, sister, tell it like it is:
“I really feel it is impossible for men to understand the plight of women struggling to worship in our zealously controlled mosques, just as white people will never understand the plight of blacks in our strangely racist society.”
Guilty as charged. I don’t know what it is like to be a Muslim woman. So, I’ll let Sr. Amina tell us:
“Have you ever been to the tightly packed, loud, often filthy and neglected section that is called the women’s section?…Have you ever went to a class, possibly one of the most important in your life, and couldn’t see the instructor? How difficult was it for you to understand? Pay attention? Have you ever seen someone become a scholar who never went to the mosque? Is female scholarship equally unimportant to you? How in the world of God do you honestly expect for a woman to be ‘involved’ in a mosque she has no place in? Actively participate? In what? From infancy, our Muslim men and women are being taught that the massala is this sacred place from which knowledge and spirituality are born, and the women shouldn’t be there. If they come, we will put them in the basement, or the attic, or behind some curtain so that we don’t have to be bothered with them. What kind of leadership is borne out of this? What kind of activism?”
Wow! Her words opened my eyes to a world I really did not know existed. This is such an important issue, and it must be addressed immediately. I always felt that many, not all, mosques were very woman-unfriendly, but I never got the perspective of the women until Sr. Amina spoke up. We need more sisters to speak up! We need more sisters to assert their rightful place in our mosques, organizations, and institutions. We need more sisters to speak up, and we must stand by our sisters. Otherwise, the very survival of our community is in jeopardy.
By the way, if I am to properly stand by my sister on the community level, then I should start at home on the family level. If I am to “stand by my sister,” then I must begin by treating my wife better. I am not saying that I am a bad husband, but I am certainly not perfect. I can always do better. I must always strive to live up to the Prophet’s (pbuh) statement: “The best of you is the one who treats his wife in the best manner.” Thus, I pledge to be a better husband and father, and I am doing so publicly. That way, I can’t ever squirm out of that responsibility.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.