A Good "Innovation"?

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// February 28th, 2007 // Blog

Last night, one of the most popular articles on the BBC News website was about Islam's pioneering women priests, also known as, The Mourchidat. My curiosity was mainly fuelled by the word “priest” rather than the word “women”, as Islam doesn't have an organized clergy, as such, although we do have scholars and community leaders, who are often referred to as “imams”:

A radical innovation in the Islamic world has arisen in Morocco – women preachers. The Mourchidat, as they are known, are the first women ever in any Muslim country that can perform the functions of a male Imam in a mosque, except lead the prayers.

Reading the article, it seems to me that this “innovation” is no such thing. It is in fact, a revival of an old practice that has sadly been lost in the Muslim world. It makes absolute sense that a woman should be educated in Islam so that she could offer support and advice to her community, especially fellow women, who may be too shy, or even scared, to approach the males imams.

I feel that the term “priest” has been used simply to analogize the situation with that of the Anglican Church, who went through a battle and a half, before finally allowing women priests. I don't have an opinion on whether Anglican women priests are a “good” or “bad” thing; that's for the Anglicans to decide, obviously. However, as I said before, there really isn't such a thing as an ordained priesthood in Islam; rather, any individual who has been schooled in Islam, and has a level-head, and good character, is suitable for the job of Imam. In fact, I am sure many Muslim women fulfill this role in an unofficial capacity every day.

The Mourchidat are still not allowed to lead the salaat (congregational prayer), which is a wise decision IMO, only because it is such a controversial topic at present, that going so far would have caused a real uprising. To be honest, I don't really see the point in the controversy; there is no real power, privilege or extra reward associated with being the person nominated to lead the prayer. You don't even have to be an official imam; you just need to know how to pray, have memorized parts of the Qur'an, and have good recitation skills – so why rock the boat?

I suppose the biggest “controversy” about the Mourchidat programme is that it has been initiated and backed by the Moroccan government. I don't know much about Moroccan politics, but looking at the general state of Muslim politics, I can understand why there is such mistrust. Governments rarely meddle in religious affairs, except for their own selfish purpose. I just hope this time the effects of such meddling will actually be beneficial for the Moroccan people, as well as their rulers.

Now, wouldn't that be a refreshingly good innovation?

9 Responses to “A Good "Innovation"?”

  1. Farzeen says:

    Assalaamu’alaykum

    My family and I recently discussed the article covering this story, and similar points to what you have mentioned came up.

    I agree entirely, it is a revival. This is the role that the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) held over 1400 years ago. And since that time, learned women have continued to do this.

    You mentioned that they are “still not allowed” to lead the congregational prayer. Well I don’t think they’re asking to (that’s Canada’s controversial topic..) According to some schools of Islamic law (madhabs), women can lead all-women congregations. But just as it makes perfect sense for women to pray behind the men, it makes perfect sense that women don’t lead men in prayer (and also there isn’t any sound evidence to support such a practice).

    The role of the imam isn’t important because it could possibly be a glorified position, but when one leads the prayer one is held in a position of responsibility. The soundness of the prayer of all those following is dependent on the one leading. It’s not a position I expect people should be taking so lightly. I’m talking about this in the general sense. I’m not at all suggesting that women aren’t fit for this position, not at all. They certainly are, it only becomes problematic to lead men in prayer because of concerns around modesty and propriety, which are considerations that are slowly diminishing as times changes – may God protect us from this, ameen.

    And just a point of clarification, there are also a lot of men who don’t get paid for this type of ‘work’ or possess a ‘fancy title’ either. In fact, this is part of the tradition. There are shuyukh in our times who will not accept any type of compensation for teaching/helping, despite the long hours that they dedicate to these things. It is a matter that they want clear when they stand in front of their Lord. May God be pleased with them all, ameen.

    With that said though, I do recognize that the Imams who run our masaajid (mosques) should be paid since they also have bills to pay. Unfortunately, there are many imams who aren’t paid appropriately… but that’s another topic all together.

  2. iMuslim says:

    Wa ‘alaykum salam wa rahmatullah

    The title i was referring to was “Mourchidat”, which i think sounds quite fancy! hehe. No idea what it means though…

    But you are correct; imams don’t get paid enough, or at all. I suppose the revenue is mainly generated from the community, as there is no central “Church” that collects funds (or has investment portfolios) to pay them. When mosques & scholars are funded by other bodies, it can become dodgy, especially if there are political motives.

    I think imams of smaller mosques are usually part-timers, and have paid jobs to support themselves & their families. Large mosques, like the East London, and the Central Mosques, have paid imams, as their positions are more “full-time”.

    As far as i know, only the Hanafis frown upon women leading women, saying that it is makrooh. None of the leading madhabs say women leading men is acceptable. As you say, it makes sense.

    Who leads the prayer is important, but the leader has no importance, in the sense that they have no authority or higher rank over others, in terms of power and influence. Thus, i don’t understand why some sisters are trying to turn the decision of who leads the prayer, into a battle of the sexes. I don’t see the “victory” for women’s rights from this change.

    The Mourchidat programme is a real “victory” because we are going back to the roots of Islam, and if implemented correctly, it will bring great benefit to the whole community, inshallah.

    Wa’salam

  3. Sumera says:

    I agree with your comments iMuslim and Farzeen. These women community workers or religious workers are much needed. Sometimes Imam’s are not as accessible as we like to think they are, and on some occasions you don’t want to speak to a man about issues.

    These women are what we need. No-ones asking for women only mosques or anything along those lines (thats another topic for another day!), but learned women who are well versed and knowledgeable that other women can go to for help, advice, support and to learn.

  4. AnonyMouse says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    My opinion is the same as yours – this is absolutely nothing new, it’s simply a revival of a practice that began with the Prophet (SAW)’s wives and female Companions, and which existed for quite a while after them. It’s only fairly recently, I think, that Muslim women had restrictions placed on their education.

    In any case, I’m glad that they’re doing this… although my father is one of those who’s rather skeptical about it because of the fact that the government is in charge of it.

    (BTW, I asked my dad what ‘Mourchidat’ means, and apparently it means a guide – in this context, like a spiritual guide).

  5. Lucyp says:

    I remember a few years back when the controversy over woman priests in the CoE blew up, it was explained to me that women priests are frowned upon in Catholocism because none of the disciples were women, and the bottom line was if women were not good enough for Jesus’s merry gang, then they are not good enough for the Catholic Church.
    Do you not all find this offensive?

  6. iMuslim says:

    Mouse – Wa ‘alaykum salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
    Jazakallah for the translation! I can understand your father’s skepticism, as i explained in the entry. However, if you get down to the bare bones of the problem, the issue is not who the imam is (i.e., man or woman), but what they are preaching. A previous article linked to the one i mentioned in my entry states that the Moroccan government wants to ban the hijab, in order to curb “extremism”. When i hear absolute trash talk like that, i want to HURT PEOPLE! Ministerial people.
    If the government is training these women as another method to spread their “diluted” version of Islam, then the whole project is useless. It’s just an elaborate P.R. exercise, and has nothing to do with wanting to make women’s lives better.

    Lucy: Are you asking whether we find the Catholic Church’s stance on women in Xtianity offensive, or something else?
    Re: CoE. I am not that offended, only because there are many things i don’t agree with when it comes to Christianity, and Church practice, in particular. However, how the Church decides to interpret their version of Jesus’ ministry is between them and their congregation.
    In Islam, Mary, the mother of Jesus (peace be upon them both) is narrated to have been the best of all women to have walked the Earth. Also, as the girls mentioned above, the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) were very active in their communities. They are our role models, and so from this, it can be seen that women have an important role to play in pastoral care. That is why we say that the Mourchidat programme is simply reviving good Islamic tradition, and is not introducing anything new!

  7. iMuslim says:

    P.S. @ Lucy. I also refrain from criticizing the Church too deeply, because people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones! We Muslims need to sort out our own gender-related issues, before we start picking on others…

  8. Lucyp says:

    I know nothing about Islam so could not possibly comment on the representation of women in that religion, although from the little that i do know, they are not seen as on a level footing as men. I may be wrong about that though. What i can say with certainty is that in Christiandom, women are very much second class citizens. Does the fact that Islam (i am ready to be stood corrected on that) and Christiandom, probably the 2 biggest religions, see women as inferior?

  9. iMuslim says:

    In Islam, men and women are equal in worth, but this does not mean they have the same rights and responsibilities. I’d have to find a decent article to explain my point in detail; if anyone else knows of one, then please feel free to paste it here.

    Women have been mistreated by their male counterparts over many centuries, but that usually has little to do with Islam, and more to do with the strong overpowering the weak. It is the same way that the rich have mistreated the poor, the masters have mistreated their slaves, etc.

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