India: Muslim Clerics Lash Out at Woman for Leading Gender-Mixed Prayers

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
180130-IN-mosque-1000.jpg Indian Muslims gather at the Jama Mosque ahead of Friday prayers in New Delhi, India, Dec. 8, 2017.

Indian Muslim preachers lashed out Tuesday at a woman who created a first for the country by leading prayers for a gender-mixed congregation in southern Kerala state.

Jamida Beevi, 34, became the first Indian woman to lead Friday prayers last week, when she delivered a sermon in front of Muslim men and women at a public place in Kerala’s Malappuram district. Traditionally, the prayers – called namaaz – are performed under the instructions of an imam, who is a man except in cases of all-women gatherings.

“Islam does not permit a woman to lead the namaaz. The laws of nature cannot be altered,” Syed Yahya Bukhari, president of the Delhi-based Jama Masjid United Forum, told BenarNews. “Something that is refused by the creator of nature is forbidden and there can be no discussion on this.”

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an organization working to protect Muslim laws in Hindu-majority India, described Beevi’s act as “the height of ignorance.”

“She doesn’t know how to read namaaz. There is nothing for anyone to listen or learn from her,” Maulana Mohammad Ali Rehman, the board’s general secretary, told BenarNews.

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, which manages about 500 mosques in Kerala, called Beevi’s sermon at Friday’s prayers a stunt aimed at gaining cheap publicity.

“By tradition, men lead the prayers because women are busy in the household and have their limitations,” The Guardian quoted Jamaat Secretary Abdul Rahman as saying. “This division of duties between men and women is not discrimination, it’s a question of what best suits men and what best suits women.”

Beevi, a divorced mother of two, challenged this belief.

“The Quran says all human beings are equal and anyone can lead prayers. The Quran is the basis of Islam, not the hadith, which were created by men after the prophet’s death. For 1,400 years, men have decided things, only men have made decisions. It is time for all that to change now,” Beevi told the British newspaper.

She claimed she had received death threats.

“These are extremists who cannot tolerate any reform. I have had threats on WhatsApp, on YouTube, on Facebook, but I am not scared,” she said.

Late Tuesday, police said they had not received any complaints from Beevi.

“If she has been getting threats she should approach the police station. Only then can we take action. So far, she has not approached us for help,” district Police Chief S. Kaliraj Mahesh Kumar told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, Muslim women’s rights organizations voiced their support for Beevi, saying it was time for women to challenge man-made rules in Islam.

“In Islam, men and women are supposed to have equal rights, be it to worship or enter a mosque. No discrimination is allowed. Allah judges you on the basis of good deeds, whether performed by a man or a woman,” Shaista Ambar, president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, told BenarNews.

“Nowhere in any of our religious texts is it mentioned that women cannot worship or for that matter lead the prayers,” she added.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), pointed to the “patriarchal understanding of religious groups that men had claimed authority over Islam.”

“Both men and women are equal in the eyes of God. There is nothing wrong if a woman leads the prayers. But these resentments are natural as women become more and more aware of their rights and more confident of asserting them against such discrimination,” she told BenarNews.


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