Last Friday, Dr. Amina Wadud led a mixed-gender congregation of 15 people in prayer in the U.K. This is the first time that any Muslim woman has done so in Britain, and the second time Dr. Wadud has led a mixed congregational prayer (she made history by leading a congregation in New York City in 2005).
Plenty of less-than-enthusiastic Muslims lined up outside to protest Dr. Wadud because they feel Islamic law does not permit women to lead prayer. Several prominent Muslims in Britain, including the Vice President of the Muslim Association of Britain, issued statements opposing the sermon. On the blogosphere, there have been mixed reactions. There are people who are down with the idea, people who aren’t, and some in between.
Personally, I’m in the camp that finds Dr. Wadud and her work to be awesome, including her leading prayer. My only major qualm is with the media presence: the cameras make the event look like a publicity stunt (which is one of the accusations made by those who disagree with Dr. Wadud) which would lessen its value. I can understand the desire for transparency and wanting to share this occasion with others around the world. But frankly, it doesn’t good when cameras outnumber actual worshippers.
Still, the critical point here is that Dr. Wadud’s work illustrates that Islam is not a stagnant religion and that Muslims aren’t religiously-programmed robots. For many people, Islam is not rigid or immutable, but changes as we and our societies evolve. This is an example of what can happen when a fresh pair of eyes delves into Islamic theology and law. Dr. Wadud’s work is not presently accepted by the majority of Muslims, but it is important work nonetheless.