Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Need for Muslim Women Leaders

A few years ago, my college's Muslim Student's Association was planning an event on women in Islam. We were looking to invite a female speaker, because it kinda makes sense for a Muslim women to talk about women in Islam. But it was so hard to find anyone! There were hardly any female Islamic speakers we knew from the top of our heads like we know Yasir Qadhi or Hamza Yusuf. I asked sisters for help, but they seemed as clueless as I was. We ended up choosing one of the few female speakers we could find on Youtube. She did well presenting the topic, but had a hard time answering some tough questions, because she didn't have a formal education in Islam. It made me wonder why we were in a situation where Muslim woman leaders are so hard to find. Is it because there are a lack of them, or because they are not in the spotlight? I can think of a few more female Muslim speakers who have gained some prominence since then, who I would have loved to have invited to the event, but they are still a tiny minority.

It may seem trivial, but I think it's an issue worth highlighting. Our sisters in Islam are an amazing resource we are missing out on. We need role models for our young sisters to look up to and emulate. Sisters AND brothers need to understand certain issues from a woman's perspective. When men try to speak for women, they aren't always accurate. There were so many stereotypes about women I learned from male speakers, that I only realized were not true until I was married. I was like "What?! You're not like that?!"... ok it wasn't that bad.

 From my experience, the most prominent leaders and role models of the Muslim community in the United States are the speakers. With that in mind, it seems like the solution would be to put more Muslim women leaders into the spotlight, have them speak at large lecture event, put their speeches on Youtube, but it's not that simple. A few days ago, I was watching a lecture given by a sisters to an audience of men and women. The first comment in response to the video requested evidence that it is allowed for a woman to speak in front of a mixed gathering, without providing any evidence that it is not allowed. He then compared allowing women speaking in front of a mixed gathering to a mosque that accepts homosexuality and allows men and women to pray next to each other. My wife experienced this when her MSA received an e-mail complaining that they allowed a woman to speak on stage, when she was only emceeing and was dressed according to Islamic standards. It made me think of this:

Another complaint I hear more commonly is that the sister who is speaking would be a temptation to the men sitting in the audience. A comment I saw in response to another lecture given by a sister was that the video should have been audio only, because men would have a hard time lowering their gazes. Maybe the solution for him would be to do the same thing women do in that situation. Let's not act like women don't feel any attraction toward a male speaker. We shouldn't be so anxious over potential attraction that we close doors to legitimate opportunities and communication. I've heard plenty of stories where sheikhs were in a situation in the picture below, but it doesn't mean we should stop sheikhs from speaking in front of sisters. 

Sheikh Bohot Acha is sometimes even a fitna for some brothers...
I would like to say that these comments only exist on the internet, but they are implemented in real life. To be clear, I am not saying we should change Islam to give women more exposure. I'm not saying that we should have female imams or that men and women should start praying next to each other. Whatever we do, it should be in accordance to the guidelines Allah has sent down to us. There have been plenty of female leaders in Islamic history who were active in their communities and have taught men and women. As long as a woman dresses and acts according to Islamic standards, what is wrong with her sharing her knowledge with both genders? Maybe we should begin using the talents and skills of the women in our community, instead of being an impediment to them.

So what do you guys think? Is this a real issue? What is the solution? Who are the Muslim women leaders you know of?