Dr Amina Wadud is an African-American feminist scholar famous in some
circles for leading 100 Muslim men and women in Friday prayers in New York in
2005 at the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine. This broke with the
tradition of only male imams leading prayers and attracted controversy at the
time. However, ‘to suggest Amina
Wadud should be remembered for this alone does a disservice to her scholarly
works on the Qur’an and feminism’, says interviewer Yasmin Khan who spoke to
Amina on her recent trip to Australia – on the same day that Osama Bin Laden
A Feminist Perspective
Dr Wadud makes no apologies for
Bin Laden's actions because in her eyes he doesn't represent 'her Islam' nor
does she celebrate his life or mourn his death. She is critical, however, of
American complacency, in general, about international events. An educator for
more than 20 years, in the end she retired from teaching after years of
frustration. Teaching students who were unaware of US military spending, foreign
policy, the Palestine/Israel conflict and events in Afghanistan, led to a
burnout that, in retrospect, she describes as a failing on her part. Even her
American Muslim students disappointed her when it came to rational thinking and
debate. Muslims, everywhere, she
says, 'have a greater responsibility to apply themselves to counter the
propagation of anti-Islamic sentiment.'
Amina Wadud became a Muslim 40
years ago before Islam and terrorism became linked; she confesses to being
'dumbfounded' at the increased rates of conversion to Islam in the USA today, in
spite of the prevailing fear mongering and Islamophobia. 'Islam is a religion of
peace,' she says, 'but I cannot
ignore the horrible things done in the name of Islam.'
She attributes the increase in
conversions to the hollowness of today’s modern lifestyle. 'It drives
people to look for a spiritual connection to the world around them.
Consumerism fails to respond to anything other than the outer, and
material wealth brings no happiness.'
It’s almost 20 years since Dr
Wadud published her first book Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text
from a Woman's Perspective, which is still banned in the United Arab
Emirates. 'Women today,' she says, 'need to take responsibility to understand
sacred sources, to define what it means to be Muslim and make sure that their
definitions and their experiences are an integral part to how the world views
Islam--especially the Muslim world.'
'We are living in an unprecedented
time in terms of activity amongst women to claim Islam for themselves and to
promote the integrity of Islam as a living reality in their own context, be it
Muslim majority or Muslim minority.'
She is happy to see this activity
in her own lifetime; 'it is a struggle', she says, because dismantling
patriarchy has been a struggle. However
it is Islam and the Tawheedic world view that mandates equality itself, 'even if
Muslims are still fighting to come up to the task.'
Amina knows that Muslim women
across the world are constantly working toward bettering their society, without
reward or recognition, and 'we as Muslim sisters need to empower women and
respect their voices.'
A recent decision to consider
banning women from the Kaaba during prayer times at Hajj was overturned when
women started campaigning in Saudi Arabia. 'In every country, in every class,
women are working on the issues. They are not victims. We should work with
them--not for them.'
When talking about Islam, Dr Wadud
doesn’t believe in berating her listeners. 'Religion should be transformative
and we need to think coherently'. Unfortunately on her recent travels to Saudi
Arabia last year for Hajj, she came face to face with women’s exclusion where
she says she was 'heartbroken' when she couldn’t access parts of the
Prophet’s mosque in Medina.
'It’s ironic that women’s
exclusion is tolerated in the Prophet’s mosque,' she says, ' when the Prophet
(PBUH) was a champion of women’s rights.
It seems the struggle to dismantle patriarchy continues …