Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011


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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 was killed.

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

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 … 

Yasmin Khan