Leading from the Back by
Now is the Time for Female Muslim Leaders
f a CEO of a company only used half its available resources, she would be fired. The reason is obvious – the company would be much better off if it utilized all of its resources. As the Muslim diaspora continues to grow in the west, it is obvious that the talents of Muslim women are still not being fully utilized. Muslim women need to be engaged for our communities to prosper. It is time for an organizational shake-up!
Applying the traditional view of women from Muslim heartlands does not benefit modern Muslim women or their communities. Western Muslim women are highly educated, mobile and engaged in the broader community. Being active in their faith - sharing in spiritual life with other Muslims – is an important part in achieving a balanced life. But a mosque experience shaped solely from a man’s perspective can be unfulfilling. To address this problem, Muslim women should have an active and vocal role in shaping the mosque culture.
But Muslim women have more easily found acceptance outside of the mosque. Very few mosque boards in North America have women in decision making positions. A few progressive mosques have a dedicated women’s board position. But in many places, if women are involved at all, it is through the thoroughly demeaning 1950’s church style ‘ladies auxiliary’. It is not enough for women’s voices and opinions to only be heard by other women. Their views must be heard and understood by everyone.
In terms of changing public perceptions of Muslims, empowering Muslim women in prominent roles does a lot more good than having men insist that outsiders have it wrong about Islam and Muslims. Yet to a large extent the mosque remains an old boys club with the women tucked away out of sight.
Many still cling to the view that men and women cannot sit in the same room together. Of course, these same men will work side by side with women, Muslim or non-Muslim, in their jobs or other public places. Making money isn’t more important than building the religious community. We must challenge our assumptions and double standards. Are cultural behaviours imported from Muslim heartlands truly Islamic? What are the sources for forced seclusion, segregation and exclusion of women?
In some ways, to go forward we need to look back. During the time of the Prophet pbuh and in the first few centuries after his death, women were actively involved in dawaa, scholarship, education, medicine and community activity. Women have stood shoulder to shoulder with men in battle and still do when performing Hajj. There are even some scholars who have provided evidence that women were even involved in leading mixed gender prayers. Most Muslim women are simply looking for a decent sized prayer space and the opportunity to participate in their faith to their full intellectual capabilities. Excluding women from making a meaningful contribution just ends up creating a lot of pain, frustration and resentment.
So as shareholders in “Islam Inc.” we need to challenge discrimination that is being passed off as Islamic. Muslim communities will benefit by greater inclusion of women. It does not matter whether a woman chooses to stay at home or works outside - her needs, her skills and her voice must be given proper due. At a time when religious communities face declining participation, Muslim communities cannot afford to practice business as usual. Because an investment in Muslim women is one that will continually reap benefits.
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