Source: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news/message/1013 July 2, 2005 Woman leads Islamic prayers in mosque, a first for Canada Country could become the conscience of the religion, she says in Friday sermon By JEN GERSON The Globe and Mail http://tinyurl.com/bmuj2 Friday prayers were conducted by a woman in a mosque for the first time in Canadian history yesterday, a move many liberal Muslims are hoping will open the door to greater equality between the sexes in the Islamic community. But some are calling the event media circus used to denounce conservative Muslims. About 100 people sat on the floor of the United Muslim Association mosque in North Etobicoke as Pamela Taylor, co-chair of the New York-based Progressive Muslim Union, led the mixed-gender congregation in prayers and offered a sermon on the importance of equality between races, genders, sexual orientations and persons with disabilities. "Canada is the Islamic ideal," said Ms. Taylor, 40, who has been a Muslim for 19 years. She said Canada's lack of "imperialistic escapades" could allow its people to act as the conscience of the Muslim world and to speak out against the oppression of repressive regimes. The organizers of the event chose Ms. Taylor, a U.S. citizen who has a divinity degree from Harvard University and took East Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, to lead the prayers. Last November, Maryam Mirza, a York University student, delivered part of the sermon marking the end of Ramadan at the liberal UMA mosque. She did not, however, lead the prayers. The first Canadian woman to lead a mixed-congregation in prayer was Raheel Raza. She led the prayers in April, but said the congregation was so hounded by those opposed to the prospect of having a woman lead prayers that they were held in a back yard in Cabbagetown. "My reaction [to yesterday's prayers] can only be positive," Ms. Raza said. But Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Council, said while the UMA is free to have whomever it chooses to lead its prayers, it's a fringe group. "This is a non-issue for Canadian Muslims and must be ignored by the community," he said. "It usually becomes a media circus and an opportunity to label Muslims." The issue of women-led prayers is one of tradition, not sexism, he said. Women are free to give talks and lectures but, traditionally, men lead the prayers and most practising Muslims in Canada respect that, he added. Not everyone present was impressed by Ms. Taylor's performance. Ehab Lotayef, a native Arabic speaker, said Ms. Taylor's recitation of Arabic during the prayers was poor and her message during the sermon was unoriginal. "I don't have a problem women leading prayer," he said. But "many things were pushed beyond the envelope in order to have the principle met. "There was nothing explosive in what she said." Tarek Fatah, spokesman for the Muslim Canadian Congress, said by allowing a woman to lead prayers, the UMA mosque is not trying to impinge upon how other mosques choose to worship. "Nowhere in the Koran is it prohibited for women to lead the prayers," he said. "I am tired of people who are dragging us backwards into history." Rumoured pickets by conservative Muslims failed to materialize during the afternoon. Mr. Fatah said he and the congregation would not be intimidated by threats, and should not be judged by any other congregation. "If Muslim men are scared of having women as imams, they need to examine their own misogyny," he said.