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News: Canada - Woman Leads Islamic Prayers In Mosque, A First For Canada

Jul 13, 2004
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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.
 

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