Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dreaming of Eryn's Sermon

WoodTurtle is a Canadian Muslim feminist currently using her extended maternity leave to explore developments of Islamic feminism in the Western and Muslim world.  As a woman who wears the hijab (owns several abayas and a niqab monogrammed with her initials in pink, sparkly sequins), she writes frequently on genderized Islamophobia. She also works toward dispelling myths and stereotypes about women in Islam for both Muslims and non.

There’s no compulsion in religion and God has sent a message to everyone – so there’s no reason to find faults in the beliefs of others. Think about what you’re saying and how your words will be understood. How they can offend or mislead. Take fasting for example. If you say that we only go out to eat when the sun goes down… people are going to think we’re a bunch of vampires.
I never laughed so hard at Friday prayers. The imam was jovial, frequently engaging women in constructive dialogue during his upbeat pre-sermon talk – which was easy, since we were literally only a few feet away from the minbar. We were in an “open concept” mosque, where women and men shared the same prayer space. It was segregated, but arranged so we could all pray side-by-side. A runner divided the room in half, giving space for people to move in-between the rows without disrupting the sermon or prayer.

Eryn and I chose to pray close to the Hubby instead of joining our friends at the back of the room, where two wings off to each side of the main prayer space provide privacy for anyone who want seclusion. I’ve prayed in the wings once before and liked how they were built with shaded glass at the front – giving people a clear view of the imam and the main hall. I didn’t feel separated from the congregation at all – especially when I used the microphone for people to ask questions.

Now that Eryn is old enough to pray, we both prefer to be at the front near the Hubby so we can worship together. As a family.

In fact, there have been a few times when families were given an opportunity to pray together. When the mosque is packed during special events, instead of favouring the men by giving them the main hall and forcing women into a dingy basement, impromptu family sections are created – just like in Mecca.

This mosque is particularly good at making sure that people can pray wherever they feel comfortable.

My ears perked up when the imam started the sermon. Eryn and I held hands and I gave her a quick squeeze of excitement as he read her submission on the importance of using the gifts that God has given – your natural abilities – to serve humanity. The Hubby beamed with pride and he gave Eryn a subtle thumbs-up. I don’t think either one of us ever imagined that our brilliant teenager would be writing the Friday sermon.

Or that we would find a mosque, which would encourage congregants of all ages and genders to become involved in such an important religious fulfillment.

I was apprehensive when the call for input on the construction of this mosque first went out – completely expecting to have my views turned away. But the mosque administration (made up of an equal number of men and women) had a vision: to provide a safe, welcoming religious space for everyone in the community and to ensure the rights of each person.

This mosque is inclusive – it’s open to all religious beliefs, ethnicities, races, and is gender-friendly. This mosque doesn’t turn anyone away – it holds regular community lectures on “Living with HIV,” “Recognising Drug Abuse,” and “Racism in the Community.” This mosque is charitable – there are regular clothing drives for various causes and twice a month turns the gym into a soup kitchen that’s open to all. This mosque has a list of rotating imams which includes female scholars – they even have registered chaplaincy courses for *anyone* interested in becoming an imam.

This mosque is fully accessible, has LGTBQ resources in the library, relies on skylights and eco-friendly materials, a babysitting service, change tables in the family washroom, a nursing room, an indoor playground, community connection programs for the elderly, a monthly “well-being” initiative offering discounted recreational activities, credible marriage and career counselling services, welfare aid programs, an organic community garden and women are regularly invited to speak about issues pertaining to women.

It’s not perfect, but this mosque is an example of what is possible when women and equity allies are given a platform to actualize their opinions and affirm their rights in Islam.

The imam finished Eryn’s sermon with a special supplication in English and prayed for openness, understanding and tolerance for all people. Then he looked directly at her and invited her to give the adhaan.

My heart leapt as she rose with dignity and grace and walked confidently to the front of the congregation. Her face remained emotionless and serious while she made a quick prayer of intention before lifting her hands and pronouncing the sacred call to prayer.