By Shireen Qudosi
February 7, 2019
In looking at the question of should Muslim
women pray behind men, I’ve arrived at a simple conclusion: Do what you want.
Any other answer that doesn’t factor in personal freedom and choice runs the
risk of herding us toward Islamist fundamentalism.
Islamist fundamentalism is defined, in
part, as the straining of Islam through a strict filter. However, it’s also
true that the opposite of fundamentalism is still a form of fundamentalism.
Let me explain.
A recent discussion in a Facebook group
page for secular Muslim women looked at a video produced by well-known and
well-liked vlogger Khalid Al Ameri. Alongside his wife Salama, Ameri often
produces these videos as a positive representation of Arab culture and Muslim
One of these videos — “Are we bad Muslims?”
— looks at some of the criticism the Al Ameris receive. Among the criticisms
was a belligerent third-party voice complaining that Salama doesn’t pray behind
Khalid. Khalid calmly responds to this by saying that she was behind him.
She was and she wasn’t. Salama was inches behind
her husband but also next to him, which I saw as reflective of their harmonious
and intimate relationship as husband and wife. There is a closeness and ease
between them that has earned them millions of followers. There is also a deep
equity within their marriage that doesn’t lose its balance with Salama sitting
three inches behind her husband.
Clearly, the fundamentalists have an issue
that the strict standard is not met. However, the extreme liberal branch of
Muslims using a new filter of culture and politics will have their own
There must be no separation of gender
Women can pray equally alongside men
Women should lead men in prayer
Muslim women who have charged the way in
leading mosques or Islamic prayer have highlighted leading a prayer service as
a win. Of course it’s a win in gender equality, but it should not be mandated
as a new standard to demonstrate we’re not primitive.
It is important to remember that Islam
fails miserably when it is treated as a monolith. And historically, extreme
interpretations construct a monolith faith. An extreme interpretation in the
other direction will do the same.
Extremist factions in Islam arose, in part,
out of a denial that Islam and its practice is diversified; it was designed to
be diversified. The politically-driven Leftist opposition to fundamentalism
(that must, of course, be checked) also runs the risk of being very narrow in
its own insistence that the only way to practice ‘proper’ Islam is to funnel it
through pre-screened liberal values that fit into Western notions of equality.
In other words, they cry that only those
liberal values can be tolerated. That swing (in the completely other direction)
marginalizes conservative Muslims and traditionalists, as well as women like me
— women who balance between modernity and feminism but also in many ways are
still very traditional.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all Islam, and
there shouldn’t be. If Salama and Khalid Al Ameri are happy worshiping as they
do — and they aren’t hurting anyone — what’s it to anyone else? If I choose not
to lead a mixed-gender prayer because I wouldn’t be comfortable, does that
disqualify me as a feminist? I don’t think so.
The rigidity with which we structure our
filters is a problem, leaving us vulnerable to developing our own
fundamentalist views camouflaged under buzz words like “freedom” and
Lastly, within the back and forth with
secular Muslim women on this subject, there was also the criticism the Al
Ameris receive for not taking about “real problems” within the Islamic world.
I understand the sentiment behind that
criticism, but does everyone have to use their platform to produce
gut-wrenching and provocative pieces? I don’t think so. The way the Al Ameris
have produced these videos — heartfelt and light — has its own value. Everyone
brings their own piece to the conversation, and the Al Ameris do so gently with
Does It Mean To Be A Literalist And A Fundamentalist?