A Woman’s Voice at the Mosque

Most of all, we have to use reason and logic and broaden the use of ijtihad – individual reasoning in religious affairs.

In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, Toronto and Montreal saw arrests of two Muslims charged with terror related activities. There’s been some hand-wringing and questions about “what leads Muslim youth towards violence?”

Amid an array of reasoning, one constant factor that has emerged is the possible influence of Wahhabi mosques. This is not new. For years after 9/11, we were concerned about possible seditious messages coming from the pulpit, some of which I have heard.

While the sermon every Friday in the mosque may not ask Muslims outright to commit violent acts, I believe that what is not being said is the issue here.

Keeping in mind that one day soon we will be hearing women’s voices in the mosque giving a sermon, if not every Friday, then, we hope, at least once a month, I decided to be prepared and have written up a sample sermon. Of course, sermons should evolve with time but this is something along the lines I would have liked my kids to have heard as they were growing up in Canada. At present Muslim women can lead prayer and offer sermons only to a congregation exclusively made up of women.

I begin in the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Salaam Alaikum. Peace upon all those who gather here.

Let us speak to the concept of compassion and mercy. If we want to ask God for compassion and mercy, then we must try and show the same compassion and mercy for all God’s creation, which includes people of all faiths, the environment and animals.

We greet each other with the universal Muslim greeting of peace. Just saying ‘peace be upon you’ does not create peace. Peace is something we have to actively work towards and put into practice, because only when are at peace with ourselves, can we can spread peace towards others. Peace is also about justice so when we want justice for ourselves, we must be prepared to offer the same justice to others.

We live in a society where we meet people of diverse faiths, ethnicities and nationalities. This is a blessing and we have to learn to interact with respect and dignity. Remember when we offer our prayers five times a day, we send blessings upon the progeny of Abraham who are Jews and Christians. Today Christians are being persecuted in Muslim lands and anti-Semitism is on the rise. We must speak out when we see this happening.

Most of you are either born in the West or have chosen to live in the West. A wise man once said that your home is not the country you were born in, but the country you will die in. So whether you were born in Multan, Mangalore or Malaysia, when you become a citizen of a country in the West and death overtakes you in Sydney or London or Montreal, wherever you come from you will die as a citizen of that place.

Therefore my brothers and sisters that place is home – that is the country we have to build, fight for, live for and bring about the change we want from within.

There is a tradition in Islam where we are commanded to follow the laws of the land in which we live. Thus it is incumbent on us to obey the laws of those lands, which give us our livelihood, a roof over our heads and our bread and butter.

This does not mean that you have to accept everything you see around you. In a liberal democracy there is the beauty of disagreeing, and all of you have the right to disagree with your political leaders but there are ways of making this work. We have systems at our disposal through which we can address our discontent.

There is a profound verse in the Quran, 5:32: “As we (Allah) prescribed to the House of Israel, to kill one person, unless it is for murder or sedition, is to kill all of humanity, and to save one person is to save all of humanity.” If we can keep this uppermost in our hearts and minds while teaching this to our children, we will be better human beings.

Most of all we must learn to use reason and logic and broaden the use of ijtihad – individual reasoning in religious affairs. As Qur’an mandates in verse 2:44, “Do you bid other people to be pious, while you forget your own selves – and yet you recite the divine writ? Will you not, then, use your reason?”

The next sermon will be about women’s right based on the Qur’an: the account of the life of Muhammad we have received as Muslim believers, and the example of his first wife, Khadijah, who chose him for marriage. For this we hope to see women as equal participants in the mosque.

Let us pray that God grants us the wisdom and knowledge to be good human beings, exceptional citizens, and doers of good deeds. Ameen.

Raheel Raza is president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow and led the first mixed-gender prayer in Canada. She hopes that it was not the last.