Opinion: "Leading the Mufti: Progress in the Islamic Tradition"

March 2, 2006

Source: Muslim Wake Up!


On March 2, 2006 Muslim Wake Up! ran an article by Pamela Taylor, co-chair of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America and acting director of the Islamic Writers Alliance, in which she comments on the growing support for women imams in some Muslim circles. Taylor writes, "It’s not often that one is asked to lead a grand mufti in prayer. Especially if one is a woman. Indeed, until this February, no Muslim woman had ever been asked to lead a grand mufti in prayer. So it was, understandably, with an edgy mix of trepidation and elation that I recently agreed to lead prayers for a congregation that included, upon his request, the former Grand Mufti of Marseilles Sohaib BenCheikh.

My excitement and anxiety were only heightened by the importance of what I was about to do. For a woman to lead a mufti, even a mufti known for his liberal views, was not just ground-breaking; it could be the lynchpin in the effort to legitimize women imams.

A mufti is a religious authority somewhat akin to a bishop � a scholar of Islamic theology, law and jurisprudence and who is qualified to issue fatwas, or religious rulings. BenCheikh received his education at Al-Azhar, the premier university in Sunni Islam, and has for 10 years been the spiritual leader of Marseilles.

He also is the first scholar of his caliber to have endorsed women imams. There have been scholarly articles presenting the theological justification for female imamate ... written by Muslim women educated in the West. Various Islamic leaders have offered their support, but none of them carried the clout or credentials of BenCheikh. His opinion is one that other scholars cannot glibly dismiss.

That he decided to go beyond simply issuing a ruling, and chose to participate in a women-led prayer himself, sends an unequivocal message... A message that I dare to believe will eventually change the face of Islam as we know it today, restoring the community’s commitment to justice and equality."