Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 15:30 UK

Woman to lead UK Muslim prayers

By Natalie Hancock
BBC News, Oxford

Prof Amina Wadud
Professor Amina Wadud has led prayers in America

A woman is to lead a congregation of men and women in an Islamic prayer service for the first time in the UK.

Muslim scholar Professor Amina Wadud is to give the sermon - or khutbah - at the start of a conference on Islam and feminism at Wolfson College in Oxford.

The move has provoked opposition as the tradition is that imams - always men - hold mixed services. Some believe it is against Islam for a woman to do so.

But organisers heralded it as a "leap forward" for "theological destiny".

Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre Oxford (MECO) Dr Taj Hargey, who is organising Friday's conference, argued that the prayer service would be a step in the right direction.

"We believe Islam is a gender-equal religion," he said.

"There is a record that the Prophet Mohammed allowed a woman to lead a mixed-gender congregation, but this precedent has been ignored.

Even in Christianity Catholics still don't accept female priests
Mokhtar Badri
Muslim Association of Britain

"Women have led prayers in South Africa, Canada and the US and this is a first time here - it is a celebration."

But Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain, is opposed to the sermon.

"With all respect to sister Amina, prayer is something we perform in accordance to the teachings of our Lord," he said.

"It has nothing to do with position of women in society. It is not to degrade them or because we don't think they are up to it.

"This is something divine not human. We have to do it in the way it has been ordained by God to do it.

"Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead."

Protest planned

He added: "I also don't think this is a subject confined to Islam. Even in Christianity Catholics still don't accept female priests."

When Ms Wadud led a service in New York City three years ago, it had to be held in an Anglican church after mosques refused to host the event.

There are also expected to be objections to Friday's sermon at the Oxford Centre in Banbury Road, with opponents understood to be planning protests.

But Dr Hargey is undeterred.

"People thought it was a bad idea to give women the vote," he said.

"When Emmeline Pankhurst chained herself to the railings in protest there was uproar, but things move on.

"This is about theological self-empowerment - women as well as men have the right to determine their own theological destiny."




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