I received a call yesterday. The former Mufti of Marseilles, Soheib Bencheikh, who is currently the Director of the Institut Supérieur des Sciences Islamiques (ISSI) is going to be visiting Toronto this weekend... and he specifically requested that he be able to meet with Raheel Raza and I, and to be led by one of us in prayers as a sign of his solidarity with the movement for gender equity in muslim societies.
So I'm off to Toronto this weekend, with the intention of leading the former Mufti of Marseilles and God knows how many other folks in prayer. Given that it is to be held in conjunction with a press conference about the Danish cartoons, I expect we may have a good sized congregation.
I doubt that a year ago, when Amina Wadud gave her historical friday sermon and led the prayers for a mixed gender congregation, anyone would have predicted the progression of events -- first Amina's prayer, then a few local gatherings, then the first friday services in a mosque officiated by a woman, and now the backing of a man who has impeccable credentials as a scholar. All in the space of one short year! Alhamdulillah!
Mr. Bencheikh is a graduate from one of the most prestigious universities in the world of Sunni Islam -- Al Azhar. He has been certified by this university as competant to make religious rulings -- that is, he has been authorized by one of the most respected Islamic institutions to issue fatwas. For ten years, he was the mufti (a legal scholar and religious leader) of Marseilles, and he's now the Director of a Institute of Islamic Sciences. Needless to say, his support puts a big hole in the argument of those who say that no "real" scholars support women leading prayers.
Of course, there will be people who try to discredit Mr. Bencheikh, just as they tried to discredit the scholarship of Amina herself, or the various people who presented Islamic legal justification for the prayers. But many will see Mr. Bencheikh a voice of genuine authority, a person who has gone through the orthodox training programs, a person with whom one may disagree, but who cannot be ignored or relegated to the realms of "ignorant" lay people.
Obviously, this development is incredibly important for Islamic feminists everywhere. That I have been so blessed as to be able to witness the events of the past year is incredible; to have the honor to have been a part of it... it's beyond words.
For those who are interested in attending:
Date: Sunday, February 19, 2006
Location: The Host Restaurant,
14 Prince Arthur Blvd
(North-West corner of Avenue and Bloor in Yorkvillearea of Toronto)
Times: 11 am: Chat and mingle with the Mufti
12 Noon: Press Conference
1 PM: Prayer
1: 30 Lunch
Looking forward to seeing all of you at this event.The event is taking place with the help of the Montreal-based organization, " Rights & Democracy."