In an unusual display of presidential involvement in a local matter, President Omama was quick to criticize the police department of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in July 2009, for arresting Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates in his home following an incident with a police officer. The President said, "I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting someboday when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact."
If the President was upset about that incident, he must be livid livid livid over the action recently taken by the police department in his own backyard of Washington D.C. On the weekend of 22 February, about 20 Muslim women engaged in a peaceful protest to be allowed to pray in the main prayer hall of their local mosque with the men. Mosque officials called the police, who gave the women the option of leaving or being arrested. The women called off the protest, but say their struggle will continue.
When the media asked Imam Sayyid Burmi the reason for men and women being forced to pray separately, he replied, "If I stand next to a woman, maybe the focus will change and no longer be on God the Almighty. That's why we put up the partition."
Before getting to the main point of this posting, which is that I'm waiting with bated breath for the President's response, let me throw out a few comments:
1. I'm sure Jannah bint Hannah, Fatimah Thompson, and the other women involved in the protest at their mosque have a high opinion of their Prophet as the world's greatest example of honoring women's rights. As I posted recently, I don't share that optimism. Nevertheless, congratulations to Jannah, Fatimah, and their friends for their courage.
2. The Imam's reason for the gender separation in prayer, that he might be distracted from focusing on God were he praying next to a woman, is a common Muslim response. Muslim men seem to have a hard time controlling their desires or emotions, but rather than develop that self-control find it much easier to just blame the women. After all, millions of Christian men pray next to women in churches every week without their "focus being changed". Why are Muslim men any different?
3. The Imam, however, was not being completely honest. The real reason for separating men from women in prayer is that Muhammad claimed that the prayer of a man was invalidated if a dog, mule, or woman passed in front of him when he was praying. Even his wife Aisha noted this was putting women on the level of dogs (Vol 1 Bk 9 Nr 490).
This is the same prophet who stated that a man needed to perform ritual ablutions after he had gone to the bathroom or touched a women (Quran 4:43). If a woman in Islam is placed on the level of feces, a mule, or a dog, it is not difficult to understand why any self-respecting Muslim man would not want her standing next to him in prayer. (By the way, your English-language copy of the Quran intended for Western audiences deliberately mistranslates 4:43. It probably says a man needs to wash himself after having "sexual relations" with a woman. The Arabic simply says if he "has touched" a woman, which would include her brushing against him in the prayer line at the mosque).
And now to the point of this posting. I'm waiting for the President's response. If he felt the need to comment on the arrest of a man in Massachusetts, he must have something to say about the police of Washington D.C. threatening to arrest women for wanting to pray with men in a public house of worship. The President's involvement in full equality for Muslim women in America is just as important and perhaps more so than his intervention in what he thought to be a racial incident in Cambridge, Mass.
But just in case we have to wait a while for the President's response, let's give it up for Fatimah and Jannah - and someone warn the good Imam Sayyid Burmi to watch out for the American Woman!