With many intellectuals issuing statements supporting Ms Amina Wadud, one would have thought that Muslim women would have been at the forefront in supporting her right the speak. Their glaring absence should make people wonder if the issue is about the right to speech or on whether Muslims were protesting against Ms Wadud being portrayed as an Islamic feminist scholar. Islam has a large tradition of female scholarship starting from Aysha, wife of Prophet Mohammed, to our local Alimas.

Across the world, Ms. Wadud is considered to be a fringe element.

When the mainstream media, which has typically has ignored Muslim women scholars, starts touting her as an Islamic feminist scholar, the community is bound to take umbrage. The mainstream media’s definition of her as an Islamic feminist scholar is part of the broader issue where the mainstream Muslim women’s voices are silenced by the media. It is this media that often decides who the “valid” spokespersons are and what the issues to be debated in the community are.

Whether a women leads men in prayer is frankly a non-issue probably raked up to divert people’s minds from the greater Muslim issues of poor access to education and jobs, a lack of representation in the government and private sectors and the inordinate targeting of Muslim youth by the police.

By supporting Ms Wadud against the majority of Muslim women, secular intellectuals have in one fell swoop, disempowered Muslim women.

Finally, the issue of whether Ms Wadud should have been “allowed” to speak. She should have, but not as one labelled as an Islamic feminist scholar. In the interests of intellectual honesty and given the nature of her outlandish opinions, space should have also been given to Muslim women speakers to counteract her views.

Today, we are left with an unfinished business of wondering at the validity of Ms Wadud’s claim to scholarship. Giving her a podium would have clearly highlighted the poverty of her intellectualism and the fragility of her claim/s of representing Muslim women.

Aneesa Jamal and 13 others, Chennai

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