The first few encounters I had with the practices of Islam were when I was about 10 years old. My brothers and I would follow my father’s friends and his wife and daughters to the prayer ground for Eid prayers, and even though I had no idea how to pray, I always enjoyed going. I didn’t, however, like that women had to stay behind men to pray, and a man would lead the prayer. It was different from when I went to church with Mum because we would sometimes listen to preaching from a female pastor. My 10-year-old mind believed that women couldn’t have a place in Islam because men were in charge.
I would unlearn this when I began to meet more Muslim women and practice years later, but at a point, you could agree with my 10-year-old logic. As Muslim women, it can be challenging for us sometimes to think that there is a space for our femininity in Islam or femininity in general. We feel like this because we worship with male voices surrounding us. It becomes easy to start thinking that maleness is superior. We hear the Adhan call in a Male voice. Men primarily give the majority of recitations, tafsirs, and teachings we listen to. These are not particularly wrong, but for Muslim women who want to feel connected to Allah in a personal relationship. For Muslim women like me who want to feel like they practice a religion that creates space for women, this could be tricky. Here’s how you could begin to embrace the female voice in worship.
Tafsirs and Lectures by Female Teachers
In the Ramadan of 2020, I watched a clip of a tafsir by Sheikha Tamara Grey. It was the first time I would see a Muslim woman giving a tafsir. I didn’t even think it was acceptable for a woman to provide a tafsir until I watched that clip.
I asked for a link to the whole clip and watched the rest of the tafsir and other lectures by her. It would mark the beginning of a journey to include women’s voices in my understanding of Islam. It was essential for me to have this because I didn’t have sisters or a Muslim mother and needed to listen to the teachings of older women, especially one with so much Islamic Knowledge. This could be a good reason to listen to tafsirs by women, giving young Muslim girls women to look up to. Another good reason is that those female scholars cover topics that deal with women much better than Male scholars would. Topics like menstruation, breastfeeding, and pregnancy would be dealt with better by a female teacher, and it would also help give a balanced perspective on general topics. Looking up and reading about the lives of female scholars also comes under this.
I barely hear the voice of a woman reciting the Quran when I’m not in school. This is most likely because there are no Muslim women in my house. I didn’t think I needed to hear women recite Quran until the Ramadan of 2021. I spent it in school and would go to the masjid in my hostel for prayers. Sometimes I would listen to a girl reciting the Quran after prayers and almost cry. I had thought there was something wrong with the way I recited because I was comparing myself to the male reciters I was used to listening to. To avoid making this mistake, listening to the recitation of the Quran would help. And because we play the recitation of the Quran a lot as an act of worship, why not the voice of the recitation be one similar to the voice in your head, a female voice? A good tool to get recitations of the Quran by women is an app called Qariah.
Performing Acts of Worship While Menstruating
It’s easy to pause your worship because you’re on your period. But why do we do this? Allah has instructed us not to pray at this time as a form of mercy for us that doesn’t mean we are no longer Muslims, and putting a pause on all other forms of worship like making dua and dhikrs and listening to the Quran isn’t a good thing. Menstruating is the most female thing our bodies do, and relegating worship during this time would mean that we are less than Muslim when we are female, which is entirely inaccurate. It would also feed into the problematic take that we are seen as unclean because of our periods, and thus, are denied worship.
Going to a Masjid
Even though going to the masjid is compulsory, being in the space of worship is essential for women. Besides getting the reward for praying in a congregation, it is the best place to meet other Muslim women. It includes you in the sisterhood and community with other Muslim women. In 2019, the first time I prayed in a masjid, I had goosebumps. It was the first time I was with such a large group of women, all worshipping Allah simultaneously. I felt like I was part of the ummah for the first time. And every single time I go to the masjid, I always have this feeling. I think it’s essential for every Muslim woman to have this feeling.
To feel like they are part of a community, it helps to know that there is a group of women who can support you in terms of worshipping Allah and other issues in life — and this only comes when you go to your local masjid.
A voice or perspective is the most important means of understanding concepts and issues. With our world growing smaller and smaller with the internet, it is significant that we have our perspectives on our religion from a balanced and even source that enables the female voice in worship.