Canadian Muslim woman to lead mixed-gender prayers in London

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 10:00 hrs

A Canadian author may become the first Muslim-born woman to lead the prayers at a mixed-gender congregation in Britain Friday as mosques bow to demands from modern Muslim women for their right to pray and representation.

Raheel Raza, a resident of Toronto, has been invited to deliver the 'khutbah' at a congregation in Oxford by Taj Hargey, according to The Independent. Hargey is a self-described Imam and considered a liberal interpreter of Islam believing in mixed-gender prayers and female imams leading such congregations.

Raza is a rights activist and a Muslim feminist fighting for leadership roles for women in mosques. She had received death threats after leading a mixed-gender prayer congregation in Toronto five years ago.

She told The Independent over the phone from her home in Toronto: 'It's not about taking the job of an imam. It's about reminding the Muslim community that 50 percent of its adherents are women who are equal to men. Women are equally observant, practising Muslims who deserve to be heard.'

Raza will become the second woman, but the first Muslim-born, to lead the prayers at Oxford if her Friday congregation goes through. In 2008, an American-born convert Amina Wadud, had led the congregation. Wadud's prayers were attended by a small congregation of less than 40 who were heckled on their way in to prayers by protesters, largely by fully veiled Muslim women.

Hargey, who runs the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, said: 'For Friday prayers we now receive about 100 people, twice that for Eid prayers and important occasions. I am expecting about 200 people to attend this Friday's prayers.'

In recent years there has been a growing demand from Muslim women to be included and represented at their mosques. Earlier this week, Faith Matters, a conflict resolution think-tank funded by the government and private benefactors, released a list of 100 women-friendly mosques.

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