Gender equality and Eid

2012-08-18 12:32

Ramadan is a time of deep spiritual reflection – when Muslims undertake fasting from dawn to dusk in order to attain a heightened sense of God-consciousness.

To mark the end of the month, Muslims celebrate the day of Eid al-Fitr – a day of feasting and festivity, spent with family and friends, beginning with a very special prayer in the early part of the day, traditionally held in a large field or park.

Sadly – in much of the Johannesburg Muslim community – women are barred from this blessed occasion.

Women are led to believe that they are “not allowed” to attend this prayer, as they will cause fitnah (mischief, discord, temptation).

This kind of reasoning, disguised as a dogmatic religious decree, teaches men to view women as sexual beings before they are regarded as moral and spiritual beings, contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an.

While Islam is a religion that promotes the equal spiritual status of men and women, there remains an stubborn culturally patriarchal ideology among many local Muslims which is a stumbling block to attaining this ideal.

I am fortunate to belong to an egalitarian Muslim congregation where I have complete access to the sacred space. So my Eid, for the last six years, has been markedly different from many other Muslim women.

Every year my husband and I, joined now by our twin daughters, make the short drive to the nearby suburb of Brixton (the mosques close to me do not allow women at their gatherings).

This is one of the only congregations in Johannesburg which affords women equal rights of inclusion, participation and respect.

I always delight in seeing so many men, women and children, dressed in their finest attire, come out to thank God for the day of celebrating fitrah (a person’s natural inclination to God).

After a short sermon followed by prayers and the collective incantation of the Muslim litany Allahu Akbar (God is great), everyone stands up and wishes each other “Eid Mubarak” (a blessed Eid).

Families and friends congratulate each other on completing the month of fasting. Children are given special Eid gifts, balloons and sweets.

The atmosphere is spiritually charged and festive.

Last year, as I greeted my husband, and we exchanged prayers for each other, I remember thinking to myself that we had both fasted, we had both stood for the long nightly prayers, we had both increased the remembrance of our Lord and we had both read the Quran.

So we both deserved to come out on the Eid morning and thank God for the day, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers, men and women did, a century and a half ago.

I believe this right belongs to every person who observes Ramadan, not just the men.

The women in most cases, deserve it more, for not only did they fulfil fasting, which is one of the pillars of Islam, they also prepared dawn and dusk meals for their families and communities.

I look forward to Eid al-fitr when I can join my community in supplicating together, and I pray for a Muslim society where men and women can worship together in an environment of mutual respect, as the Qur’an says: “The believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin right and forbid wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (9:71)

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