imam (a question)

During the first few months that I started writing here, a few have suggested that I should begin a mosque and lead as the imam there; these email inquiries returned after I posted evidence on women during the time of the Prophet leading both men and women in prayer. So I thought I should address it here.

I will probably never actually be an imam.

It’s a sad reality to face, though mayhaps for the best (since I don’t think I’d make a very good religious leader anyway.) Where could I possibly come up with a congregation? In the entire world there are more than enough people who would pray with all sexes behind a woman, but they are not gathered in one area for convenience. I am certain that if I had a congregation I would love them to death, compounded by the fact that they would be so difficult to find.

Is it arrogant to think no man could love his congregation like I can? I don’t know how any imam can’t love his congregation. Really love them, with the kind of love that aches. I would be so inadequate as a person, but I can force myself to be proper enough. When I think about it I feel as though I could dissolve into tears with such a strange aching love, like an open wound, stunned in degrees, and I could just shatter into a million pieces–but strangely I live on. I wonder if that’s how men feel, when they prepare to lead a congregation; do they die softly first before every prayer? Do they gaze out to those they lead and want to cry, overwrought with passion, “Oh God! Oh God, I love you and cannot lead you! Rise! Rise and move to stand beside me, not behind! I will only recite and lead but you will join me from either side!” But they refrain from calling out this, because the imam always stands in the front? When they finish do they feel tugged at the heartstrings and think quietly to themselves, “I pray we can walk into heaven like this, together, just as the Garden springs among us!” When they experience emptiness following a prayer, do they worry? Are they frightened when they cannot feel the presence of God? Are they disturbed that the stuffiness of remembered lectures and memorization sessions is so contrasted with the purity that pierces them in the experience of ardent longing? Would they gasp, suddenly, “What if I am lying to you? What if there is really nothing–nothing–” Do they panic, fearful that they have committed the grievous sin of mass deception with empty promises of cleansed souls? Do they turn to their congregation, or want to pause suddenly in the midst of a sermon, and sigh, “Oh, I am so imperfect” ?

I don’t want to do wrong or for anyone to get hurt (unless they absolutely must for the safety of thousands more—world dilemmas and such.) In this resolve I can terrorize myself, plummeting so deeply into a maelstrom of examination that the simplest actions become forbidding and immense. I’ve inched toward the brink of insanity in attempting to convert whatever animosity–or, God forbid, hatred–that might emerge within myself into love. And I am certain that at some level I must have failed.

How could I ever deserve you?

And that is why, for the question of evil, I don’t believe I could ever know. I could very well be evil. I would be a fool to be deceived by even the characteristics I detect as positive within myself—by the circumstances of my nature, the hopes and desires I render pure and truthful. Why should I believe that I am calling on good when I may be calling on malevolence? When I provide guidance, what if I imagine I truly care for others when my real desire is for them to adore me—or worse—to worship me? (I cannot describe enough how this terrifies me!) What if I demonstrate regret and retain the opposite in my heart? What if my modesty is secret self-praise, and my sincerity is reluctance?

It is believed by biased patriarchal scholars that when a woman does lead a “mixed” congregation she must lead from the back—unlike men who lead from the front—and of course this is not true. Of course she can lead from the front. There is no evidence from the Qur’an or from the Prophet that she must lead from the back.

I am certain, however, that there would be moments I would desire nothing but to slide meekly to the back, and lead from there, if only so that I could see you before me, and feel myself fill with love.

And maybe, some days, I couldn’t, and would have turn coolly to the front, in fear that it would be too much to endure! What else would I have in this world but you? I could be nothing but strong for you, and faithful to my promises, or else lose all sense of my own identity. And love—love is the most Divine thing there is!—if only there were certainty that it is true.

How beautiful I imagine a place of worship would be; expanse with no barrier, glass floors like water as beauty is described in the Qur’an, winding pillars and gold scripture.

As for my writing recently—I will be back regularly soon. I’ve been in a tempest of thought lately. (And ostensibly tweeting as a main outlet.) These annoyingly broody entries will cease for at least a time, promise.

5 thoughts on “imam (a question)

  1. janinmi

    Imho: The fact that you can ask yourself these questions shows that you are, indeed, sincere in your faith. There is no such thing as absolute certainty in humans, as it is a divine quality. I’ll paraphrase a thought from a daily prayer book: professing belief *and* owning the struggle to maintain that faith is all God asks of us.

    That one thought, once I’d read it, lifted a weight from me that I hadn’t known I carried.

    I can certainly see you leading a congregation in prayer, perhaps walking among them as they sit in a semi-circle to listen to your talks. I have no idea if such a thing is acceptable in Islam; I would guess it’s rather radical. :) The thought of a woman leading a spiritual gathering is a delight to me; what has been done before can be done again, if the will to do it exists. I admire your perspective on this topic for its honesty and the loving way you expressed it. {{{Nahida}}}

  2. I agree with Janinmi – it takes sincerity to ask the kinds of question you’ve asked yourself and us here. It’s not arrogance; it’s true love, true worthiness of the role! I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t want you as an Imam after reading this. It’s a different story if you don’t want to be one yourself. I don’t either; can’t see myself as one, or as being a good religious leader. Not for the same reasons/concerns as you’ve discussed here, but just because I would never be comfortable serving as an Imam and some other lame reasons like this … not that anyone would elect the Qrratu as an Imamah to begin with, of course ;) mwahaha. Not.

  3. That is a truly beautiful exploration. As a woman who leads (Jewish) prayer- it is not the experience I have had, but then, leading prayer is not really my favorite part of religious leadership. Maybe I should print this post out and read it before leading services- it might help me.

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