One of the stereotypes of Islam is that it forces women to be subservient and prevents them from full participation in society. While there are societies that I would argue do misappropriate the faith to serve their own interpretations, numerous examples exist of how Muslim women not only participate, but take on leadership roles. One such example is in China where Muslim women not only have their own mosques, but also have their own female imams.
China is not often thought of when one discusses Islam, but it should be. Not only does it have over 20 million Muslims (much larger than the American Muslim population), it has the unique tradition of independent all-women mosques. Some of these mosques date from over 100 years ago and the imams are formally trained. Many of the women’s mosques began as Qur’anic schools for girls, providing education they were not able to find elsewhere.
In these mosques, the imams (ahong in Chinese) lead the prayers and teach the women in the congregation to read the Qur’an. Having women take a leadership role and acting as teachers is not foreign to Islam. In fact, Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was very active in the community and was one of the primary sources of hadith after his death. Also, both women and men have a right to education. Thus, these imams are acting within the sphere of the faith.
These mosques reflect an important trend among Muslims to have more women receive formal religious training in order to engage in discussions about Islam. Despite the stereotype of the faith, many Muslim women see the problem not as Islam itself, but rather in some of the interpretations that they are challenging.
What do you think of an all-female mosque? Why do you think these mosques are only in China? Please share your thoughts below.