A Muslim woman has defied customs to lead Friday prayers for the first time in Kerala – and perhaps even India. When 34-year-old Jamida teacher led Jumu'ah – the Friday prayer for Muslims – in Malappuram, she went against age-old customs followed by the community members that barred women from doing so.
And right on cue, the pioneer woman Imam (leader) is receiving backlash from fundamentalists, and is being accused of going against Islam.
"I am receiving phone calls from mosque committees telling me that I have defied Islam. On social media too, there are people who are speaking against me, claiming that I am trying to destroy the religion and its ways,” Jamida tells TNM.
Taking a practical view on the matter though, she asks, “But will change in the society come so easily?"
On Friday, Jamida, who is the general secretary of Quran Sunnat Society, led the prayers held at the society's Central Committee office in Wandoor in Malappuram district.
Hours after venturing into territory that had been alien for women of the community till now, Jamida says that she fears for her life.
"Quran Sunnat Society has been involved in several movements including ones against the primitive, unfair practice of triple talaq. I have faced death threats in the past for leading those campaigns and I am sure, this move of mine has upset the high and mighty. May be they will want to wipe me off the face of the earth, but I am prepared for it," Jamida says.
What prevented women till now?
Jamida points out that the Quran had been interpreted for the convenience of men so that they could hold the strings of power and therefore, discriminate against women. However, there's nothing in the holy text that prohibits a woman from being an Imam, Jamida argues.
"Quran is not discriminatory towards women. The idea put forth in the text is that of gender equality and not of discrimination. Have you seen women holding any position in a mosque? No. All these years, the men who hold power treated us that way and kept us out so that they could continue to rule over us. This is exactly why Islamic preachers on a television debate condemned what I did, but could not prove that my action was against the Quran. Precisely because it wasn't," Jamida explains.
The prayer was not held in a mosque, but in the society's office. Asked about this, Jamida says, "One needn't go to a religious institution to pray. Why should we have a dedicated establishment to carry out our prayers? It will take a long time before women will start leading the prayers in mosques, but that day will come."
For Jamida, the US-based scholar Amina Wadud, who is the first Muslim woman in the world to have led the Juma'ah prayers, is a source of inspiration.
"When I read up on her, I realised the kind of struggle she went through to do what she did. Voting rights for women in America were not granted one fine day. Similarly, I believe that every movement, every revolution will take time. Change will come definitely, but it will only come gradually," Jamida says.