Jumma: The last bastion of the boys
The other day I was chatting to my dad and told him that sometime in the future I would like to give a Jumma sermon. He shook his head sadly and told me that unfortunately in this country, women cannot give sermons. I asked him why? And he couldn’t really tell me a good reason.
So I am throwing the question out to the rational and reasonable public â€“ Why can’t a woman give a Jumma sermon? I know from my brother and cousin that most of the Jumma sermons are totally irrelevant. Firstly they are given in a language they don’t quite understand â€“ a tip to Imams: try Sinhala or English as a rule please, in Colombo mosques, secondly the Jumma is dead boring. Thirdly what exactly is the criterion to give a sermon? I know one big one: you have to be a man. But after that, what? From my limited knowledge I know that there is no priesthood in Islam. So technically, anyone learned or qualified should be able to give a sermon. And then back to my original question – why can’t a learned and qualified woman give a sermon?
It amuses and amazes me to hear Muslim men actually endorsing the view that women cannot and should not give sermons. These are men who might possibly work under a woman, hire a woman to defend him in a court of law, have his case heard by a woman judge, entrust his health to women doctors, be taught by women, have a woman drive him around, have a woman do his accounts, design his house, be checked at a military point by a woman, travel in an airplane flown by a woman, have lived in a country that was led by a woman (and please don’t give me that hackneyed phrase of look where we are now. The origin of all our political troubles in the world started with men) and still they think that a woman cannot give an intelligent relevant sermon at the mosque.
The Jumma sermon should be appropriate. It should speak to the people of modern situations, current problems, and other pertinent topics. Why can’t a woman do this?
It seems a bit archaic to blame the inability to have a woman give a Jumma sermon to the lame excuse that it hasn’t been done before. It was not done during the time of the Holy Prophet etc., etc. First you have to examine why you give a Jumma sermon, once that is ascertained â€“ and I presume the sermon is given to educate, inform, and school, and if all this is being done quite well in other spheres by women, then why not Jumma?
A related point is the Â treatment of women in mosques. I think we are treated very badly. For one, whenever I enter a mosque with my mum and my sisters and my cousins, we are shooed to one side as if we are vermin. Then if we want to pray we are asked to go to a small room that has barely any ventilation and is dingy, musty and dirty. If there are any shrines, we are not allowed anywhere near the shrine as if we have the plague and will contaminate all surrounding areas. There was even a time when I went to a mosque and was asked to use the back entrance that was reserved for women. There were no outsider men around at that time and it was ridiculous for my dad and brothers to go through the front entrance and for us to use the back entrance. And let me add before any of my beloved brethren accuse me of not being dressed properly. We certainly were dressed respectfully with our heads covered, our arms covered, our legs covered, and our bodies covered.
Why can’t our mosques be like churches, kovils or temples when it comes to women? I have been told that Hindu women stand onto one side and Hindu men stand onto another, but that they are treated with the same dignity and they are not treated like substandard beings who have to be banished somewhere else.
What really astonishes me is that Sri Lankan Muslim men, even the most educated see nothing wrong with this whole set up. Except for my dad and brothers and a few other enlightened men, the majority of the men think this is quite normal for Muslim women to be treated the way they are.