Moyra Dale discusses the increasing involvement of women in Islamic education and leadership roles, driven by growing access to education and religious resources. Dale also highlights the story of Hoda El Habash as an example of this trend.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Moyra Dale Lecture: The Women’s Mosque Movement


Women scholars have always existed within Islam, but the whole growth in numbers of women studying in mosques and madrassas is something new in the Islamic world from China to Indonesia to the Middle East. And this has been fed by the growth in women’s education and literacy around the world together with increased availability of religious resources in tracks, cassettes, AV materials, even satellite and Internet. And the other factor is the growth in conservative Islamic movements right across the Muslim world which is both enabled by and contributing to the growth in religious materials. These movements put a priority on religious education including for women. Some women are self educated, but increasingly religious institutions are offering training to women.


Even Al Azhar opened its doors to women in 1999. The word comes from the word meaning to call or to invite, and the contemporary movement relates dawah, calling people, not only to non Muslims, but also to the duty of every practicing Muslim towards fellow Muslims to follow correct Islamic practice. And in many ways, the Da’iyeh embodies the contemporary Islamic movement and is kind of like a figure of authority, like the previous or the earlier scholars. One woman teacher said, The Da’iyeh is the ambassador of God to people and the successor of the prophet, Khalifat and Nabi. So through the role of Da’iyeh, women are given potentially a role of authority and an implicit leadership, followers of the prophet that was usually reserved for men.


But how they take it up is shaped by their personal context, their own access to education and family support. And I wanna tell you the story of Hoda El Habash. She’s an example of how a woman became a or a or a missionary for Islam. As a 17 year old, she began teaching women in classes in homes and mosques how to memorize the Quran, how to interpret it. Her role is supported by her family.


Growing up, her father would combine his business trips with doing dawah in local mosques. And in his own family, Hooda remembered how in the evenings, he’d gather the family to pray behind him in the mornings too. Him and my brothers and us, the mother and sisters lined up behind him, and afterwards in the evening, he’d teach us. He encouraged his children to attend the mosque programs including over the long summer holiday month and Hooda’s mother also gave her freedom to attend the mosque instead of requiring her to be involved in all the household chores that are normal for women. Another brother and 2 sisters are religious teachers and other siblings are also involved or support them financially.


Hood is one of a line of women who stand out in each generation for their education. She describes her mother. Back in her time, women were illiterate. Many people didn’t know how to read. In her village in Lebanon, there was only her and another girl who learned to read, and people would celebrate by putting them on a horse and parading them through the village.


Huda herself was only one of 4 or 5 girls who’d memorized the whole Quran in her Sharia school when she was growing up. And now she says there are 1,000. And now her daughter Inas is pioneering in being allowed to go as a young woman to study abroad in the Gulf for tertiary study. Hooda says that this isn’t widely acceptable in our conservative society, but in Nas, in allowing her to travel, our intent is that she become a world class da’iya. Her studies are secular, but the intent is dawah, calling people to Islam.


Hood is married to an engineer and combines her role as wife and mother with a busy teaching schedule. And the whole importance of family would come through testimonies of women at the mosque which would often include stories of struggle for some women to come to the mosque in the face of opposition from a husband or a mother-in-law. Hooda herself follows very conservative norms of conduct and dress outside the home or in front of non related men. She’s always dressed in dark blue or full length, dark blue or black full length overcoat and headscarf showing only her face. She’s careful to always defer to the male leadership of the mosque and make sure that women’s voices can’t be heard in the male section of the mosque.


By keeping her practice conservative, she avoids censure. So women gain the right to challenge traditional norms of religious leadership by showing their conformity to religious social practices of dress and general behavior and then supporting their position from the religious texts, from the Quran, from the hadith. Hoday encouraged the women in the program to take any opportunity to be involved in dawah in their normal lives. They were taught how to use occasions like wedding, birth, funerals as chances for dawah. She said, if you hear a good tape, copy it.


Give it away to other people. Leave pamphlets or tracks in public places that people might pick up and read. Girls who traveled overseas for study or work were given contact of other graduates in the mosque and encouraged to think about what contribution they could make in religious teaching and leadership. Some young people were learning English so that they could reach out to the foreigners coming to the city and teach them about Islam. To be a daia, religious qualifications are important and so are personal ones.


To be a leader in the program that I attended, a woman should have memorized the whole Quran, to know about our religion so she can answer any questions and to have a good personality which means she should be calm, patient and treat people well. For, the domestic role is still required, but it becomes part of an expanding sphere of involvement. Huda is involved in teaching local people and sometimes expatriates as well as lecturing in local regional countries. The content of her teaching moves between the everyday, every night responsibilities of women’s worlds and global discussions of the nature of Islam and the place of women within it and she draws on the traditional texts of the Quran and the Hadith, the books of interpretation, tafsir alongside CD recordings and satellite programs. She’s an example of the many women who are taking up leadership in programs right around the world within Islam today.