Five years ago, the United Muslim Association of Toledo or UMAT started a lecture series for non-Muslims and Muslims to explain aspects of the prophet Muhammad, “peace be upon him,” as Muslims say to indicate respect when referring to their prophets. “Being that the prophet is very strongly revered by a billion people in the world plus, the rest should understand at least who he was rather than have misconceptions of who he was not,” said neurologist Zaheer Hasan, a UMAT leader.
Dr. Hasan said that the series started as a reaction to controversy about depiction of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper's editorial cartoons in 2005; the Islamic religion prohibits images of Muhammad. “A lot of Muslims acted in a very inappropriate manner, which was basically against the teaching of the prophet.” Dr. Hasan said that UMAT could “at least enlighten people in our community” about Muhammad. This year's lecture will be at the University of Toledo law school auditorium, 1825 W. Rocket Dr., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Marcia Hermansen, a theology professor at Loyola University of Chicago who is also director of Loyola's Islamic world studies program, is the speaker, and her topic is “Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Women's Rights.”
“The whole concept of rights is kind of a modern framing,” Professor Hermansen, coeditor of the book Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians, published in 2013, said. “It's not something that would have been put out in the same way in the seventh century.
“Muslims often make the point that women had legal personhood within the religion, and they had the right to own property and many things that women in the West didn't have until the 20th century.” Professor Hermansen said that Islam is “far ahead of comparable traditions in even many modern nation-states. But now modern nation-states have had women's movements.” So a question rises, she said: “In the 21st century, is it the spirit that women should keep getting more and more equal rights, or was the bar set in the seventh century?”
In the Muslim faith, women have many opportunities for religious leadership, including in the Islamic legal structure. Locally, women have served as president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, and the current president is Cherrefe Kadri. Nationally, Ingrid Mattson was head of the Islamic Society of North America from 2006 to 2010.
Women do not serve as imams, but that position in Islam is not the same as a pastor or rabbi in the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Judaism, where some congregations accept women and others don't. Professor Hermansen said that in Morocco and Turkey, some women have titles that translate to “religious guide” and “female preacher or female lecturer.” “There definitely have been a number of places where women have given pre-Friday sermons,” Professor Hermansen said. “They can give a talk, not the sermon.”
Contrasted with women as leaders are examples of their modesty, such as wearing clothing that covers the hair or the whole body, and not calling attention to themselves. Professor Hermansen said that for some, the modesty is an example of “the quest for Islamic authenticity.” Both modernity and tradition affect people's religious practices.
Professor Hermansen said there is also a historical question. “Women were alongside the prophet and played these historical roles. What happened to the women?” That gender reexamination is similar to what is going on in the study of women in Christian church history, she said. “The question is, why did women fade into the background?”
A new religion is "kind of a revolutionary movement," she said, "so women can break out of the mold. But once the religion becomes institutionalized or kind of imperial, then you get more restrictions on women."
“Have Muslim cultures lived up to the vision of Islam?” Professor Hermansen asked. “I suppose you could put that to any tradition. Has it lived up to the vision of the founder?” At her lecture, look for Professor Hermansen to show the vision and the women's ways.