CAIRO: Muslims in the Middle East yesterday angrily denounced prayers led by a woman in New York City on Friday as a violation of Islam. Egyptian newspaper, Al Messa, reported the news of Amina Wadud leading Friday prayer services on its front page, with the emphatic headline: "They are tarnishing Islam in America!"
A female Islamic law professor condemned the act as apostasy, explaining that a woman's body "stirs desire" in men.
Some suggested the event was a US conspiracy to mold traditional Islam into a secular American religion.
Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the Islamic prayer service before a mixed congregation of 80 to 100 men and women at an Anglican church. Three mosques had refused to hold the service, and an art gallery backed out after receiving a bomb threat. Organisers of the prayer said it was intended to draw attention to the inequality faced by Muslim women.
In Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said "Those who defended this issue are violating God's law. Enemies of Islam are using women's issues to corrupt the community."
Shaikh Sayed Tantawi, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque said Islam permits women to lead other women in prayer but not a congregation that includes men.
Abdul-Moti Bayoumi, of the Islamic Research Centre at Al Azhar, said Wadud had carried out "a bad and deviant innovation" that contradicted the Prophet Mohammed's sayings and deeds.
In Qatar, an influential hardline cleric condemned Wadud for leading the prayer service, saying Islam bans women from doing so unless the congregation is made up solely of women.
All Islamic schools "agree that women do not lead men in (performing) religious duties," Qatar-based Shaikh Yussef Al Qaradawi, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a fatwa, or religious edict, published in the local Press.
Imam Omar Abu Namous at the Islamic cultural Centre of New York strongly criticised Wadud and said that those who attended her session were furious at the setting and at how Wadud and the organisers of the event behaved.