London: A Canadian author will become the first Muslim-born woman to lead a mixed-gender British congregation through Friday prayers tomorrow.
In what is being seen as a highly controversial move insofar as the role of female leadership within Islam is concerned, Raheel Raza, a rights activist and Toronto-based author, has been asked to lead prayers and deliver the khutbah at a small prayer session in Oxford.
According to The Independent, Dr. Taj Hargey, a self-described imam who preaches an ultra-liberal interpretation of Islam, has invited Raza.
Dr Hargey is of the view that men and women should be allowed to pray together and that female imams should lead mixed congregations in prayer.
Three of the four mainstream schools of Sunni Islam allow women to lead exclusively female congregations for prayer, but the overwhelming majority of Muslim jurists are opposed to the notion of their presiding over mixed congregations outside the home.
Raza, 60, is part of a small but growing group of Muslim feminists who have tried to challenge the mindset that has traditionally excluded women from leadership roles within the mosque.
They argue that nowhere in the Koran are female imams expressly forbidden.
Raza received death threats after leading a mixed-gender prayer congregation in Toronto five years ago.
"It was a very profound experience," Ms Raza said, adding that: "It`s not about taking the job of an imam. It`s about reminding the Muslim community that 50 per cent of its adherents are women who are equal to men. Women are equally observant, practising Muslims who deserve to be heard."
Raza`s appearance in Oxford is a repeat of a similar prayer session in 2008 which was led by Amina Wadud, an American-born convert and Muslim feminist. But this is the first time a Muslim-born woman will lead a mixed prayer service in Britain.