Muslim clerics in Egypt are now allowing women to serve as preachers in mosques, teach in religious schools, sing in choirs, and serve on governing boards of mosques.
This reformation ball was put into motion four years ago when Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for Islam to fight back against connections to extremism. In an article published in January 2015, Fox News explains, “The speech was Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s boldest effort yet to position himself as a modernizer of Islam. His professed goal is to purge the religion of extremist ideas of intolerance and violence that fuel groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State — and lie behind Tuesday’s attack in Paris on a French satirical newspaper that killed 12 people.”
Flash forward to 2018, and Religion News Service is reporting, “In response, Islamic religious authorities are allowing Muslim women to be heard. Over the past three months, the clerics have announced that women can now serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.”
Make no mistake, this is a sea change in the life of Egyptian Muslims. “About 70 percent of mosques in Egypt have separate prayer areas for women, according to the Endowments Ministry. But the move to introduce women preachers – wa’ezzat in Arabic – marks the first time females have formally addressed worshippers in these spaces as officially sanctioned clergy.”
The move is being hailed as a great step forward by progressive Muslims:
“These measures show that Islam can grow in an open encounter with other faiths,” said Wafaa Abdelsalam, a 38-year-old female physician appointed by the government’s Ministry of Religious Endowments to give two sermons a week at a pair of influential mosques in the Cairo suburbs. “The audience for my Ramadan talks has been mostly upper-middle-class women who until recently have felt they have had nobody to talk to about how Islam fits into their lives.”
“Religious education here is a chance for women to ask me questions about personal matters, including marriage problems, and to debate the merits and drawbacks of the choice to wear or not wear the (hijab) headscarf,” said Abdelsalam.
This is just another step in Egypt’s attempts to separate Islam from the violence of extremism. Last month, Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments shut down 20,000 storefront mosques run by unlicensed preachers. Jaber Taya, spokesmen for the Ministry, explains, “There are now more than 110,000 mosques in Egypt. With the numbers growing all the time, our ministry has taken steps to monitor violations of sermon guidelines, especially when it comes to the unacceptable promoting of extremist groups.”
To be sure, some Muslims are going to recoil at the “liberalization” of their religion. The majority of Muslims who simply want to practice their faith in peace will applaud Egypt’s actions.