Wadud has raised the ire of many American Muslims. (Reuters)

NEW YORK, March 19, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – An American woman led on Friday, March 18, a mixed congregation of men and women in New York in the Friday prayer against a backdrop of protests and calls of blasphemy from American Muslims.

More than a hundred men and women knelt in adjacent rows, with no curtain to divide them as Amina Wadud, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the prayer.

The Adhan (call to prayer) was raised by another woman, Suehyla El-Attar, who did not wear hijab, The New York Times reported.

The prayer was held at the heavily-guarded Synod House at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, after several mosques refused to host it.

Wadud conducted the service primarily in English with verses of the Noble Qur’an read in Arabic.

Her controversial sermon centered on the idea that men and women should treat each other as equals.

“I don’t want to change Muslim mosques. I want to encourage the hearts of Muslims to believe that they are equal,” CNN quoted Wadud as telling a crowded news conference before the prayer.

She said she wished to remove “artificial and inconvenient restrictions” imposed on Muslim women.

Furor

For the most part, New York City Muslims have been unreceptive to the event, but many proposed outside, said The Times.

“That woman does not represent Islam at all. This is blasphemy, and the penalty for blasphemy is death and that is what this woman deserves,” the American daily quoted a protester named Nussrah as saying.

Another protester said that Wadud was trying to change the Noble Qur’an.

“If Islam goes with what you feel, then it is not a religion, it is an option. We are against her because she is trying to offend 1.4 billion Muslims and as a Muslim it is our duty to forbid what we see as evil,” the protester, who refused to be named, told Voice of America radio.

“I am against what she is saying because it has never been allowed, since the 14th century until now all the religious scholars never allowed a woman to be an imam,” in Friday prayer, a woman protester added.

The protesters further carried placards with one of them reading: “Mixed-Gender Prayers Today, Hellfire Tomorrow.”

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