The Theology of Inclusivity – A Jumma Prayer with Amina Wadud

amina and farouk me tell you something about the Islamic Reform movement. We don’t have many people. We don’t have much money (petrodollars? We don’t have steam engine dollars!). We don’t have any permanent spaces (just ‘pop up’ spaces for now). But we do have it where it counts – the heart. We have a bunch of people have sincere hearts and that was what made today’s event a runaway success.

I had been reading the work of Professor Amina Wadud since my late teens. I actually own an original copy of Quran and Woman published in Malaysia (from whence I came). Ten years ago, when Amina led a mixed congregation in Friday prayers, I silently cheered. This ground breaking , earth shattering act by Amina was an affront to the dominance of Conservative Traditional Islam who styled themselves as the ‘true’ form of Islam. The entire Muslim world reverberated with this quake and condemnations and threats were abound. But Amina kept on. And people followed.

Ten years on, I see more supporters and less negative responses. Not quite the end-game I would like but still tremendous progress. Today, Amina graciously accepted to lead the Jumma prayers organized by the Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) at St John’s Church in Waterloo, London.

As I said, we don’t have much financial support but that did not affect today’s proceedings one iota. We had a set of willing volunteers who organised the church hall in minutes. It was really a matter of the intention to help out. That really was what made things happen. When Amina came in, there was a silence. It was a ‘omg – she’s here’ type moment. We couldn’t keep ‘fear of a notable figure’ type feeling for long though. Amina was simply too down to earth. She spoke to well wishers calmly. This was a woman who just flew in yesterday and had travelled to Bristol and back! I am two-thirds her age and that type of schedule would have knackered me!

I found myself in one of the back rows when the khutba started. That suited me fine as I couldn’t be tweeting right in front of her which I had to do. Not without looking very impertinent anyway. I loved her opening comment straight away – when she translated yawm al-jum’ah as ‘day of gathering’ rather than simply Friday. I believe this translation far suited the universal nature of the Quran.

Today, Amina spoke about one of the shortest yet most powerful chapters of the Quran – Chapter 103 (Al-Asr). The wisdom of this chapter is obvious. It starts out by mentioning time and how we are at a loss as time marches on. This is unless we devote ourselves to the correct endeavours.

Dr Wadud opened up far greater depths than this. She called the first two verses ‘negative theology’. I understood this to mean that it was an understanding of Allah which gives a pessimistic view of life. Who can fight time, after all? However, it does not end there. If time was utilised in the correct manner, then it may bring us the benefit which the Quran promises.

Dr Wadud then went into a detailed breakdown of the third and final aya. She pointed out that the form in which the word ‘to enjoin’ (tawasau) is in the form of mutuality and reciprocity. We are to enjoin each other with the truth and with endurance. Dr Wadud tells us that the truth (al-haqq) here is absolute rather than relative truth. I am not sure about this because as subjective beings, whatever engagement we have with the Absolute will be our versions thereof. Therefore, I feel that it is a shared truth rather than an absolute one.

However, the ‘enjoining with endurance’ (tawasau bis sabr) was what blew me away. While the usual exegeses normally see this phrase as an ethical precept, Dr Wadud saw took it to the metaphysical dimension. She saw ‘sabr’ as a a constant endeavour. Not just by us but by our interaction with Allah!

This then implied that Allah was in constant interaction with everyone. His presence therefore is everywhere (not His essence but presence, it must be emphasized) and not just in mosques. This directly implies inclusivity. Everywhere, everywhen, it is God’s activity at play. There are no exclusive spaces. Inclusivity, it seems, is built in to the metaphysic of the universe.

In all my life, I had not heard such a mind blowing Friday sermon. The sermons around London were so repetitive, parochial and Islamofascist that I deliberately attend a mosque in which the sermons are in a language I cannot understand! Dr Wadud brought the spirit of Jumma back for me and I thank her for that.

The atmosphere after the Jumma was just as great. Everyone was so warm and friendly and helpful. Few, if any rushed out the way people do after standard Jummas. This was more like Eid rather than Jumma. And in a way, thanks to Dr Wadud, it was.

About Farouk A. Peru
I am a human being in the world, blogging my existence. My thought systems may be found in my website:

2 Responses to The Theology of Inclusivity – A Jumma Prayer with Amina Wadud

  1. snpeterson says:

    *gasp*… i ‘lurked’ on the Facebook IMI page (i don’t have an account) and saw the video of Dr Wadud’s Khutbah in St John’s Church. I have tears in my eyes at how truly inclusive this was. Seriously well done for organising such an amazing event and may the path toward inclusiveness be made easier.

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