Keeping the female faith `Muslim brothers and sisters, we must all help Islam move forward' 20-year-old's address at mosque breaks new ground.
NICHOLAS KEUNG IMMIGRATION/DIVERSITY REPORTER
The rare sound of a woman's voice at the microphone caught everyone's attention; even young children stopped playing and looked up to see who was talking.
Up at the front of the United Muslim Association mosque yesterday, a confident Maryam Mirza delivered part of the Eid al-Fitr sermon. In doing so, she marked the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting) and what many called a new beginning for Muslim women as she took on a role traditionally left to men.
"For our survival in this world, humans must change with the times or we'll be left behind," the 20-year-old Markham woman told the 200 people at the service. "The same concept can be applied to religion. Muslim brothers and sisters, we must all help Islam move forward, and I believe we are doing just that."
Mirza looked at the silent crowd from behind the microphone and continued: "I want to thank our leaders for making changes outside of the norm. We must continue to educate ourselves and initiate change in our community and in our religion. This is all possible while still staying within the teaching of the holy Qur'an."
Mirza's 10-minute speech, following Imam Jabar Ally's prelude, drew tears from her mother Nazreen, who sat in the front row.
"I am very proud of Maryam. It's very emotional for me to see my daughter setting the stage being the first female to come out and give a sermon," explained the Guyana native. "This is a breakthrough for Muslim women. Maryam was sitting next to me, preparing for it. She said she was so nervous that she was going to throw up. I could feel her cold hands. I'm just glad she did it."
The move by the Etobicoke mosque, near Highway 27 and Finch Ave. W., was sure to attract criticism from conservative Muslims, congregation member Zaheer Majeed said.
"Gender question is a big issue in Islam. We always talk about women being equal in Islam, but sometimes in practice, it's just not there," lamented the 55-year-old man. "Men my age carry a lot of baggage. Not only do they feel challenged and insecure about this, most feel men's position is threatened."
Not for Esmile Ghanie.
"Gender is always a yes-and-no kind of debate. But the debate has to start somewhere," said the 41-year-old father of three young girls. "I think today's sermon was fantastic. It was very enlightening to see a woman taking part in the ceremony. Maryam can be a good role model for other girls. If she can do it, they can do it, too."
News of Mirza's delivery of the sermon also attracted guests from other mosques, who showed up to support and congratulate the association's move.
"This is history for me. It is a great way to start the Eid celebration," said Faizal Kayum, who attended yesterday's service with his son Azeem. "The religion has been dominated by males. It's about time for women to step up to the plate."
Imam Ally said he hopes the congregation, whose members mostly come from Guyana and the Caribbean, can start a wave of positive change for women within the Muslim community.
"Women themselves contribute greatly. Think of any jobs that women can't do?" Ally said in his address.
"Ask Allah to allow you to have an open mind to give these sisters a chance to express themselves."
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