With the recent election of Pope Francis, the question of women priests has resurfaced with the hope that new pope would be more receptive to the idea. But, while Christendom has received the bulk of attention concerning its unfair treatment of women in this respect, Islam, it seems, has been given a free pass.
In fact, Muslim men seem to be even more entrenched in their opposition to the idea of women becoming imams than Christians are against women priests; this in spite of the fact that there is no justification in the Quran for such a position. For both religions, this open and obvious discrimination against women is rooted in the long-held belief that women are somehow deficient in some respects that would disqualify them for leadership positions. It is the same mentality that prevailed in America for so long and kept women from voting or holding certain jobs.
Remarkably, Muslim men cite historical proclamations and judicial decisions by men who reigned in patriarchal societies a thousand years ago to justify their stance on this issue. It is akin to someone citing the position held by a slave owner to justify his continued support for slavery.
Some Muslims use modesty as an excuse to justify the continued embargo against women leading the prayer. Admittedly, the Salat does require a woman to assume certain positions that, to some, may seem compromising. But, it should be remembered here that we’re talking about a religious service; so one would expect men in such gatherings to be conscious of God rather than thinking about the woman's derriere in front of him.
Moreover, Muslim men’s discrimination against the opposite sex goes further than their opposition to women being imam; it extends to the congregation as well. Muslim women are not allowed to sit with the men during Jumah (Congregational prayer), and in some places women are even discouraged from coming to the mosque altogether. In addition, any woman who breaks with tradition (like Amina Wadud in 2005) they are soundly criticized and vilified by Muslim men whose beliefs are rooted in tradition.
It is ironic that, here at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the two largest religions on earth can’t seem to come to grips with the idea of women being equal to men.