KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Already accounting for more than 60 per cent of undergraduates and over half of civil servants, Malay-Muslim women are now breaking into the male bastion of Islamic preaching.
In a New York Times (NYT) article published yesterday, it was reported that two local new reality TV programmes are shining a spotlight on the rise of women in the male-dominated arena of religion.
The reason for this phenomena, the paper appeared to suggest, was because there was a significant gender role in Islam that could only be filled by women.
“We need women preachers, rather than men,” 21-year-old Siti Adibah Zulkepli, 21 a contestant on the reality TV show “Solehah” (translated as “pious” in Arabic) was cited as saying by the NYT.
“Because they don’t face what we are facing — health problems, how to manage the house, how to manage the children. The woman knows better,” she added.
It also cited Greg Barton, acting director of the Center for Islam and the Modern World at Monash University in Melbourne, as saying it would be a mistake to dismiss the significance of Malaysian women’s expanding engagement in Islamic education.
Both “Solehah” and “Ustazah Pilihan”, which the newspaper translated as “‘ideal female preacher’ in Malay” are burnishing the image of female preachers here and show how women “can shape and nurture potential leaders of the future”, the paper said.
Citing Zaleha Kamaruddin, the first female rector appointed to head the International Islamic University here, the NYT said Malaysia was carving a new path for women in Islam.
“I think Malaysia has started to break the glass ceiling and is trying to be one of the modern Muslim countries,” she was reported saying.
Despite the massive headway, the NYT observed that Malaysian Muslim women were still barred from leading prayers.
It cited Perak mufti, Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria saying he welcomed the growing number of women teaching Islam, but insisted they could not lead Friday prayers in front of mixed congregations.
“They can preach Islam to the men, but they cannot lead the prayers for men,” the NYT reported Harrusani saying.