Images of the religion Islam in the media often show men prostrate in prayer and it’s rare to see a woman in the same position, but at the Noor Cultural Centre women and men pray together.
Azeezah Kanji, director of programming for the Noor Cultural Centre, calls the push for gender equality “an extension of the Muslim religion which has been forgotten or erased by Islamophobia.”
Kanji also said the ideals, which the mosque practices, come from a different interpretation of the Quran.
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“I think is important to realize that for us, we don’t see this as a radical progressive break from the tradition,” Kanji said.
“We see it as very much as an anchor within our tradition, an extension of Islam tradition of gender justice in which the prophet Mohamed was really one of the first advocates for women’s right in the area and in practices of female infanticide, for example.”
“The Islamic law implemented a legal revolution where woman were entitle to own their own property and the Quran also speak of man and woman very firmly as being absolute spiritual equals, so for us what we are doing in terms of gender justice is very pretty much an extension of the Muslim tradition as well as part of the diversity of practices globally as well as in Canada.”
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Kanji’s grandfather, the founder of the mosque, named it after his wife and Kanji’s grandmother.
“He started the space, but handed the management over to women,” Kanji said.
“Women have always been in charge of the leadership. We also have women giving sermons. For us, again, what is important is not simply to put woman in charge, but to share authority between woman and man.”
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In addition to gender equality, the space also has interfaith conversations and invites members of other religions to participate in prayers.
“Today, we were supposed to have a rabbi and couple weeks ago we had Dr. Mark Toulouse, he was speaking from the Christian tradition,” she said.
“We have also had leaders form the Hindu tradition.”
Sameena Qureishi attends the prayers at Noor Cultural Centre and said during services there is equal space for both men and women.
“At Noor we pray side by side, so it’s still segregated but men are on one side and women on the other as opposed to being in the front and back,” Qureishi said.
“It feels nice to pray together and there is equal space for the both of us, which is really important.”
Laura Beth Bugg, an assistant professor with University of Toronto, said many religious establishments use different interpretations of religious texts.
“Religion is basically a framework and religious texts are always open to interpretation. So as long as you have interpretation of religious texts, you’re always going to have this sort of bendable religious practice,” she said.
“I think that the Noor Islamic Centre is a wonderful example of that.”