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Why do women play second fiddle in religion?

By -Dr Martin Olando | November 21st 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Dr Martin Olando

Within the Vedas of the Hindu holy texts, women were given the highest possible respect and equality. Women are the embodiment of great virtue and wisdom and women were allowed full freedom of worship (Atharva Veda 14-1-64). Chanda Vyas, born in Kenya, was the first female Hindu priest in the United Kingdom

Muslims do not ordain religious leaders; the imam serves as a spiritual leader and religious authority. There is a current controversy among Muslims on the circumstances in which women may act as imams — that is, lead a congregation in salat (prayer).

Some Sunni schools, as well as many Shia, agree that a woman may lead a congregation consisting of women alone in prayer, although the Maliki School does not allow this.

According to all currently existing traditional schools of Islam, a woman cannot lead a mixed gender congregation in salat (prayer).

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Some great women in Islam include A’isha, wife of Muhammad and the narrator of the largest number of Hadith; and Maryam, the mother of Isa (Jesus).

In 1994, Amina Wadud, an Islamic studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, (born in the United States), became the first woman in South Africa to deliver the jum’ah khutbah (Friday sermon), which she did at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa.

In Judaism, there are several prominent women in the Tanakh (The Judaism Holy Scripture).

Some of the women include Deborah (Hebrew prophetess, fourth judge), Esther (Jewish heroine associated with the feast of Purim), and Huldah (the prophetess who validated the scroll found in the Temple).

In the patriarchal Jewish societies, women theologians are seeking to improve the religious, legal and social status of women. They have sought to open leadership for Jewish women.

For a long time, most Protestant churches in Africa had never had a female bishop. Though spoken in murmurs, silent voices from women have been crying out for fair representation in the ministry. Indeed, what happens in the corporate world spills over to the church.

Most African countries have witnessed a growing advocacy for women representation in the legislation and other arms of governance.

Rwanda leads the pack by being the African country, which involves women in top leadership positions. Kenya is no exception with women taking leading roles in churches and religious activities.

Some of the women include Bishop Margaret Wanjiru of Jesus Is alive Ministry; Rev Canon Rosemary Mbogo, the personal assistant to the Kenya Anglican Archbishop; scholars  Dr Philomena Mwaura of Kenyatta University and Prof Esther Mombo of St Paul’s University among many others.

The Roman Catholics have not been left behind with women such as Mother Teresa and St Teresa of Avila, among many others, in the forefront of the women religious involvement.

In conclusion, women should not just be seen as followers but should take part in leading in religious activities.

{Dr Martin Olando, lecturer, Religion and Theology, Bishop Hannington Institute  and Adjunct Faculty, Kenya  Methodist  University, Mombasa}

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