Saturday, 30 January 2010

Female Spiritual Leaders in China

Altmuslimah explores the idea of a "nu ahong" or female spiritual leader:

"The Hui encourage their Muslim women to seek employment in mosques as nu ahong — the phrase is derived from the Persian word akhund, meaning “teacher.” Among these women are those who live in small apartments within the mosque or within an affiliated Muslim school and receive salaries, just as an Imam would, while a smaller number live with families and volunteer. Some nu ahong serve in mosques that are entirely separate from men’s mosques, but most cordon off and use rooms within men’s mosques.

In addition to presiding over nu si (women’s mosques), a nu ahong’s duties may include ritual guidance at marriages and funerals, preaching, resolving political and social disputes, and offering moral guidance and counseling. But perhaps her most important work, given how Islam values women as the first teachers of children, is that of educator of the Arabic language, the Qur'an and the Hadith.

The nu ahong occupy a unique position in the Chinese Muslim community as women who perform all the same functions and duties as a male Imam, but do so only for their female peers; as a result nu ahongs have successfully avoided criticism or harassment from their male counterparts and have carved out a niche for themselves as learned, respected leaders."

You can read the full post here.

The Saudi Aramco World website also has an article about the nu ahong paired with a photo-essay:

"The precise role of the nu ahong varies greatly from mosque to mosque, school to school and region to region, depending on the needs of her community. Some help women with literacy; others teach the Qur’an; still others give girls from disadvantaged backgrounds a basic education that enables them to teach themselves or even go on to a university. This aspect of Hui society has been instrumental in keeping Islam alive in China.

Because they wear head scarves known as gai tou that cover the hair and sometimes the neck, run shops that sell Islamic goods, participate in public markets and serve in religious and educational roles, Hui women have carved out for themselves a measure of space in the public sphere. For them, a lifestyle that is qing zhen (“pure and true,” equivalent to the Arabic halal) is expressed by maintaining Muslim schools, homes and families, and by marrying within the community."

The full article is available here.

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