Asra Nomani, author of Standing Alone in Mecca and former Wall Street Journal reporter, led a mixed-gender prayer [in March] inside a prayer hall at Brandeis University….
Traditionalists say women can lead an all-women congregation in prayer. Less conservative interpretations of Islam say a woman can lead her mixed-gender family, but only in the privacy of her home.
But the public, mixed gender prayers…challenge traditions maintained by clerics. Amid worldwide controversy, the prayers are being noted by religious scholars as the start of a trend towards female spiritual public leadership in Islam.
In another departure from tradition, women…stood next to the men, not behind them. In mosques, women usually pray behind! the men or in a separately designated area, sometimes overlooking the men from a balcony. According to custom, women can see men pray, but men usually are not supposed to see women during prayer.