In most of the Muslim world, while women have served as informal spiritual leaders, official positions of religious power have been the preserve of men. But now in Turkey, hundreds of women preachers, known as vaizes, are working in state-run mosques, and women have also been appointed to lead Turks making the pilgrimage to Mecca. In Egypt, Al-Azhar University has approved the printing and distribution of the first Koranic interpretation written by a woman. From India to Syria, women are becoming muftis, authorized to issue fatwas, or religious decisions.
The women spend much of their time at the mosque, giving lectures to women, taking questions and offering counseling on personal problems. They also often visit hospitals and prisons. Sometimes they appear on television and radio programs and take calls from listeners.
Prerequisites for admission to the murshida program include an honors bachelor's degree and memorization of at least half of the Koran. The 45-week training includes courses in psychology, law, history, communication and religion-the same coursework an imam goes through.