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Author Topic: Women and mosques: a love-hate relationship  (Read 367 times)
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« on: Jan 14, 2014 12:58 PM »


Sad article to read and Oh so true. The point is not about whether 'you are correct' or not. It's about how we do dawah and encourage others in Islam. We've all faced these ugly situations usually from other women. Sad

In the West the Mosque is the only spiritual religious center women have. If they are all alienated from them, then what's the point.
===========================================


Women and mosques: a love-hate relationship

   
      
Once upon a time, mosques were places where one could find God. Both men and women could meet and mingle with the fellow faithful, find refuge from the daily hectic-ness of life, and, perhaps most importantly, find peace. Given many women’s unpleasant experiences in mosques these days, one wonders if such peace and unconditional compassion ever even existed in mosques.

Growing up in Pakistan for the first twelve years of my life, I had a distorted understanding of Muslim women’s role in houses of worship. I clearly remember one Eid-ul-Fitr morning, when I was around seven years old, watching my grandfather leave for Eid prayers with my father, uncles, and male cousins. Before the packed car rolled out of the driveway, I ran to ask my aunt if I too could tag along with my relatives. She answered that only men went to the mosque, while women prayed in the privacy of their homes. Over the years, every adult gave me the same response, and I accepted my fate readily. It was an easy enough, if not logical, rule to abide by as I lived in a Muslim-majority country where I could see no visible dissent to this arrangement. None of the females I knew challenged the idea and, in fact, most saw it as a “blessing” upon women to not have to pray in a mosque, and a “burden” upon men who were religiously mandated to pray at the mosque on Fridays and Islamic holidays.

This dynamic appeared to change when my family and I relocated to Canada. While Islam does not require women to pray at the mosque, it certainly does not bar them from their houses of worship, and although women who live in a Muslim-majority country may not feel the need to bond with other Muslims via the mosque, those living in non-Muslim states crave this interpersonal connection. The move to Canada allowed the women in my family to attend community mosques and participate in large prayer gatherings on religious holidays, but the access came with several strings attached.

Consider the following incidents at Canadian mosques, and you will come to realize the idea that “women belong at home and men should pray at the mosque” is still alive and thriving; it has simply changed place and form.

An acquaintance of mine no longer visits mosques because she once attended a wedding ceremony at a mosque where another woman humiliated her by loudly declaring that Allah would not accept my friend’s prayers because she had painted her nails, thereby rendering her pre-prayer ablution invalid.

Another acquaintance of mine recalls an incident that soured her on mosques. While on their way home, she and her mother decided to stop at a local mosque to avoid missing the sunset prayer. To their horror, as they both stood in the mosque hall, ready to pray, a woman, who managed the ladies prayer section, marched over and planted herself squarely in front of them. She then angrily threw an ankle length skirt at the daughter, chastising her for trying to pray in “tight” jeans, which, according to her, would nullify the young woman’s prayer. Although the mother fiercely defended her daughter, the woman continued to loudly berate the young girl. Humiliated, both mother and daughter stormed out, their prayers missed.

My sister-in-law also suffered a similar incident. A woman standing in a prayer row near my sister-in-law called out to her in a loud voice, admonishing her for wearing fitted jeans that delineated the shape of her figure. My sister-in-law retorted, telling the critic to mind her own business, but the woman remained undeterred. As the heated exchange continued, women in the small mosque began to turn and stare, either inquisitively or disapprovingly, at my sister-in-law. Finally, one of them intervened and diffused the situation by quietly encouraging my sister-in-law to forgive the other woman and let it go. Nonetheless, the encounter left a mark on my sister-in-law.

Another friend told me of the humiliation she endured at her local mosque. After pulling into the parking lot, she donned a head scarf before entering the mosque. A few women, who had committed to wearing the scarf at all times, saw her wrapping hers before walking into the prayer hall. When she entered the mosque and walked by them, they threw her dirty looks and one cattily remarked while looking directly at my friend, “Part-time Muslim!”

Even my brother-in-law found himself being reprimanded by another prayer-goer when he brought his daughter to the mosque. Despite my niece being only four-years-old, this man insisted that her father deposit her in the women’s section!

There are countless other stories of women facing undue humiliation and belittling at mosques for one reason or another. Ironically enough, it is at the hands of other women. Yet before we chalk this shaming up to females simply being spiteful towards one another, it is important to note that the judgments they pass on one another often originate from male authority figures, religious and otherwise, who persuade females that they are upholding Islamic values or worship etiquette when they chastise fellow mosque-goers .

I myself don’t visit mosques often. I feel neither happiness nor peace there. Instead I feel anxiety over whether I will find a spot in the cramped prayer space given to the women at the back of the prayer hall and whether the other women will look over my choice of dress with a critical eye. Now that I am the mother of small children, I also have to contend with the unwelcome or rigid attitude many mosques have towards children—something which particularly irks me as a key goal of any mosque should be to cultivate a love for communal prayer in its community’s children. .

However dreary the current situation, I find hope in reminding myself that life in mosques was not always this way, and God willing it will not remain as it is. Muslim Americans are still finding their way when it comes to establishing well-run, welcoming houses of worship for men, women and children. Yet we cannot expect time itself to change things; we have to make the effort, and if our efforts are pleasing to God, He will help us bring the unconditional peace, compassion, and kindness back into mosque life.

http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4774
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 14, 2014 05:26 PM »

Honestly, when I lived in a Muslim country I never went to the mosque besides for Eid prayer, because that's wajib for women I believe. Frankly it is considered a 'blessing' for women to not have to go, and I don't see anything wrong in admitting that I felt that way as well.

In non-Muslim countries, though, the masjid functions as much more than just a Quran-reciting and praying area. It often has to be the community center for all the Muslims, and I think that when masjids are planned in non-Muslim countries, that community function has to be taken into full consideration. I began going to the mosque when I came to the States because it's your only chance to mingle with other Muslims, and the feeling of community is immensely more important.

It's all like a Catch-22..."well women don't need to come to the mosque, so we don't need to provide for them as much." so women aren't provided for. It might also just be a carry-over of the 'back-home" mentality - I would guess that if immigrants were building a mosque, it would be built with the same functions in mind as for "back home", where women's presence at masjids isn't really an issue. I would probably fall into this myself!

Also the problem just lies with Muslims, our lack of learning and adab and sensitivity in general regarding the deen (as with the nastiness of women towards each other in the mosque), and our never-endingly rehashed arguments about the Islamicity of the masjid space. Why, for example, couldn't those sisters simply gently point out "Oh sister, do you want me to give you some prayer clothes, they're better to pray in". In Malaysia, no matter what you wear (full hijab, skinny jeans, whatever) it's the norm to put on 'prayer clothes' when you go to pray, so the issue of 'oh women aren't dressed right' just isn't present.

The only real argument that I could see regarding all of this, is that these mosques are often poorly staffed and really struggling, and just can't make the space for women. And I sympathize with that.
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 15, 2014 05:07 AM »

Totally unrelated to the topic, but American masajid are pretty cool, at least the one I go to. It seems funded by Saudi and there's free coffee, tea, ice cream and dates in the basement, round the clock. There's also a small library and space to study and a nice Saudi(a rarity) who hangs around a lot. There's another bigger masjid on the other side of town which is funded by the local muslim community but I haven't yet had the chance to explore it.

Our masajid back home are simply places to pray.
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 15, 2014 08:40 AM »

Salam alaikum

Akhan, mashaAllah, just look at that! You got your piece of Saudi arabia in Illinois! Complete with a Saudi uncle and everything, free icecream!! mashaAllah.  Am happy the masjid is a pleasant space to be for you, may Allah always keep your heart attached to the masajid.

As to the actual topic: I actually have no useful comment. I know where the sister is coming from, I understand those who stay away after long and painful rejection, I have seen it all. *Every* community has these problems. And there is nobody to blame except all of us! The men, the women, everyone.

Maybe the next generation will have a better shot at it? If all the parents teach there children, even the basics of good Islamic manners, it will go a long way.

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« Reply #4 on: Jan 15, 2014 08:33 PM »

may Allah always keep your heart attached to the masajid.
Ameen

My Saudi is not an uncle though, he's a student in the language program. He spends most of his time studying in the masjid and he's the one who showed me around. I probably would've gotten extremely homesick if the masjid wasn't there, and the Saudi. I gel with him better than I do with my housemates, who are Hyderabadi by the way. Allah grants you ease in ways you could never imagine. Subhanallah.
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« Reply #5 on: Jan 15, 2014 11:22 PM »

I also have to say I went to 3 diff masajid whilst I was in america and I have to say it was a pleasure they are so community oriented that it makes u happy, one even had a floor that was a basketball court so that the kids could come play in the evenings and on weekends in a safe Islamic environment. The children were  encouraged to be there and to be part of the congregation, and the number of regular activities for the ladies was great too...... Maybe because the kids come the mothers also are drawn to it.
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« Reply #6 on: Jan 16, 2014 02:17 PM »

Just saw this from NPR. Looks like the time is now ladies!!

==============


Muslim Women Challenge American Mosques: 'Now Is The Time'

by Monique Parsons
January 15, 2014 4:00 PM

4 min 20 sec

A few years ago, a woman's place in the mosque was a fringe issue. Now, some are demanding change.

A few years ago, a woman's place in the mosque was a fringe issue. Now, some are demanding change.
Hind Makki/Courtesy of Side Entrance

Most American mosques do a poor job of including women, according to co-sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America. Sometimes that means subpar women's prayer spaces, a lack of leadership roles or little programming relevant to women.

For Edina Lekovic, a recent visit to a mosque meant being asked to use a separate entrance from the one men use. Lekovic works for the Muslim Public Affairs Council and sits on a regional Islamic advisory board in Southern California. She goes to mosques a lot for meetings and Friday prayers.

"I was walking towards the front door only to be told by a boy of no more than 12 years old — he pointed to the side of the building and said, 'Oh, the sisters' entrance is over there,' " she says.

Lekovic is religious: She covers her hair and doesn't mind from men as is Islamic custom. But entering through a different door? "And I sort of stopped dead in my tracks and looked around for an adult figure that I could have the conversation with," she says.

Nobody else was around. "So I looked at this 12-year-old boy and said, 'There's a separate entrance for women? Why is that?' just to see what he would say, and he sort of shrugged his shoulders and said, 'It just is,' " she says.

Lekovic is also a teacher, and she decided to seize the moment. "My final response to him was, 'Well, the mosque that I go to on the other side of town has everybody walk through the same set of doors,' " she says.

Lekovic says there was a time she might have slipped in the side entrance, quietly fuming. But things are changing. Just a few years ago, a woman's place in the mosque was a fringe issue.

"There was to some degree pushback around this, like, 'We're dealing with enough challenges right now,' that you know, 'Wait your turn' was kind of the attitude," Lekovic says. "Today more and more women are saying, 'Now is the time.' "

Lekovic says there is a rich history of Islamic teachings that preach equality for women. But she also gives credit to a 34-year-old Chicago woman named Hind Makki. Last year, Makki started , where women from around the world share photos of their prayer spaces. Not all the photos are negative. Submissions range from isolated, moldy storerooms to soaring, lushly carpeted halls.

"The tag line is: 'We showcase the beautiful, the adequate and the pathetic,' " says Makki.

The project began when she snapped photos of women's prayer spaces in some Chicago mosques and posted them on her Facebook page. One showed women praying behind a tall room divider, blocking views; another looked like a walk-in closet with a curtain-covered window. The photos went viral.

"I got a lot of response, and one of the most interesting type of responses I got was from men who had no clue," Makki says.

While some accused her of airing dirty laundry, many Muslim men started asking how they could help.

"They just had no idea that this was somewhat typical of women's experiences at a mosque — that you go to a mosque and you don't see a dome; you don't see the imam, certainly; you don't see the architecture — you see a big wall in front of you," she says.

Shahina Saeed is on the board of directors of the Islamic Society of Orange County, one of the oldest and largest mosques in Southern California.

"I'm surprised that in a big city like Chicago there's a place like that where the women can't even see what's going on in front of them. I would not be comfortable in a space like that," she says.

At the Islamic Society of Orange County, women pray in a big loft with an outdoor patio and views of the imam and the mosque's colorful glass dome. They can also pray on the main floor in an area beside the men. Saeed says she feels at home here. The Islamic Society of North America study found that more women showed up for events at mosques like hers: those with female board members, female speakers and attractive women's prayer spaces.

Lekovic says this conversation is about more than side entrances.

"Part of what's at stake is the question of where Muslim women will put their talents. Now, if the mosque is an environment in which they see that the fruits of their labor will be beneficial to the community, they will put their time and energy there," she says.

National Muslim leaders are paying attention. The Islamic Society of North America is urging mosques to recruit more female board members, and a recent conference centered on a campaign to improve women's prayer spaces.
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« Reply #7 on: Jan 16, 2014 07:04 PM »

Will catch up with the posts above a bit later, but came across this yesterday and just watching it now:

Women Behind Walls at the Mosque: Rad Talks | On 13, Jan 2014

Duration: 11:06
Filmed: May 25, 2013 in Dallas, TX

Bint Naeem analyzes whether it’s harmful or helpful to physically separate the women’s area from the men’s area in a mosque.

Women Behind Walls at the Mosque (Bint Naeem)



The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another:  [9:71]
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« Reply #8 on: Jan 17, 2014 02:38 PM »

Salam,

Wow that was such a great talk covering the issues by Bint Naeem. Loved it! I also think a general solution is having choice for women. One area where the women are part of the prayer and have no barriers and another for those who want privacy. When we are building our Mosques, and most of the time it is from scratch (we're past the converting storefronts era), we need to keep this in mind. How long can people use the excuses of not having enough money/room? Until all the women of our Ummah are alienated and excluded??

Personally, I'll be honest and say the women that "prefer" the privacy of a barrier (usually older ladies and niqabis (which is weird bc they do wear niqab? but maybe they want to take it off) are distancing themselves from the Mosque psychologically and many are comfortable with that because they're used to that in their home countries. If I was in charge of a Mosque I'd force all the women to be behind like a mini barrier in the same space. (If they want to nurse or play with their kids there could be a closed family room where they could go temporarily.) Imagine having a class and trying to teach people, and a few of them voluntarily go in another locked room with limited audio/visual to relax, be 'comfortable' or hangout or whatever. I'd argue that they are not participating or learning. Anyhow I do realize people are different so back to the 'choice' solution.
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« Reply #9 on: Jan 18, 2014 07:33 PM »

akhan - Glad to hear you've found a nice place to feel connected to the local community - Amreeka ain't all that bad hehe.

As for the hate going on in the masajid - truly sad...my Amma always wonders why men are so obsessed with women's appearances - we men have plenty of issues, why don't they focus on that!? I think community leaders or those with more manners could or should deal with those or as far as their fellow women are concerned, can be more like those in Malaysia, where someone gently provides assistance/suggestion. It's sad how we forget to things in a gentle, merciful way - that's how non-Muslim feel attracted to Islam when they encounter Muslims. Wonder if we feel that someone could be a potential convert and turn on the charm, yet when we are dealing with someone who is already part of the Ummah, we can treat them without any consideration for that mercy/charm.

Yes, insha'allah, Sr. Shahida I too hope the next generation will do better if we do our job in teaching them.

Yes, love that project that Sr. Makki has been working on.

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The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another:  [9:71]
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« Reply #10 on: Jan 18, 2014 07:36 PM »

Another article - which has the video I posted above, along with it:

WOMEN AND MOSQUES
Out of sight, out of touch: Women’s struggle to be heard in the mosque

   
BY SAFIYA RAVAT, JANUARY 14, 2014

Two Muslim women enter a mosque (no, this isn't the opener of a lame joke). Both sisters join the prayer, enjoying the Imam's melodious recitation over the loud speaker - the only communication they have with the walled off men's prayer area where the Iman stands, leading the prayer. They kneel down and touch their foreheads to the ground. Some time passes and one sister begins to wonder why the prostration, typically no more than 10 to 30 seconds, is now in its second minute. She had enjoyed the extra time to fit in some much needed supplication, but two minutes?

Finally the Imam calls out “Allah is Great,” the sign for the congregation to rise out of prostration. The sister raises her head and, to her surprise, finds that her friend on the right is standing in prayer while the woman to her left is still sitting! A confused panic breaks out, as sisters on all sides begin to make hurried movements, trying to catch up to where they think the Imam is in his prayer. After another two excruciating minutes of silence interrupted only by static, "May the peace and mercy of Allah be upon you" booms out of the loud speaker, signaling the end of prayer.

Every sister rises, finishing off the remainder of yet another haphazard attempt at prayer in the mosque, all the while skeptical of the validity of the prayer itself.

Behind that opaque, impenetrable barrier that separates the believing men from believing women, nobody makes mention of the not-so-uncommon "technical difficulty." There's no one to complain to anyhow; neither the Imam nor the mosque administrators can see the women behind the forbidding wall.

Such is the state of the majority of mosques in the U.S. and across the world today. Sadly this is a step above the countries which have yet to even designate a section in the mosque for women.
The BARRIER
The barrier comes in all shapes and sizes ranging from a completely separate room to a curtain or a flimsy screen. Whatever the shape, the objective is always the same - keep the women and men out of sight of one another. Certainly it's what our dear Prophet (peace be upon him) would have wanted, right?

Actually... no.

It's a widely accepted practice, no doubt, but ironically not at all in keeping with the example set by Prophet Muhammad. If you had walked into the Prophet’s mosque in Medina some 1400 years ago, you would find no physical barrier separating the men from the women. Many hadith give proof to this open arrangement, including one in which a companion of the Prophet, while in the Prophet’s presence, advised women to wait a few moments before raising their heads from prostration so the men praying in front of them would have a moment to stand and the ladies would not catch a glimpse of the men’s private parts--some men did not have the means to purchase long garments which fully covered them when they bent down in prostration—(Sahih Muslim, Vol. 441, Book 4, Hadith 149). Clearly, this indicates that there was no barrier, for the men were in clear sight of the women. Certainly the Prophet could have erected a curtain or a short mud wall to spare his congregation from this embarrassing scenario, but he never did.

Another hadith tells us that the Prophet Muhammad would wait a while after the prayer finished, giving the women time to leave the mosque first without causing a traffic jam at the exit door where men and women would be standing close to and jostling against one another (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 12, Hadith #809). This is yet another indication that both genders entered, prayed in and left the very same room of the mosque.
And finally, nearly every Muslim is familiar with the story of the woman who spoke up and contested the Prophet’s companion and second caliph, Umar, when he was lecturing at the mosque on the rules of dowry. Did she have a microphone that allowed her to pose the question? Of course not, she spoke from where she sat in the mosque--behind the gathering of men, with no barrier in between her and them, and close enough to be heard and answered.

I know what you're thinking. These men and women were the Companions of the Prophet who embodied a standard of faith and ethics we cannot dream of reaching. We are nothing like them and cannot expect to be treated like them. True, they were among the best of men and women, but does this mean they were free from temptation? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, one companion confessed to kissing a woman who was neither his wife nor a relative (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 10, Hadith #504). More than one confessed to adultery or fornication (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 7, Book 63, Hadith #196). These men and women were human begins; their characters came in all shades, just as those of today’s Muslims, yet the Prophet did not resort to erecting a wall to enforce modest etiquette. If we are to believe that there is wisdom in his every example, then why stray from it in this situation?

But today a barrier is needed, some would still argue. Our men don’t lower their gaze and our women don’t dress appropriately! To this I ask, how can we check our transgressions and strengthen our morals in a mosque segregated by a barrier? After all, an Imam must see a man’s wandering eyes or a man or woman’s immodest dress in order to correct him or her.

Some men argue that the women’s prayer space should be set apart from that of the men because the ladies section is noisy and chaotic. I agree. You will find women chatting on cell phones and children racing around from one end of the room to the other. Yet perhaps this unruly atmosphere comes from the lack of an Imam’s presence? An Imam whose face the listener can see creates a sense of attentiveness and accountability.
Of course the effect of the barrier between the men and the women does not stop at prayers alone. It also stands in the way of a Muslim woman fully engaging in her community. Unable to chime in during the post prayer discussion, unable to raise her hand to volunteer for a committee and unable stand up and donate during a fundraiser, a women is left in the back and in the dark. We disable ourselves when we hide half of the congregation and pretend that they do not exist.

I would argue that the root of the problem is not the barrier itself, because we cannot deny that some women enjoy the privacy it affords, allowing them to unabashedly rest or even nurse, but rather the lack of choice on the matter. We were never asked whether or not we would like a separation between us and the Imam. Men assumed this setup was our preference. Well, how could they asked us….there’s a barrier.
So where do we go from here? A few forward thinking mosques have come up with multipurpose partitions accommodating all women in their congregation. The Nueces mosque in Austin, Texas, hung a mobile curtain that women can draw when and how they prefer. The ISNA mosque in Mississauga, Canada, set up a waist high partition that allows the women to see the Imam and be heard when speaking up. Others still have chosen to erect a barrier concealing only half of the women's section; those who prefer complete separation can stand behind it, and those who do not, can stand in the open area.
At the end of the day, the answer doesn’t lie in either-or, but rather in our communities encouraging frank discussions about the barrier itself—discussions in which women are given a chance to voice their feelings about the wall that they will face every day.



Formerly a writer for the Houston Chronicle - Texas's largest daily paper – Safiya Ravat now works as a freelance journalist, who is currently enjoying the adventure of pursuing Islamic Studies at the International Islamic University of Malaysia with her husband. You can find other articles by Safiya Ravat here: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/author/safiya-ravat/.

http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4889

The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another:  [9:71]
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