Why your mosque should be woman-friendly

"Do not stop the maid servants of Allah from going to the mosques of Allah" (Muwatta of Imam Malik).

"When the wife of one of you asks about going to the mosque, do not stop her" (Bukhari).

I recently took a trip with my family to the state of Colorado, and I was looking forward to visiting a different Muslim community. To my great dismay, when we went to an (unnamed) Colorado city to pray Jumu'ah in their Masjid [mosque], we were told that there were no women in that Masjid, and that I would be unable to pray there. With my children and (non-Muslim) mother in tow, I went off to a park while my husband prayed. As a Muslima, I felt humiliated and angry, and I was embarrassed for the Ummah that my non-Muslim mother should have to see Muslims barring me from Bait Ullah [house of God] for no reason other than my gender. Nothing like reinforcing negative stereotypes, is there?  Later, the brothers there told my husband that it was nothing against me, there just "wasn't room" for women in this Masjid.  

A few years ago, I visited a Masjid in New York, intending to make Asr prayer while I was out shopping for things for my new home with my daughter and a friend. Instead, the sister and I were greeted at the door by a very angry teenager, who railed at us to return to our homes, that women have no place in the Masjid, and that we were a Fitna [a trial, calamity or affliction] upon the brothers who were there (all three of them). Mind you, we were a group consisting of a small child, a sister in Hijab and Jilbab (a loose-fitting garment covering the entire body), and a sister in Niqab (face veil). Subhan'Allah, if a small child and two sisters in Hijab are a fitna upon these men, then whatever do they do as they walk around New York City and encounter women who cover nothing more than what they are legally required to cover (meaning the genitalia)?  As we were leaving, one of the brothers caught up to us, and apologized for the incident. Then he said, "It's not that women aren't allowed, just that there isn't any room for you in this Masjid." I fail to see how a two bedroom apartment with a living room converted into a  Masjid where there are only three brothers present at the time doesn't "have enough room."

I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but the "we don't have room for you" excuse is getting old. I visited a Masjid in Monterey, California that was about the size of my living room. If any Masjid had a valid reason to use this excuse was this place. However, the brothers here had the foresight to curtain off a corner in the back for women. If no women showed up, they would keep the curtain drawn to the side, and there would be more room for men. If a sister or two did show up, they would close the curtain, and the men would have to make do with the space they had left.  

Yes, some spaces for masajid are very small, but to use that as an excuse to bar women from praying there is unacceptable. Proof of that is offered in the example of the Monterey Masjid. Because the Prophet, aleyhi salatu wa salaam, specifically forbade keeping women from the Masjid, no one is going to come right out and say that they bar women from entering. "We don't have room" becomes code for "We don't want you here. Go home." If people were really interested in keeping with the Sunnah of ar Rasul, aleyhi salatu wa salaam, they should make sure that their Masjid doesn't aid them in violating the Prophet's command, aleyhi salatu wa salaam.

People in these communities who speak out against this injustice are often labeled as "troublemakers." When I wrote a letter to that NY Masjid, giving reasons from Qur'an, Sunnah, and the writings of our esteemed scholars as to why it is Haram to block women from the Masjid, I was labeled a "radical feminist." Subhan'Allah. Is anti-feminism so ingrained in our community now that any speech for the rights of women should be dismissed, even when that speech comes directly from Allah and His Messenger?  

Besides the inconvenience such Masajid pose to women who are traveling, or working, or in some other way unable to be at home or another Masjid to pray, these Masajid also detract from the community as a whole. There is a void in that community. n multitude of viewpoints, ideas, and energy have been eliminated. More than 50% of the local community is invisible and excluded. I say more than 50%, because it is almost always the case that when a Masjid excludes women, it automatically excludes children as well. Is this the face of our Da'wa? A face that is exclusively male? How can we tell non-Muslim women that Islam is a sheltering peace for them if we show them a community wherein women are virtually invisible?

It was not the face of the Da'wa of the Sahaba, and it was not the Sunnah of the Prophet, aleyhi salatu wa salaam, to exclude women. Not from the Masjid, and not from the community as a whole. Much is made of the Hadith wherein the Prophet, sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam, told a woman that prayer in her home is better than prayer in the Masjid. (Ustadh Abdullah Adhami has taught this Hadith from a common sense, traditional point of view, and discusses misinterpretations that people have made of this Hadith to justify banning women from the Masajid, and you can hear this on his tape set "Ibadah of Women," from Ihya Productions). The point that I am making here is that while the Prophet, aleyhi salatu wa salaam, told the woman that the prayer in her home is better for her, he did not forbid her from coming to the Masjid at all. In fact, we know that the contrary is true - that he forbade men from preventing women to go to the Masjid, as seen in the Ahadith cited at the top of the page. If you are in a Masjid that does not have a space for women, you are preventing them from entering this Masjid. If you stand by while another brother tells a woman to go home, you are preventing her from entering the Masjid. Do you really want to take that position?

If your Masjid space truly is very small, there are very easy ways for you to make it availalble to women who need to pray there, while opening up the entire space for the men when no women are present. Many home improvement and home decorating stores sell decorative screens (like the rice paper ones seen in Japan), for a relatively low price. They fold up and are easy to store when not in use. Office supply stores sell cubicle walls with wheels. They also fold up for easy storage. If your Masjid doesn't have enough of a budget for these items, take up a special collection. In the meantime, you can install an extended curtain rod across the intended space for women and put up floor length curtains. You can  use a table or chairs to mark the space reserved for women. Or you can do as Masajid have done for hundreds of years, and just designate a space behind the men as women's space, without Hijab (barriers) or walls. However, be aware that some women (and men) might not be comfortable with this style, since they may need to breastfeed an infant or adjust their coverings in the course of a Jumu'ah khutba.  

If you have been blessed by Allah subhannahu wa ta'ala to have a larger amount of space for your Masjid, then do the right thing by your sisters. Make sure that the space reserved for them is adequate. Make sure the floor is clean. Make sure it is heated in the winter, and has air in the summer. Make sure the roof doesn't leak when it rains. Are there shoe racks and coat hangers? Make sure copies of the Qur'an are on hand for them to read. Make sure that the women's bathroom has hooks for their hijabs (when they are making wudhu), paper towels for them to dry with, slippers to wear, and soap to wash with. Make sure the bathroom is clean. If you have the room, you should add a changing table. It is a fact of life that where there are Muslim women, there are bound to be Muslim children, and the smallest of those children will need to have their diapers changed. Should the mother change it on the musallah floor, or on a wet, dirty, bathroom floor?  

When you ensure that women are included in the Masjid, you are ensuring that the entire community has access to the teachings of Islam. You are showing non-Muslims that Islam does not stand for the exclusion of women and children, that Islam is not a "man's religion." You are showing non-Muslims that a woman can be modest, can be religious, and can still participate in community life. You are showing the next generation of Muslims that cultural ideas about excluding women and keeping them in the home are not from Islam. And you are following the teachings and example of our beloved Prophet, aleyhi salatu wa salaam. It is time for us to start undoing the damage done to our communities by pre-Islamic cultural ideas about "women's places." It is time for us to erase the misconceptions and misunderstandings of the Diyn (religion) that many still cling to. The only way that we can be sure that the next generation understands Islam as it was truly taught by the Prophet, sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam, is to be sure that women and children are fully included in the Masjid.


An edited version of this essay appeared in 'Taking Back Islam,' ed. Michael Wolfe (Rodale / Beliefnet, 2002).

Photo Attribution:  Mikhail Evstafiev  -  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-chechnya-women-pray.jpg

Comments

This article is very good, The muslim women should be like Saraji Umm Zaid. If they go to masjid then space will be given to them. All women should read this article.

Location

India

Assalaamu alaikum.I am a recent convert to Islam and I thank you for expressing so eloquently the proper position on how women should be better accomodated in masjids. Prior to accepting Islam, I was enlightened and excited to read articles such as yours on the internet about women in Islam: after accepting Islam, I was beleaguered by the reality of how un-Islamic ideas made their way into behavior of many (however, not all) Muslims. I pray that Allah will guide our Ummah and I also pray that more sisters and brothers like yourself keep speaking out. Jazak Allahu Khairun.Salaam.

Location

Winnipeg, MB., Canada

Assalaam alaikumI too am a convert to Islam and live in the UK. Here the situation i am afraid is at least as bad; the majority of Masjids here have "no space" for women; even when there is space for 1000 men. One new Masjid I heard of decided a large car park took priority over a space for women. Often there will be 3 or 4 Masjids in a town; none with space for women. Some large Masjids have nice balconys for women, but these are kept locked and only oppened in Ramadan or Jummah. Many times i have to pray on the street when travelling despite being near large Masjids. I pray inshaAllah the true arguements the sister gives reach the hearts of the masjid committees in all nations, inshaAllah.JazakAllah for raising this vital issue sister.WassalaamEman

Location

Leicester, England

As-Salaamu Alaikum My dear brothers and sisters in the rightly guided deen of Al-Islam, I pray that your faith is strong and evolving towards IHSAN (Beautiful, swet perfection and excellence) or that it already is there (Ameen) This honest and insighful article and your thoughtful comments are a long overdue breath of fresh air and light on a subject that many have failed to address. The words of our dear Sister Umm Zaid, and your lively responses are an indication of what Allah T'ala promises us in the Quran Mubeen, "So patiently persevere. For verily the promise of Allah is True. And don't let those people shake your firmness, who have themselves no certainty of faith" Sorah 30, ayah 60. This discussion also is additional evidence that after diffculty comes relief. subhan Allah. Surely our Lord, Ash-Shaheed, a Witness over all things, and Al-Qadir, Powerful over all things already has worked out the solution to the injustices that our sister articulates so well. Furthermore all who have commented thus far insha Allah are part of this righteous solution. Quite clearly, all that we have to do is to continue to strive to be Allah T'ala's obedient and righteous servants via a beautiful process of Mercy called TAZKIYAH (SELF-PURIFICATION) . and righteous victory over all oppression is guaranteed. There is so much evidence of this in our perfected way of life, including the hauntingly beautiful question that our Lord, allah the Exalted One asks us in Surah Rahman,chapter 55 of the Perspicacious Book, "WHAT IS THE REWARD FOR GOOD, EXCEPT GOOD?". So let us continue to be proud of Islam, to defend it vigorously and to amend and reform our lives according to its eternal priciples, one of which is equality of men and women before Allah. My brothers and sisters, we are members of one another, twin havles (twins are close and halves are equal), protectors of one another, sojourners in this life for an appointed term, as we make our way to Jannah (insha ALLAH) We are brothers and sisters, not members of differnt warring speices. Please do not let these hard times make us hard hearted towards one another. Instead let us be lowly with the believers, and hard on the devil as we are advised by Allah, The Most Merciful. So let us truly truly be protecting friends of one another, and we are guaranteed to see our baraka (blessings) manifest themselves in magnificent ways. What concerns me the most about Sister Umm Zaid's testimony is the conduct of the Muslim teenager. may Allah T'ala guide him. He violated so much of Islam in the encounter, that it almost seems that he was parodying or ridiculing the deen A'uthu billahi!) He was rude to his elders, big mistake, rude to guests, major fitnah, arrogant, a trait of our bigheaded cunning insidious, obnoxious and small(saghir) enemy whose arsenal includes the strategy of divide and conqur, and who gleefully sows divison and dissension among the sons and daughters of Adam. I pray that someone will instruct this youth so that he will not contnue to do what so many misguided Muslims do: trample over numerous hadiths and ayahs in order to erroneously enforce hadiths and ayahs that they misintepret and misunderstand. This selective picking of choosing of hadiths and ayahs to use as battering rams against each other is something that has bothered me for many years, and it must stop! None of us are perfect, and all of us will err, but let us be inclined towards and mindful of the very justice and mercy that all of us ask Allah T'ala to bestow upon ourselves. I could say so much more, but I just want to end this by saying that I love you my brothers and sisters, truly for the good pleasure of Allah. I pray so sincerely that we each will develop the purity of heart to help each other along this short path towards our inevitable reckoning. I wish all of you a good and pure Islamic life, an easy reckoning and success in al Jannaah. I pray that these words have been helpful and healing to you, for your words certainly have been so for me. Ameen Ameen

Location

usa

Masha'Allah! More like this is needed! Jazakum Allahu khairan!

Location

Detroit

I feel sorry for the incident and trouble Saraji has endured. Some people are not only ill-mannered but also uninformed in matters of islam, a religion which emphasizes so much on 'Ikhlaq'. The heart of the matter is that Mosque are not just praying spots, any muslim can benefit from the mosque in several ways. Through the Islamic history we know 'Madinah Mosque' had been a shelter, a learning institute, dawah center to call and preach or convert non-muslims, marriage ceremony and more recently a better place to relieve ourselves to retain complete purity as compared to other publicly available restrooms.

Location

can

One of the lesser reasons I reverted to Islam is because in my family's religion (Catholicism), there were precious few men in the church. As a young man, it was disheartening to see a church full of women with no male role models. It was almost as if religion were the sole province of women and children. If women are excluded from masajid, what place is there for sisters to learn about Islam? How can ladies interested in the deen learn, if they cannot be accomodated? Where do new reverts go to integrate into the Umma? Not all reverts marry into Muslim families, and often the masjid is the only way to grow in the society.

Location

new york

As salaamu Alaykom my brothers and sisters and hopefully Imams:2 years ago today I've made my Shahadah!! Even until recently I had in mind, why are some Masjids not adhering to the practices of our pilgrims in early Islam regarding the Partition between brothers and sisters!!: Are we so high tech and masjid decor that we can not partition a section off for both brother and sisters or are we trying to be like the Kufar and their-co-mingled congregation?Shaitan is busy enough without the display of someone's husband prostrating in sisters faces .....it sounds ugly but that's how it looks; we don't need any distractions!!I place the burden of this matter on the Imams of the Masjid for they should know and Allah (swt) know what is in their heart as to why they won't comply!! May their answer in their hearts be suitable for Allah (swt)!!Please help me spread this to all The Masjids / or the power that be!!Ma salaamShafeqahWhy can't

Location

California

Assalamo-Alaikum readers.I read with disbelief the article by the sister who was refused entry to the masajid. Astagfirullah, how unthinkingly ignorant of the brothers who refused her from their mosques. May Almighty Allah guide them to the right path. The mothers are the ones who are infuential in the lives of the young Muslims, so to deny them access to a mosque is to deny future generations of Muslims their Islamic education and morals.Here in DC, Alhamdulillah, all the Mosques, large and small, have facilities for the sisters. In fact, some of the facilities for the sisters are actually more pleasant than the men's...but that is alright. They are our mothers and wives and daughters and we feel that all mosques should make every effort to accommodate the sisters.Good writing and a wake up call for all the Brothers in Mosques who don't set aside proper space for the sisters.Ma-Salaam.

Location

Suburb of DC

Thank you sister for voicing the discrimination we face in Islam from our own brothers in Islam. Like Nicholson said, it is the shaitan as he does not want half of our ummah to be involved in Islam so as to destroy all of us. Look at most mothers around us, they are not raising their children in the true Islamic sense and thus raising children with hardly any Islamic attributes in them. So are these brothers willing to bear the burden of this sin to discourage involvement and worship in Islam. If women are not allowed to pray or be active in Masjids, how are our future generations going to exist in it anyway. When I moved to this town I was shocked to see the lack of involvement by women in this Masjid, but now I know why, not everyone is strongly dedicated, it is easy to push the not so strong sisters instead of pulling them into Islam. So what if there is no hijaab(curtain) and a woman sits in the back. She too has come to the masjid to pray like the rest of them. And god forbid, if women are evil by just being present in the Masjid, aren't the men asked to watch their eyes. Why is it womans fault only. If they know they are going to watch themselves, what are they worrying about? How hard is it to accomodate women even if there is no place. Are they being helpful and earning sawab for adjusting a bit to let a sister pray. I feel it is the job of the imams to first teach the brothers, then mothers their sons, wifes their husbands and so on. We have to help our Ummah from the Shaitan and ignorance.Jazakallah.

Location

Boise, ID

Pages

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.