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

UmmZaid!! You go girl, I was so surprised to see these words as it was the same thing here not too long ago, and we are still struggling to have a right in this community!!! Great article!!

Location

Kansas

GREAT ARTICLE! I have seen this abhorrent behavior from my Brothers as well and it has always bothered me. In fact, I might even argue that this is a very clever trick of "Shaitan".....for it prevents half the ummah from praying to Allah (SWT)....which is just what he wants. I have also noticed a distinct lack of gentleness and forebearance in the Masjid's that behave in this manner.......and who tends to impart these qualities in our communities more than the Sisters? Peace,Shane Nickolson

Location

Edmonton, Canada

The sister is absouletly correct, I appology for that incident. If they have barred woman depriving the children from learning the Islam. I read an Hadith that Our Prophet (pbuh) ordered woman and children to go to the Mosque for two Eid Prayers. I just retuned from Hajj. What I have witnessed is unbelivable in Mecca and in Medina. Each call for prayer I will run to the Mosques to perform my salat in Jamat so I can earn 1000 rewards by performing the prayers. Sometimes I pray in between the men to do my salaat.There is no curtain or any kind of walls to seperate the men and women. I did ask some one why not they seperate the men and women, the answer given to was that in the day of judgement Allah will raise men and women to gether. Same way we prayed at Mecca. There is no difference in men and women. They are all equal to Allahs sight. They all have the same punishment regardless men or women. So therefore you sister I deeply apologise for this stupitidy incident, disregard them and I'm very proud of you to expose these fools. Who's making their own law. Let him know that Allah has not appointed or revealed any revelation for them to make a Islamic law. Bless you my sisterZareena

Location

San Bruno, CA 940066

Bismi Allah hir Rahman ir Raheem As Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,Insha Allah, I pray that this feedback reaches the Believers in good health and firm faith in Allah SWT.First of all, I'd like to thank the Sister for taking the time to write about a much-needed topic that plagues the Ummah. Jazaka Allah Khairun my Sister in Islam, may Allah SWT bless you for your good intentions and good deeds...ameen.The Qu'ran teaches us that Islam is a balanced way of life. Alhumdulilah, the Qur'an also teaches that Islam is the perfected way of life. Our way of life has bee perfected by none other that Allah SWT, the Most Gracious, and the Most Merciful!! Balance +Perfected Way of Life=Islam=Peace. Whenever women and children are not welcomed in ANY Masjid or at ANY Islamic gathering, the family unit is threatened. We know that in Islam (Al-Usrah) the family is very important. Alhumdulilah, our Prophet (SAAW) has left us with good examples of how our Islamic families and communities ought to be. It's Sunnah to educate, teach and empower women and children!! What better place to extend a warm Islamic welcome to Muslim women and children than Masjids (house of worships where other Muslims seek to get closer to Allah SWT)???When Brothers do not CARE enough about Sisters to make adequate and/or appropriate space for us at the Masjid, this is neglect, abuse and oppression. As Muslims, we all know what the Prophet SAAW says about oppression (that it's worse than death). This kind of behavior is not the way of the Sunnah. This is not right. This is the way of the Jahaliyya. Islam came to PERFECT things, to make the way of life for Both men and women better. Where is the balance in this kind of behavior??All Brothers must start treating Sisters with respect and dignity according to the Qur'an and the Prophet's (SAAW) Sunnah!! Sisters have rights. Oc corse, we Sisters need to always dress modestly and wear hijabs appropriately when attending any Masjid and/or Islamic functions. Both Brothers and Sisters are commanded by Allah SWT in Qu'ran to lower our gaze, so if we do this, it will not be any FITNA when Sisters attend the Masjid for Jummah, EIDs and/or prayers. Alhumdulilah, the Prophet (SAAW) says that it's best for women to pray in our homes. This is true. However, there should always be a designated space for Sisters to pray in the Masjid. For the times that Sisters are attending the prayer with husbands, out working or at school and need a place to pray and then return to work or school. Brothers and Sisters, let's practice the Deen the way that we are instructed to in the Qu'ran and taught by the Prophet (SAAW). BROTHERS, BROTHERS, stop treating women like those unenlightened, savages from the time BEFORE the Quran and Sunnah. Sisters, Sisters, speak up and demand your rights if this kind of nonesense is happening in your community (it's your rights today and your sisters, mothers, daughters and grand-daughters right that will be violated tomorrow). Of course there is an appropriate way to effect positive change....be respectful, mild mannered and positive when you go to the Imams and Masjid leaders to talk with them about this.....show them the Daleel (proof) from the Qur'an and Sunnah. Insha Allah, they will listen and correct this widespread problem. As Allah SWT has made men the maintainers and protectors of women; not the abusers and oppressors!!As Salaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,Your Sister in Service to Allah SWTUmm Niyyah Aisha U.S.A.

Location

USA

As-Sallam alaikum, this is my fourth attempt to send my full comments, from the heart of a Muslim woman. Insha Allah T'ala, this time these words will reach you. AmeenThis article is superb, and it is exactly the type of writing that I have hoped and prayed for many years to read. It is well written, balanced, factual, full of clarity, light, and highly developed religious insights. Moreover, it is a courageous example of effective dawah.As a practcing Muslim woman for almost thirty years, I am aware of this bigotry, and unjustified discrimination. I am grateful to Allah T'ala that our Sister has shone the healing light of true Islam upon this festering sore.I want to add that I have read in the hadith literature that our Beloved Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that righteous women will enter paradise ahead of righteous men.So it is clear that respect and appreciation for Muslimahs will manifest itslf on the Last Day and in the Akhir, Subhana Allah. But aren't our lives on this earth practice for the Life to come? Can anyone hope to enter the Akhir with the stains of bigotry, discrimanation and crude oafishness on his hands? What we need to consider is that a modest woman, who is exercising her right to pray in a masjid, might at that very moment be navigating her path to Jannah. she should be accomodated and encouraged rather than banished.Anyone who needs more convincing should read Surah 96, ayahs 9 and 10; DO YOU SEE THE ONE WHO FORBIDA A SERVANT WHEN THE SERVANT PRAYS? Whatever the specific application of this verse may be, the general application is certaiinly against the "No-Space" smoke screen. I pray that very soon, Allah T'ala will soften the hearts, silence the voices ,and stay the hands of those who are excluding his female servants from His Houses of Worship. I also pray that he will illuminate our paths to Jannah, Ameen

Location

dorchester, MA

Auzubillah Minashaytanir-Rajeem Bismillahi Rahmanir-Raheem.May Allah (swt) increases this writer in knowledge and wisdom.Islam is not man's religion as she has mentioned.Please, do not let us make it so out of over zealousness. Allah(swt) has warned us neither to be overzealous in our ibaadat nor to ignore our religious duties, but to maitain a just balanced position. This is just what this writer has called our attention to especially in a community like yours out there. Remember, the guidance of Allah (swt) is the best and the example of the noble prophet Muhammad(saw) is also the best, anything outside this MUST be SHUNNED. Therefore, Let us put a stop to this "NO SAPCE" slogan, and look for a way to accomodate our sisters in the house of Allah(swt).Though, that does not mean we should not encourage them to use the house as the sunnah of rasul(saw)says but in situations mentioned in the article and for jumats, let us make room for them. After all, Allah(swt) says in 16:97"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him(or her) will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions".Subhanaka Allahuma Wa bihamdika Ashadu an Lahilaha Illa anta Astagfiruka Wa aatubu ilaehi.

Location

Lagos, Nigeria.

Well said, Sister. I am in full agreement with you.The no room code must stop. If the brothers have some courtesy, they will give the room to the sisters and pray outside in the open. It is sisters who need some privacy (for reasons stated in the article), not the brothers. I know that there are lot of part-time muslims, who are try to be 100% muslim when they are around the masaajid and forget Islam when they are on the road. Thank you for your candidness.

Location

Millbrae

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