Ramadan is a month of gratitude, embracing community, of togetherness. Fasting promotes self-reflection and a reaffirmation of compassion and justice. It seems an opportune moment to look inward at Muslim communities and speak about the imperative to restore Prophet Muhammad's legacy, peace be upon him, of valuing and welcoming women in mosques.
Muslim-majority countries, North America and Europe, we are quite far
from the Prophet's example of welcoming women in mosques. In many parts
of the world, women do not attend mosque for congregational prayers.
Surprisingly, many people seem unaware that the Prophet did not
institute curtains or walls between women's and men's rows. And when it
is mentioned, there is resistance. It seems that Muslims, both women
and men, encourage the following of the Prophet's teachings in virtually
every arena except this one. When it comes to women's inclusion in
mosques, they make excuses to differ from the Prophet's practice,
suggesting that barriers are "necessary" as a preventive measure against
distraction during prayer. But such actions and arguments contradict
the Quran's requirement to "obey the Messenger" (Surah 4:80) and to
follow his footsteps.
Some who disfavor women in mosques
emphasize a Hadith, or saying of the Prophet, that a woman's prayer is
better offered at home. Others who support women's inclusion in the
mosque give weight to his teachings not to forbid women from worshiping
in the mosque. Each "side" puts forward its argument in a binary, as if
it could invalidate the other. Yet these teachings are not mutually
contradictory, since the Prophet's wisdom led him to tailor his advice
to the needs of each person. In addition, it's important to know what
the Prophet said, as well as what he actually did in practice, which was
to fully include women. His compassion and magnanimity are mirrored in
the lack of physical barriers in his mosque.
Reflecting on the
misogyny that was prevalent during his time, including routine
infanticide of baby girls, it is remarkable that Prophet Muhammad, peace
be upon him, was forward thinking, included women fully in his house of
worship and gave women an independent choice as to attending the
congregational prayer, depending on their circumstances. Recognizing
that they may not always be able to attend, he reassured them that
prayer in the privacy of their homes was equally beloved to God as
prayer in a mosque. He also easily folded them into the congregation
when they did attend. Women also had easy access to his instruction.
American mosque has a unique opportunity and necessity to embrace the
Prophetic practice of unreservedly receiving women in mosques. Muslims
living as a religious minority rely on the mosque to serve not only as a
place for worship but also as a religious school, and a community
center -- a multi-purpose space much like the Prophet's mosque.
Families connect at the mosque, through prayers, full-time or weekend
schools, or other social and community activities. These relationships
help weave the fabric of Muslim communities. Thus, mosques bear a
burden as well as a responsibility to meet the religious, educational,
and communitarian needs of Muslims. They must be open to diverse
segments of society, a challenge that American mosques have embraced but
need to work harder to fulfill the Prophetic vision of inclusion.
According to a national study of mosques in the United States,
66 percent use partitions, and have been doing so over the past decade.
Many mosques with dividers have predominantly immigrant populations,
with imams who are not American born, suggesting the influence of
cultural practices. But predominantly African American mosques also use
partitions, though less frequently. While many may be comfortable with
dividers, it is important to note that they are not part of the
Women In Islam, Inc. is committed to spreading knowledge on the issue of women's inclusion in the mosque
and to nurturing a cultural shift that enables women, men, and youth to
experience mosques in the way that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,
encouraged us to do. Beginning the last 10 days of Ramadan, it will
initiate a blog to share women's mosque experiences and welcomes submissions
on an ongoing basis. This public sharing is not an airing of dirty
laundry but rather an opportunity for collective reflection and
strategizing, giving women an avenue to contribute concrete ideas about
what can and needs to be improved in mosques.
spiritually whole and welcoming community requires us to work together.
When Muslim women ask for their due right to have full access to the
main prayer area of a mosque, it is not only consistent with the
Prophetic practice, but an act of obedience to the Messenger of God.
As noted in the Quran, "the believers, men and women, are protecting
friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and
they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah
and His messenger. As for these, Allah will have mercy on them. Lo!
Allah is Mighty, Wise" (Surah 9:71). Once when Prophet Muhammad, peace
be upon him, was asked, "What person can be the best friend?" "His
reply: "who helps you remember Allah, and reminds you when you forget
Him." Insha Allah (God willing) we will hear women as friends who remind
us to emulate the Prophet's practice of valuing and welcoming women in
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