Riding on Islam and the Third Wave

A few years ago I read a post on the blog Feministe about women in religious spaces. I don’t remember much about the post in question but one thing I do remember was that the author asserted that religious spaces were dominated by women with the exception of mosques, which tend to be dominated by men. That statement struck me not only because it was mostly true but because it’s unfortunate. With the exception of a handful of masajid, Muslim communities have not had a strong woman presence. I think there are two primary reasons for this.

The first is that Muslim men haven’t always made the masjid a welcoming place for women. The one exception I have see are mosques that follow Imam W.D. Mohammed. Masajid in Imam Mohammed’s community tend to be more women friendly than masajid I have seen outside that community. They also tend to be more welcoming of female leadership than other masajid I have seen. I have also seen a couple of masajid outside of this community in the city where I currently live that have been more welcoming to women and have also been enthusiastic in having women assume leadership positions.  In general, however, Muslim men have not been overly concerned with attracting more women to masajid nor in having them assume authoritative positions. Additionally, some men have taken an active role in excluding women from mosques. The methods used have included the following:

  1. Not having a space for women at all
  2. Having a small, inferior space for women
  3. Partitioning women into a separate corner or behind a barrier when men and women do share the same space

Many people may not consider methods 2 and 3 to really be excluding women from the mosque since women still have a physical presence there. However, I think methods 2-3 are just as exclusionary as method 1 because they all signal that women’s full presence in the masjid is not welcomed.

If we want a thriving ummah in here in the US, then we have to be more welcoming to half the ummah. The Sahabah (RA) of the Prophet (SAWS) were able to build their thriving community in part because women were an integral and visible part of it. From the Prophet’s wives to various women Sahabah, women were not only allowed but encouraged to be active members of the community. We have to do the same. We have to value our presence, our thoughts and our contribution to the ummah. In order to achieve this I think most masajid have to do the following:

  • Allow men and women to worship in the same space. This will go a long way in promoting the visibility of women in the masajid. I know some Muslims, especially men, will object with concerns such as being distracted by women while making salat or invading the privacy of women who want seclusion when praying. For the first objection, the only way people become more comfortable with a group of people is by being with them more often. Studies have shown that people’s prejudices against other groups of people lessen or go away when they have more contact with them. Additionally, if the Prophet (SAWS) and his Sahabah (RA) were able to pray in the same space with women, then I think I we are capable of it as well. If you think we’re not, then that shows how little faith you have in Muslims and also shows that you need to work on better emulating the Prophet. As for invading the privacy of women, I do think having a space for women, as long as women are also allowed in the musalla, is not out of the question or even contradictory to this goal.
  • Encourage women to seek out positions of authority in the masjid. Nominate women for positions on masajid boards or to even assume positions such as president or vice president.
  • Speak out against language that discourages or denies women a presence in the mosque. There are still many Muslims who believe that women should be visible in the masjid. Speak up! Point out how the Prophet’s community didn’t allow this type of discrimination against women. Point out how the Prophet encouraged women to attend ‘Eid prayer and how he admonished his sahabah to not prevent women from attending the mosque. Don’t let anyone tell you that this was only for the Prophet’s time. There’s nothing in the Qur’an or the Sunnah that supports excluding women from the houses of Allah (SWT).

Insha’Allah (God willing) some of these tips will be helpful to Muslims who work to create more women friendly spaces.