Monday, April 16, 2012

Where are the Girls in this Mosque?

I was shopping in another part of Toronto the other day, accompanied by my siblings, and it was time for the Maghreb prayer. There was a big mosque nearby and we drove there. There was one entrance called "Sisters' Entrance", my sister entered from there, while my brother and I walked around the mosque to enter via the main entrance - aka the "brother's entrance".

It was a very nice, huge, ornate, well designed mosque. It was also quite new; the mosque used to be two portables fitting around 40 people before, now this was a proper mosque accomodating thousands. The main prayers were over; so my brother and I prayed by ourselves. The main prayer hall was divided into two sections - a glass barrier separating the dimly lit "private" space from the main hall - this is where we prayed. The sisters' area was upstairs.
As we finished praying, I noticed there was a dars (a lesson) going on. I sat down and listened for a bit. The speaker was an old bearded man, he sat in the centre of the main hall surrounded by kids and adults, and he was speaking in flawless English. The topic of the speech was taking lessons from the life of the Prophets and applying it to modern times. As I listened, I realized the speaker was really good, and the speech was excellent. The kids listened with rapt attention.
And yet ... take a look at the picture below.

Everyone shown around the speaker is a male. The adults were male, the kids were male, and of course the speaker was male. Where are the females.
"Oh, they are upstairs, listening too," Answered someone, when I asked them. "We have speakers and close circuit TV."
This is the problem, the big problem, in today's Muslim organizations. If you take a look at this picure, there is a LOT of empty space behind the men, in the MAIN prayer hall. Why can't girls sit here, in close proximity to the speaker, so they can personally ask him questions, or be inspired in way that only a face-to-face conversation can? Sitting behind the men will satisfy any requirements that orthodox Muslims can throw at them, and not to mention, teaching women this way is actually a sunnah.
I remember going to these classes, sometimes as a kid, often as an adult, when a well known speaker would come to the mosque, and being inspired by the Islamic knowledge imparted. If my sister or wife would attend, sometimes I would wonder why they were not similarly impressed. Hard to be impressed when you are looking at a curtain, I think!
I was reading Cartoon Muhammad's article "The Need for Muslim Women Leaders". He is on the mark on how certain segments of the mosque community (let's be candid - it's the more "religious" folk) who construct barriers (literally and figuratively) against Muslim women speakers.
However, the problem that I saw in this mosque, in this dars, prevent women from seeking knowledge in the first place. Muslim Student Associations all across Canada talk about Israel Apartheid, but we have to be honest and admit there remains an Apartheid system in many of our mosques that discriminate against half our community - the girls.
Contrast this to the times of Caliph Umar (the Caliph of the Muslim empire!) being corrected by a woman during a Friday Khutbah! Or even contrast this with the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. When I was there, the first few rows were occupied by men, and the next few rows were occupied by women. Sisters conversed with the imam (who was standing, in person, a mere 50 feet away from them). And this was no progressive "flaky" imam, this was Imam Hamid Slimi who also teaches at the prestigious Islamic Institute of Toronto.
If you are a woman, which mosque would you go to?























30 comments:

Safiyyah said...

In the time of the Prophet (saw), there were no physical barriers separating genders. The same goes for Judaism. Now, there is gender separation in both faiths. Clearly, a recent innovation.

nadia said...

Just this Friday, I had a couple of questions based on the khutba, there were some points that I had trouble agreeing with and wished there was some way I could directly ask the speaker/imam. But I had to wait until the prayers were over and then by the time I asked Masood about those questions, he couldn't find the imam. So he returned to the mosque during the magrib prayers to sit down and clarify those questions. So yeah, sitting in the same room during a lecture would have been much better than sitting upstairs and just listening to the voice.

mezba said...

@Safiyyah, exactly. And the people who are the ones erecting barriers are usually the first ones to cry 'bidah' on miniscule issues like when you say "Khuda Hafiz" instead of "Allah Hafiz"!

@Nadia, thank you for stating your experience. I realize my advantages as a man during the khutbah when once he said something I thought was wrong, and it was a simple matter of talking to him after the prayers.

Nasmira said...

Well, you at least HAVE a mosque where there's a special prevision for girls. Here in India,that concept is almost non existent... except in a few mosques, and by that I mean veryyyyy few mosques which have a special section for women ONLY on Fridays, all the other days are CLOSED for women. Now, although it is not compulsory for women to pray in a mosque, just take the example of going out somewhere and its time for prayer, men can easily stop over at a mosque and finish praying while the women have to simply sit in the car and wait for their men to return..because there simply is NO provision!

but the month of Ramadan sees a different picture altogether. There are mosques everywhere that have a special section for women during taraweeh, and to look at it, taraweeh isn't even obligatory like the 5 prayers in the first place. Sad state of affairs!

Christian Jenny said...

Girls in mosque? unbeleiveable.

qatheworld said...

I don't understand why this has become so widespread. As Safiyyah said, this is against the sunnah and a clear innovation. I do not understand why it is so prevalent. It really saddens me. There are several mosques where I live, but none without separate rooms for men and women, with just a loudspeaker. There is no interaction between the men and women or way to talk to the imam. Sometimes I have gone there when I am the only woman there. It makes me sad, and I do not feel like I want to introduce my small son to this... he already doesn't understand why the only muslims he ever sees are women! Discouraging. This is not the way of our religion.

Candice said...

It's really too bad that women are being told to go upstairs and watch things via TV when there's plenty of space in the actual hall.

I think it would probably take a woman to make an issue of this and let them know that she wants to stay in the main hall for the lecture. Men generally don't think about what it's like for a woman so the women really need to take action themselves.

At my local mosque, women have a closed space behind the men with a half wall and opaque curtains on the top half so that we can't see anything but can at least hear just fine and it's "live" sound. It works for me personally since I have had my daughter with me when I went and I wouldn't want to distract the imam with getting up to discipline my daughter. This area is perfect for a family room, but the women who come alone, as far as I'm concerned, should go into the main area.

And honestly, I'm sure that it would cause no problem if they did. The men of the mosque surely won't suggest and recommend it, but I'm convinced that for lectures and the khutbah, it would not be an issue. Hopefully it'd be the same in this large mosque though of course the bigger it is, the more likely someone will speak up about it.

online earning training said...

It is not so much unbelievable Jenny. There may be separate room for women.

Anonymous said...

the other night I made maghrib with some other ladies in our segregated section, when a latecomer joined us. She was wearing so much perfume it was distracting for ME, a woman. I guess that's why the spaces are segregated....?

Susan said...

I have serious issues with segregation of women. I am a caucasian American convert, growing up in Birmingham, AL so the lesson of "separate is not equal--ever" rings true to me. Watching the speaker over TV makes me feel like I waste my time going to the mosque, I could stay home and watch a speaker on TV. Plus, most of the times the women's side is full of people talking loudly, and children running amok so that you can barely hear the speaker anyway. I used to get angry with the women for the behavior in the women's section, but then I realized that it is just a symptom of the larger problem, which is that women feel like they don't matter at all the masjid because they are closed off and have no access and usually no say in masjid governance (except maybe for Sunday school or food issues). If women matter so little at the mosque, why should they have any reason to care about what the speaker is saying or in paying attention? Because of this reason, I have switched from the masjid I was attending with a predominantly South Asian population to a predominantly African American masjid (which is, as far as I know, the only masjid where I live without gender segregation), despite the fact that my husband is South Asian and would prefer the other masjid. I tend to chalk it up to cultural differences at this point.

nina said...

Great blog, and a great post. Unfortunately the picture you've painted of women's attendance/active participation at this particular mosque holds true for the majority of the masjids that at least I've been to. Depending on the overall size of the masjid, the women either get designated to a big room or a small room in the mosque, which appears to be completely secluded from the men's section. The only one-way feedback from the imam we tend to receive is either through the aid of these large (ancient looking) speakers placed in the corners of such a room. Or if we are lucky, we may get a small TV placed high up in one corner. And like Susan mentioned, the women's area generally is full of people talking loudly or children running around and create enough noise to hinder you from listening to what the Imam actually has to say, or any other discussions that might be taking place. Though not convenient for me to attend, I love going to the ISNA mosque in Mississauga as there is one general hall for the men and women to pray in (with a considerably non-hindering divider between the men and women sections), and a smaller room in the corner with glass walls for women with children.

Nazim Jawoodeen said...

Exclusionism & physical barriers at the price of a heart that is slowly dying...
Only the heart may build taqwah & only thro' understanding our deen can that taqwah be fortified...

TManiac said...

hi mezba,

here in Windsoristan, Ontario, there's an excellent masjid I go to, and that would be the Windsor Islamic Association. During jumah, the men would sit in the main hall while the women would sit in the balcony and yep the women had a nice view of the main prayer hall while the imam delivered the sermon.

For their weekly halaqas, the masjid does their halaqas at its own basketball gymnasium, where both men and women, boys and girls, sit in the same hall (no barrier whatsoever). and it is in that same basketball court where they once had a blood drive and yep (in the words of the conservative) there was so-called "intermixing of the sexes." ACtually during that blood drive, the guys hung out wtih the guys and so did the girls, and in fact there too were non-muslim women receiving dawah from muslim men. so far and so good, everything ran quite well, and that is how i think a masjid should be run/operated...not have gender segregation.

regards,
taha

mezba said...

@Nasmirah, yes I have seen that in sadly Muslim countries - no provisions at all for ladies in most places, especially in the subcontinent.

@Christian, believe it!

@qatheworld, take a look at http://mezba.blogspot.ca/2011/12/gender-segregated-weddings.html article of mine, and some of the comments. The root of this type of segregation comes from "Namus".

It's also a concern of safety for women if she goes to a secluded place (the women's section) and she is alone there.

@Candice,

It's really too bad that women are being told to go upstairs and watch things via TV when there's plenty of space in the actual hall.

Yes. Absolutely.

@online earning training,

why the need for separate rooms?

@Anonymous, if you think the men also do not overpower themselves in cologne (or the other extreme have so much bad breath and body odour that they should be classified as weapons of mass distraction), please do visit the men's section!

@Susan,
Watching the speaker over TV makes me feel like I waste my time going to the mosque, I could stay home and watch a speaker on TV.

Hear hear!

It's a sad state of the Muslim ummah.

To be honest, I found one good thing about a secluded women's section - my wife was able to nurse our baby in privacy. However, that can be had without secluding the women. A separate place for nursing women would make the mosque friendlier.

@Nina, I have yet to check out the ISNA mosque in 'Sauga. I should, but it's a bit far from me. Perhaps in Ramadan.

@Nazim, very deep and thoughtful!

@Taha,

non-muslim women receiving dawah from muslim men.

Haha, happens quite often!

Ilham said...

And this is one of the many things which bother me about a religious/faith system; the fact that women are constantly (literally & figuratively) put behind the male & treated as 2nd class citizens. As religion & culture will often feed into & influence each other, sadly this women as a 2nd class citizen has become the norm, in every society; not only in Muslim or Bengali or Bengali-Muslim ones.

As a woman which mosque would I go to: None. I'd rather seek knowledge about Islam from a place where I am treated as a valued & equal member of society & a valued seeker of knowledge. And sadly, the older I have become, the less I have come to believe that organized religion & organized religious institutions will afford this same equality to me, as a woman.

mezba said...

Ilham, I am sure what those 'kat-mollahs' will reply to you: get your knowledge from your husband!

As if a woman is not qualified to learn by herself. Hello, anyone heard of Rabia Basri? or even Aisha?

What really bugs me is that many woman themselves buy into this view.

Cenicientas 3.0 said...

Maybe you enjoy this.

Jasmin's Mosque - A tale about occupying forbidden places and spaces: http://youtu.be/b_8VxQdbeY0

Enjoy it.

sumera said...

I went to a talk by shayk Akram nadwi and it was great so I recorded the audio on my phone.when I got home I asked my husband to listen to it.now he's been to see this shaikh before at talks etc he admitted to me that it's a much better experience when you are physically in the same space as the speakerI can't concentrate when I have to listen to someone taking and not be about to see them.

Ms.Sima said...

This has been a big thorn in my side for some time. I too hate to go to the mosque because the women's side is all amok. Somehow the kids and getting them to behave is solely on the women, plus of course the fact we are barricaded into dark lonely rooms with sub par amenities. It makes it seem that men are either 1)Degrading us as is the case through the ages to 2nd class or 2)So completely inept at managing their own adult selves that they can't stand to be in the same room as a woman without losing control.

Just once, cram the men into a side room and let the women occupy the main hall behind the imam....

Aya said...

It annoys me. This has been bothering me ever since I converted to Islam 9 yrs ago at the age of 14! I tell them the Prophet (s) never had a barrier,etc. They may say at times the women prefer the barrier. But what about those who don't prefer the barrier? I sat a few times outside the barrier, or in the same room as the men pray but in the way back where there are at least 15 empty rows in front of me, and they tell me to move to the ladies, I keep refusing and then one time they cordied off my area with a string or soemthing. I tried to have some sisters join me so I don't feel like the only one, but most don't. I live in Chicago, so this is a HUGE problem. Specially with the older folks who are adament on keeping it their way

Aya said...

In Chicago, My husband every saturday goes downtown and goes to a 4 hr lecture. It's MEN only and no sisters are there. I asked why is there not any women, and answers are always like its only men, the women prefer to stay home,etc.etc. There are no sister lectures or at least both men and women lectures together (family). I prefer to see the Imam when he talks,etc. and not look through a tv screen or worse hear him from the speakers only. In fact by doint that the women are not REALLY listening, it does get borning looking or listening to a screen or speakers. Face to face is always better. We need more and better Imams that don't mind or want to women to participate

Lovisa Karlsson said...

Assalam alekom

Alhamdulilliah, Jazak allahu khairan!

I'm a revert and I really thought that this was how it should be and really got sad about it.

Especially when the first thing a woman said to me in the great mosque was "Are you going to pray? And as I answered no (women will know why) then I was told I couldn't be there"

I understand that it was pretty full at the time but I just wanted to be there and listen to when they prayed.

I didn't dare to even think of walk into the giant room where the men where..
I did bring up enough courage to walk into the small store in the entrance.

I do however got happy when I and a few other women could sit and listen to the lecture I was attending. We could ask questions and all it was great :)

Here in my city it's open for women only on sundays (or something like that) and when I went there and saw some women I thought okay this seems good, just to hear that they spoke another language. Ended up sitting in a corner in a separate room reading a book.

Thank you for spreading some light on this matter. I will remember in sha Allah :)

Fi amani Allah

Lovisa Karlsson said...

Assalam alekom

Alhamdulilliah, Jazak allahu khairan!

I'm a revert and I really thought that this was how it should be and really got sad about it.

Especially when the first thing a woman said to me in the great mosque was "Are you going to pray? And as I answered no (women will know why) then I was told I couldn't be there"

I understand that it was pretty full at the time but I just wanted to be there and listen to when they prayed.

I didn't dare to even think of walk into the giant room where the men where..
I did bring up enough courage to walk into the small store in the entrance.

I do however got happy when I and a few other women could sit and listen to the lecture I was attending. We could ask questions and all it was great :)

Here in my city it's open for women only on sundays (or something like that) and when I went there and saw some women I thought okay this seems good, just to hear that they spoke another language. Ended up sitting in a corner in a separate room reading a book.

Thank you for spreading some light on this matter. I will remember in sha Allah :)

Fi amani Allah

Lovisa Karlsson said...

Assalam alekom

Alhamdulilliah, Jazak allahu khairan!

I'm a revert and I really thought that this was how it should be and really got sad about it.

Especially when the first thing a woman said to me in the great mosque was "Are you going to pray? And as I answered no (women will know why) then I was told I couldn't be there"

I understand that it was pretty full at the time but I just wanted to be there and listen to when they prayed.

I didn't dare to even think of walk into the giant room where the men where..
I did bring up enough courage to walk into the small store in the entrance.

I do however got happy when I and a few other women could sit and listen to the lecture I was attending. We could ask questions and all it was great :)

Here in my city it's open for women only on sundays (or something like that) and when I went there and saw some women I thought okay this seems good, just to hear that they spoke another language. Ended up sitting in a corner in a separate room reading a book.

Thank you for spreading some light on this matter. I will remember in sha Allah :)

Fi amani Allah

Anonymous said...

The difference between the time of the prophet and our time now is HUGE. People are different, desires are increasing and if there were no barriers in mosque than there would be too much temptation and problems would arise. Lets be the slightest bit reasonable

Anonymous said...

salam alaykom. I really agree with your view. I sometimes attend lectures in the mosque and I get irritated and annoyed that women cannot have a great view of the speaker. I am someone who has to see the lecturer and listen to him in order for me to enjoy the lecture and concentrate fully in it. I just dont understand why they cannot make the dars like how the sharia fac in the universities do. i mean if its so haram why do the university allows girls and boys to be in one hall together for a lecture? why it is so diff for us when we are in the mosque? Its really sad.

which is the best for you said...

In mekka , Muslims men and women pray together there is not barriers
it s true that muslim women pray in groups behind men without barriers
but in mosques of other countries there are barriers the reason to protect Muslim women
Yes !!!! Some men even in Mosque look at the women , even the first look without bad meaning can hurt the lady or can make the man and the woman not concentrated with the course or khutba

in mekka , other thing , all people are in total concentration

the solution is to put equipements in the ladies part

sorry for my bad english

which is the best for you said...

In mekka , Muslims men and women pray together there is not barriers
it s true that muslim women pray in groups behind men without barriers
but in mosques of other countries there are barriers the reason to protect Muslim women
Yes !!!! Some men even in Mosque look at the women , even the first look without bad meaning can hurt the lady or can make the man and the woman not concentrated with the course or khutba

in mekka , other thing , all people are in total concentration

the solution is to put equipements in the ladies part

sorry for my bad english

Burp said...

Just a random question, but was this masjid al farooq in Mississauga? The admin will hear about this.

Burp said...

Is this masjid farooq in Mississauga? If yes, then the admin will hear about this.