Thursday Thoughts: Women In the Mosque

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Last Thursday I wrote a post called “Muslim Feminism: Women at Prayer.” It was about a group of Muslim women who dared to pray in the men’s section (which is really the main hall of the mosque and should be open to every Muslim) as a sort of protest. Today I found an insightful article on altmuslimah which gives more background on the “pray-in.” I’ve recently had the privilege of getting to know Fatima Thompson, one of the women who participated in and who is interviewed about the protest. She is quoted as saying:

The Greensboro Four broke established, non-constitutional, yet explicit rules to break down the barrier of the implicit idea that blacks weren’t as privileged as whites…. and this is what we are doing with women’s rights in the mosque,” Thompson explained. “It’s implicit in the space available to women that they aren’t deserving of the same privileges as men in the mosque. It’s in the mindset.”

She added: ”Women need to be communicated with when designing mosques. Women are clearly cut off from being part of that community when they are corralled into areas that cut them off from congregational prayer.”

In the first woman-designed mosque in the world (in Istanbul), women are still separated from the men on a balustrade above the main hall (which is still reserved for the men), but the leading architect, Zeynep Fadillioglu, vows to make their area every bit as beautiful as the men’s. Too often, the women’s section is a dingy, neglected room behind a partition from which the women can’t even see and often can’t hear what is going on in the main hall. So, although there is still a separate space for women, it is integrated more fully into the mosque’s design. (For pictures of and more information about this mosque, go here.)

I was talking to a Muslim man last night to whom I confessed that I’ve only been to a mosque twice. He teased me, “Once women find out that they are not obligated to go to the mosque for jumaa (Friday) prayer, they stop going at all.” I couldn’t help but think that it might be because they dislike the experience they have when they do go. If Muslim men truly cared about the spiritual lives of Muslim women, you would think that they would want to do anything possible to make their mosque experience as uplifting as it is for the men.

Insha’allah.  (God willing.)

Read this article by the religion reporter for the Statesman, Joshunda Sanders, about her visit to a mosque.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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