The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Praying while female: Why I'm calling for women-only mosques Open in fullscreen

Ruqaya Izzidien

Praying while female: Why I'm calling for women-only mosques

Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina can often pray in the mosque's main space [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 22 June, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: Women are overwhelmingly unwelcome in our own mosques, the time has come for dedicated mosques for women, writes Ruqaya Izzidien.

I've had security called on me. I've had a stranger pull my clothes. I've been escorted from the premises. I've been told I cannot enter here. I've been shouted at not to enter through this door. The men will see you.

My crime? Praying while female. And now, finally, I have had enough, and I'm doing it. I'm calling for women-only mosques.

Last month I achieved a lifelong dream, I finally visited the oldest university in the world, the oldest library in the world, and one of the oldest mosques. The Qarawiyyin Mosque of Fez, Morocco, founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri - a woman.

I returned to the mosque three times over the course of an afternoon waiting for it to open for prayers. I did everything expected of me, I went to the modest designated women's area for prayer, I waited until the crowds had scattered and then politely asked if I could take what would probably amount to 15 steps into the main courtyard of the building to view the mosque, its fountains and architecture properly.

I was met with a firm no from the guard at the door, that he was instructed that women are not allowed beyond the shoe-removing section. 

I did what I never imagined myself doing, what I had never done in this scenario before - I held my tongue, so I would not be escorted from the premises, or forbidden from even seeing the tiniest sliver or the mosque that I'd dreamt of visiting.

Women-only mosques would allow us to pray free of the burden of men's needs. We would no longer be an inconvenience, an afterthought

And even then, when I remained on the shoe-removing square, tongue-held, the guard still instructed me to move, terrified that I might reach the edge of my designated shoe area.

He had no problem with propriety when a man walked right into me; it was acceptable for a man to touch me, but not for women to enter the mosque courtyard. It was acceptable for teenage boys to take selfies by the mosque fountain with multiple Roman statue poses, but it was not permissible for a woman to stand and view a mosque in awe.

The sad truth is that if Fatima al-Fihri came to Fez today, she would have been barred from entering the main section of the mosque she founded.

Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque, at least, had a women's section from which the "main" congregation can be viewed. This is considered advanced compared to many mosques. As a Muslimah today, you're fortunate if you find a mosque that allows you to pray in the same room as the men.

I've been told point-blank that there is no place for women to pray in certain mosques. I've prayed in a "women's room" that was - quite literally - a broom cupboard, sharing the space with the cleaning products and spare chairs.

At Azhar Mosque in Cairo, an attendant chased me across the mosque forbidding me to pray in the clothes I was wearing because I was not wearing a skirt. It didn't matter how long my shirt was or how loose my trousers - I had to wear a skirt.

Security guards came to escort me from the building, by which time I was already nose-to floor in prayer, my heart pounding at the small victory. Not even they dared interrupt my prayer.

Read more: Why this Muslim is waiting for a white apology march after Finsbury Park attack

We can and do make allowances for non-purpose-built structures - especially in non-Muslim countries - when we are siphoned off to a smaller room. Particularly those that provide screens allowing the prayer to be followed. But this should not be the end goal. Either we are included or we are excluded.

As a Muslimah today, you're fortunate if you find a mosque that allows you to pray in the same room as the men

I once witnessed an entire women's congregation praying Eid prayer completely out of sync from the Imam leading it, because they couldn't see what point of prayer he was at from their side room. I've had men saunter past the "women's prayer room" signs and into our room, assuming it was theirs to take, that no woman could possibly need to pray in a mosque.

It must be noted that this is not exclusively the case.

There are mosques - some in the UK - and plenty in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and, indeed, Morocco, where women are offered a main section of the mosque to pray in, and are free to admire the history and architecture of a building hassle-free.

The sad truth is that if Fatima al-Fihri came to Fez today, she would have been barred from entering the main section of the mosque she founded

There are even a few women's mosques in China.

Significantly, this is not an excuse to attack Muslim men as a whole, plenty of whom lobby with women for their rights, both in and outside the mosque.

The prioritising of men's needs above those of women is a deeply rooted (and not Islamic) tradition that will take time to unpick.

But for now, I just want to go to the mosque without rehearsing my counterarguments on the walk over. 

So I'm finally saying it. Women are overwhelmingly unwelcome and disregarded in our own mosques.

Until mosque committees take "the other" half of their community more seriously, until there is female representation on mosque committees, we need our own safe spaces where we can pray, free of the restrictions of architecture, poor planning, or closed minds.

Women-only mosques would allow us to pray free of the burden of men's needs. We would no longer be an inconvenience, an afterthought. We would never be barred from entering our own houses of worship. And we would no longer be viewed as female first, and Muslim second.

Ruqaya Izzidien is a British-Iraqi freelance writer specializing in social and cultural affairs. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English, and her upcoming novel is entitled The Watermelon Boys.

Follow her on Twitter: @RuqayaIzzidien

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More