Women Need To Stop Being Isolated From Mosques - Anmol Irfan
Despite growing up next to a Masjid, my interaction with the sacred space was limited to hearing the Azan 5 times a day, and once a year occasionally going to a dimly lit room that made up the women’s section and was only opened during Ramadan. For any Pakistani woman reading this, such a relationship with the local mosque is normal. After all the masjid is for men right?
“Mard masjid mein namaz parhte hain, aur aurtein ghar par parti hain.” A standard sentence young girls around the country are told when they see their brothers or fathers going to the masjid and aren’t allowed to go with them.
Growing up in Pakistan, it's common to see women in almost no public spaces - and so the lack of women in mosques doesn’t seem questionable - until it does. Islamic history sets a different precedent for us. The Holy Mosque in Madinah was lauded for being a community center where men, women, and children of all ages could come to learn, seek knowledge, and connect with their community.
Being a Pakistani woman the idea of a mosque being a community center feels odd, because does that mean that I, on account of my gender, am not a part of the community? I’ve recently been very vocal about my search for finding gender inclusive spaces in religious circles that facilitate discourse in a constructive way and that allow for learning. And even though all of the spaces I have found have been online, they have forever changed the way I view my connection with my religion, and while that’s been a source of joy and peace for me, it has also made me sad.
How many women around us are separated from the joy of practicing religion and of nourishing our souls through community support. How many of us are forced to stay hidden, pushed further and further alone, told to nourish our connection with God but no one to tell us how to nourish it.
The debate around women in community spaces isn’t a new one, but perhaps the closure of mosques worldwide amidst the pandemic that has ravaged the globe may help give it a new angle. Perhaps it’ll serve as a reminder that these conversations need to be had in Pakistan too.
Recently Shaykha Mariam Amir held an online course where she spoke about unlearning the weaponization of certain Islamic beliefs against women and seeing those teaching from a more gender-inclusive lens. She started the course simply by talking about all the women that have been left out of the Islamic history. The women who were hadith scholars, the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) as teachers and advisors, or simply within the stories that have been passed down. Umm Salma, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh) was present at the time of the Treaty Of Hudaibiyah and acted as his advisor when he was worried about what to do next. Could she had gained such a well founded knowledge of what the community needed at the time without being part of the community? The stories of Muslim women aren’t often talked about but we know they are there. So why do we choose to gloss over them? Is it because we don’t want to accept that these women were active, engaged members of the Muslim community?
Between this and last Ramadan, I have heard an infinite number of men complain about mosques being closed, and even though I completely agree with the closure of public spaces as part of lockdown procedures I can’t help but feel for them. Maybe now they’ll finally feel how we have always felt. A forced distancing from accessing a community that could help us feel so much more secure and connected with our spirituality.
There is a story I heard as a child that talked about how the Holy Prophet (pbuh) once shortened a jamaat prayer because he heard a child crying and didn’t want the mother to have to worry about her child for too long. You’ll never see that happen now. Because women and their children are safely locked up in their homes and even when women’s sections are created, they are completely removed from any access to the imam or other religious community leaders and are hardly ever maintained as well as the men’s section.
It’s heartbreaking to see how isolated women are made to be in religious conversations - how othered. And then to hear statements like “There will be more women than men in hell.” Writer and journalist Mariam Khan quite accurately described mosques as being turned into ‘men’s clubs’ and I couldn’t agree more. Women’s issues aren’t discussed in community spaces because men don’t see a need for them. Masjids were always meant to be the heart of community in Islam. A safe space for all those who wished to connect with the truth in their souls. Until we create masjids that truly embody that purpose, we will continue to alienate half of the Muslim community and create narratives that were never meant for everyone in the first place.