It’s Time to End Gender Segregation in Mosques

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I already know what many of you are thinking.  “This is haram/biddah/un-Islamic,” or perhaps my favorite, “This an example of people following their own desires over what God wants or commands.”  Some go as far to call Muslim feminism an “oxymoron,” or “extremely stupid,” and some even say it’s a “perversion” of Islam.  I’ve heard it all before, so if you don’t have anything new to contribute in what I hope will be a civil/mature discussion about gender relations in Islam, please don’t bother commenting.

We all know what the stereotypes say about Islam and women.  “Islam oppresses/enslaves/subjugates women!” cries the Islamophobe, and in response, all Muslims — female and male — get rightfully offended.  We get offended because we know our faith and our history.  We know how the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, abolished sexist and misogynist practices, such as female infanticide, in order to promote women’s rights and gender equality.  We know how the Prophet’s wife, Khadijah, peace be upon her, was an independent business woman who initiated a marriage proposal to Muhammad.  We know that the Qur’an, unlike the Torah, does not blame Eve for the first sin, but rather makes it clear that Adam and Eve were both in the wrong and then pardoned.  And while many of us dispute over how a woman is supposed to express the Islamic teachings of modesty, it is agreed upon that the Qur’an mandates women and men to be modest, respectful, and humble to each other.

We look around our community and know that the overwhelming majority of Muslim women choose whether or not they want to wear the hijaab (headscarf).  We read our history books and learn about empowered Muslim women over the centuries such as the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, peace be upon her, Rabia Al-Adawiyyah, Zeb-un-Nisa, and Razia Sultana.  In modern times, we have seen female prime ministers of Muslim nations like Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  Muslim women are athletes, journalists, authors, politicians, actresses, filmmakers, photographers, activists, bloggers, students, and teachers, among so many other things.  With all of this in mind, it sounds like the Muslim community enjoys gender equality.  Unfortunately, when we look closer, especially at our Mosques, we see a very contrasting picture.

Muslim Women in Mosques and Male Privilege

In the majority of Mosques, women are isolated in a separate room that is often smaller than the men’s section.  In some Mosques, men and women are separated by a wall or barrier, while in others, women pray behind a curtain.  I’ve been to some Mosques where a balcony is built specifically for women, which makes it easy for men to forget that women are in attendance and easy for women to feel like they have no participation in the Mosque.   Some Mosques, mostly in Muslim majority countries (but in the West as well) may not even have enough space for women.  Their argument is that women, unlike men, are not obligated to pray in Mosques.  Women, according to them, can pray at home and take care of their “womanly duties.”

Depending on how big or wealthy the Mosque is, some Muslim women may be lucky enough to get a sound system and a television in their rooms so that they can hear and see the imam deliver his khutbah (sermon) during Friday prayers.  Sadly, as most Muslim women know, Mosques are infamously known for their poor sound quality and malfunctioning televisions.  But it’s more than just about bad sound or vision.  An article from “Islam for Today,” describes the discriminatory setting that Muslim women experience in Mosques:

…[A]mong those mosques that do let women in, I’m sorry to say that most of the ones I have seen relegate the women to an inferior status. They banish them to basement rooms or other segregated spaces. Too often the second-class spaces allotted to the women are poorly maintained, uncomfortable, cramped, filthy, or otherwise substandard, while the men reserve the best areas for their exclusive use. This kind of treatment makes the preaching about women’s status being equal in Islam sound awfully hollow. Too many places don’t allow women any chance to speak and be heard, let alone have any say in the way the mosque is run.

Muslim women never give sermons or lead prayers, unless it’s front of an all-female congregation and the men can’t hear/see them.  While men are limited to speaking to men only, they have better access to the imam and can make announcements to promote events after the Friday prayer.  If a Muslim woman wants to announce an upcoming event, she must do so through a man.  In other words, she cannot even announce something in her own words or voice.  On important Islamic events and holidays, a Muslim woman’s spiritual experience is significantly affected by the gender segregation.  Krista Riley, a Muslim feminist and contributing writer of Muslimah Media Watch, shares her experience:

On the 27th night of Ramadan – the night most widely believed to be Laylat-ul-Qadr, the Night of Power – I went to the mosque for tarawih prayers, in which they would be completing the recitation of the Qur’an that they had been doing all month. This experience, of praying together on this special night as the Qur’an is completed, is a beautiful and powerful one. At least, so I am told.

What happened in reality is that the women’s section, far too small to fit all of the women who had come that evening, was crowded and uncomfortable. I ended up having to pray close to the elevator, on the marble floor, because that was the only place left when I got there; I had people walking around and in front of me all evening. On top of that, it was NOISY. Several families had brought their small children, who were all sent up to the women’s section (where the “children’s area” was, although few children stayed inside it), and who were yelling, crying, and even running around at various points throughout the prayer. While I could hear the emotion in the Imam’s voice as he recited, I could barely focus on his words, because of all of the noise and activity around me. When the prayer was over, I could not get out of that mosque fast enough. It was, without a doubt, the most stressful prayer experience I have ever had. Far from being inspired, I was annoyed, agitated, and more than a little bitter.

Krista added that she later spoke with a male friend who had no idea about the chaos she experienced.  This reveals the male privilege that too many Muslim men are utterly oblivious to.  As Krista explains:  “Completely disconnected from the women’s space, the Imam and his male followers had the luxury of truly focusing on the beautiful words whose revelation had begun that same month, so many centuries before.”

Muslim male privilege is a reality that cannot be denied, but it often seems difficult for many Muslim men to understand.  Muslim men do not have to worry about having enough space in the Mosque nor do they have to worry about easy accessibility to the imam or shaykh.  Although women have religious and Qur’anic classes, they cannot have the same aspirations as men, such as becoming an imam or shaykh.  As a result of male-dominated spiritual leadership, men can abuse their power and preach sexist interpretations of Islam in order to control women.   Muslim men also have better chances of establishing positions on the administrative board and do not have to worry about being discriminated against because of their gender.

Prior to reading Muslim feminist literature, I was virtually unaware of the sexism that took place within our community, which exposes my own male privilege.  Some Muslims do not consider it sexism, however, and they often present theological arguments to justify segregation.  For example, a study called “Mosques, Collective Identity and Gender Differences Among Arab American Muslims,” by Amaney Jamal, reports that female Mosque attendance is considerably lower than male attendance, but the opposite argument would be that women are not obligated to attend Mosques as men are.  To justify the partition, the argument is that segregation is about modesty and respecting the opposite sex.  Some Muslims believe it is impermissible for a woman to lead men and women in prayer or give a khutbah because their voices and physical appearances can be “distracting.”  While I strongly value the teachings of modesty in Islam, I argue that the manner in which most Mosques practice segregation actually sexualizes gender relationships in ways that many don’t realize.

The Case Against Partition

There is a lot of evidence from the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) that barriers did not exist during the time of the Prophet.  Interesting enough, a Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas, the paternal cousin of Muhammad, reported that a woman used to pray directly behind the Prophet while he led prayer.  Muslim feminist and filmmaker, Zarqa Nawaz, points out in her documentary film, “Me and the Mosque,” that women used to speak up at Mosques and even refute the speaker if they had to.  For example, after the Prophet’s death, a woman challenged the Caliph, ‘Umar bin Khattab, by citing the Qur’an after he tried to reduce the mahr, a monetary gift a man gives to a woman before marriage.  It was ‘Umar who was ultimately responsible for relegating women to separate rooms.

As I mentioned, separating the sexes on the basis that women and men are physical (read: sexual) distractions to one another sexualizes gender relationships  (it’s really presented as women being distractions to men).  Like all societies, gender socialization is no different in the Muslim community.  Men and women are conditioned by socialized gender roles and expectations, i.e. men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers.  I remember at a Youth Group meeting, our Mufti was teaching Muslim male adolescents that their primary focus (after being a good Muslim) was on establishing a career that (1) required the least amount of work and (2) paid the most amount of money.  He stressed that careers were important because it enables Muslim men to get married, and settling down with a family is what all Muslims should aspire for.  When we spoke with our Youth Group about dating, I only heard condemnations and unrealistic lessons on how to avoid girls and keep interactions as minimum as possible.  Women were not being presented as individuals, but as temptresses who are after a man’s purity/virginity.   Women, according to the coordinators at my Mosque, need to be avoided until a man is ready for marriage.

Sobia Ali, a Muslim feminist who has also contributed to the aforementioned Muslimah Media Watch, shares her perspective on the sexualization of Muslim women (emphases added):

The reason Mosques segregate is so that men and women do not get distracted by each other. However, the greater concern is with men’s distraction. The segregation is MAINLY so that men are not distracted by women – more specifically women’s bodies. It is not women’s mere presence, but rather seeing her body, or hearing her voice which could distract him. Why? Because men could be sexually attracted to women’s bodies and this will interfere with his worship. Therefore, knowing this, and then being forced to be in a completely different space than men, does nothing but remind me that my body, my female form, is a sexual distraction to the men in the Mosque.  This of course makes me feel like a sex object or sexual being.

The moment we say a woman’s voice may tempt a man, we are making a sexually-charged remark.  We are opposed to the idea of a woman leading prayer because we immediately think that men will “check her out.”  Yet we never seem to realize that women can be attracted to the voice of a Muslim man too.  I remember in my freshman year of college, some Muslim girls I knew were raving about how beautifully a Muslim man was reciting the Qur’an during prayer.  And there was more to it than just appreciating his spirituality and devotion.  “Well it’s different for men,” I remember a Muslim friend telling me once.  “Men are weaker, and they’re easily attracted to the opposite sex.”

Why do we treat gender interactions as a potentially sexual act?  Are Muslim men so weak that they’re unable to control their urges?  Are Muslims supposed to get married based upon socio-economic compatibility over Love and friendship?  I remember a fellow Muslim told me, “Just find someone you’re compatible with, don’t wait to fall in Love.”  At the Mosque, I made a comment once about how I Love Lebanese food, and the response was, “Oh, we’ll have to find you a good Lebanese sister for you, insha’Allah (God willing).”  I’ve noticed that a “good Muslim wife” in the eyes of the Muslim men at my Mosque is someone who is obedient, religious, wears hijaab, and knows how to raise a family.  God forbid if there is anything about romance or a woman’s individuality/personality.  Why aren’t we taught about the Love that hazrat Khadija and Muhammad had for one another?

Who’s Afraid of Amina Wadud and Female Imams?

Amina Wadud is a Muslim feminist and scholar who made international headlines when she led Friday prayer for a mixed-gender congregation in New York on March 18th, 2005.  Over 100 Muslim women and men participated in the prayer despite the controversy and protests that took place.  The Muslim protesters held signs reading, “Mixed congregation today, hell-fire tomorrow,” and one of the speakers was a young Muslim man screaming his head off  about how Amina Wadud is a “prostitute” and “whore.”  Apparently, if a sister in faith is doing something conservatives disagree with, the best way to teach her about modesty is to degrade her sexuality.  Who objectifies who again?

Wadud’s prayer was not the first female-led mixed-gender congregation in Islamic history, but it was the first that received international attention.  Most of the outrage comes, unsurprisingly, from Muslim men, who argue that Islam does not permit a woman to lead a mixed-congregation.  These reactions are interesting to me because I believe they reveal an underlying fear of empowered Muslim women.

It is always irrational when men get offended by feminist movements.  The fear that women want to “enslave men” is a result of the bruised male ego.  Men often neglect the fact that women have been treated as property, non-equals, and sex objects for centuries (and still are) by a male-dominated world.  A lot of men, whether they’re conscious of it or not, do not want to give up their position of power and they’re afraid of losing their dominance over women.  In the case of Amina Wadud, some Muslims argue that a female imam contradicts Islamic Law, but will not bother to read her book or alternative arguments, as if Islam is a monolith and only has one rigid interpretation.

Are we really taught that hazrat Khadijah was an independent tradeswoman and yet women are not allowed to lead prayers?  Are we really taught that “paradise is at the feet of your mother” by the Prophet, and yet we can’t listen to a Muslim woman deliver a khutbah because of whatever “genetic disposition” she has as a female?  Can we really believe that Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet, will be the first person to enter the afterlife, and yet the voices of Muslim women are completely shut out at Mosques?  How can we truly follow the Qur’an, which teaches that men and women are equal spiritual beings, when our community treats women as intellectually inferior to men?

The Muslim Ummah can never move forward or become enlightened unless we evolve spiritually, empower Muslim women, and truly practice gender equality.  Allah gave us brains and encourages us to our reason and logic.  Instead of raging against Muslim women leading prayers, why aren’t we focusing on the horrible sexual double standard that takes place in our community?  What about the Muslim men who fool around with multiple women, but then eventually settle down with a virgin Muslim woman?  It is impossible to deny that Muslim women are far more stigmatized and penalized if their shortcomings are discovered by their male counterparts.  Why don’t the angry protesters at Amina Wadud’s prayer express their outrage at their Muslim brothers who get drunk, sleep around, and deny the rights of their sisters?

Moving Forward

First of all, we need to get rid of this notion that “feminism” is a bad word.  It’s not.  Feminism is about promoting the respect, dignity, and equality of all human beings — women and men.  Second, Muslims need to stop associating feminism with “Western decadence,” or “Western liberalism,” which usually means “secularism.”  Muslim feminist values are rooted in Islam, not in something external.  I believe with all of my heart that Islam is a perfect religion that teaches gender equality, but Muslims are not perfect, which is why it’s important to address these issues.

Mosques need to be more inclusive of Muslim women. Muslim women should be encouraged to be leaders in our communities, as imams, scholars, educators, directors, activists, artists, and so on.  I personally believe in removing the barrier and having Muslim men and women praying in the same room — with men on one side and women on the other.  Separate rooms should be made to accommodate for the Muslims who have more conservative views or want privacy.

Muslims need to remember what their religion teaches them.  If Muslim men really understood modesty and humility, we’d be showing so much more respect to women. If a Muslim woman leads prayer or gives a khutbah, we should not be thinking sexual thoughts. If a man has sexual thoughts going into the Mosque, nothing — not even a barrier — is going to stop him from having sexual thoughts or desires unless he restrains himself.

Lastly, the phrase “tear down the walls of separation” is an Islamic mystical (Sufi) expression used to convey the passionate longing that exists in our Souls — longing for the Divine, longing for Oneness, longing for self-actualization, and so on.  Beyond the physical, beyond gender, and beyond this shell we call “body,” there is a Being at the center of it all.  It is not your mouth or tongue that speaks, but rather your Being from within — that mystery we call “heart” and “soul.” The Qur’an teaches gender equality, and yes, women and men are different in many ways, but rather than limiting ourselves to roles based upon gender expectations, we should emphasize on celebrating and appreciating our differences.  If we do not actively oppose the sexism and misogyny in our communities, it will persist and only move one step closer to becoming permanent.

“Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts” – Qur’an 13: 11

107 thoughts on “It’s Time to End Gender Segregation in Mosques

  1. Terrible article. Many of the rationales used to try to justify the author’s POV are completely irrelevant.

    1) The reason that women are, typically, given a smaller area is because while men are supposed to attend prayer services in a mosque whenever possible, there is no such requirement for women.

    2) As a male Muslim, I have often had to pray ‘by the elevator’, or out on the street outside the mosque, or in crowded rooms, etc., because of overcrowding. This is pretty much the case in any area where there is a mid-size Muslim community and not enough mosques. This also happens to me, and tens of others Muslims every time we gather for Friday prayers at a local mosque in NYC.

    That mosque, a 5 story building, is typically filled to bursting due to the large amount of people in attendance.

    3) The author mentions, without any citations, the sound problems which effect the female area of a mosque. In reality, these sound problems typically cause more hinderance for the larger number of men in attendance rather than the women.

    4) I’m unable to substantiate any of the fatwas and hadiths quoted in the article via google searches.

    • Salman,

      1) I’m not surprised that you bring up this point. In fact, I mentioned it already in my post! But your point is ignoring how Muslim women are shut out altogether in some Mosques and how they’re not allowed to become active members in their communities (unless they’re leading women only).

      2) I am a Muslim male too. I know that during Eid or Friday prayers, when it is really busy, sometimes we’ll have to pray outside or in a hall. But the Muslim man’s experience is different than a Muslim woman’s. The issue isn’t about overcrowding, it’s about neglecting the participation of Muslim women in Mosques and how we view one another as objects of desire.

      3) Um, I cited some Muslim in my post and included a link to Zarqa Nawaz’s documentary. Perhaps you should watch the documentary for more voices on the matter.

      4) So are you saying that barriers existed during the Prophet’s time and that Ibn Abbas’ account is not inaccurate?

      p.s. Please read the comments below by Melinda and Farheen.

  2. Jehanzeb, thanks for being awesome. This is a great post. I particularly like this part:

    Are we really taught that hazrat Khadijah was an independent tradeswoman and yet women are not allowed to lead prayers? Are we really taught that “paradise is at the feet of your mother” by the Prophet, and yet we can’t listen to a Muslim woman deliver a khutbah because of whatever “genetic disposition” she has as a female? Can we really believe that Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet, will be the first person to enter the afterlife, and yet the voices of Muslim women are completely shut out at Mosques?

    Of course anyone, regardless of gender, can be attracted to someone else’s voice, regardless of gender. But why is this a bad thing? Particularly if it’s part of devotional music or recitation, I can only see this as adding to the beauty and intensity of the experience; I honestly can’t see people hearing even a voice they find incredibly attractive and turning their minds to sex so that they lose focus of the religious purpose. Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems a bit much to me — it just points to the rampant objectification of women, as unable to exist without being inherently sexual (and that being inherently bad), as well as the rampant villification of anything sexual. Which is also a problem: Sex isn’t naturally evil, but that it is is now an automatic assumption.

    And this is what happens to Amina Wadud as well. When the man called her a “prostitute” and a “whore,” it exemplifies the tendency to see women’s existence as purely sexual beings, and that sexuality being evil. I know this wasn’t your intention, but saying that those terms, which do apply to real women, who also deserve rights and respect and equal human beings, “degrade her sexuality” and “objectify” may be offensive.

    But good post. Thanks.

    In response to Salman, are you really so blinded by your male privilege that you don’t realize that in most mosques today silence women’s voices, discourage their attendance, and place them as second-class citizens? Or do you just not care? As Jehanzeb already addressed, the argument that men are required to attend mosque while women are not is no justification for disenfranchising (and objectifying) women. The point is not that men’s space is never crowded, nor that men never have problems in the mosque. The point is that, because of the current set-up that favors men over women, these issues affect women far more often and to a far greater extent than men. “Women’s rights don’t matter; I’m a man and I’ve suffered too” is not only a terrible argument in terms of logic, it also shows that you have no respect for the concerns of your sisters (or the brothers who stand up for them).

  3. @ Salman:

    Your male privilege is showing.

    “The author mentions, without any citations, the sound problems which effect the female area of a mosque. In reality, these sound problems typically cause more hinderance for the larger number of men in attendance rather than the women.”

    Um…so talking to WOMEN who attend mosques is not enough citation? Are you looking for a man to tell you how the sound is in women’s sections. And may I ask how YOU know what the sound is like in women’s sections? Are you praying there???

    Also, are all the children running around in the men’s sections? I didn’t think so!

    Seriously dude…check your male privilege. Cuz it is UUUUGLY!

  4. SubhanAllah

    To the Author and those that support this: Good luck in the grave an the hearafter…ur gonna really need it…

    but i wanna add a few things (this is just on reading parts of it bc its makes me sick to even read this):
    ISLAM 101…follow the Quran first, the Sunnah after that (this includes what the Prophet said, did, and DID NOT do), then the actions of the Sahabah, then it goes on to scholars.

    Overcrowding of Masjids. You must REALLY BE SMOKING SOMTHING…The big masjids around Chicago have ENOUGH SPACE FOR WOMEN, and not enough space for Brothers…brothers pray in the basements, hallways, classrooms, etc while there is more than enough space for sisters to pray in their section…and if there isnt, sisters are given more space and brothers are usually moved…from what i read, it looks like you dont have too much experience inside the Masjid…might wanna try going to the Masjid on a regular basis b4 making up “stats”.

    And you need to Quote Quran and Sunnah, not what this woman experienced and what that woman experienced. If u wanna do that, i can give you crazy experiences that i have had and you could probably write a whole book on it. The story of Umar that you quoted, well, the woman in that brought the QURAN to support her claim, not someone story or something.

    And the Quran specifically says for BOTH believing MEN and WOMEN, to lower their gaze. The Sunnah also says to NOT touch a non Mehram. Thats the Quran and Sunnah. Thats what you “feminists” need to quote. Once u got something from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah, then come up with a claim. people like u need to get out of Islam (ya, leave Islam all together so its better for us and we can be witness against you on the Day of Judgment) or follow what Islam says, not what you think it says.

    and as i said b4, good luck in the grave and the hearafter, hope u get what u ppl deserve Ameen.

    PS: ppl like u need to learn Islam b4 making ur selves some kind of BULL SHIT scholars or activists…there are other things that you could put ur time to and bring a benefit to Muslims if thats what u think u wanna do.

    • Talha,

      Even though your comment violates my comment policy, I am allowing your comment to stay up here because I hope everyone sees how hostile certain Muslims are to their fellow brothers and sisters.

      It doesn’t seem like you read the post because I emphasized that my thoughts on this matter stem from Islam. What would you like me to cite from the Qur’an? That women and men are equals?

      The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (Qur’an 9:71)

      “O humankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward God in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bear you)” (Qur’an 4:1).

      These verses show that men and women are equal towards one another. As for Sunnah, I mentioned and cited the Hadith that show partition was non-existent during the Prophet’s time. If Muslim women and men prayed together during the Prophet’s time, why is there an objection? Theologically speaking, the Prophet delivered the message of God and he is the best example for all Muslims to follow, is he not? Just follow the links in the post and read the Hadiths for yourself.

      Your judgmental comments are hurtful, arrogant, and divisive. Are you God? Are you a messenger? What is so modest about using PROFANITY to denounce scholars or activists? What is so humble about saying that I need to get out of Islam or fear the Day of Judgment. When a Muslim called another Muslim a kafir, the Prophet said, “Did you tear open his heart to see what was in it?”

      “Whoever attributes kufr [unbelief] to a believer, he is like his murderer.”

      (Tirmizi, ch. Iman (Faith); see Arabic-Urdu edition cited earlier, vol. ii, p. 213. See also Bukhari, Book of Ethics; Book 78, ch. 44)

      “Ibn Umar related that the Holy Prophet said: If a Muslim calls another kafir, then if he is a kafir let it be so; otherwise, he [the caller] is himself a kafir.”

      (Abu Dawud, Book of Sunna, edition published by Quran Mahal, Karachi, vol. iii, p. 484)

      “Abu Zarr reported that the Holy Prophet said: No man accuses another man of being a sinner, or of being a kafir, but it reflects back on him if the other is not as he called him.”

      (Bukhari, Book of Ethics; Book 78, ch. 44)

      So where are these teachings of humility in your comment, Talha? How do you know that I am not a good Muslim? Did you tear open my heart and see what was in it? Did God give you some kind of special ability to look into my Soul?

      Lastly, this post is not about dictating what Muslims should or should not do. It’s about choice and promoting gender equality. It is impossible and unrealistic to deny the sexiam and misogyny that exists within our community. When you say that I should invest my time in benefiting Muslims in other ways, my response to you is: I have. I am strongly outspoken against Islamophobia, and if you explore my blog, you would see that.

  5. thanks for a wonderful blog post. i agree with the content of your writing entirely, but there are a couple things i’d differ on.

    first, re krista’s comments on the noise, i find them slightly offensive. i grew up in a mosque just like that: noisy with kids running around and aunties telling us to be quiet while we giggled. i had tons of friends in the mosque, and i was raised by many women, from the teenagers who used to play with me to the aunties that used to scold me to the grandmothers that used to smother me with sticky kisses. i wouldn’t trade this for the quiet calm of the male space anyday – it was way more fun than listening to the lecture while i was a kid, and when i was old enough to want to pay attention, there were still ways to tune out the kids or simply embrace the chaos. one can be uncomfortable in the setting but not discount it as devoid of spirituality.

    more importantly, this is not a product of muslim mosque segregation as much as the general domestic division of labour (women are the childbearers and childraisers) which goes back to that non-religious age-old thing called patriarchy. at the same time, like i said, i know many mothers who love being able to bring their kids to the mosque, which becomes a community centre of sorts and functions as a social space and extended family as much as a place of intellectual learning. all these things can be spiritual in different ways, and not being able to hear the lecturer at all times or having people step on your feet because it’s so crowded doesn’t preclude that.

    agreed, of course, that there should be more space. ideally a separate “family room” or “mothers room”, and this goes back to the issue of resource allocation, where i totally agree with you – women always get screwed over here.

    last thing though: there’s a difference between advocating for a more just and equitable muslim women’s mosque experience, and ending gender segregation. i personally much prefer going to non-segregated mosques and being able to see and converse directly with the imam. but, growing up wearing hijab and in a community where hijab was embraced and embodied by most women, the segregated mosque space was made all the more beautiful by its segregation and the unique opportunity it provided to (literally) let your hair down. i mean even secular feminists understand the value of women-only safe spaces — try any rape crisis centre. there is a safety to segregation that is a lot less about discrimination and a lot more about the bonds between women, which have always been prized in our communities.

    years after i also learned of this vibrant, awesome underground lesbian scene that exists both in my mosque and in so many around the world, entirely facilitated by segregation. deep love has come out of these spaces. let’s not be so quick to eradicate them..

    • Sumayya,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate alternative views on this matter, but a couple of things stuck out to me.

      I’m not sure why you consider Krista’s experience offensive. It was her experience; that is how she felt. And she was talking specifically about praying during Laylat al-Qadr, the night when Muslims strive to experience Hadra (Divine Presence). I know many other Muslim women who have shared similar experiences. What you express about bonding with fellow Muslim women is another experience and that experience should not negate Krista’s. You’re right, this is more than just about gender segregation; it’s about the patriarchy that looms behind it.

      Positive experiences in Mosques should not cover up the serious issues of sexism, misogyny, and the crude sexual double standard. Where one Muslim experiences beauty in the Mosque, another experiences the ugliness of sexism (and even racism and prejudice, but that’s for another posting).

      Although I believe in non-segregated Mosques, I believe private spaces for men and women are necessary for those who prefer it, which is why I mentioned them towards the end of my post. The larger issue here is that gender segregation in our Mosques is practiced in a very sexist and misogynistic manner. Muslim women may enjoy their privacy and bonding with other Muslim women, but what about the Muslim women who want to become spiritual leaders in their communities (and not just limited to leading Muslim sisters)? What about Muslim women who do not wear hijaab and are stigmatized in their OWN COMMUNITY? Most of them are asked why they don’t wear hijaab or are even perceived as “less religious” or “less devout.”

      We cannot deny these issues, even if we are in more privileged positions in our Mosques.

  6. Very well written and thoughtful article.

    I would just like to add something, perhaps another dimension that was not fully addressed here.

    We have a very small community of Muslims here. After some time, we managed to rent a small room in a large two-storied building at the center of town and used that as our Mosque. This mosque was used for over 2-3 years and it welcomed both men and women and used to get very crowed when sometimes the men would pray outside the door and on the balcony while the women had some space in the back. However, the problem came when the WOMEN started to complain that they don’t like how both men and women come though the same door and that they had to walk in front of all the men to get to the space designated for the women. It is BECAUSE of this, we had to go find a bigger place (which we would have had to do anyways) but also to make sure that the women have SEPARATE entrances, SEPARATE washroom and as separate a ROOM as we can get for them.

    My point is that, the fault shouldn’t fall entirely on men all the time. In our case, it was the WOMEN that wanted segregation and not the men! And for the 2 years I’ve been there, I’ve never heard of any man complaining that there should be separate entrances for the genders. Then again, I live in a very liberal community.

    • UknowMe (I do?)

      Thank you for that perspective. You’re right, there is another dimension to this issue and it doesn’t always involve men. Even at my local Mosque, some women wanted the barrier to be removed for special events, such as guest speakers, but there were some women who said it wasn’t appropriate. They even threatened to boycott our Masjid if we removed the barrier.

      The problem I had with the process, however, was that only men were present at our meeting (because it was in the main part of the Masjid — the male part). It felt like we were the “parents” or “grown ups” solely capable of resolving this issue.

      As a male, it’s tough for me to respond to the rest of your post. I think it’s essential to support a woman’s choice, and that’s basically what my post is about. If women choose to have different entrances, they should be granted that right, but not at the expense of the women who want to enter through the same entrance.

      Thanks again for your comment!

      • Firstly, I would like to say that I am female. I support sex segregation therefore I do not support your article.

        1) Yes it is agreed that the women prayed behind the men when the Prophet (saw) was alive. Two points to remember are a) During the Prophet’s (saw) time the mosque’s did not even have a sound foundation. They were held up with sticks. So females who wanted to pray had no choice but to pray behind the males. b) Still the women were different from the men even in the same room. Whereas you and other feminists want to be in the same room and pray with men, according to the sunnah you would have to stand behind the men (if there was room in the first place). So, still if you think then you will realize that females still do not have the same rights as men do. They still have secondary status. The women during the Prophet’s (saw) time were also told to get up from sajdah after the men had done so. This would also need to be done.

        2) If you feel so strongly about this issue then consider that you are a minority. Meaning that the strongest action you can take is to gather funds and make your own mosque. In this mosque you are free to do what you want. But, then again the mosque will probable unfortunately get egged or worse….

        3) Also consider that even if for some crazy reason you won the majority, the men and women would have to separated from the women with children for an optimal experience. Then what about the rights of the mothers?

        In the west this femenist argument goes another way. In the west they say that mothers who need to breast-feed their children should not have to find seclusion as this is a natural and beautiful thing of nature, and the children should not have to wait just because the mothers feel it is not allowed in public.

        LOL I wonder when Islam will bring this forth too?! (Just pointing out how ridiculous feminism in itself is)
        Firstly, I think feminists should correct these issues first before moving onto Islam:
        1) Why females get paid less then males?
        2) Why in some countries Muslim females do not have the right to where a veil when and where they want?
        3) Why society as a wholea degraded the female image so much in the media that we are thought of only as sexual organs?
        Etc.

  7. @ sumayya -
    Interesting points… In terms of your reaction to my quoted comments, I’m not sure if it’s an issue of different perspectives or that the quote just doesn’t convey the total chaos of that evening. You know me – I spend a lot of time with kids. I usually have a pretty high tolerance for kid noises and whatever else. Looking back, I’m not sure I would have had a problem if it was just kids giggling and having fun, like you described. What really got to me, though, was kids crying, really loudly, usually several at a time (not constantly, but very frequently.) In a tiny space, the sound echoed a LOT, and the speaker system wasn’t great, which meant that at times it was almost impossible to hear the recitation – it was way past the point where tuning out the kids would have been an option.

    That said, I tend to get stressed out very easily by loud noises, so although I wasn’t the only one bothered by a few different things that evening, it’s possible that my own stress level there says more about me than it does about the kids. I also didn’t grow up going to any mosques or other religious spaces, so I don’t share the kinds of stories you mentioned about the time you spent there as a kid, but I think the experiences you referred to are really important – maybe I wasn’t thinking about this enough from the kids’ perspective. Anyway, thanks for bringing that up.

    And yeah, I would never want that to come across as only a Muslim thing or only a mosque thing (and I’m sorry if that’s what the quote implied), or that mothers shouldn’t bring their kids. My issue is more that there was clearly a problem in the way that the space was divided (even without the kid issues, the women’s space is really awkward and crowded in ways that the men’s space isn’t), and that’s a problem that I’d love to see the entire community take on and see as a community problem rather than simply as a women’s problem.

    • Btw, scratch what I just said about “a pretty high tolerance” for kid noises – that sounds patronising, and as if kids should only be present to the extent that I can “tolerate” them. What I mean is more that I probably wouldn’t have reacted the way I did if it had been noises of kids having fun – but either way, it’s not an issue of whether the kids have a right to be there (which they do), but about how the way the space was constructed meant that there were way too many of all of us crammed together, which made it a bad experience for a whole lot of us (kids and women.)

      • hey! i think what i was hurt by was not the reality of your experience (trust me jahanzeb, you don’t need to convince me of the importance of women’s experiences) but just the way it seemed like a large amount of noise and chaos was necessarily going to preclude a spiritual atmosphere. i wanted to point out that some of those women (or kids) may have taken other things from that same night at mosque, and those should also be accounted for. and i think improving space and resource allocation are different conversations than saying that women’s mosque spaces, with their overcrowdedness and children, aren’t conducive to meaningful religious experience *at all*, which was how it felt like the quote came off, about just wanting to get out of there fast..

        but yeah, i also understand larger context etc to the story for sure.

  8. Jehanzeb, this was so beautifully and courageously done that I am both moved and a little taken aback. Your writing has always been good, but you illustrate leaps and bounds of artistic growth in this wonderful piece. More important than that, you offer us your own passionately conveyed views and challenge anyone who suggests that narrow-minded ideological lockstep = genuine faith. I abandoned (was kicked out? Meh. Hard to tell now, so long ago) organized religion many years ago because of viewpoints like some of the one’s expressed above, so to say that your perspective is refreshing is to make a monumental understatement. If I were a Muslim I would be proud to call you my brother.

    IYou knocked it out of the park, kiddo. Well done.

    P.S. — If you and Joseph don’t get Brass Crescents this year, I QUIT THOSE AWARDS! :)

    • Fiqah,

      I don’t know how to express how much your comment and kind words mean to me. You touched my heart when you said you would be proud to call me your bother. Certain people who are supposed to be my “brothers and sisters” in Faith cannot even show the same respect and appreciation.

      Thank you so much, Fiqah. Peace, Love, and Light :)

      • I’m only saying what I know in my heart to be the truth. You’re doing the right thing. Look how many people you’ve shaken up by respectfully challenging the status quo. You have done nothing wrong here. This post was done out of love: love of justice, love of your faith, and love for your fellow Muslims. That is MOST admirable. So you keep on keepin’ on, J-Heezy, and I’ll keep reading. :D

  9. An excellent post with great documentation– historical, religious, and contemporary. As usual your post stimulates many thoughts, as do the comments.

    I was reminded of the work of the Moroccan feminist sociologist and professor, Fatema Mernissi, in her background on the time of the Prophet Mohamed as the introduction to Beyond the Veil (her first book, based on her PhD thesis), and especially The Forgotten Queens of Islam (part of which is avaiable on Google Books). In general she has consistently written about the contributions of women to Islam and the disparity between that and how Muslim countries treat them.
    http://www.mernissi.net/

    Another image that came to mind is that of the Roman Catholic Church, with its recalcitrance to women’s equal participation in religious services, as priests, or sermon givers, or in more prominent positions in church governance and hierarchies. It seemed to me when I was in Iran that Iranians expressed a grudging admiration for what they knew of the strictness of Catholicism (on sexual morality as well), but perhaps I misunderstood the ellipses in the conversation.

    Indeed, reducing Amina Wadud’s efforts to calling her a whore is simply operating at a peri-pubescent level of lockerroom discourse. It advances nothing, not even the argument of the opposition. Nor, for that matter, does decrying everything one disagrees with as unIslamic, and those who say it as not good Muslims. As usual, Allah is far more forgiving (by definition) than persons, Muslim or not.

    The children playing and laughing reminds me of attending midnight mass at the Duomo in Florence. It was so striking an experience, a major part of which was how the space at the back of the cathedral was transformed by the restless children into a play area, just quiet enough not to be shushed and removed, making it feel like a local village midnight mass, and the church as truly the home of the believers. This is quite different than the crying, overwrought, probably overtired children disturbing the recitation of Laylat-ul-Qadr, as described. In the latter case whatever architectural configuration contributed to the distress and noise undermined the women’s ability to have their spiritual experience (I doubt that Krista was the only one).

    While your post partially addresses a query I have, I still wonder why men would want women looking at their backsides, by having them relegated to the area behind them rather than side by side segregation, as practiced in a few (liberal) mosques. I appreciate this is the believed practice in the time of the Prophet, and that women are held not to be so lascivious as men, but really it is quite amazing give normal human experience. Any further thoughts on this?

    And finally, I really hope you (and your readers) will find time to comment on the posts I did on blogging and ethics for Tara umm Omar’s blog! You have so many challenging posts and comments here, which you handle so well:

    http://taraummomar.blogspot.com/2009/10/blogging-ethics-part-i-fhws-elsi.html

    http://taraummomar.blogspot.com/2009/10/blogging-ethics-part-ii-fhws-elsi-tall.html

  10. I was linked to this article via a friend.

    I don’t think feminism works in Islam. We have biological, gender role and societal differences. We can be different and equal. It’s almost like checks and balances.

    As a man, and as you rubbed in my face enough, we are weak when it comes to lust. Many unmarried Muslim youth have alot of testosterone built up due to our inability to have sex. Just like men will never understand PMS in women, women will never truly understand why men lust so much. It’s not a light switch we can turn on and off. This is why single men are encouraged to fast. We won’t be doing anything so we won’t build testosterone.

    I have been in both situations of prayer. Prayer with women in the back with no wall and prayer with a barrier. I found that the kids who were with their dads were alot quieter than the ones who were with their moms.

    I believe that alot of the time, it is just based on how the Masjid was constructed before it became a Masjid. At the closest Masjid to me, there is simply not enough space to have the sisters pray behind the men but they do have a camera to see the Khateeb.

    And I think you were wrong when you said Umar created the divisions. He simply said that Salat al Jama’a is not obligatory for women and that it is better for them to stay at home.

    1) the option to come to the masjid is still open
    2) You can keep your home issues at home, and not bring your home to the masjid.

    I’m only going to speak from a personal perspective because I’m not a scholar.

    • Moustafa,

      You say you don’t think feminism works in Islam, but then demonstrate that you clearly do not understand feminism. I’m not going to dispute physiological differences, but when it comes to gender roles, those are socially constructed archetypes.

      When a girl is born, there is nothing natural about her preferring the color pink over blue. There is no real solid definition of what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine,” but socialization causes us to associate these words with certain characteristics and behaviors.

      I am a Muslim male and I’m not rubbing anything in your face (but I’m sorry if I’m offending your “male ego,” I didn’t realize men were so discriminated against over the centuries). I hate to do this, but since it’s relevant, I should point out to you that I have grown up in an industrialized country and in a predominately White non-Muslim area. There was a lot of — how do I put it? — “temptation” around me and I never had a close Muslim friend until I went to college. I am still a virgin by choice, I have never engaged in sexual relations with anyone, and I attribute a lot of that to my faith in Islam. Sufism, in particular, stresses on self-discipline as well as being a passionate Lover.

      In other words, it’s not impossible for men to control their urges. We need to stop thinking that men are so weak that they’ll want to molest the first woman they see. We are not that weak. If a person has a problem with lust, that is an individual issue. Even when you say Muslim men are weak, you cannot deny that many Muslim men blame their lustful behavior on women for ridiculous reasons.

      If a lot of Muslim men believe this about themselves, then they have a lot of soul-searching to do.

      • 90% of men masterbait, and the other 10% are lying. In this society, men are pre-disposed to carry around alot of testosterone, testosterone you and I bring to the Masjid as well. I too am a virgin and i too befall these temptations. Allah created us with these imperfections; so we can avoid them and if we stray, repent.

        Coming to my point, you’re argument is that of ending partitions in Masjid such as walls or curtains, but the picture you have selected is that of a man and a woman praying side by side.

        I apologize if I don’t understand feminism, because feminism is a movement that means different things to so many people. The way most people understand feminism, it is women’s equal rights. Women have certain rights over men and men have certain rights over women.

        “Women are worth the same as men. Men are worth the same as women. Because they are both human – living and breathing beings. Only God is greater than anything and anyone. God is the greatest.”

        We will be judged equally BY ALLAH AND ONLY ALLAH. I don’t think the brother is advocating that he’s better than you because he’s a man; just that the Quran says he has certain rights over you AND YOU OVER HIM.

  11. I thought I would get something new and insightful from your article (judging from the introduction) but I was sorely disappointed. You bring up nothing new and fail to view matters objectively. Although I agree with quite a bit of your post (such as not having a barrier, women questioning, etc.), I can’t say how much support you have from textual evidences for some of your other more ‘radical’ propositions such as mixed prayers and women giving the khutba.

    Call it male privilege or whatever the hell you want to, but I’ve had very bad experiences with muslim women and their prayer areas. I was in charge of cleaning up and maintaining the masjid in a way and I would go out of my way to clean up the women’s section and make sure everything was working fine for them, just because I keep hearing stories like the ones you love to relate. I really don’t know why, but they would always mess up the prayer area/activity room and it quite constantly needed attention (daily). Even simple things like putting the chairs back where they belong, for some reason, didn’t register with them despite my constant reminders. It was an extremely frustrating experience.
    Added on top of that, I had to deal with some of the new generation younger muslim sisters that had huge issues. I don’t know what it is, maybe its the feminist conscious being drilled into them, but they would repeatedly misconstrue what I say and spread random stories about me based on that. For example, I’d find a nice hadith to share so I would send it on the email list and before I knew it, the whole women’s section was buzzing on about how I was trying to undercut them. It was amusing but extremely irritating as well. I finally had enough and I quit the volunteer position. In order to keep myself carefree and happy, I do not say salaam to muslim sisters anymore and completely ignore them. I must say, my quality of life has gone up quite a bit and I intend on keeping it this way.

    Sorry, all the idealism in the world doesn’t change my life, I’ve got to live it.

    God bless.

  12. @ sumayya

    I was not trying to “convince” you “of the importance of women’s experiences.” I have no clue where you got that impression from my comment.

    Here’s an idea: Can we show each other some respect here?

  13. 1- I think a huge majority of muslim women will not feel comfortable praying whilst standing shoulder to shoulder with a man. Some males will also prefer segragation over mixed-prayers.

    2- Feminism does not go wilth Islam because:
    (i) Islam says men have a degree of superiority over women.
    (ii) Wives should be obedient to husbands, and his command overrides Nafl (optional) prayers.
    (iii) When you require witnesses, its either two males, or if a male i s unavailable then one male and two females.
    (iv) Male offspring inherits twice that of female one.

    Do you agree? Criticism is welcome. Thank You.

    • Women are worth the same as men. Men are worth the same as women. Because they are both human – living and breathing beings. Only God is greater than anything and anyone. God is the greatest.

    • Ebad,

      1.) Have you seen the documentary “Me and the Mosque”? The link is included in my post above. It is not just about segregation in Mosques, but also the sexism and misogyny that imposes it.

      2.) Feminism is about choice and promoting respect, dignity, and equality. Do any of these things conflict with Islam?

      (i) Where does Islam say that men “have a degree of superiority over women”?

      (ii) Can you cite anything from the Qur’an that says a wife must “be obedient” to her husband?

      (iii) Actually, the verse you are referring to is speaking specifically of financial transactions, which calls for one male witness and two female witnesses. It is to guard against the real possibility that one witness may marry the other witness and thus make them biased (the same would apply if there was one female witness and two male witnesses). The Qur’an would have explicitly stated that “women are half the worth of men,” but there was a particular reason for why this verses is phrased this way.

      Also, in all other cases, a woman’s testimony is equal to a man’s, and that is clearly expressed in the Qur’an. See 65:2, 5:106 and 4:6. In 24:6-10, we see that a woman’s testimony even supersedes a man in the case of a wife testifying against accusation of adultery.

      (iv) This is a matter of interpretation and how one contextualizes that specific verse. There are many views that argue the opposite (see Sumbul Ali-Karamali’s book “The Muslim Next Door,” for example). The Qur’an actually instructs parents to write a will and distribute their wealth EQUITABLY:

      [2:179] Equivalence is a life saving law for you, O you who possess intelligence, that you may be righteous.

      [2:180] It is decreed that when death approaches, you shall write a will for the benefit of the parents and relatives, EQUITABLY. This is a duty upon the righteous.

  14. I would prefer it when men and women would pray side to side, but segregated. Why not have men on the right side and women on the left.

    I know many deny it and say it is Haram. But there are homosexual muslims. And gender segregation during prayers is there so you can focus on your prayer and won’t be distracted.

    Seriously, you can be distracted by many things. If you let yourself distract during the prayer, how weak are you. How strong is your faith?

  15. The basic dents to Islam have been made by people who have such flawed concepts, or id rather say concepts borrowed from others.these confused people claiming things without proofs, numbers or statistics.

    Creating confusions the author goes on and on without proofs or without even having himself in a position to be even worthy of doing that (a PhD is Islam, or a Hafiz who remembers the Quran with heart, its meanings and its explanation). And there he goes changing the religion itself.

    I would not be surprised if mr. jahanzeb(if he is the author) ends up questioning the Gods existence….after all Islam taught us to believe it, just on words, or may be coz some1 says it……..or maybe he could end up pointing out that why isn’t God a woman???? (Isn’t he a male chauvinist, not being a woman?)
    I guarantee he would question why a woman is half a witness. He would contest why is a woman 1/8 of the inheritance? Why women can have only 1 husband at a time when men can have 4 wives?
    and I am sure he wouldn’t write such essays and ask for other denied women rights like not being permitted to slaughter/kill an animal with her own hand( m sure majority of women would appreciate that they haven’t been given this right)

    the thing is that just as the existence of God, there are many things else that we as Muslims need to have a firm belief unquestioned, for no apparent proof but just coz we have been told such…..drinking/eating with right hand could be an instruction that we may not easily find a reason to( and end up feeling for the left hand and start complaining about his basic handy rights), however reasons for cleanliness, to avoid talking while eating, to floss our teeth, to knock clean our shoes from the insides before wearing them…..do seem to have some easily understandable good reasons to them…….
    so if women are not allowed to lead prayers or say sermons, there must be a logical reason behind it…….and it may not that difficult to understand if u wanted to.
    your concepts seem to more temptation banked , than Islamic………. in a mosque, you go to God , not a party so distractions are not good, no talking, no giggling, no worldly matters, no garlic, no onions, no strong perfumes, just to make grounds for a better bond between the man and his Lord……although women are not at all banned in mosques, but there has to be extreme care, they have to make sure they don’t distract men (which they will continue to do till eternity no matter how much u advocate your virginity or your proximity to temptation or ur liking of how the non-Muslims do it, because its natural….men and women are half pieces of a whole, its nature and they are bound to attract unless u bring another of ur theories)………so women can be there in the place specified to them, but with a partition for sure but u can’t have them be shoulder to shoulder…………if u don’t understand this, then apply it to yourself, you and your family life, may be ask women in your family how badly they want to stand amongst men to pray…….experience is learning, ask this from women from Pakistan, India, Saudi, Dubai, Bangladesh, or Egypt or other majority Muslim countries etc that how much would they like to stand ‘in’ there and pray…..don’t u think, there must be a very good reason that families in these places do not like, want or let their women to stand in lines outside banks or post offices etc(if u think that’s biased, find some1 living in these countries who would happily ask their men to sit home enjoy, while they went to stand in lines to pay bills in a sea of men)
    Now, i second u for only one thing that the arrangements for women in mosques are not adequate. Some may not have any and some may have meagre. and in my opinion more should be done…….but just don’t start blasting Islam without understanding it, think and then make opinions and start influencing others……Islam takes a lot of care of hiding and keeping mum about things of shame, like covering of the body, avoiding nudity, spreading pervasive and dirty talk(let’s say), it also asks women not to advertise themselves, their bodies through tight clothes, thru strong perfumes, loud shrill voices and similarly about their very personal things like periods etc……….
    So while all men are strong and hardy, able, healthy and not menstruating; they are supposed to pray inside a mosque unless they are dead…….on the other side of it is that women are not strictly bound to pray at mosque, so many may not. Out of remaining a good percentage may be nursing and caring for infants, some may be sick, some may be menstruating, and some may be doing their everyday helping the family thing etc(and caring for a child is more important than going to pray in a mosque)…..so not many women turn up for prayers in a mosque, that’s y the places made in mosques for women and in majority, small or limited as having an equal arrangement may not be feasible in terms of finance, land availability and other resources……if the women only turn up in good numbers on Jummas and on Eids(that would be 54-55 times in a year), they should bear with the inabilities and limitations, because a mosque in a building might not be expandable, or the land may be tooooo expensive or maybe people like you just blow and point fingers and don’t do (maybe by donating, or building complete places with equal rights and equal facilities that lie there wasted for 310 days a year). Therefore if u have the brains to think, Islam is actually taking care by making things flexible for women……Also the women who speak in favour of this thing should rethink.
    so imagine how would it look and feel if the woman supposed to lead the prayer or the one who is supposed to say the sermon calls it a week off coz she is menstruating; they may have to post it on the news board to inform the people that there is going to be no prayers coz the imam is menstruating……or may be standing pregnant and annoyed and cursing Islam for making her job so difficult (do u get a picture)
    And these are just 2 reasons why a woman cannot lead prayers or be imam…there would be others. Find!

    respect and honour and such are regarded high in Islam, mosques are sacred places, they are Gods homes so anything that could be of disrespect has to be avoided…….so if we let people with your ideas on the loose, and let u take your gf for a date in mosque for prayers, then every1 is going to be disrespecting and dishonouring God himself……I travelled to the Vatican City and there on the Christmas eve, during the mass, while the pope delivered his sermons people who were there for prayers were distracted by their gfs or the feminine companies……drinking, puking, passing out, making out all when the gods message was being propagated……stop being over influenced by them or u will end up being drunk and would make out in a mosque and still try to sound pious that u are still a virgin……….

    Lastly in Islam if u can’t do any good, don’t. but don’t do anything good in a way that it becomes a reason for punishment and ‘azaab’………it’s like it’s better for u not to pray if u don’t want to, than to pray without the Wadu………….and to improvise it further id recommend u better not recite Quran if u intend to rap with it………..
    So please don’t bother going to a mosque if u are too sad not to have the temptative, up-close-and-personal company of your gf, or just sad for not being able to stand besides women, behind a female imam and unable to test the Gandhi in you (by not being distracted of course)
    And let me declare this openly to all of u, specially all the women that I would welcome all of you to a mosque but segregated….in a hopefully better made and equipped partition of your own……..and that I would not stand behind a woman imam (not because I am superior, but because its logical not to) and I declare that I would not stand shoulder to shoulder with women in a mosque…..because I would never in my life want to stand in my namaz in a mosque and wonder, if the one standing on my right has better breasts or the one on the left…………and I would not want ever to earn Allah’s wrath by staring and drooling over an ample butt in front.
    And this exactly is my choice.

    • in a mosque, you go to God , not a party so distractions are not good, no talking, no giggling, no worldly matters, no garlic, no onions, no strong perfumes, just to make grounds for a better bond between the man and his Lord… So please don’t bother going to a mosque if u are too sad not to have the temptative, up-close-and-personal company of your gf, or just sad for not being able to stand besides women… because I would never in my life want to stand in my namaz in a mosque and wonder, if the one standing on my right has better breasts or the one on the left

      Great! So, if you’re so absorbed in your Devotion to Allah, then it shouldn’t matter if the person next to you is male or female, right?

      I don’t have a “gf” by the way. Thanks for the good laughs though :)

      • Nobody is devoted enough to avoid distractions… For god’s sakes, half the time we’re thinking of worldly things with no relevance instead of paying attention to what we’re reciting in our salah… not everyone knows the language of the Quran… so most of the time we’re just… blank. And if the person next to you turns out to be attractive… Erm, that adds to your already distracted mind.

  16. Allah loves every human being. You have to feel it. You cannot learn what God is out of books. Not out of the holiest of all. Allah is neither male nor female. No man or woman can ever fully describe Allah. The one who tries to pin it down word by word does not understand. Allah is the Greatest.

    • No. I disagree. You can get a clear picture by reading Qur’an. Qur’an clearly tell about faith, actions, human rights, rewards, punishments and everything else that we need to know. It is complete in every sense.

      • I think what Kadija is talking about are spiritual experiences — things that must be felt and cannot be taught by books. The Qur’an itself is meant to be heard since it’s actual meaning is “The Recitation.” When you hear the Qur’an recited, you *feel* its beauty and energy.

        [31:27] If all the trees on earth were made into pens, and the ocean supplied the ink, augmented by seven more oceans, the words of Allah would never be exhausted. Allah is Almighty, Most Wise.

        This verse tells us that the Words of Allah are eternal and never-ending. Allah is always *speaking* to us, not just through Scripture, but also through inspiration and in the ways signs articulate themselves.

        [16:2] By His ordinance He sends down the angels with the Spirit of His Divine inspiration to those among His servants that He chooses, enjoining them: “You shall preach to humankind that there is no other God save Me. Therefore remain devoted to Me.”

        From the Hadith:

        The Almighty Allah says,
        “When a servant thinks of Me, I am near.
        When he invokes Me, I am with him.
        If he reflects on Me in secret, I reply in secret,
        And if he acknowledges Me in an assembly,
        I acknowledge him in a far superior assembly.”

        Yes, the Qur’an is God’s Message, but it also requires us to understand the essence of it in our everyday lives, and that requires contemplation, reasoning, feelings, and experience. You will not find a verse in the Qur’an that specifically deals with the internet, for example, but you can use your own reasoning to think critically about what is permissible and what is not.

  17. I would like to remind the author that Islam isn’t about how I perceive the deen, or about how I would like to practice it. If we could all choose how to practice Islam, take bits and pieces of it, we would turn into carbon copy Christians.

    If you sincerely believe there is ground to what you are advocating (which I am not for, or against), then you should contact an Imam(s) and see what he thinks about it. People of knowledge are there for a reason, to guide those who are willing to take the advice.

    I’m sorry, I just can’t challenge what is in place already without Islamic proof that it is wrong.

    “I would prefer it when men and women would pray side to side, but segregated. Why not have men on the right side and women on the left.”

    Islam isn’t about what you prefer. It’s about what was commanded of you by Allah.

  18. @Moustafa:

    Check out Dr. Tareq Suwaidan’s views on the issue.

    Also, watch Me and the Mosque. She speaks with scholars in the documentary. Dr Suwaidan is also interviewed.

  19. @ Moustafa,

    1. Your point about masturbation: Does a barrier stop men (and women) from masturbating? No. We know it doesn’t. And we know the hijaab, niqaab, and burqa does not stop it either.

    2. I admit that I am undecided about mixed-gender congregations. I posted the picture because I support the right to choose. And also because it symbolizes the equality of women and men. I forgot to mention in my post that when I went to Mecca for my Hajj, I remembered that prayer in Masjid Al-Haram was desegregated. Men and women can pray side by side.

    3. As you know, Islam is not a monolith; there is a lot of diversity in interpretation, school of thought, and practice. When someone presents an argument that is different than how you practice Islam, it does not mean that they’re following what they “prefer,” but rather what they believe.

    I would not have come to my conclusion if I felt it conflicted with the Qur’an or Islam. On the contrary, I think that gender equality is an essential part of our Faith. The fact that there was no partition during the Prophet’s time (peace be upon him) shows us that women and men are equals before Allah. If desegregated Mosques were good for the Prophet of Allah, then what stops us from following that example?

    We can argue about what the Qur’an says about women not being obligated to attend Mosques, but something we cannot ignore is choice. A woman *chooses* to worship in a Mosque, and if she has aspirations to become a leader, scholar, imam, or educator in her community (in front of women AND men), she should be granted that right.

    The documentary shared above shows us Muslim scholars and imams who support the removal of the barrier, as well as the right for women to become spiritual leaders.

  20. @Jehanzeb

    I am not a Muslim but I must say that this was one of the most eloquent, sensitive, respectful and beautiful pieces I have ever read about women’s rights and equality. I was truly moved…

    I started reading these blogs and books (and I choose ones written by Muslims to try to get an insider’s thoughts) to try to understand Islam and what it says about women, other religions, and the practice of the faith. It seemed to me, a non Muslim, that there was so much inequality for the women in Islam and I couldn’t understand why. My understanding of the Quran (and I admit it is by NO MEANS comprehensive) was that it spoke clearly about the equality of women to men. In some cases it revered women. So why did it seem there was an inequality that did not allow women full rights both under the government and in her personal life?

    I am heartened to read your beautiful piece, because it gives me hope that in time women will have a greater and more equal role in all areas of her society. On behalf of women everywhere…I thank you!

  21. I would just like to make a small point.
    First of all, in prayer, we are commanded to stand shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot, right? We are supposed to literally touch the person next to us. However, according to hadith (I apologize for not having the exact source right now, but if you don’t know what I am talking about, or doubt it’s authenticity, I can provide the source) a man who touches a woman – even touches her – is cursed. Some scholars, (such as Imam Shafi’i and others in his madhab) even state that touching a woman breaks the wudu. Given these facts, how could it be possible to have a mixed gender prayer? One would either be cursed, or possibly breaking his wudu in the course of such a prayer.
    I am not against removing barriers – you are correct in the statement that the sahaba did not have a barrier in their mosques. However, the women did pray behind the men, and they left before the men, so as to avoid mingling in the streets (I believe that the hadith say that they actually made their sides brush against the walls of the buildings when walking home, so as not to go into the middle of the streets with the men). There are other reports of women attending the fajr prayer, and going quickly back to their homes, without anyone even recognizing them.
    While it may not be necessary to have a barrier, or separate rooms, we cannot disregard the adab of this issue – we have examples of how men and women dealt with each other (whether it be through the Prophet SAW himself, or through the Companions) and we need to use them. We can’t look at Islam through any sort of philosphy, or lens or truth. Islam doesn’t make sense under the lens of Aristotilian philosphy, or post-modernism, or feminism. It just doesn’t add up. But why do we accept these as truths above our religion? Our *religion* is the truth, and we need to judge everything else according to it – not the other way around. I would very highly recommend listening to Yasir Qadhi’s lecture entitled, “Progress with the Progressives.” I think it can be found on youtube.

    • I would just like to clarify that when I said that some scholars state that touching a woman breaks wudu, I was referring to touching one’s wife, not a woman who is unlawful for him.

  22. Narrated by Abi Ausaid Al Ansari: While Allah’s Apostle was going out of the mosque he saw all men and women in the road. He told the women: “You should wait behind. You should not walk in the middle of the road.” The narrator said: “women afterwards used to walk so close to the wall so that their dresses often stick to it.”

    And just one more small thing, on why women should not give khutbas or lead prayer – I think it speaks for itself.

    Narrated by Abu Huraira : The Prophet said, “The saying ‘Sub Han Allah’ is for men and clapping is for women i.e.” (If something happens during the prayer talking is not allowed, except the men can invite the attention of the Imam by saying “Sub Han Allah (i.e. Glorified be Allah )”, and women, by clapping their hands.

    This is a very well known hadith (and I think there are several versions of it). I am surprised it has not yet been cited.

  23. @ Z,

    The mosque is Mecca is desegregated; why doesn’t “distraction” apply there? During the Prophet’s time, as I mentioned, Mosques were desegregated, so if it was good enough for the Prophet, why isn’t good for us?

    And I disagree with you when you say no one is devoted enough to not be distracted.

  24. Jehanzeb, in what way is the mosque desegregated in Mecca? As far as I know, there is still an area for the women to pray – they do not pray alongside the men; the rows are not mixed.
    During the Prophet’s time, as I mentioned as well, women prayed behind the men; is that what you are trying to say? We need to be clear with out words – desegregated could imply that they prayed in mixed rows, which you, as an educated person, must know is incorrect.

    • @ “A Muslim” (I’m Muslim too),

      I have been to Mecca. I have done my Hajj, alhamdullilah. Muslim women and men pray side by side in the grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram).

      In my article, I cited the Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas and it says that women prayed directly behind the Prophet himself (who was leading prayer), peace be upon him.

      This post is not about force, it’s about choice. Muslim women and men who CHOOSE to pray in mixed-gender congregations should have that RIGHT. It is done in Mecca, our Holy City, and it was done during the Prophet’s time.

      I support women and men praying in the same room, but on opposite sides, only because I think it will take time to eventually get Muslims to pray in a mixed-gender congregation.

      • The woman in the hadith you provided did not pray directly behind the Prophet SAW. This is the wording of the hadith, just to remind you:
        “Ibn ‘Abbass said, ‘A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet (SAW). Some of the people used to go to pray in the front row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her.”

        The men would pray in the front rows of men, meaning THEY prayed directly behind the Prophet SAW. And they were furthest from her. Other men would pray in the LAST ROW of men, so they could see her, while she was inthe FIRST ROW of women…do you see where I’m going with this? The men prayed in their own rows; behind, them, the women prayed. They did not pray side by side, they did not pray in alternating rows. The men prayed, as a group, in the front, while the women prayed, as a group in the back. Unless you have absolutely no spatial skills whatsoever, it should be quite easy to figure out this arrangement purely from this hadith alone.
        Additionally, there are several other hadith that state that the best rows for the men are the first rows, and the best rows for the women are the last rows.
        I just don’t understand how you can deny evidence. At most, people in support of completely mixed gender congregations can provide one, maybe two pieces of unsound evidence. How can you defend a cause which is so unfounded?

  25. I find your article dis-heartening… because some of the items you talk about are real and unreal.

    Here are some of my most pressing comments:

    1) Mixed-Gender congregations are clearly haraam. Just because there have been historical prayers before does not mean it is correct. The evidence against mixed-congregation is clear. See islamonline.net or islamiweb.com. (Note: I’m referring to the idea that a female leads both males + females in prayer; a woman imam CAN ONLY lead fellow women in prayer).
    2) You cite double standards… but do you realize that there are many males who would reject that kind of behavior. The examples you cite and their ensuing characterization could have been drastically different if you had talked to someone else who condemns such immoral behavior. The idea that a man can do the things you cite is not rooted in religion, but in ‘manliness’ or male urges. These things will not change but in a society for good, fellow brothers can change the ways of others.
    3) I agree w/ you that women need to have a more fair share of the majid. That will take time and will not happen overnight.

    • Ahmed,

      I’m not sure why you find my article disheartening when it’s simply about promoting equality between women and men in Muslim communities and societies.

      1.) “Clearly haram” based on what? There are many views on this subject and I’m simply presenting what I believe in. Watch the documentary, “Me and the Mosque” and listen to the opinions of those imams.

      2.) Of course I know there are men who reject that kind of behavior. I am a man myself, but you cannot deny that women are far more stigmatized then men are. I know it’s not cited in religion — you’re preaching to the choir here. I’m simply pointing out male privilege and how it’s important to speak out against double standards in our communities.

      3.) I’m glad that you agree with me about a woman’s space in the Mosque, but this post is more than just about space. It’s about EQUALITY.

  26. Pingback: Muslimah Media Watch » Friday Links — November 20, 2009
  27. Wow…from reading many of the comments here one could very easily make the assumption that Islam oppresses women. I really dislike how a lot of the same people who oppress women will be the ones to defend Islam against accusations of misogyny. Why not just come out and say, “Yes, Muslims oppress woman.” At least that would be honest and not hypocritical.

    To the misogynistic commentors: To you your Islam and to me mine.

    @ A Muslim:

    “And just one more small thing, on why women should not give khutbas or lead prayer – I think it speaks for itself.”

    Um…no. It doesn’t. Please explain to me why God finds me talking to a group so offensive.

  28. ASAK: You are a brave guy to put your voice out there for something so controversial. Lots of respect for that! I agree with you and I wish our mosques were not segregated and didn’t prioritize men’s worship and send a message that Islam prioritizes men’s worship. Inshallah one day things will change! Thanks for your drop in the bucket, Jehanzeb.

    Fatima

  29. Pingback: C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Closing the week 47
  30. I am sorry, I thought that it was clear. Why would women be prohibited from saying “subhanAllah” during prayer, and instead be asked to clap, but be allowed to give khutbas?
    If women gave khutbas during the Prophet’s SAW time, wouldn’t there be some evidence of that? The same goes for women leading men in prayer – the only evidence that people can give for that is a single hadith (whose wording/meaning is disputed). Hadith literature is so comprehensive – don’t you think that if this were common practice, there would be more evidence of the fact?
    There is nothing wrong with a woman addressing a group of people, but a khutba is different – it is considered an act of worship.

  31. @ A Muslim:

    Your incredible misogyny is showing…very blatantly. If you hate women just say it dude but don’t blame your hate of women on God. God doesn’t hate me, Muslim men who don’t have any control of their own sexuality and thoughts do.

    It’s comments like yours that make me understand why non-Muslims assume Islam oppresses women.

    I can’t believe how much mythology is circulating as Islam nowadays.

  32. First of all Sobia, I used the name “a Muslim” so as to remain gender neutral, but as you seem to think I am some chauvanistic pig, I will tell you right now that I am a woman, and I don’t hate other women, or myself. I am trying to provide sound evidence for my beliefs – what have you provided except “feelings”? Islam is not about how we “think” something should be – it is the ultimate Truth and uninfluenced by our feelings. We need to perceive the world through the “lens” of our religion, not vice versa.

  33. And can you please point out the “mythological” points that I used? Because I made sure to use saheeh hadith. I never argued that women should be separated from the men (as in, put into a different room) because obviously the evidence points against that. However, it is clear from various ahadith that the women prayed behind the men, not side by side.
    If you can provide evidence that states that women gave khutbas, or that men and women prayed next to each other during the time of the Prophet SAW, then please, do so. I am asking this with completely pure intentions, because it seems like I am missing something that everyone else knows about – some hidden evidences or something.

    • What’s odd about your comments is that you say you have “pure intentions,” and yet you pass judgment on other Muslims. In other words, if someone presents or argues an alternative view on something, you accuse the individual of following their own “thoughts” rather their religion. Please do not try to elevate yourself over other Muslims or accuse us of following the “world” more than Islam. It’s insulting and condescending.

      In Zerqa Nawaz’s documentary, a male Muslim scholar mentioned that there were women who taught from the minbar in Mosques. Have you seen the documentary? Also, the Mosque in Mecca has women and men praying side-by-side. Have you been there?

      Allah teaches us to use our logic and reasoning, and all I’m arguing is that if we are to respect women so much in Islam, why can’t women give khutbahs, lead prayers, or become leaders in our Mosques? If hazrat Khadijah was an independent businesswoman and if hazrat Ayesha actually led armies, then how does that place restrictions on a woman being incapable or unqualified to lead khutbahs?

      If you’re coming into this discussion to debate and see who the “better Muslim” is, then you’ve come to the wrong place. This post, again, is not about force, it’s about choice. There are many Muslim women who oppose partition and segregation, and as a male ally, I voice support for that. That is their choice and Islam grants them those rights. If women such as yourself want to pray in separate rooms, then that is your choice as well, but it does not mean Islam limits women in that manner.

  34. I am stating that I have pure intentions, because I am trying to avoid people thinking exactly what you seem to be thinking. I am not trying to be condescending, I am not trying put anyone down. I am providing evidence to prove my point, and I am asking you – or anyone – to do the same, because that is the method by which we find truth, is it not?
    If you can give evidence that Aisha RA or Khadija RA, or any women from the sahaba gave khutbas or led prayers in the mosque, then I will “believe” you. But how can I deny what is right in front of me in favor of something that simply “makes sense.” Not everything in Islam is perfectly logical, not everything is rational from a Western, Aristotalian point of view. Women and men are different (gasp!) – they are spiritual equals, alhamdulillah, but Allah subhana wa ta’ala treats them differently in the Qur’an (two female witnesses, difference in inheritance, the need for a mahr, etc etc). I don’t understand what is so difficult to comprehend about that. Just because men and women have different rights – for instance, a woman has the right to be completely supported by her husband, she is not required to work – does not mean that they are not “equal.” We are equal in the sense that we complement each other, not in the sense that everything about us is the same. We are equal through mutual dependence.

    As a side note: I would greatly appreciate if you would take the time to read my comments – I don’t want to pray in a separate room – I am completely fine praying behind men, as the sahaba did. I have mentioned this in several of my comments.

    Additionally, while you claim that I have been insulting and condescending – which I assure you was not my intention – I have been directly insulted both by you and several other commenters (and you have not taken the time to “reprimand” them).

    • 1. You said: “I am stating that I have pure intentions, because I am trying to avoid people thinking exactly what you seem to be thinking. ”

      Do you think I didn’t have “pure intentions” when I wrote this post? If you’re trying to avoid people who think like me and others, then why are you commenting on this blog? It appears that we’re not good Muslims in your eyes.

      2. There is nothing difficult to comprehend about women and men being different. There is no need to “gasp” about it either because I mentioned it clearly in my post (it’s in the last paragraph). If you don’t feel like reading it again, allow me to cite my own piece:

      “The Qur’an teaches gender equality, and yes, women and men are different in many ways, but rather than limiting ourselves to roles based upon gender expectations, we should emphasize on celebrating and appreciating our differences. If we do not actively oppose the sexism and misogyny in our communities, it will persist and only move one step closer to becoming permanent.”

      3. You said: “Just because men and women have different rights – for instance, a woman has the right to be completely supported by her husband, she is not required to work – does not mean that they are not “equal.””

      No one said women are required to work. No one said that women are not equal if they don’t work. Again, this post is about choice. In Muslim communities around the world, there is no stigma attached to women who refuse to work. Muslim women who stay at home, raise children, cook and clean are seen in a more positive light. Muslim women who work, on the other hand, *are* stigmatized. For *those* Muslim women who *choose* to work, they should be granted that right and they deserve to be treated as equals. *Their* choose is being stigmatized, not the choice of the Muslim women who refuse to work.

      4. I’m not sure why you have a problem with women giving khutbahs, but if Muslim women *choose* to give khutbahs, don’t you think they should be given the right to do that? What makes them less capable than men? Again, as I said before, watch Zerqa Nawaz’s documentary.

      5. The biggest problem we have in the Muslim community is that we want people to conform to our interpretations of Islam. When we cry about the “Ummah” being divided, we say it because we want everyone to be like us. The only way Muslims can be united is to accept one another for who they are and what they believe. If you think I’m silent about others who have insulted you on this blog, I could say the same thing about you, i.e. you didn’t say a single word to the people who have insulted me. Scroll above and read the judgmental comments certain people have said about me.

  35. It’s not always about doing things exactly as they were done in the Prophet’s time. At that time women cooked on fire and people used camels for transportation. Men used horses in battle (which they instructed to do in the Qur’an btw). Do you avoid electricity and cars because the people at the time did? Do modern day Muslim soldiers still exclusively use horses? We have to adhere to the spirit of the time, not on the exact actions of the time. The Prophet taught equality of men and women and that is enough for me to believe that it is perfectly Islamic for a woman to give a khutbah.

    Also, women can be misogynistic as well. Palin is one of the most misogynistic people I can think of. Therefore, your being a woman does not make your comments seem any less misogynistic.

    btw…If I ever go to a mosque again I will have to remember to say Subhan’Allah as loudly as I can. I cannot believe that me praising God in public would somehow be offensive to God. And if it turns on the men in the mosque then, dear God, they need SERIOUS help.

  36. Food for thought…
    Here is an interesting situation where a small community of Muslims, containing more women than ‘men’ (in quotes, because the male counterparts are just past puberty), is losing their Imam and is in need of another one to lead khutbas. In the community, the women have a much greater knowledge of the Qur’an and are much more suitable to educate and provide guidance. Granted, it is only a group of 8 Muslims, but one of the community members posted the dilemma to Shaykh Abou El Fadl, who provided a very interesting response… I think most people will find it to be enlightening, as he suggested (albeit with hesitation), they ought to have one of the women lead… and that they ought to pray about this decision and ask for guidance from Allah on the matter. check it out: http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/onwolepr.html

  37. As-salaamu alaikum.

    I written a piece dealing with this whole subject called:
    “THROUGH THE BACK DOOR:Gender Segregation in the Islamic Prayer Halls”

    I wanted to write a book on the subject but attack it from the primary sources. It actually questions the whole notion of gender segregation. I would like to send you a copy, how would I go about that?

  38. It’s always weird to come across a post that was written a while ago and feel like you missed the tide of comments that flowed in response to it. And boy, did yours flow! You got so many comments, and really thoughtful ones, too. I haven’t read them all yet, but I intend to.

    It’s also neat to me to think that this was written right after I said my Shahada at the end of Ramadan in 2009. I actually bookmarked this at that time and just now got back to read it more carefully.

    I appreciate your writing this post so much and I’m quite impressed to read that you’re a man. I shouldn’t stereotype, but it seems true that most men are fine with things the way they are in the average mosque and don’t see the necessity of change. They seem incapable of seeing women as people like themselves and from what I understand, that’s totally un-Islamic.

    Thank you for taking the time to formulate your thoughts so clearly. May Allah bless you.

  39. Dear All,

    The article was great. However after the 5th or 6th comment I had to stop reading. why? Because I realzed there are far too many Muslims who are uninviting to non-Muslims. If the Muslim community wants non-muslims to respect them and their belief, then we have to do the same. One way is to invite non-muslims to have a spiritual experience in a mosque. My catholic husband is very interested in learning about Islam and often asks me to pray in arabic so he can hear me. So one day we went to a mosque. Warning… I have no experience with mosques. I have gone to maybe 3 beautiful mosques worldwide as a total tourist. Call us secularists or whatever, but please I prefer to be called just a human being. My husband and I had a horrible experience similar to what was mentioned in the article above and by other women.

    We both went with open hearts and minds to pray together. He wanted to hear my voice. We truly wanted to feel spiritual and one in front of God. I’m sure you can just imagine what happened. We didn’t even get a chance to see each other. He was lost. No one spoke to him. He didn’t know what to do. He also mentioned no looked “happy or content.”

    So we came back frustrated and I was upset and embarassed. I grew up in the US and luckily my parents shared a tremendous amount of their own knowledge of christianity and Judaism with me. I attended a catholic church for 8 years growing up and I attended an all Jewish school in a Synagogue for 4 yrs of high school. Yes i also went to Sunday School (or someone’s home) to learn Arabic. My upbringing was never questioned by anyone. To me it was normal. I also took numerous sufi classes at St. Bart’s Cathedral in NYC. So we both realized in order for him to feel spiritual with me, we would have to find another place of worship. At times we attend St. Bart’s Cathedral when we are in the mood and at other times we attend a Synagogue and we are welcomed in both with open arms with no reason to convert.

    If you want non-Muslims to have an understanding about Islam and about Muslims, we will have to be inviting, comforting and willing to change.. In 6th century, a synogogue was and looked like a mosque. Today Synygogues accomodate all types of people. My Jewish friends tell me they would and could pray in a mosque. they have no problem. But our mosques need some upgrading.

    It seems to me that my husband and I are left on our own. It does get a little frustrating for me since I dont have any muslims friends with a similar upbringing. I do try to interact with Musims in general, but most just shy away as soon as they see my husband. But life will go on for me since some of you think because I’m a woman I don’t have to go to a mosque. You are right i don’t. I am received with open arms in other places of worship who respect me and my belief.

    Thank you Jehanzeb for opening up a discussion. Perhaps someone reading these posts may create a forum for people like me and my husband.

    • Halide,

      Thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear about the experiences you and your husband had. There are several mosques in my area that proudly proclaim that they are always open to non-Muslims. One of the Mosques, which doesn’t have a barrier, has been very active in engaging in inter-faith dialogue for a very long time. Christian and Jewish communities have visited the Mosque and are always warmly welcomed.

      There is most definitely an important role Muslims need to play in their own communities. At the same time, there must be responsibility on behalf of non-Muslims to not collectively blame all Muslims for their unfortunate experiences.

      I hope you and your husband develop friendships with Muslims and will be welcomed in mosques. There is much work all of us have to do to connect communities, break stereotypes, and establish equality for all.

  40. I totally understand some of the issues you have mentioned. But are you saying that the segregation of sexes doesn’t exist in Islam and they can mingle together during the prayer anyway they want?

      • That’s what they do in Mecca, right?

        I understand not everyone wants to do that, but the choice should be open and no one should be stigmatized in our community for advocating mixed gender prayers.

        As I wrote in the article, this is not something that I would impose on anyone. It is all about the choice people make.

      • I have never been to Hajj if that’s what you mean by Mecca. But as for as I know there are designated areas for both men and women even if they are in the same prayer area.

      • I’ve completed my Hajj, alhamdullilah, and I remember men and women praying side by side in front of the Kaabah. There was no segregation at all.

      • And the picture in your article is in direct contradiction with what you say towards the end of the article. I would change it if I were you. Seeing the picture, most people might not even read the article.

    • I think that happens during the Tawaf only, which is a special case. And we should also take into account the millions who get together in one mosque.

    • This post is three years old (and I’m wondering why its getting more hits lately) and if people are uncomfortable with the picture, then what does that say about their biases? I never saw a problem with posting a picture that’s talking about mixed gender prayers.

  41. Thank you for this. I cannot read the insulting feedback because I have heard it a hundred times.
    This utterly ridiculous insistence that men and women should be separated and that men and women should not pray together has NO basis in Islam. The Qur’an teaches equality. Your imagined ‘sunnah’ is man made and if you choose to follow that then you might like to read what the Qur’an says about it.
    Allah gives us equal rights and responsibility in spiritual matters. If you believe that the prophet disobeyed the Qur’an and divided them you have not studied the Qur’an carefully (4:82) You have done precisely what the Qur’an says you will do (25:30)….

  42. A bunch of opinion-based, progressive hogwash, claiming to be “rooted in Islam”, the “non-monolith” religion where it’s followers are left helplessly to resort to morals and ethics of whatever society they happen to be living in. That is a poor opinion of God almighty and his ability to guide humanity.

    • Well, thanks for making assumptions about me, Abdullah. I didn’t know judging someone else’s faith was the respectful way of talking to fellow Muslims.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t have a “poor opinion” of God and I don’t resort to the “morals and ethics of whatever society” I’m living in. But you’re not someone I would need to “prove” that to.

  43. Pingback: Confronting Personal and State Violence Simultaneously « Muslim Reverie
  44. I can’t say I am a Muslim but I am familiar with the faith and I did research on mosques in the New York. I feel I should put in a disclaimer that I am only talking about the mosques I visited and not all the ones in the world. Having said so, I have to tell you I have never felt so humiliated in my life. At the largest mosque in the area, every man in the room felt it was his personal duty to come tell me women could not pray there. When I got the administrator’s permission to sit at the back and observe, I was still heckled and told to go upstairs. Both downstairs and upstairs, men were praying and I was treated like a pariah with a man following me to make sure no one sat within a few feet of me. I hated sitting at the back and going upstairs because I could not see the imam. Another mosque in the area had a women’s section. It was in the basement, a tiny, sad looking room, the corridor outside of which was parked with shoes that overflowed in (many of them mens’) and nicks and knacks (a storage area). Windowless, with again no television, and lots of children, it was the worse place to pray in. When I wrote up my paper, my emotions showed through. I do not like this aspect of Islam and I was not the only one. My friend told me how she and her friends preferred going to an Arab mosque which allowed them to pray alongside men but how it was too far for her to go daily. It is truly sad that women are excluded from a major chunk of religious life by nothing more than sheer misogyny. I enjoyed your post. All the best.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your experiences at that Mosque. A lot of Muslim women have spoken about this and it is a serious problem in our community.

      I do have to say, however, that it makes me uncomfortable when non-Muslims speak about misogyny in Muslim communities and suggest that non-Mulsims are not misogynistic. Please read my most recent post on my blog – it addresses something that has made me uncomfortable about the way non-Muslims read this article and use it as an opportunity to generalize about Islam and Muslims (although you claim that you are only talking about your experiences, you later say that you “don’t like this aspect of Islam,” which is an inaccurate generalization about the faith).

      I really believe non-Muslims need to understand their privilege when they’re claiming to speak up for marginalized groups.

  45. Btw, I have been to both churches and a temple and I thoroughly enjoyed their inclusive gatherings. Mixed gatherings did not seem to distract either Christians or Hindus from worship. They come as families and it is wonderful to see them worshipping together. It made me happy.

    • Well, that’s great to hear. However, the way you follow up your previous comment by contrasting Islam, which you characterize as a misogynistic religion, and Christianity and Hinduism plays into the logic that the latter religious groups are not misogynistic.

      Pastors of color, for instance, face discrimination and racism at predominately white churches. I raise this point to show the roles various positionalities can have in one’s experience.

      This post is not about taking free bashes at Islam.

      • I wasn’t bashing Islam. My family and friends are Muslims. I have no non-Muslim privileges. People who have no religion are treated much worse than people who do. The religion matters little – when it comes to being a believer in something or nothing, the believer in something always wins. It’s a special kind of bias that I am intimately familiar with so I suggest you don’t pass judgments about my life just yet.

        I suggested nothing. It would be nice if Muslims stopped being so defensive. I call it as I see it and I did make it very clear that I was only speaking about the mosques I visited. Likewise, I am only speaking for the churches and temple I have visited and my personal experience. I am not a pastor of color, for instance. I am a woman and I can only speak for myself. I like visiting churches. I love the architecture and the stained glass so I tend to walk into them off the street and I have never been turned away. I do not feel the same level of ease visiting mosques – and I have visited tons and tons of mosques as well, for their architecture and beautiful ceilings and, more recently, for research. This post was about the experience of women in religious places of worship and, like it or not, several religions are generally more inclusive of women in that regard. How misogynistic they are in other areas was not the subject under discussion.

        Having said that, please be at ease. I know pretty much all religions have elements of misogyny, just as all societies have touches of patriarchy. Only the extent varies, within religions, within countries and within individual places of worship depending upon who’s leading them and what their beliefs are. You won’t find any arguments from me there.

      • I will admit “I do not like this aspect of Islam” was perhaps the wrong sentence. I should have said I do not like the way people present this as the right version of Islam (but that implies that I do believe that there is a right version of Islam which is somewhat problematic…I have given up talking about the right and wrong versions…I sound Muslim when I start talking that way!). I did mention the Arab mosque so I thought I was clear I was not talking about all mosques and “true Islam” without going into so much detail.

    • When you say things like, “It would be nice if Muslims stopped being so defensive,” it merely exposes the generalizations you have about Muslims. You take my response as representative of Muslims as a whole rather than seeing me as an individual. Also, accusing me of being “defensive” after I called you out on making a problematic statement is quite dismissive and just shows that you aren’t interested in what Muslim have to say for themselves.

      When I was speaking about pastors of color, I was including women of color, too. I have done some interfaith work with women of color who are pastors at predominately white churches and they have shared stories of racism and discrimination.

      I hope you see how condescending your messages are when you persist in vilifying Islam as being “more misogynistic” than other religions. There is misogyny in the Muslim community (just like there is misogyny in EVERY religious community) and I do not dismiss your experiences (nor should I be expected to answer for them), but it’s also important to have an anti-racist analysis on how such arguments about Muslims being “more misogynistic” are used by oppressive forces to reinforce anti-Muslim violence and discrimination, which harms both women and men.

      • I say it would be nice if Muslims stopped being so defensive because it is very counter-productive and I find it frustrating every time I come across it. It comes across as a weakness, as if you have something to hide or apologize for or distract your debater from when you don’t. I meant it kindly. Stick to the topic and stand your ground. We can talk about intersectionalities if you wish but, I repeat, your post was not about race and sex. It was about sex. I don’t see what purpose bringing in racism serves in this particular discussion. That is not what we were talking about. It is an irrelevant tangent. I agreed with your post, no more, no less. I apologize if the comparisons I drew based on my experiences offended you but they are in line with your post. You just don’t like the comparison. Fine. Forget about it. It was not a religion on religion comparison. It was specific mosques to specific churches and temple comparison. Religious communities to religious communities comparison. Human interpretations and human practices. Not divine commands or prophet’s practices so I don’t even see what the uproar is about. The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. You did that. I really don’t see why you’re nit-picking my every word like I’m leading the charge on Islamophobia. Sheesh.

        You are being defensive. It is not me being dismissive. It is a fact. I did not say one religion was more or less misogynistic than another as a whole. I took one category, treatment of women in places of worship, and narrated MY experiences. In order for me to say one religion is more misogynistic as a whole, I would have to examine all religions across a broad range of beliefs and practices, an exercise I am not keen on. Let me assure you that I do not have religious preferences. In case I wasn’t clear, I already said all religions possess elements of misogyny. I wrote a bit of a paragraph there that even hinted it wasn’t based on religion, even if religion is used to justify it, when I mentioned it existed in all societies and used the word patriarchy. If you want, I’ll even throw in a line and say atheists hold patriarchal attitudes. Atheist attitudes to women is a widely discussed and hot topic in feminism today. What purpose does repeating what I have already said I agree with serve? This is what I mean by defensiveness. A quite unnecessary defensiveness at that.

  46. I am not commenting here any longer. I have been very, very clear and very courteous. I am a little tired of being called out on things I never said. Do not draw inferences from my posts. This is not what Islam bashing looks like. You’ll know what Islam bashing is when you see it.

  47. I also doubt my original post would have drawn these particular comments of yours had I left out the bit about not being Muslim. Defensiveness. Something about not wanting to admit there is a problem in mosques in front of “outsiders” I gather. Good luck.

    • Wow.

      It seems clear to me that you are not interested in building positive relations with Muslims. Non-Muslim friends and allies apologize if they are told they were being offensive. Instead of taking responsibility, you are attempting to turn the tables and characterize me (and all Muslims) as “defensive.” It has nothing to do with addressing problems in front of “outsiders” – if you read my other posts, you would see how I (and others) talk about discrimination on both fronts.

      Racism and sexism are interconnected and inseparable. Your generalizations about Muslims being “defensive” is incredibly offensive and condescending. Please stop seeing us as a monolithic group – we are individuals and human beings. Stop projecting your stereotypes upon me – it is oppressive. You read my comments and see it as representative of all Muslims. And I have been discriminated against for being Muslim, so I do know what it looks like. What you are doing here is quite hurtful and the sad thing is that your comments are not new to me. When a person of color speaks out against an offensive and racist comment, they tend to be accused of being “defensive” and “oversensitive.”

      Your comments really got me down last night and I don’t wish to engage in this “discussion” any further.

      • I already apologized if my comparison offended you or did you deliberately miss that part? As for the rest, I will apologize for calling you defensive after you apologize for labeling my statements as Islam bashing. You think you’re the only one who can get down after being excused of being something you are not? I am not an Islam basher. My comments of your unnecessary defensiveness came right after you accused me of being one. Defensive is the correct word for someone who misreads agreement with his own post as Islam bashing, who raises my statements about a few mosques to Islam bashing conveniently ignoring my acknowledgment of the Arab mosque’s example. My examples and tone was that of my Muslim friend, almost word for word. You could have heard my original two comments directly from her. I have it transcribed because I was interviewing her. She’s done interfaith work as well and I’m sure is well-aware of various problems in churches. But when we were discussing mosques, she stuck to that discussion. Would you like the transcript? There’s much more criticism of mosques in there, all from a hijab-wearing, utterly devout Muslim woman. All Islam-bashing I’m sure. You’re hilarious.

        Racism is irrelevant to this post. As is your continuous attempt to bring in discrimination against Muslims. Do you honestly think you are the only person in the world who has been discriminated against because of religion? I have discriminated against based on religion, nationality, sex and color. I get mistaken for a Muslim so I’ve been through your experiences of discrimination against Muslims. How is that relevant to a “discussion” I’ve been trying my best to keep on track?

      • Why are you making this post about you? Are we supposed to be competing about who gets discriminated more? I felt that your initial comment was making generalizations about Islam and you totally framed it in a “Islam versus Christianity and Hinduism” way. I’m not going to apologize for asking you to take responsibility for your stereotypes and ignorance.

        I’m being a broken record here when I say this, but racism and sexism are inseparable. You keep insisting that racism is “irrelevant” here. We live in a time when anti-Muslim violence has increased *annually* in the past decade, along with hate crimes and discriminatory acts. It’s crucial to understand how we frame these discussions about misogyny in the Muslim community, and so many Muslims work very hard to not only confront oppression within the community, but also from outside the community. I tried addressing this (even by redirecting you to my recent posts on confronting personal and state violence simultaneously), but it doesn’t seem like you’re interested in listening. Scroll up and read how Muslims are speaking out against BOTH Islamophobia and sexist people within our community. You, as a non-Muslim, need to understand your privileges, and that isn’t a personal attack directed at you nor is it an attempt to dismiss your experiences. Just look at the accusations and assumptions you made about me; you thought I was getting upset because “outsiders” were seeing this post. That is such a common remark that I and many other Muslims have heard – if I was concerned about “outsiders” reading this, then I would have made this blog post private. What I’m simply asking you to do is LISTEN and make a sincere effort to understand. By constantly dismissing my concerns and refusing to hold yourself accountable, you make more and more clear that you don’t want to listen.

        And you’re resorting to ventriloquy when you’re insisting that I read what your Muslim friend said. Thanks for thinking I’m hilarious. I hope that breaks the stereotypes you have about Muslims being so “defensive.”

        If you genuinely cared about Muslims, you wouldn’t be making so many personal attacks against me. You would actually listen and re-read your comments and see how you made an offensive generalization. I never said I was the only person that was discriminated against – why would I even suggest that? Do you read any of my other posts? I was responding specifically to what you said about “knowing what Islam bashing would look like.” I know what it looks like because that is what you are doing here.

        By the way, what is an “Arab mosque”??? Nevermind, don’t answer that. This conversation is going in circles and this is my last reply to you.

  48. Jehanzeb,

    Assalamu alaikum.

    I don’t want to start off harsh, but we need to be stern and adamant on such matters: It is UNEQUIVOCAL in the sunnah of our Prophet (saw) that women must stand behind the men in prayer, and that a women cannot lead men in prayer; your or others ‘opinion’ on this fiqh matter is IRRELEVANT.

    “But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you (O Muhammad (saws)) judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against your decisions, but accept (them) fully with submission.” [Quran 4:65]

    This alone ends the debate on mixed-congregation and female Imans.

    Many things you argue are true, namely that in the time of the Prophet (saw) there was no physical barrier; or that some muslim Imans and/or men abuse their position with women and that this can manifest in regrettable social attitudes; or that extreme emphasis on segregation can in fact have the negative effect of highlighting sexuality; or even that the assumptions behind the segregation in the mosque are “practiced in a very sexist and misogynist manner”. We should indeed work to remove all this from our practice of Islam. However, the solution is not to remove the segregation, or have females as leaders of the Ummah, but to return to the nature and understanding of segregation and the roles of men and women found in the Qur’an and sunnah.

    Firstly, you have repeated the idea that segregation CAUSES misogynism; no, the truth is that segregation is necessary in the face of human nature, but too often is abused as a pretext or excuse for misogynism that is already in the heart. Thus, arguing that segregation needs to end betrays a lack of understanding. Muslim women with iman and taqwa understand the reality of WHY their best prayer is in the house, and if they choose to go to the masjid itself, the best place is the back row (both sahih hadith), may Allah reward them. Muslim women should indeed be empowered to follow the examples of the great Muslimah of the past, but what does Khadijah’s independence (ra) or Aisha’s phenomenal knowledge (ra) have to do with their being an Iman? The Kuffar use this non-sequitur logic. More on this below.

    I would argue that yes, feminism IS a “bad word”! It corrupts Muslim youth into believing, as you do, that “feminism is about promoting the respect, dignity and equality of all human beings”. I can assure you it does not. Do you want to know what does? Islam. How can a western sociopolitical movement divorced from Allah teach us anything about human nature? Brother, do not take your enemies as your awliya! Although you try to claim that your notion of feminism is “rooted in Islam”, your ideas (and many of the responses I might add) betray the influence of a Western corruption, particularly by western feminism. I cannot be more forceful on this: gender roles are NOT, I repeat NOT “socially constructed archetypes”. How can you, as a Muslim, possibly suggest that there is “no real solid definition of what it means to be ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, but socialization causes us to associate these words with certain characteristics and behaviors”? This is THE core principle of western secular feminism and is grossly ignorant of male and female nature, as created by Allah (swt). Are you suggesting that our Prophet (saw), who undeniably and repeatedly emphasized the roles of men and women, arbitrarily attributed these respective roles based on his own socialization!? A’udhu Billah. Cultural prejudices over time may corrupt the true place for men and women in Islamic society and the interactions between them, but it is unequivocal that Islam asks of muslim men and women that they submit to Allah (swt), who has given to men and women real, physiological and psychological differences suited for particular roles. You, like the the west, are confusing ‘difference’ with ‘inequality’. This is feminism’s greatest weapon in its assault upon the traditional (read: Islamic) roles of men and women, and you are falling for it hook, line and sinker. Yes, the Qur’an tells us that men and women are “equal spiritual beings”, but it also teaches us that we are ‘different SOCIAL beings’, with unique roles, rights, and responsibilities. To deny this is to deny the nature of our creation by Allah (swt), and is a sure diversion from the straight path.

    You also carry the Western (largely capitalist) idea that a human being’s worth is dependent somewhat on their social position, and that for the genders to be ‘equal’ women should ‘aspire’ (your word) to be shaykh’s, or perhaps athletes, politicians, actresses (a’udhu billah) or teaches (of men). However, neither muslim men nor women should aspire to any career. We aspire to be close to Allah and to be granted Jennah. In doing so, some men incidentally must also shoulder the burden and responsibility of being a communal leader. Only men are given this particular responsibility (as noted in sunnah). Women are given others and we are all judged accordingly (sunnah), and, have the same ‘standing’ and access to reward in the sight of Allah (sunnah). It is the west who judges a person based on “established [social] positions”. Islam rejects such measures of worth, and rejects the concept of ‘privilege’ altogether. Men are not ‘better’ than women. The shaykh is not ‘better’ than the average Muslim because he is a shaykh, but because he has greater iman and taqwa (or should have). The only privilege we have as Muslim men or women is over the kuffar, as Allah has mercifully put Islam in our hearts.

    Now to sexuality. “Why do we treat gender interactions as a potentially sexual act” you ask? Because they ARE my brother. This is not all they are of course, and so Islam allows interaction for the sake of social necessity or strengthening the deen, but to deny that it is a potentially sexual act is dishonest. Following this, Muslims don’t “believe it is impermissible for a woman to lead men & women in prayer or give a khutbah because of the fear of sexual distraction”. This may be one of the hikmah behind the instruction, but we follow it BECAUSE it is an instruction from the Prophet (saw). You are here again falling into the trap of kuffar ideology. I read on every forum again and again: Why should Muslim women wear hijab or be segregated in the masjid, just because horny men cannot control themselves; the fault is the mans! Connected to this is the argument: women find men attractive too! The kuffar love to argue that rather than ‘subjugate’ women, how about the men just restrain themselves. One response could be – just look at history. How did the western (or others) experiment of the removal of all sexual barriers and morality (in the name of gender equality and individual freedom) work out for them? No, this is all naivety and ignorance. Male and female sexuality are not even remotely comparable, nor can either of them be underestimated. Brother, you are lying to yourself if you suggest you can retain perfect khushoo and taqwa in and out of the masjid with women around. We are told as men (and we know it to be true if we are honest with ourselves), that women are hands down our biggest fitnah. Nor can Muslim women (although less affected) claim to be immune either – hence the kuffar argument of women being attracted to men. And even if you or others could personally restrain yourselves to this degree, you would be a miraculous exception mashallah – most Muslims are not immune from such things, and Islam is a social, not individualistic ideology (like the West). It is similar to the injunction against alcohol. While there may be ‘some good’ in these things, overwhelmingly it will lead to following the shaytaan, and so Allah (swt) and the Prophet (saw) tell us to avoid it.

    Brother you have to dispel this corrupted notion of a progressive ‘liberalism’, and that following the sunnah of the Prophet (saw) is a ‘conservative’ position Islam would be best to shed itself of. A’udhu Billah. Your best comment was “Islam is a perfect religion that teaches gender equality, but Muslims are not perfect”. I couldn’t agree more. Your solution is to then change Islam? No, the solution needs to be: change Muslims, NEVER Islam.

    • “Progressive liberalism,” “western capitalism,” “western feminism” – Bro, do you even read my blog?

      When did I say we need to change Islam? I never said that. Also, you contradict yourself when you acknowledge how there was no barrier during the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) time. Is the congregation segregated in Makkah?

  49. Thank you for this great article.

    The issue of inequality of mosques facilities for women, I believed, have led to inequalities of other facilities as well.

    In general, most public prayer rooms for men in Indonesia are nicer and bigger than prayer rooms for women (at school, campus, shopping mall, etc). It annoyed me to see only male prayer room in my campus library that was being renovated, while the women prayer room was being kept small and filthy.

    The inequality does not stop there. Many women public toilets are also second grade. It’s funny seeing that women have exactly the same need as men to pray and use the toilets.

  50. Thanks for the nice article, there are many ‘true’ in your honestly-written article…
    Segregation is an issue…for even the women themselves feel that they are treated as a sexual-being…that’s perhaps why some still need segregated toilets for male and female…

  51. Thank you for putting into words and publishing what I’ve been arguing with those dearest to me for years (and been told to keep quiet as I am not “learned enough” and “what will people say?”). This was my morning breakfast read instead of flicking through television channels. Thank you again.

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