The Muslim Link | Biased Against Pray In

Fatima Thompson and I were interviewed by Minhaj Hasan, editor of the Muslim Link, by telephone this past Monday about the Pray In movement, which seeks to counter the marginalization of women in the Muslim community as can be blatantly witnessed in the substandard accommodation and exclusion of women from public space, particularly in mosques.

The title of the article conveys the paper’s bias: Breaking the Ranks or Peaceful Protest? It is clear that the writer(s) using the generic pseudonym “Muslim Link Staff” believes that the Pray In movement is the former i.e. breaking the ranks and sowing seeds of fitna and dissension with the Muslim community. Thus, the article while trying hard to give off the appearance of fairness and while admitting that the Pray In cause is correct and “closest to the sunnah” does it best to try to discredit the Pray In movement and its members.

Shortly after this incident, Thompson set-up a Facebook page and founded a small movement now called “Pray In”. The purpose of the group is to “end gender segregation” in the masjid…

Small movement and an “end to gender segregation?” In fact, the movement is spreading and as more people hear about it, they are joining, sharing their own stories of encountering similar issues of lack of space, downright dangerous or shoddy conditions, and or exclusion entirely from the masjid and ask how they can begin their own Pray In movements in their localities.

The lack of explanation in the quote “end gender segregation” leaves open to the reader especially amongst conservative audiences like those targeted by the Muslim Link that Pray In seeks to have men and women pray side-by-side and female imams. This is connotation and implication is very familiar to those within conservative circles. What is meant, by Pray In, in terms of ending gender segregation is a return to the the practice “closest to the sunnah” whereby the rows are arranged as they were in the time of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and his closest companions and in many masajid up until today without recourse to degrading barriers, partitions, separate rooms, balconies, and basements.

Their first “Pray In” protest at the Islamic Center of Washington DC took place in late February. About ten women prayed outside the women’s space behind the men’s congregation; men who came in late formed lines behind the protesting women.

There were informal and independent pray in protests before the one at the Islamic Center of Washington in February. An eyewitness observing the protest from the back of the mosque on Mass Ave recalls that there were about 20 women not 10. Furthermore, this eyewitness discounts the claim that any of the men that arrived late formed a line behind the women.

In early May, however, Thompson and members of her group staged a pray-in protest at Dar Al-Hijrah, the region’s largest masjid. Reporters, invited by Thompson, were already on the scene.

There was a second Pray In protest at the Islamic Center of Washington in March, this time the imam declined to lead the asr salah until the police forcibly interrupted the salah of one pray-in member and forced us out of the masjid, outside the gates, and onto the street where the masjid admins continued to harass us even as we repeated the asr salah so that the sister that was unable to finish her salah could gain the benefit of the congregation. The police attempted to serve a few of our members banning notices at the mosque’s request but we declined to give them our identification cards as we discussed how next to proceed.

Although Dar Al-Hijrah has a second floor mezzanine overlooking the main prayer hall designated for women, Imam Shaker Elsayed allowed the protesters to pray in the main prayer area but only in the very back, citing a hadith which states the back most rows are the best for women.

The “back most rows” is an interpretation of the hadith held by the writer, the hadith was of course not quoted directly because it does not say the “back most rows” at all. And in this case, the women were in the only row i.e. both the first and the last row. The Imam clearly stated on videotape at a Pray In panel discussion that he “invites women to pray behind the men” but when women actually showed up, he added the “back most row” qualification despite the masjid being largely empty with only three rows of men in a space that can hold at least 15 rows or more. To pray against the back wall in the dark underneath the mezzanine would thus be unnecessary and it was felt by some within Pray In that it was a move to humiliate and to show that they were not welcome despite the earlier statements to the contrary.

The group refused, demanding to pray with only a few rows of space between them and the men.

Not accurate, one member of Pray In, intimidated by the hostile atmosphere and in disagreement with some other members declined to remain in the main hall and instead left to pray in the sisters’ second floor mezzanine.

Dar Al-Hijrah told Thompson she was no longer welcome at the masjid.

Not accurate, the police officers served two members of Pray In banning notices at the request of masjid officials and one brother who regularly attends Dar al Hijrah informed me that the masjid well-known for its extensive surveillance inside and outside of the property including according to some familiar with the masjid of the sisters’ mezzanine that the masjid had photos of all of us and that should we attempt to pray even in the sisters’ mezzanine or attend any functions like Quran classes at the mosque that the police would be called to have us removed. I asked to have a meeting with Imam Shaker but was directed to write him an email instead explaining my desire to not be on the unofficial  banned list as I was neither officially informed nor served a banning notice. I’ve been contemplating how I’d like to word my email most likely to include the hadith of the Bedouin that urinated in the masjid and Abu Bakr’s response to the slander of Aisha.

The incident, covered on the front page of the Washington Post’s Metro section, shocked area Muslims.

Especially the editor of the Muslim Link, who had some choice descriptions for what he thought of the members of Pray In sent out over a local neighborhood email list. Furthermore, some of our brothers displayed a remarkable lack of adab (manners) rushing to try to discredit Pray In by narrating and re-hashing superfluous details and spreading untruths about the movement and those associated with it.

Moreover, Thompson told the Washington Post she already had another local masjid in mind for the next protest, and that the group won’t stop.

And why should we stop, because you want us to? Are women provided with access and treated in a dignified and respected manner in all of our masajid and communities? Certainly not.

Muslim leaders of masajid in Maryland and Northern Virginia were roundly critical, even upset, that Pray-In is making what one board member called a “big drama” out of barriers in the masjid.

A big drama? If it’s not big thing then why do these imams decline to go on record? If it’s no big issue why do people fight so vehemently to maintain the barriers? And try to quash any discussion about it or ban those who raise the issue?

“Our own community sisters who come and pray [throughout the week] at our masjid have never had a problem with the barriers. And now this outside group is coming with their reporters from Fox News and [other media] to make the community a laughing stock in front of everyone. It is irresponsible and … selfish. It is totally against what Islam teaches,” said a board member of a large area masjid. The masjid is exploring legal ways to prevent the group from coming on the property, he said, adding that the policy is still being discussed.

No big drama here, I’m sure, already exploring ways to ban the sisters belies the claims that this is a non-issue. And it also raises another important issue, who is to say what defines “our own community sisters?” I frequently masjid-hop much less now than before but still like to visit a variety of masajid. Or I might be passing by and decide to pray in a masjid does that mean the views of those who do not attend regularly (and what defines regularly for those who love to say women should pray in their homes) are not valid or worthy to be considered? If a community becomes a laughing stock it is through its own injustice and inability to be open and receptive to discussion. If you are afraid from the people seeing the reality of how you treat women don’t you know Allah sees you and will call you to account?

Imam Safi Khan met with Ify Okoye, a Pray-In member who lives close to Dar-us-Salaam and often attends his Friday khutbah.

So much harder it is to try to discredit me, can’t really stick me with the progressive label as I have been within the Dar us Salaam community for years and I work with AlMaghrib and MuslimMatters, which are seen as conservative. I don’t only attend the Friday khutbah, I used to perform my five daily prayers at various masjid for years including walking to Dar us Salaam for fajr and isha and other salawat.

Convenient to point to our hastily arranged last minute meeting as an example of openness to dialogue but I have more than a few stories I could tell about Dar us Salaam’s treatment of women that would paint a different picture of the reality on the ground for us as women there.

Pray-In maintains that prayer barriers between the genders are a “bida,” or a “religious innovation” that did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Imam Safi agreed.

Not entirely accurate, Fatima Thompson believes barriers are a bida’h yet she does not speak for all Pray In members in every issue, we are not a monolith, and I do not as of yet subscribe to that view.

The closest to the sunnah is to not have a barrier. If most of the sisters request the partition because they feel more comfortable like that, there is nothing haram about that. And if most of the sisters don’t want the partition, then there won’t be one – provided the sisters maintain the proper hijab. If the sisters don’t wear the proper hijab, then we need to make shura [consultation] with the sisters and see what we need to do, whether that is a partition, more education, or rules for the masjid,” said Imam Safi, who said that he can only speak on behalf of Dar-us-Salaam and not other masajid.  “The Prophet Salallahu ‘alyhi wa sallam instructed the men to not turn around until the women left. If the brothers don’t follow that, then maybe in that situation a barrier could be put up,” he added.

It’s an interesting concept that because women might not be in “proper hijab” or that brothers will “look at women” that sisters may be punished through the installation of a barrier. I asked Imam Safi and Minhaj Hasan, editor of the Muslim Link and a Dar us Salaam shura member, that when the community regains the use of its musalla, if women that do not wish to pray behind a barrier would be allowed to not do so and both concurred although Hasan added the “back most row” qualification. What defines “back most row” is still to be seen, in a mostly empty masjid as is so often the the case for the majority of the salawat, I don’t think that should necessarily mean to have one’s back against the wall.

Although Fatima Thompson is affiliated with a progressive Muslim group – a homosexual man who calls himself an Imam accompanied the first pray-in protest in Washington DC – she is adamant that the Pray-In movement is independent from any progressive organizations. Many Muslims who identify themselves as progressives are supporters of the Pray-In movement. Asked if she thinks the involvement of people like homosexuals and figures like Asra Nomani – the main organizer of a women-led mixed gender juma prayer in New York in 2005 – affected the credibility of the Pray-In movement, she said no.

It’s most unfortunate that the Muslim Link among others cannot separate (and might I add their disdain for certain) personalities from the issues at hand. Who even uses the term homosexual anymore, I’d expect a bit more from a newspaper, if the bias of the writer(s) wasn’t so apparent.

Many people have asked a similar question that due to their own dislike or aversion to one person within Pray In they are then averse to engaging in any critical thought and discussion about the issues. Issues are not judged solely by the people supporting them. In the coalition against Apartheid in South Africa there was a diversity of voices in opposition to that unjust system, even feminists and gays and lesbians (gasp!) does that mean the issue is no longer of merit, just because you may not like those categories of people? I don’t think so.

When I was thinking about converting to Islam, I had a friend online that was also interested in Islam, we learned together and shared materials but while I converted, he did not. Why? Because, he couldn’t separate his belief in the truth of Islam from the way Muslims claim to manifest their religion through things like the Taliban preventing women from obtaining an education or penalty boxes, etc. It’s the same situation here and maybe that helped me to become Muslim, the ability to think critically and evaluate issues on their own merits despite the red herrings thrown out as distractions.

“We don’t know them. They don’t come here. Our needs are being met [at our masjid] … we have classes and a lot of activities, some with the brothers, and some just for sisters. We have needy, single mothers [in our communities] who don’t have money to feed their kids [properly]. And these sisters are worried about prayer barriers? They need to get over it,” said one sister on her way to a weekend class.

We don’t know you either, didn’t give your name? People love to speak arrogantly and boast while remaining anonymous. Most of the asinine comments I get in the blogosphere are from anonymous cowards er commenters who when I meet them in real life are too timid to engage in any discussion of the issues with me. So my dear sister, if you can’t or simply don’t want to understand the issues at hand, ask and educate yourself before you jump up to comment. Any may I direct you to a lecture germane to the subject given by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, the head of ISNA, entitled Heaven’s Gate: How Muslim Women Open or Close Doors for Their Sisters.

As for the rest of the women in the area masajid, the Pray-In movement doesn’t really know how the majority of them feel about the prayer accommodations. Asked if they ever presented a petition of local women to a masjid board or Imam, they said no. The women, they said, are probably too intimidated by the men to sign any petition.

I’m fairly sure the women in Pray In have a better idea of how women in our communities feel than the editor/writer of the Muslim Link piece does as we are women, interact with various women regularly i.e. we’re on the same side of the partition, and have heard from a plethora of women that support us. If our communities were really open to dialogue and provided access and opportunity to women to participate fully, we wouldn’t need to initiate petitions. It is only when the communities are closed to active participation that you need petitions to present to those running our communities. And again how does a woman confined to a penalty box or banned from the masjid entirely access or even recognize the imam? For the most part, unless she is really brave, she doesn’t and that seems to be just the point.

Asked if they approached the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations of the DC area – an umbrella group representing most masajid in the region – with their concerns, they said not yet. Like Thompson, the chairperson of the CCMO is from Baltimore, and is also a woman.

I don’t believe if we surveyed most Muslims in the community that very many could even tell you what the CCMO acronym stands for or even who is on the council. But I’d be happy to approach Asma Hanif the chairperson of organization and raise these concerns with her as well. Even though some Muslims might want to pat themselves on the back that ISNA and CCMO have female leaders, it does not mean all is well within our community in regards to the treatment of women just as with having Barack Obama in office, issues revolving around race have not disappeared from this country.

32 thoughts on “The Muslim Link | Biased Against Pray In

  1. Assalamu Aleikum

    It was most surprising to me that the writer, Minhaj Hassan, chose to hide behind an anonymizing title of “Staff Writer”. What is he trying to hide?

    Also, he needs to do some fact checking – as all good journalist do – regarding some of the statements he quoted in the article.

    For example, we never called FOX – they called us. And they were not present for any of the protests – they were running a story after the fact that a result of them reading one of the newspaper articles.

    I find it so sad that a newspaper that claims to speak for Muslims – called the Muslim Link – would be the source of so much hate of other Muslims. Every other news agency that has covered the protest has focused on human rights and dignity while Muslim Link only served up dirt and red herrings.

    If they disagree with what we are asking for, and which Safi Khan, by his own admission, does not, then why don’t they state reasons why barriers should be in place – and use evidences as we have been obliged to do. It is sort of funny to think that you are also discrediting Safi Khan in a way by associating in derogatory terms to two individuals participating in the PRAY IN movement. If our message of dignity for women is invalid because a homosexual is standing up for it… then the same is so when Safi Khan is promoting dignity for women. Oh, or perhaps the reality is that “the truth stands clear from error…” – no matter who speaks it.

    Fatima (AKA MuslimApple Reader)

  2. Oh no Fatima, you may be discrediting me by your very presence here on my blog, ha! Have you had a chance to read the delightful comments and ditties over at the the Muslim Link website? I had a chance to respond to about 8 of them before switching to writing this post, they are moderated but Minhaj assures me they will posted when he gets to a computer to approve them, insha Allah.

  3. Thanks for writing this Ify. I’d love to sit down and talk to you about this one day (when I’m in the area!). I always considered al-huda to be the more conservative masjid, but the fact that Br. Safi would sit down and actually have a conversation with you about this interests me. Thanks for standing up for your rights as a Muslimah.

    1. No problem Eileen, you’re quite welcome! I’d love to sit down and talk about these issues with you as well, let me know when you’re back in town and yes that is Jamika, the police and masjid admins forcibly interrupted her salah and almost mine but I hurried up through it but without as much tranquility as I would have liked so we all repeated our salah outside the gates on the sidewalk with the police officers and masjid admins looking on. If I (and we) don’t stand up for our rights, no one will. Right now, this is the cause of my life.

  4. Praise God!

    It’s finally good to hear that people are taking control of their religion and allowing it to be reinterpreted with a twentieth century understanding.

    Keep on trucking Ify!

    1. It is not about a 20th century interpretation. Islam was complete and final and needs no change, this is about seperating centuries of culture to go back to the 6th century understanding that the Prophet, and Sahaba had. I agree there isnt a need for division in balconies and basements… but if we want to follow the common prayer area we need to follow the other Sunnah about women praying in the back most rows first and filling forwar (opposite the men) and then also giving them time after the prayer to leave first to minimize the mixing and mingling.

      The public areas should be more ‘public’ i agree with this movement in concept, but not those that may be “extreme” in it

    2. Assalamu Aleikum

      “…to go back to the 6th century understanding that the Prophet, and Sahaba had.”
      *Can anyone ever really understand that century? And must we try and live like that? If your answer is “yes” then you accept slavery?

      “The public areas should be more ‘public’ i agree with this movement in concept, but not those that may be “extreme” in it”
      *What is “extreme”? What specifically are you speaking of? As far as I am concerned we are quite conservative in our approach by trying to be peaceful in our efforts to regain our right to be included in the congregation.

      Fatima

  5. Nicely done! Keep up the good work. Like your friend, that did not convert I find the contradictions between what you can read in the Quran and how people choose to interpret it problematic. It troubles me that for a religion that recognized the equality of women so early that we have gotten so far away from those teachings.

  6. Salam Ify

    I’ve remained quiet on this issue, mostly because I am not sure what to say.

    I feel the barrier issue is a red herring in and of itself. I believe that the most important thing that women need is access to the mosque; a clean, safe place to pray, learn, and socialize; and also, access to the imam, and a say in how the masjid is run to ensure that it benefits all members of the community. The presence or absence of a prayer space barrier shouldn’t make a difference to the availability of the above.

    The argument against the barrier is more symbolic than anything. It’s removal will not necessarily guarantee any better treatment, and unfortunately, due to the sickness in the hearts of many men and women, will probably cause more problems than it would solve, at this time.

    The only change to the barrier I would suggest, is to make it so that women can see the imam/male congregation – even just for the most basic need of ensuring that they are following the salat correctly.

    Otherwise, in terms of real change, the removal of mental and social barriers is far more urgently required than of any physical barriers within the masjid itself. The achievement of the latter would actually be a hollow victory, that may lead to the demise of the Pray In movement, as many within it would think that the job had been completed, when it hasn’t even begun.

    The barrier issue actually reminds me of the hadith about prohibitions, narrated by Aisha, radiallahu anha, where she mentions that if Allah had revealed the verses about intoxicants and fornication first, the people would never have given them up. Rather, He first revealed the verses about His nature, Paradise, and Hellfire. Thereafter the people’s hearts became soft, so that when eventually the verses on prohibitions were revealed, they ran to obey them.

    I strongly suggest that this be the strategy of the Pray In movement. The mistreatment of women is a symptom of a greater disease – that the hearts of the believers are not soft from the remembrance of Allah, and are void of the mercy that this wonderful way of life is built upon. We need to work together to re-instill that mercy into the hearts of men and women.

    However, only mercy begets mercy. Likewise, confrontation will only beget more confrontation. To paraphrase what Allah most High says in the Qur’an, choosing the path of good treatment will turn your worst enemy into your best friend. Therefore the Pray In movement – especially those who are really seeking to fulfill the Sunnah – need to ensure that mercy is at the heart of any future action.

    With much love and respect.

    Mehzabeen

    1. Wa salaam alaykum Mehzabeen,

      I disagree with the barrier issue being a red herring, I see it more like the canary in the coal mine. A community, which does not value its women as full and participating members is more than likely to have that reflected as its public face when it comes to prayer space accommodation. So for me, the two issues are intertwined.

      The fact that our community is so caught up in its supposed need for barriers is such a sad state of affairs. How do these same people function at all in the wider society at work and at school? In the comments to one of my other posts about prayer spaces issues a sister mentioned how the two masajid most resistant to allowing women or even excluding women from services were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps, coincidence, but you know what those same men who so adamantly opposed women’s inclusion moved on to the remaining masajid, which include women and the world did not fall apart.

      While I agree that like in anything coming closer to Allah makes his obedience preferable to his disobedience, I’m also quite cognizant of the fact that some people will need to be brought along kicking and screaming or simply by being forced to deal. Just like with the fight against apartheid, Jim Crow laws, miscegenation laws, women’s suffrage, etc these gains were not truly won by waiting for all the people to agree, many did not and still do not agree, violent confrontations ensued but in the end the judges, leaders, or the community took a stand against hate and marginalization. And I believe it’s high time that the Muslim community also took a stand against the marginalization of half of our community in order to remain faithful to values we claim to uphold.

  7. Women belong in the masjid and the deen is impoverished by their absence. Marriage is 50% of a believer’s imaan and women are 50% of the ummah. Without women’s participation, Islam is puttering along at max 50% efficiency, meaning we’re probably barely tickling 30% operational full capacity. Is it any wonder, then, that Islam is coming under such intense pressure and hatred? During the time of Omar, during taraweeh prayers, all the belivers making the rosa in separate groups were brought together into two jamaats, both inside the masjid with no barrier. The women would be led by a woman and the men by a male imam. During Uthman’s time, he ordered them to pray as one jamaat, led by a man. He ordered the women to remain seated while the men left. Hazrat Ali reinstated the jamaats divided according to gender, but both praying under the same roof. Other references that I have seen state clearly that during the time of Nabi (SAW), men and women prayed together as one jamaat, with the women filling up the saffs from the back and the men from the front, but this was not absolute and some intermingling did happen, but appears to have been avoided. The first barriers between believers were introduced at Al-Aqsa around 912/13, separating the Caliph from the rest of the believers – as a protection against assasination. The Ulema at the time disapproved of the barrier.
    Women asked permission from their husbands, fathers, brothers to go to the masjid, and the men were not allowed to refuse without valid permission. Valid refusal was based on dress (not revealing in any way or showing pride {men need to consider that last one; how many men I’ve seen in masaajid wearing sunnah, beards everything, but with a Nike swoosh across the back, branded clothing etc should be banned}, perfume on women was not allowed in the masjid and perhaps matters of security or family needs like suckling babies etc could constitute valid grounds).
    It seems from the beginning a deep antipahy existed against women attendance, I’m not sure exactly why. Several ahadith mention admonitions to men who expressed an intention to bar women from the masjid. The Quraan says a painful punishment awaits those who bar believers, men and women, from the masjid.
    In the interests of dawah, which is the highest form of Islam, the work of the prophets, this matter also needs to be considered: female reverts are often excluded, isolated, cut off from beneficial support, making access to the masjid an imperative. Opponents are potentially opposing dawah and they must ponder this, particularly the Tabligh brothers and sisters.
    I also hold a guarded reticence to jump onto the bandwagon, however. I am suspicious of Western criticism and am not interested in the slightest in appeasing imagined Western fears and irrationality based on their own mistakes and kufr. This process needs to be managed and implemented wisely, courageously, and steadfastly, with compassion and mercy and fear of Allah (SWT).
    Some Ulema point out that, in communities where women don’t attend the masjid – according to the hadith where Nabi (SAW) says it is better for a woman to pray at home in a darkened room – a woman suddenly wanting to attend the masjid is seen as a sign that there’s something wrong at home, as though the woman is in need of some welfare service support. This highlights two points: 1 are women with problems discouraged from seeking help – because so few women go to the masjid, the solitary one sticks out like a sore thumb and 2 they can only get help from men because there are no women alima there. this must be really problematic with intimate issues.
    Gender issues tie in with the family, the basic building block of any society. The Western, nuclear family model is falling apart, it is unsustainable as THE basic building block. The nuclear family epidemic could only come about thanks to pension funds, the welfare state, medical aid, and insurance – ALL of which are running out of money, and it’s not all due to corruption; the mathematics over decades don’t add up. You get a declining population, which initially unlocks a massive amount of value that is used for investment by the stock-exchange listed companies. In effect, in nuclear family-based economies, the corporation replaces the dynasty. But ‘professional ethics’ can’t replace family ties and so the chief executives are paying themselves fat salaries with scant regard to ‘shareholder’ interests and the corporations are now also out of control. A pension funding gap in excess of a trillion dollars – and that’s just in the US. So, after 70 years or so, the American dream, the Western dream, is falling apart, but the intellectual reasoning is still so post facto. Most people haven’t realised it. They’re trying to work longer hours to try outcompete the Eastern sweat shops, but they’ll never be able to because they’re actually trying to compete against mathematics itself. The truth is nuclear-family economies are unsustainable over the long term and must eventually collapse.
    But the ideological, sociological, psychological superstructure that is built on the material conditions that are the consequence of the nuclear family also takes a specific form. Sexual identity, individual identity, human identity are all subsumed beneath the myth of the universality of their consciousness. Everyone will become like them because they are the most advanced; their reality is the reality that awaits everyone. Hmmm.
    The Western consciousness that grows out of the nuclear family sees sex as mainly a recreational activity and its mores and patterns of behaviour are predicated on that mere convenience. Your identity as a woman; your role as a teenager; your function as a temporary father (“as soon as you’re finished school, you’re on your own!”). Inevitably, this pits man against woman, husband against wife, child against parent. Everyone’s material goals at some point diverge from the interest of other family members, making each of them a potential competitor.
    How you express your gender-confined interests socially is also determined by your nuclear-family identity.
    Anyway, the upshot is the nuclear family as universal model has become too expensive to maintain. It needs those social security nets provided by the state and the riba industry, but the costs are too high and are unsustainable. No matter what Obama does, there are too many elderly people in the States, they are sickly and unproductive. And there aren’t enough younger people to sustain them. Pension funds have become a burden, the generation gap expresses itself in the economy too, and not just in musical tastes. Active workers talk 407k savings, they know how much they must put in, but don’t know how much they’ll get out.
    And it’s the same in Japan, Europe, Australia, any western country.
    But it’s the extended family economies that are starting to take over because they don’t say children are an expense, they say they’re a blessing from God and the extended family is all the social safety net they need. They aren’t dependent on the state’s good will or the continuing efficiency of some distant bank.
    Which brings us back to the masjid. Islam will become more ‘moderate’ ONLY to the extent that it becomes more Islamic. There is no other way and caution is needed.
    I don’t want the extended family system in Islam harmed in any way; it needs to be promoted. The current situation in some communities where women are excluded/discouraged from the masjid needs to be addressed, but with an understanding of what we have and where we want to go and the likely consequences of change. If women in extended family networks haven’t been going to the masjid, change this in such a way that it benefits the family. We aren’t seeking to change only the condition of women, but of men too. It is an inevitable, a yin-yang thing: as women change, so men change too.
    This isn’t a women-against-men thing either and needs to be understood as such. Implement these changes, but only so far as they bolster family ties. And remember that the hallmark of jahilliya is orthodoxy. So, in some communities maybe women and men will pray shoulder to shoulder; other communities may be different. And Allah knows best.

  8. Salaam Alaikum,

    My apoologies in advance if I am all over the place.

    Thank you for putitng yourself out there. Unfortunately, as long as we women believe our piety is measured in denying ourselves to ensure our menfolk don’t get tempted – this is how it will be.

    Some years back, I fought for being able to see during prayer in our small Mosque – and was labeled as a radical progressive feminist – for wanting to pray in the back of the room well beinhd the men. Many of the women agreed with me but would publicly scurry off in the shadows because of their honor, their husband’s honor and proving their muslimness. The more we give up, the more we embrace our own oppression with patience and a smile – the more righteous we are. I know my advocacy days ended when I got married as my spouse didn’t want people to think he was married to a radical (which I am not). Men don’t get it. I know mine thinks if women wanted different they would just speak up – but they won’t for it lessens the appearance of piety. I am no longer involved in any community because it is too frsutrating and it is very very difficult to maintain one’s Iman without a support group. My hubby has his peers, is sought out for advice, and to give khutbah’s. I love him but he will never get it.

    1. Assalamu Aleikum

      “I know my advocacy days ended when I got married as my spouse didn’t want people to think he was married to a radical (which I am not). Men don’t get it. I know mine thinks if women wanted different they would just speak up – but they won’t for it lessens the appearance of piety.”

      Our advocacy days do not need to – alas, MUST not need to – end when we get married! This is part of what I spoke about on a discussion panel on April 24 about gender relations and specifically gender segregation.

      All too often women are expected to give up all aspirations in favor of the man (father, brother, husband, uncle…). This means that your individuality is being usurped and you are expected to live as and be treated as a dependent. This is not in keeping with the spirit of Islam.

      I have to say, taking up this issue and staging protests has created quite a revolution in my own home – in my own marriage. It has changed the dynamics and my husband now relates to me as a fully capable and functioning individual. Even my step-son is supporting me.

      Part of righteousness, and piety, is correcting something that is wrong.

      You are not radical – unless calling people to return to the Sunnah of our Beloved Prophet is radical… then I must accept that epithet as well.

      Please consider redoubling your efforts to join the congregation on the main prayer hall.

      Fatima

    2. Wa alaykum salaam keep up the good work, you’re not all over the place at all, and thank you for commenting.

      I understand, it’s only in the last couple of years that I regained my confidence, voice, and even my name all of which were lost in the socialization and learning process after my conversion. The message I always received was that the modest thing to do would be to be silent, not ask questions, not sit in the front of a classroom, not challenge, and to not turn a critical eye to evaluate the idiosyncrasies within our communities.

      The pressure to conform can be intense and it can be so much easier to not challenge the status quo but that sort of thing caused a bit of spiritual and intellectual crisis (or maybe a growing pain) for me, which helped push me towards my current path. I remember sitting down with a respected Islamic activist explaining to him my worry that I might be watering down my Islam but he reassured me that in some ways it’s just the natural evolution and growth of a deeper understanding of Islam.

  9. as-salaamu `alaykum

    I attended Dar-Us-Salaam for a number of years when it was still young. In fact, in the 4-ish years I prayed and even worked there there WAS no barrier AT ALL. In fact, it was like that back when I was in my niqab phase and there was not even a privacy area in the back, so I would pray in the furthest back rows so that I could lower my niqab for the salaah, being of the opinion that it was necessary for my actual nose to touch the floor.

    After I left the area, however, when I visited every few years I was disturbed to see the increasing barriers– originally it was some cubicle-type dividers, but there were still gaps where the women in the front area could see the Imam. In later years a folding plastic wall had been put up and a TV was installed for women to see the Imam or speaker, but as is always the case with these things it was not always working or used. I haven’t been there in about 5 years now so I don’t know if they have made a more permanent separation.

    My impression of the place and its leadership has always been that there are many hyper-conservative elements within the community that the leadership feels the need to acquiesce to, particularly in order to keep ever-fragile support for Al-Huda school as high as possible. You know how it goes with funding and support for the schools.

    I have the highest of love and respect for Brother Safi, and I think he’s more of a “compassionate conservative” but I cannot say the same for some of the other people I’ve seen there over the years. I thought a more extremely conservative mosque was established in Laurel somwhere but I assume that many of those people also pray at DUS and send their kids to Al-Huda.

    I really hate the idea that more conservative types are trying to paint this as a “progressive” thing for people who are largely “liberal” or even non-observant. I’m certainly in the “more conservative” category on most issues, and I personally feel my conservativsm is the reason WHY I support the removal of barriers, because I believe women and men should all be more observant and serious about the deen, and it’s awfully hard to be serious or to convince others to be serious when you feel like you’re not even really *there* in the masjid during the khutbah or the speech or the salaah. It’s hard to focus and learn and be fully present and serious when you feel like you’re in another room or another building somewhere. Engagement requires presence.

    1. Wa salaam alaykum Mombeam,

      I wonder, have we ever met? Well as for the barriers, a few years ago, we had medium-high bookshelves that still a small gap up front so that we could hand the mic back and forth and kids could run through and then we got much higher shelves that completely closed off the gap in front and now we have a green cloth hanging partition. At the off-site jumu’ah location there is only a row of chairs separating the men from the women. It’s so strange and such a novel experience to be able to actually see the imam, not on a monitor but with my own eyes, strange and delightful. I asked Br. Safi if he thought we might be able to return to the no partition or the partial private area like at ADAMS or Dar al-Taqwa when the masjid regains the appropriate permits and he said yes, hopefully they may be able to do something like that.

      Definitely, I think DUS is more women-friendly than ICCL in Laurel but the communities are close and the Islamic school in Laurel only has so many grades, at which point it’s off to Dar us Salaam, home schooling or public school.

      “Engagement requires presence,” very well spoken.

    1. Assalamu Aleikum

      UN

      Interesting links… should be an interesting read – thanks.

      However, I nor PRAY IN are not associated with RAND.

      It is interesting that instead of addressing the issue at hand – women in the main prayer area behind the men or women’s access to the mosque and its services – you have chosen instead to fling a vague comment suggesting an association to an organization which, I presume, you view negatively.

      How about joining the discussion more constructively and tell us what you really mean by posting the links. What is it that you want us to know?

      Fatima

  10. After reading your post and all the comments, a lot has been said here to which I’m not sure what exactly I can add, especially articulately because this backlash is enraging. I wanted to honor the strength of the women of this Pray In movement for several reasons. The backlash Muslim women face from within our communities is so unbelievable. For people to say that we don’t belong in one mosque versus another is so ridiculous when by the very nature of Islam, every Muslim is either our brother or sister and we are all apart of the greater community of the Ummah. I find it so terrifying that the same words used against the Muslim community by fringe, fascist conservative groups like “radical”, “revolutionary”, and “progressive/liberal” are now being used again but from the very “Brothers” in our community. (As if those terms were SO terrible in the first place, by the way!) To the ladies who have taken a part in the protests or have supported this movement in one way or another, keep up the amazing work. I think the parallels drawn between the power structures in place within our mosques and those within society also (race, religion, gender) are important to note. Privilege (where one group has greater power over another) works almost the same in all of these situations. And to the comment earlier that we must only respond with mercy, well while mercy is a key element of our Muslim character, battles are not won and struggles are not overcome with mercy. Males have constantly marginalized the voice of women in the Muslim community, linking their opinions with fitnah and therefore invalidating all of our concerns. Why do we always bear the burden of the sin? If it is men who will be tempted, why are women then shunned to these types of conditions in the mosque? Women pay the price for the decisions made by men, and we always have. It is about time we stand up, stand strong, and stand together.

    1. Sana, may Allah reward you with goodness, all of the expressions of support and kindness do not go unnoticed and are deeply appreciated.

      Some people try to marginalize our movement by saying are numbers are small, but I don’t believe they are, it just takes people of courage to put themselves out there and withstand the backlash to create a safe space for others to maneuver. And I am so glad to not be standing alone in this struggle.

  11. Assalamu Aleikum

    I would like to draw the readers attention to the article published in the MuslimLink or, more accurately, the comments posted in response to it.

    You should notice the conspicuous absence of any posts there by me, the person on whom much attention is placed in the article.

    Why IS that? Is Fatima Thompson afraid to answer the article? Are the accusations and innuendos posited in the article true? Has she nothing to say for herself?

    I have tried on numerous occasions to post comments there and my post was held in queue. I contacted Minhaj Hasan on multiple occasions to point out the difficulty and request that the issue be addressed. His answer was that it was in queue and would be posted up.

    I tried posting again today with the same obstacle encountered. I sent the comment to Minhaj Hassan with a request to post it – without edits – to the comment section to the article. He said that he would post it tonight.

    So, we will see.

    If not posted then at least I will be led to ask… Why IS that? Is Minhaj Hasan afraid to post my comments? Are the accusations and innuendos posited in his article false? Has he nothing to say for himself?

    I have tried to deal with this “privately” but have seen no resolution, much like many women’s attempt to seek resolution to their request for accommodation behind the men.

    Fatima

  12. I have no problem with the sisters praying in the common p-rayer area but remember the ahadaith where

    1) the best row for the women is the back rows, so you should not start your line directly behind the brothers causing the late brothers to then pray behind you…

    2) the prophet and the men would generally wait before standing up after prayer so the women would leave first and minimize the mingling

    1. Assalamu Aleikum

      Responding to Ali

      I have no problem with the sisters praying in the common p-rayer area but remember the ahadaith where

      1) the best row for the women is the back rows, so you should not start your line directly behind the brothers causing the late brothers to then pray behind you…

      *I will remind you, Ali, and the readers, that this hadith you are referring to has been grossly misquoted here. The part of your statement that begins “…so you should not start your line…” is an insertion – it is not part of the hadith. This interpretation of the hadith is a fallacy – in the early days when the prophet and his companions prayed in the outskirts of town, in the open, where was the back of the prayer area? There were no walls. In fact, even the precincts around the Ka’aba had not walls in that time.
      Also, to fill in from the back would necessarily leave an incomplete row in the front making the row, and the rows behind it, invalid (this is basic fiqh, people – did into the 4 books of rulings related to the organization of the prayer especially the rows).
      So, for at least these two reasons the assertion that women should begin filling in from the back row and very back of prayer area is false.

      2) the prophet and the men would generally wait before standing up after prayer so the women would leave first and minimize the mingling
      *It should be noted that the women were instructed to delay their rise from sujud in order that men’s private parts not be exposed to them (think wrap around lungas and no fruit of the looms). However, people keep repeating this idea about “minimizing mingling”… and yet, I have yet to find a single hadith referring to that myself. If you are familiar with that hadith please provide copy of that text with proper references.

      Fatima

    2. How the faithful prayed during the time of Nabi (SAW) should be determined according to the prayers in the Madina masjid, which had two entrances at the front. It has a three-foot high wall running around it, with the rooms of the Nabi (SAW) attached to it. So determining where the different saffs would be ordered is not difficult to work out.
      Did the books you read deal with the idea/dynamic of women forming up from behind?
      Also, as the Ummah grew so the problem of bottlenecks developing at the entrances emerged, with men and women bumping into each other as they waited to get in. It was for this reason that the Nabi (SAW) suggested that one entrance be reserved for men and one for women. Seek and you will find.

    3. Ali, where the line should form is subject to interpretation. I’m sure you know the setup at DAH, praying against the wall under the overhanging mezzanine in the dark when there are barely 2-3 rows of men is both unnecessary and perhaps an indication that one is unwelcome and not valued, which is so often the case.

  13. There should be never any barrier between the Brothers and Sisters, it is ridiculous and I wonder quite how it started? I believe there should be a row or two gap at least for brothers who arrive late.
    The time is now for this discussion to be going on, but at the same time, Islam is under attack and anything that the media can and do to show divisions between men and woman in Islam they will focus on! Please remember that. Please. Barakallah.

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