Fact: There are approximately 1600 masajid in Britain and more than half of these do not allow women access to pray.
The Dispatches program on Britain’s Channel Four aired the controversial documentary film Women Only Jihad in late October 2006 primarily focusing attention on the all too common occurrence of masajid in the UK that stubbornly refuse to make any prayer space accommodation for women. Watch full program here.
The program features several members of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee in the UK (MPACUK) and focuses on a small number of masajid that use lame excuses and convenient hadeeth to forcibly prevent women from praying in the masjid. Interestingly, also featured is the infamous Finsbury Park mosque where the now imprisoned Abu Hamza al-Masri used to lecture which despite its reputation for radicalism has been able to make accommodations for both men and women to pray and attend classes.
Superseding the command of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam when he said: “Do not prevent your women from going to the mosque, even though their houses are better for them” are the men of today (particulary Hanafis originating from the subcontinent) who exercise control of the masajid and forcibly prevent women from coming and stifle any debate about the issue because “that’s how it was back home”.
In the film, when the women from MPACUK attempt to pray the Friday prayer at one masjid in particular they are verbally and physically threatened and abused by some of the men apparently so eager to fulfill their obligation of praying jumu’ah yet so lax in their observance of the manners and character taught to us by the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and in fulfilling the rights of the sisters to attend the masjid unmolested.
In the program and in the debate which arose after it aired has been a few common mostly negative refrains uttered by those who oppose MPACUK’s methods or prayer of women in masajid in general:
Women should be allowed to pray in the masjid but there’s no space for them. Then make space. This is among the more disingenuous responses because there is always the ability to make space if one is truly concerned. One reason I do not go the Islamic Center in DC is because despite all of the space in that masjid and its surrounding courtyards the women at the time of jum’ah are given a small cramped spot about the size of a broom closet in the basement with cheap green straw mats on which to pray.
If I see sisters being relegated to other buildings or kicked out of the main prayer hall, I either voice my complaints or leave that masjid. If you can’t respect the sisters as is required by our religion that doesn’t bode well for adherence to the sunnah in other aspects of the religion so I am not going to keep attending as if there is nothing wrong because there are plenty of masajid that do respect women.
This is how it has always been done back home. Your cultural habits should not supersede Islamic tenets. If you were so happy back home, might I kindly suggest that you go back there because here women are not going to sit idly by while you try to oppress us and just for the record you should not be oppressing women anywhere not back home and not in your adopted unhome-like home.
There are plenty of other masajid that allow women, so what’s the big deal about a few that don’t? The issue is the right of women to pray in the masajid, these are public spaces, and should be open to both men and women equally. A sister should not have to go to a masjid further away if she desires to pray in a particular masjid. Excluding women from the masjid is not only un-Islamic but it is also detrimental to everyone who attends that masjid and detrimental to those who are prevented.
It is better for a woman to pray at home, anyway. Yes, however there are many benefits to praying in the masjid which cannot be obtained from praying at home such as learning Islamic knowledge, fostering bonds of sisterhood and community, and reinforcing good Islamic values.
But there are hadeeth and opinions which say women should pray at home. Yes, yet these hadeeth do not allow you to exclude sisters from praying in the masjid.
The women may not be in proper hijab and cause fitna.
Lower your gaze brother, lower your gaze. If you weren’t so busy eyeballing the sisters and nitpicking their clothing choices you might have a better understanding of the obligation to not prevent women from coming to the masjid. If you just can’t help yourself, then maybe you should stay home or better yet maybe the brothers should assault you, slam the door of the masjid in your face when you try to enter or serve you a banning notice.
This argument about what is considered proper attire sounds strangely familiar to those who want Muslim women to take off their hijab i.e. conform to our notion of proper dress or get out and most certainly don’t expect us to take you or your words seriously.
And why is it that so often it is the same men who clearly seem to shave daily and dress in western clothing (always citing that we should dress in the manner of the people of that land) demanding the loudest that women dress as though they are women in Arabia.
Our community is already under attack, so we shouldn’t highlight any problems because it makes us look disunited. There are so many problems with this line of reasoning that I will not go into it suffice it to say that putting our heads in the sand has never solved any issue.
MPACUK is a terrible organization with poor adab (manners). So what? The issue remember is women being prevented from going to the masjid. In the film, it seems that those who demonstrated the worst adab were the men cursing, pushing, insulting, not lowering their gaze, preventing the women from entering the masjid, and relegating them to some distant dirty basement as if that was some kind of equitable solution.
Why don’t the men go pray in the basement and leave the nicer sections for the women? At one local masjid, the imam did just that and kicked the men out of the nice musallah and left it to the women. Now, the brothers pray in the more dingy multi-purpose room.
MPACUK has undermined all the hardwork and important gains we have made thus far. Nonsense. What important work has been undermined? In Britain in 2006, women are excluded from prayer at more than 50% of the masajid. If there are undercurrents of progress occurring then the actions of MPACUK and the program should help these efforts gain increased prominence.
Women should not be prevented from going to the masjid at all. Most of the excuses used are lame and the authentic hadeeth which are cited about praying at home do not mean women should be excluded. I don’t know how a man can feel comfortable praying in a masjid that excludes women or that relegates them to a dingy and cramped space.
If you have never experienced having to pray in one of these dingy areas or being excluded from the masjid you should consider it a blessing but don’t think that gives you any moral authority to lecture women who have experienced these things on how they should react and go about seeking redress for their grievances. I’m not saying if you have not experienced this you cannot comment from your knowledge but just come down off that high horse a bit.
This discussion reminds me of a post I’ve been neglecting about growing the beard. It never ceases to amaze me how so many men feel so happy in their expert knowledge of women and hijab to comment on it even though they often have no real understanding of the experience of women that observe hijab. Yet, I see very few women commenting on the beard, turbans, and pant lengths for men with the same vigor and intensity. Perhaps a slice of humble (apple) pie would be good for all of us.