The oft-asked question about the role or status of women in Islam, is seen by many Muslims as an attack on us, as individuals or as an attack on our religion of Islam, which truth be told, it often is an attack. But other times, the questioner is sincere and simply seeks to obtain a better understanding, and sometimes, the questioner is a Muslim or potential convert to Islam frustrated with the anti-women, anti-family practices, which pass unobtrusively in Muslim communities as the norm or “better” and are cloaked with a veneer of Islam.
I once knew a Canadian guy interested in converting to Islam just around the time I converted, we both researched Islam and shared what we had learned, I converted and he did not. One of his major stumbling blocks to accepting Islam was how poorly women were treated in Muslim communities, subhanAllah. Even though, he as a white male convert would have been celebrated by Muslims, he couldn’t get past the fact that his future wife or daughter or even I, simply as his sister in Islam would encounter ill-treatment from our brothers in Islam. I lost contact with him years ago, don’t know if he ever embraced Islam, but pray that Allah will guide him to the faith. Ameen.
As I look back on my experience in the Muslim community, I am struck by how poorly women and by extension our children are treated in many masajid, Islamic organizations, and at events in the community. Although, it is not altogether unsurprising that many of those in leadership positions and on committees responsible for organizing various functions in our community are men, or are products of families or cultures that treat women poorly, as insignificant, exclusively dependent on their male relatives, or simply do not consider women at all.
Umm Yasmin captures the essence of the argument beautifully in her post “Tired of being a second-class citizen“. What we are advocating for in our masajd:
When I asked women what they would like from an Australian mosque, a picture emerged of a distinctively Australian and egalitarian structure that provides a beautiful space for men, women and their children to worship God; employs Imams who have sensitive knowledge and empathy towards the communities they lead; gives a voice to women who participate in mosque management; welcomes non-Muslims to experience a taste of Islam; provides a relaxing space to gather socially; and provides resources for education and service programmes for Muslims and the wider community. This is the mosque I would like for me and my daughter, and God-willing, despite the current crop of grumblers, one day we will have it.
If women are shut out of all decision-making bodies in an organization. How then, are the viewpoints of women and/or children considered? Probably, as an afterthought, secondary to the concerns of men, certainly not as true partners.
Often, when there is a lack of space issue or even potential limited space issues, women are viewed as expendable, deemed to be of lesser import than men so that the women’s prayer space usually already small, cramped, and cut-off from the main area is further reduced or even eliminated completely to give preference to men.
I think the majority of Muslim women do not enjoy being treated as second-class citizens in our masajid but I feel it is the female convert that is most keenly aware of this divide, this dissonance between the mantras that Islam does not oppress women even as she is faced with oppression on an almost daily basis if she chooses to participate in the Muslim community in contrast to her previous experience where to be respected as a woman in a house of worship was simply a given.
I can say that in my experience in Christian churches and in public gatherings in both an American and Ibo Nigerian context, I never felt that my worth as a woman was not valued or respected, I never felt cut-off or shut out of events big or small, I was never relegated to inadequate or poorer facilities simply because of my gender, not only that but if any of the common discriminatory practices we see everyday in our masajid and Islamic organizations were even attempted there would be such an outcry and revolt from everyone, both men and women would be actively engaged in trying to find better alternative soloutions. But not so, in so many, far too many of our Muslim communities.
From the Storehouse: