Stand In at D.C. Islamic Center

Police Officer Barry Goodwin squatted next to a woman finishing her prayers inside the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.

He listened to her explain why she had a right to pray in the main hall of the mosque, while a mosque employee countered that she was violating the rules.

“I don’t know the rules,” Goodwin, who’d been called to the mosque by the employee, admitted to the woman and the mosque employee.

“What’s going on here?” asked Goodwin.

What was going on was a protest last Saturday, Feb. 20, against the center’s requirement that women pray behind an 8-feet-tall, wooden partition at the back corner of the mosque, behind the male worshippers. The protest was led by Fatima Thompson, 44, of Owings Mills, Md.

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WAMU 88.5: Stand In Review

Women’s E-news: Protesters Break Rules at Leading Mosque

Omar Sacirbey: Muslim Women Launch Long-Ditch Effort to Remove Prayer Partitions

AFP: In US, Muslim women challenge mosque separation

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

41 thoughts on “Stand In at D.C. Islamic Center”

  1. I don’t know how I feel about this. I agree that women should have access to the main prayer hall. I see no good reason for the “penalty box.” I have attended masjids such as the Islamic Society of San Francisco and Masjid-al-Islam in Oakland where women prayed in the same room as men, participated in meetings, and were valued members of the community, and I approve.

    However, it seems that this protest resulted in bad publicity for the Muslim community. Do we need the police in our masjids?

    I’m not saying it was wrong. I need to think about it. I suppose a lot depends on the bylaws and constitution of the masjid. Are the Imam and Shura elected? Are elections annual? Are women allowed to vote? If so then it would be better to act within the bylaws to change the rules.

    And Allah knows best.

    1. The Islamic Center of Washington D.C. is known for not having an open process to anyone. A deposed former Imam has been praying jumu’ah outside on the sidewalk for 20 years while jumu’ah also takes places inside the masjid. The bad publicity is all their (the masjid administration) own making, the sisters repeatedly tried to engage them in conversation, which they declined and then as if to add insult to injury they called the police.

  2. Assalamu Aleykum,

    thanks for sharing. this is an interesting issue for women and for the Muslim community in general. Just because one has a cause to fight for it doesn’t mean that one does not have to follow the Sunnah on how to resolve dissent. May Allah ta’alla guide our actions and enable us to learn & act upon the Sunnah. Ameen

    1. Wa salaam alaykum,

      Ameen. The masjid administration is not interested in resolving anything, they do not even acknowledge there is an issue.

  3. That’s interesting. It’s an intersection of two things where I have an opinion – one,where I think that women ought not to be restricted from the free and equal practice of, well, anything, and two, where I think that the opinions of outsiders toward the practices of a religion don’t matter, so long as those practices don’t affect others. My hunch is that most Muslims don’t really want the opinions of outsiders. Do you think that’s true?

    1. No, I don’t think that’s true as much as some Muslims pay lip-service to not caring what those outside the faith believe, most of them do. One of the biggest complaints we hear about women advocating for better spaces and treatment in our communities is that we may by our tactics bring “bad publicity” to the community. Which begs the question, “bad publicity from who?”

      There are generations of Muslim women who have been encouraged to seek the highest levels of education and/or professional attainment yet when it comes to space in mosques we are asked to countenance injustice for the flimsiest of excuses, which often have more to do with cultural practices than Islam.

  4. Wow, it looked like there was a good turn out. I’m glad that those women did the protest. Insha’Allah, hopefully they will be heard.

    1. Yeah, I wish I had been there, I wouldn’t have minded being arrested. The more publicity the better to begin having serious discussions in our community to effect positive change, in sha Allah.

  5. “Bad publicity from who” — I like that. I imagine from those who like things as they are, and don’t really see a reason to change.

  6. to Anon who stated “Just because one has a cause to fight for it doesn’t mean that one does not have to follow the Sunnah on how to resolve dissent.”

    What IS the Sunnah on resolving this sort of dissent? Approach the “Imam” or “Leadership”?

    They have a closed door policy, evidently, because I called many times on one day and hand delivered a letter for the Executive Director and have received no return contact… even after the protests.

    And about “bad press” – if we are worried about what the world would think of us then we should change our behavior.

    Allah said that He will never change a people until they change themselves…

    Fatima

  7. Correct me if I am wrong, but there is no reason in the Koran that women must pray behind a wall. I see two problems with the modern logic for this issue, the separation of women. First it places them literally and figuratively behind men when it comes to Allah. This unequal relationship does not treat women with the respect they deserve as our sisters, wives, and mothers. Second, it assumes that men will be so distracted by women that they will forget Allah in the mosque. Are we animals, do we have that little control over ourselves? If a man has that little control the absence of women will not help him either. Personally I look forward to the day I can pray next to my wife. Inchalla.

    1. I don’t think separation by itself places women in an inferior position in regards to their relationship with their Creator, however we often see the tools of separation used to place women in a second-class or inferior position in their own communities.

      I also dislike the “distraction” argument, human beings have been elevated by their knowledge and part of Islam is submission to the will of God through which we subdue our more base and animalistic desires.

  8. Not sure that I can agree with you, Ify, From the outside, it looks like what’s been said is that men have base instincts which are inflamed by seeing women, so they have to be kept away to protect men from that nature. Is that really the case? (Though I suppose you could say that this elevates women, since THEY don’t seem to need to be protected from their baser instincts, somehow I don’t think anyone makes that argument.)

    It comes down to what works for believers, I suppose. Is that too glib?

    1. Bill, I’m not sure where we disagree. I, too, think the argument about men being “too distracted” is bs. My argument is rather that I support choice and an individual’s ability to choose any setup for himself or herself and not impose those views on others. I can respect a woman’s choice to pray behind a partition even though that is not my choice and similarly hope that no one would try to force me behind a partition.

  9. “Allah said that He will never change a people until they change themselves…” Would that be analogous to “We are the change we’ve been looking for”?

    (Sorry for the delayed response — either WordPress, Verizon, or Thunderbird *just* told me of the comment. Must have been in hyperspace somewhere.)

  10. ok well as a sister i don’t want to pray standing next to brothers. there’s nothing against the sunnah to pray without a barrier. Hadeeths have shown that men pray in front women in the back. I don’t want to bend over having my butt in front of no brothers. (where is the modesty) with the barrier i can be more comfertable , i can take off my hijab if i want to without worrying about brothers coming.

    Do I disagree with how some Masjids put the sisters in a small little box ? YES
    But if it’s there culture that women do no go to the masjid to gain knowledge they stay at home There’s nothing wrong with that. The prophet (sw) said it is best for women to stay at home, but men should not stop them from going to the masjid. So yes we should be comfertable at the Masjid.
    My grandmother always say dirty laundry should not be washed out in public. Eventhough the adms did not want to talk or listen i think going through a well known sheihk would of been the best way to go about the whole situation.
    If we can’t resolve something like this with each other, what about bigger issues?

  11. Um… seems to me like this was pretty mishandled. Would you like me to come to your house with the press and air all the mistakes you make to the public? Praying behind a barrier isn’t haraam, neither is a religious centers choice of setup. If you don’t like it don’t pray there, your prayer is valid in any other location.

    This makes just about as much sense as me going to the local grocery and demanding they move the shelves around to please ME. Sorry, Islam and the world doesn’t revolve around you.

    1. The houses of Allah are open to the community, even former President Bush got his photo-op with full media at the Islamic Center. If someone doesn’t want to pray behind a wooden barrier they shouldn’t have to, there is more than enough space to accommodate those who wish to pray behind the barrier and those who do not, no one needs to get frazzled or call the police.

    2. yeah there’s plenty of space. lets pray in the foyer too, there’s plenty of space there too. Makes sense right? NO. There’s a brother section and a sisters section. If you don’t like it then pray somewhere else, how can you be so self centered where you believe you can just go anywhere you want and expect the entire building to bow to your own whims?

      You do realize that you also break the lines of salah when you do this, and you also make brothers feel uncomfortable. How would you like it if men made you uncomfortable? Well we actually know how you would feel, last I heard you called the cops on someone who did so.

      I just don’t understand your illogical logic.

    3. Some dude, you’re so ridiculous, and you don’t have your facts straight but I guess that is to be expected from a guy (or are you a gal?) that can’t even keep his/her fake emails straight, at least you remembered your fake name.

      Many times, I’ve been to prayers where the overflow women and children did pray in the hallways, on shoes and with men and workers passing by, while our oblivious brothers were comfortably ensconced inside.

      I haven’t broken any lines of salah nor did I call the police. Get real (name and email address for starters), take your head out of the sand, and if you can’t treat women with dignity and respect I suggest you stay at home with your mama like a good little boy and leave the discussion to the real men and women.

  12. Now I’m offended. I could have come and had a photo-op, and I MISSED the opportunity? I’m crushed.

    Seriously, they’re open? Not just ‘the doors are unlocked, there’s no membership card or secret handshake’, but ‘yeah, we’d be glad to have you’? What if you have *no clue* what to expect or to do?

    1. Bill, you know that’s one reason I avoided some mosques after I converted, didn’t want to make an inadvertent faux pas, if you’re a guy, you’ll be okay but if you’re a woman, there’s also some guy happy to direct you to the “women’s section” or tell you to go away because there isn’t one.

  13. I weighed in on this discussion some time ago and have been following the discussion since. I am glad to see that it is alive and well. I see this as one of many important conversations that needs to go on for Islam in America. As I was reading tt’s comments I wondered how the concern for modesty and the actions of males in the mosque would be different if the Imam was a woman?

  14. Inna lillahi wa inna ileihi rajiun. FEAR ALLAH and always remember the day you will be carried not only to the brothers side of the masjid but in front of the rows of the brothers to be prayed upon. Everything we say or do should be something we will be happy to be asked about on the day of Judgement. Same goes for our time and what we spend it on.

    1. We should all remember to fear Allah, alhamdulillah I believe standing up to the forces of marginalization and misogyny in our communities, which seek to silence, exclude, and render women invisible is most just and a cause for which we will be rewarded.

  15. May Allah protect us all from the fitnah. Yes I would agree that sometimes the sisters areas are smaller but no way or shape or form do I feel inferior bc of it.

    Also before these Protest were done was the sisters as whole consulted and asked if this was something that eveyone wanted to be changed. I my self love that I can be comfortable behind a barrier and relax.

    Also If you don’t want to pray behind a barrier there are more than enough masjids in the area that don’t have partitions but going to every masjid and trying to change what the community is ok with is causing fitnah and why bring the media.

    May Allah guide our actions and make sure this cause is for the betterment of ur deen bc it seems like a publicity stunt. May Allah have mercy on your soul and our soul bc this matter may earn a spot in jahanam! A place where I hope we all fear.

    1. Jay, the issue is not simply prayer space although that is a potent symbol, it is about the access, participation, recognition and marginalization of women in our communities.

  16. So, basically, its about marginalization? Well, heck, Microsoft Word has a ‘reset margins’ command….. (Just trying to help!)

  17. “Jama’ah means a congregation of people who are praying behind one Imam in continuous lines without any barrier or interruption. People who pray behind the Imam they should either see the Imam or see those who are in front of them. There is no Jama’ah when a person is in one room and his/her Imam in another room, the lines are not continuous and the people behind the Imam are also not visible. Otherwise people would not have to come to the Masjid for Jama’ah prayer. They would stay home and pray listening to the loudspeakers from their Masajid or through intercoms. They could nowadays even pray Jama’ah prayer in this way in their own homes listening to the prayer broadcasts coming from Makkah and Madinah on their radios, television sets or through the Internet. But no jurists have ever allowed a Jama’ah prayer in this way.”
    — from: http://www.islamfortoday.com/womeninmosques2.htm

  18. Wow this was interesting…
    I’m a college student girl who covers up and deals with this on an everyday basis in my mosque. I kinda have two views on this one though

    1 – the space that they made for women in that Masjid is completely ridiculous. The men’s side is spacious, while they only reserved a tiny area for the women. In Islam, it’s a sunnah to sepereate according to gender, but that doesn’t mean putting women in the corner, out of sight and out of mind. Men should be mindful of women and their condidtion, then maybe Allah (swt) will look on them favorably for thinking of others before themselves.

    2 – Women should remember that there IS a gender seperation in all mosques. And even from our prophet’s time, women always followed behind men. Just as we put a scarf on our head, we divide ourselves to establish a sense of modisty as well as avoidingthings like sexual tensions. Women shouldn’t be ready to jump next to a man the minute the call of prayer is sounded… if so then just disregard all of our other teachings. I proudly wear the scarf on my head, and I proudly stand where the sahabis chose to stand before me, behind the prophet and not next to him.

    Women shine in Islam than in anyother religion. Dividers are ment to seperate, not seclude. I just hope that all masjids can understand that and make the prayer areas of equal size.

    1. Dignity of space and participation, when our community values that, we will have come a long way towards the Prophetic mission and understanding.

  19. Ify,
    I think that the key to all of these posts is the dignity of participation and space. Without these simple dignities there is a lack of respect. Correct me if I am wrong but Islam emphasizes the need to treat women with respect and dignity. All women should be treated with the respect one would give their mother or sister. Seclusion is an basic lack of respect. I believe that the more Muslim women raise their voices the faster things will change for Islam. God willing.

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