Muslim Women Seek a Warmer Welcome Inside Mosques

Masjid of Al-Islam with the Imam W. Deen Muhammad in Atlanta, where women sit at the back of the mosque. (Photo via Side Entrance,  submitted by the Atlanta Masjid of al-Islam)

Masjid of Al-Islam with the Imam W. Deen Muhammad in Atlanta, where women sit at the back of the mosque. (Photo via Side Entrance, submitted by the Atlanta Masjid of al-Islam)

A movement by Muslim women activists seeking to make mosques more welcoming to female worshippers is gaining momentum, reports Hajer Najli for Women’s eNews.

Women shared their experiences of visiting mosques at a discussion organized in the last week of March by Women in Islam, a New York-based organization working to empower Muslim women through knowledge and practice of Islam.

Matea, who did not want her full name published, wished to join the life of her local mosque after converting to Islam in December 2013. But she soon was disillusioned.

“When I first converted I wanted to be part of the mosque environment. But I went to mosques and what I found was sort of an unwelcome environment for women,” she told Women’s eNews.

“The spaces are separated, there are different rooms and sometimes it was even in the basement,” Matea continued. “And as a convert, it feels very strange to you. I used to go to church and everybody is part of the same community. You can see the preacher. You can hear the sermon very well.”

But American Muslim women are no longer hiding their unease. Some are becoming more vocal about the practice of restricting women worshipers to the side doors and corners inside mosques around the nation.

Hind Makki, a Chicago-based activist and educator, invited people from around the world to share photos of the mosques they attend and highlight the differences between male and female prayer areas through the Side Entrance project on Tumblr and Facebook.

“We show the beautiful, the adequate and the pathetic,” says the Side Entrance’s introduction on Tumblr.

In order to improve women’s treatment inside the mosques, Makki is advocating for a broad discussion by religious leaders, mosque architects and lay Muslims.

Some within the Muslim community agree that mosques should be welcoming to women and not insist on separation of men and women.

“There should be no enforced barrier,” said Cyrus McGoldrick, executive director at Majlis ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York, also known as the Islamic Leadership Council.

He gives the example of Islamic Center of New York University in Manhattan, where women pray behind the men in the same space. But then there are others who discourage women’s presence inside the mosques.

Farida Kabir, who is of Bangladeshi descent, was stopped by her own family from attending prayers at the mosque.

When she finally went to a mosque two years ago after she was married she felt unwelcome. “A man told me this is not the place to be, come back another time!”

Makki doesn’t agree with those who blame budgetary constraints for less space for women inside the mosques, calling it more a matter of attitudes.

“If a community is ideologically opposed to providing women access to sacred space, it doesn’t matter how big their budget is–women will not have equitable facilities,” Makki said. “If a community believes it is the prophetic tradition to provide women access to sacred space, even if their budget is tight, they will find a way to equitably accommodate female congregants.”

For more on Muslim women’s mosque experience, go to the original article.

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