What Would A Muslim Say:

Conversations, Questions, and Answers About Islam

Women at the Mosque Part 1

One major topic I am still unable to reconcile is the treatment of women in Islam. Your book helped to clarify many aspects of this topic such as inheritance and women’s rights.

However I still struggle to be comfortable with the treatment of women today. One major example of this is in the Mosque. Women are kept behind the men. Now, I understand the wisdom behind separating genders in the Mosque but why is the split not done down the middle so that woman are on the left and men on the right rather than front and behind? This greatly hinders the women’s view and experience of the same talk compared to that of a man. Plus the woman will never be able to pray near the mihrab. I can see this perhaps not being as big of a deal in a local mosque, but what about in larger mosques that are true works of art, or in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina? Men can look in awe at the intricacies of the mihrab during prayer but women cannot. In Mecca women will never pray in the shadow of the Kaaba. I can see how this would be off putting for me personally if I were to convert. In many mosques there are certain prayer times the woman is not allowed to attend, or women are not allowed to attend at all.

It is true that worshiping in a group among like minded individuals increases ones feeling of belonging in a religion. Praying in numbers should be allowed to all members of Islam. Men are never told to not worship, why are women? I can see if these rules were instated in a time when women did not leave home often (or whatever the reason may have been), but why hasn’t this practice faded? Why aren’t women allowed to worship at the mosque freely as men? Why are women still expected to pray at home alone?

I have been interested in Islam for a number of years now but I can’t help to have reluctance as a woman joining a religion that seems to be more beneficial and advantageous to men. I am in no way trying to insult or offend; I am curious in general to the Muslim Female experience, so I apologize if this question is misdirected.

former What Would a Muslim Say visitor

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

No worries about offending me; believe me I’ve heard worse.

To get straight to your concern, there are actually many mosques around the USA that have the women’s prayer area to the side of the men’s prayer area. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (my main mosque where I teach) does this. So does the ADAMS Center in Washington DC. Others mosques, like conservative or orthodox Jewish synagogues, have a mezzanine level for women where they can look down on the imam as he leads the prayer or gives the sermon. Finally, some mosques have separate rooms for men and women, but it all comes down to the culture of the particular mosque. Some are more liberal and some are more conservative.

In response to your comment, “In many mosques there are certain prayer times the woman is not allowed to attend, or women are not allowed to attend at all,” I am saddened to admit that there are some very conservative mosques that do this. However, I argue there are many many more that strive for a family-friendly experience. At the time of the Prophet, there was just one big common room for prayer. There is a historical reason for why the Prophet told his community that men pray in the front and women in the back. . .

The Prophets wife, Safiyyah (the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, chief of the Banu Nadir) complained to the Prophet because some of the Bedouins would wink and grab at women during prayer service. This was the reason for the prophet (peace be upon him) saying, ‘Men should stand in front during prayer and females should stand at the back, while children are in between.’

Ibn Abbas radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) shares the following narration: “A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet ﷺ. Some of the people used to go to pray in the first row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her. Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed, “Verily We know the eager among you to be first, and verily We know the eager among you to be behind,” (Qur’an 15:24).

For more comprehensive discussions about this, you can check out this article: http://www.virtualmosque.com/ummah/community/lessons-from-gender-relations-in-the-prophets-society/

As for the major mosques in the Muslim world, or the Madina and Mecca mosques, there are in fact women who prayed in the shadow of the Ka’ba. When I went on pilgrimage, I saw many women who were able to get close to the Ka’ba. It is more a factor of picking a time when it is less crowded rather than a men vs. women thing. When I go to the Hussein or Zaynab mosques in Egypt with my family, there are plenty of women who walk into the front areas to admire the architecture alongside the tourists. When Friday prayer time comes, they go to the mezzanine level where they get an elevated front-row view of the mihrab and the preacher. 

I understand that the status of women in Islam is a contentious issue, but as my wife always admonishes me: “Islam teaches women to be modest and men to be decent; it is individual Muslims who fail to live up to these teaching.”

May peace be with you,

Women at the Mosque Part 1
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