Women at the Mosque Part 2

I would say one of the biggest obstacles I have with Islam is the treatment of women. There are other hesitations I have and some as well regarding Christianity.

Regarding your response about women in the mosque, has it always been a precedent going back to the time of Muhammad that women, for the most part and in most mosques, must be separated or not allowed in the mosque? Are there any passages in the Qur’an or from the prophet Muhammad that set this precedent? My intent is to distinguish if this is a creation of the religion Islam or the culture of the time. When did this practice of excluding women come to be? Why haven’t some mosques abandoned or moved on from this practice?

I read the link you provided and I’m glad to read about the story of Al-Fadl and the prophet. It was said that the prophet never put unfair blame on the woman and that men are held accountable for their actions that result from their desires. This is a relief to have it explained as such because it seems in Islam that gender relations are very skewed at times.

Another topic I am hoping to discuss is the process of conversion. How did that look for you personally? I was raised a Christian and I would say that I have been reading and researching many different religious aspects for over two years at this point. Was there ever a point in time where you felt conviction that you were certain in your decision to convert? One thing that my mind keeps returning to is the fear that I may potentially make the wrong decision and doom myself to hell after life. I don’t feel certain and comfortable in my heart to go one way or the other.

I have read many conversion stories where the individual has a moment of clarity where all doubts are stripped and they feel totally confident in their choice. I have also read that many Muslims feel more accepted in Islam after they go through a life change such as moving to a new city. Many feel it’s best to not identify as a convert because Muslims tend to treat converts differently.

Alternatively, if I wanted to leave Islam how would that look? I have heard so many stories of violence or threats to those who leave. I am hopeful that it is the culture over religion.

former What Would a Muslim Say visitor

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

It has always been my belief that “with dialogue, comes understanding.” The imagined and sometimes real treatment of women in Islam is the #1 concern for a person to accept Islam for themselves. In my experience, this is the case for men as well as women. Therefore, it is perfectly normal to feel as you do, and I hope, God-willing, this conversation will be beneficial to you and help you make your decision.
To proceed. . .
Regarding the mosques, the precedent for separating men from women during prayer does in fact go back to the time of the Prophet (pbuh). This was mentioned in my previous email. However, the actual exclusion of women from attending the mosque at all is NOT.
After Muhammad’s death, many of his followers began to forbid women under their control from going to the mosque. Aisha bint Abi Bakr, a wife of Muhammad, once said, “If the Prophet had lived now and if he saw what we see of women today, he would have forbidden women to go to the mosque even as the Children of Israel forbade their women.” The second caliph Umar also prohibited women from attending mosques especially at night because he feared they may be sexually harassed or assaulted by men, and he asked them to pray at home. This seems rather bad, but there is a little-known historical fact that Media had a prostitution problem. Yes, the Prophet was able to reduce this vice through his wisdom and charisma, but after his death it made a comeback. So we understand Aisha’s comment as a reflection of some prostitutes using the mosque as a recruiting post, and we understand Umar’s comment as a reflection of most women being mistaken for prostitutes and getting solicits and vulgar proposals. So we see from the context of these two narrations that it was the presence of impropriety that prompted the discouragement of women’s mosque attendance. My point is that the Prophet explicitly told his community “Do not forbid God’s female servants from His mosques.” However, it is due to the behavior of some women and many men that the early Muslim community leaders restricted the attendance of women, especially the night prayers.
Having said all that, there are many mosques around the world who have done away with this restriction as each society has developed away from the licentiousness of 7th century Arabia. It is no longer the case (in most countries) that the mosques are a good “pick up ground” for sex workers or even for young men and women in search of illicit relationships. That social context is no longer there. That is why every mosque I’ve ever attended here in the northeast USA has allowed women to enter. Some have separate rooms for women and some have separate sections, but all are welcome to attend.
As for the gender rules in Islam, there are diverging opinions among experts concerning gender segregation. On the one hand, there have been fatwas which forbid free mixing between men and women (known as Ikhtilat), especially when alone. The objective of the restrictions is to keep such interaction at a modest level. Islamic jurisprudent laws have traditionally ruled that Muslim men and women who are not immediate relatives may not, for instance, socialize in order to know each other with a handshake (for any reason) and any form of contact which involves physical contact, and even verbal contact to a certain extent. On the other hand, a number of westernized Muslim intellectuals have challenged this view and claim that certain physical contact is permissible as long as there is no obscenity, inappropriate touching (other than a simple handshake), secret meetings or flirting, according to the general rules of interaction between the genders. My view is that if an interaction feels sketchy, then it probably IS sketchy, and the Prophet clearly spoke out against this kind of over-sexualization of human interaction. Sexual harassment is real and Islam aims to minimize the potential and actual occurrences of this. It also aims to remove excessive sexual innuendo from society in order to attain a more God-conscious society.Finally, when it comes to my own faith, let me first say that I am not a convert in the usual sense of the word. I was born in Egypt and raised in Maryland with both parents Muslim. However, they were more cultural than religious so I didn’t really find God until they had a messy divorce and I did some soul-searching. Perhaps you might call me a “born-again Muslim” . . . after studying Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I decided that Islam was the only religion with a valid claim to truth. I am a little embarrassed to say that my decision was partly spiritual and partly pragmatic. I was reading about Pascal’s Wager, and the more I thought about all these religions in this cost-benefit approach, the more I realized that there are only two world religions which explicitly claim a horrible end for those who do not follow their faith: Islam and Christianity. I never felt any pull from Christianity because it was clear that the view of Jesus evolved from the historical Jesus warning apocalypse into Low Christology (Jesus was a human who was exalted after death to god-hood) and then evolved again into High Christology (Jesus was a pre-existent divine being that lived temporarily as a human). The history of the religion argues against its main premise. Since the claims of Christ’s divinity were patently and provably false to me, that left me with Islam. 

So then I looked at Islam more deeply. The thing I kept coming back to was the Qur’an. This book is a very strange and amazing document that is almost impossible to explain away as some composition that Muhammad the son of Abdullah dreamed up in 7th century Arabia. He was an unlettered man in an ignorant and backward society. . . how could he come up with the Qur’an’s content? So I guess my first leap of faith was to accept the Qur’an as what it claims to be: a message from God to humanity. Once I made that choice and started living my life according to the authentic teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad, then the spiritual part became more and more prominent. It is as if there must be a leap of faith to enter, but once inside, God opens His doors of guidance and I started feeling and seeing things that confirmed and strengthened my faith.

It is true that many converts, as well as “born-again Muslims,” have experienced moments of clarity where all doubts disappear, but those are fleeting moments. Inevitably every believer (besides the Prophets) experience doubt and uncertainty and even crises of faith. So while I do encourage you to continue asking questions and seeking answers until there is no more doubt in your mind or fear in your heart, I advise you to be aware that doubts and uncertainty are part of the spiritual experience, even in Islam. Accepting Islam is not the end or destination, it is just taking up the path of the journey to God.

Finally, people leave Islam every day. I have met many ex-Muslims. While Islam gains converts on one side, there are many Muslims (mainly youth who were raised in a nominally Muslim family) who leave Islam. Yes, in other countries, there are threats and violence, but in this country, it is just a sad reality that the Muslim community here faces. Everybody knows about it but most prefer not to talk about it. Most converts who leave Islam simply leave the community, too; so they stop coming to mosque and basically avoid the Muslims there. Each community is different and each convert’s experience is different so I don’t know how that would look like for you.

May peace be with you,
Ahmed

Women at the Mosque Part 2

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