Muslimaat and Masajid…Quandry or not?—well, it depends!

asalaamu alaikum…

I was inspired for this post by reading a recent post on Hegab Rehab about that sisters difficulties with actually being able to get inside her local masajid for salaat. I personally just wanted to share my own thoughts on this “issue” which unfortunately is quite a “hot topic” in man Western Muslim communities…i.e. what to do about Muslim women and Mosques (masajid)

I guess I am one of the “lucky few” that is blessed to live in a city where all the masajid I have regularly attended have been sister-friendly. The masjid I attend *generally* is a converted Mormon temple, the musallah is the top, main floor and it has a wide, open space plan. There is no real “divider” between the men and women except for a low 3 foot wooden book shelf which basically just divides the space. This is how the masjid has been for the past 12 years I have attended there. Recently-like since we returned from Saudi the have no put up folding dividers which go from the low book shelf to the walls. I believe this was generally done because the brothers were starting to take over the sisters space…like you’d walk into the womans side and literally be stepping over brothers. If you dont sit right infront of the divider you can still see over and see the Imaam giving his khutbah. The masjid tends to be relatively sister friendly with many sisters in roles of importance within the community and many programs aimed at women-even a sisters fitness class! The other masajid in the city are generally equally female friendly…although some are converted homes or libraries and so the floor plan isnt as open. The other masjid which I used to attend quite frequently up until a few years ago had the women in a separate *huge* room within the masjid, beside the mens area with just a curtain dividing them. I frankly didn’t mind this as the womans area was actually larger than the mens and had its own bathroom, kitchen, closets and play room and everything else and plus the majority of sisters wore/wear niqab and they preferred being able to come to Jummah, take off their niqabs, their abayaat and lounge in jeans and teeshirts while their kids played, listening to the khutbah. They would then put everything back on, and go and pray behind the men in the mens area.

I’ve also traveled a lot around the US both before and after marriage and generally would try to see the local masajid wherever I was at. Most masajid I found were relatively sister friendly. Only a few stuck women in a tiny room the size of a closet or had no womens space at all-bummer!

I’ve personally found that generally whether sisters are welcomed to the mosque does often boil down to the majority cultural group which founded that masjid. Lets be frank…some “muslim cultures” do not welcome women into society and do not think they should go to the masjid at all! Hence people from those cultures come to a western country bringing those beliefs with them.  Or perhaps the community is just to small that really few if any women attend. There are some masajid which are just rented office space or a part of house…but generally I’ve found culture does come into play!

As far as my experiences in other countries goes…like in Saudi…Its unfortunate to say but atleast in the area we lived in, women were not welcomed in the masajid.  We lived in Al-Khobar and the *only* prayer rooms I ever prayed in outside of the home was those in the local malls. The local community masajid otherwise did not welcome women at all. Infact once we all jumped in the car to attend Friday salaat at this masjid which was walking distance from our compound only to find the womans side was locked. So we sat for 10minutes waiting to see if any women came…nope! I later learnt that the local women in that area only attend the masajids during Ramadan! Yet this is not necessarily the norm everywhere in Saudi. In the predominantly Shia areas of Qatif and Saihat all the masajid there had dedicated sections and even small mosques for women. I have also heard that Jeddah is generally a female in masjid friendly city. Whats funny is when I tell sisters here that in the area of Saudi we were in…women were not welcomed in the masajids they don’t believe me…but trust me…outside of more “liberal areas” the Haraam in Makkah and the Prophets Masjid in Medinah are the exceptions. During our first Omrah we went to pray at the Prophet SAWS first masjid in Medinah-Quba masjid…and I was shocked to see that they didn’t let women *inside* the masjid. Instead all of us women were forced to pray outside on the tiles, under the hot sun in our abayaat with female guards surrounding us with a small grill to look through INTO the masjid!  Kind of shameful is you ask me! I had so looked forward to being *inside* the Prophet SAWS first Masjid in Medinah!

Now, contrast that to Iran. Iranian masjids welcome women and pretty much every single masjid I’ve been in over there from small neighboorhood masjids just open for salaat to large, tour group drawing ones always-always- have a large room set aside for female worshippers! Infact its so culturally OK for a woman to go to the masjid that many are even “hang out joints” where women go, socialize and even nap! Often the womans prayer areas in masjids around Universities draw female students who come to rest and do home work between classes! Its even 100% acceptable to come and sleep during the afternoon siesta….many other women and families do so as well! Outside during the hottest part of a July day? Sleep in the park-or-sleep in the masjid. hehehehe.  But seriously, the womens side of the masjids are actually quite nice and fun places to be. They have full dividers up and there are often books everywhere and interesting things here and there.

Personally the way I look at it…like there shouldnt be problems with women attending their local masjid for salaat. Particularly if your in a western country where it will be Muslims of every racial and cultural group in the community! Even the smallest rented office space should keep atleast a smidgin of room in the back or side for women wanting to attend!

Often Muslims forget that that Muslim women are not forbidden from going to the masjid. There are even hadeeths about the Prophets wives going to the mosque and praying there. Yes we know its not fard for women to pray inside the masjid…but they arent banned! …And what about the children? Generally the kids are with the women…so if the women cant go or there is no space for them…where does that leave the kids? They in turn wont go and wont have any connection to the muslim community unless their father drags them along.

Personally…I see all kinds of wrong here!

What about your community?

[You know, I wanted to add, but got off track that I personally dont necessarily mind a small divider between the male and female worshippers in the masjid, much as I dont mind how during Ramadan iftaars the men sit upstairs and the women downstairs. To me thats fine…personally I’d rather not mix with men anyway, regardless of inside the masjid or outside (obviously as a future Nurse, en’shallah, I’ll be handling male patients but thats different from socializing, thats medical and a necessity…anyway, I digress)…Ive found that any time the brothers and sisters are able to socialize too freely in the masjid problems arise, which is one reason why I tend to prefer to stay in the sisters areas. So I dont think small dividers or having a womans space and a mans space in and of itself is wrong…but whats wrong is when the womans space is incredibly small and not fairly given or women are barred from the masjid entirely…Allahu alim]


14 thoughts on “Muslimaat and Masajid…Quandry or not?—well, it depends!

  1. This is something which has often concerned me in my local community. It seems unreasonable to have locked doors, cramped spaces, and complete separation. If we are coming together as an umma, why should the mosque be a place to separate us? That’s why I devoted my time and energy to working together with others to develop a new masjid which will be inclusive. In sha Allah.

  2. As salaamu alaikum. Here in Toronto, you get a little of everything. Some are really active and family friendly with separate areas for the children and others have tiny rooms for sisters and the brothers don’t respect the space (opening the door and looking for their wives, etc).

    It is really damaging when sisters cannot come to the masjid. When I first came here from the States and did not know anyone, the masjid in our old neighborhood had no women attending and it was a very lonely time. That community has an aversion to females being out of the home at all, so AlhamduLillah we moved. May Allah guide us all, Ameen.

  3. Women are allowed inside Quba musjid, I went inside,but the ladies section is small,maybe it was full that’s why they never let you in.

    • Really…wow…no I dont think it was crowded as we went outside of season…like the first time we did Omrah was in the early spring and even the Haraam was semi-empty and it was really just GCC locals and some Turks there, also in Medinah women were *not* allowed into the womans side of the Prophets Masjid either…I tried several time to get in and was refused along with most other women I saw…so either because there wasnt many pilgrims they just didnt want the hassle or what…I dunno…but during the first time I never got inside either place. The second time we went which was in season-mid summer…We didnt even go to Quba but I did get inside the Prophets Masjid…I think cuz there were soooo many pigrims then…they couldnt keep them back. Also the first time we went there were almost no mutaween in the Haraam or the area around the Prophets masjid…verses…in season, places were crawlin’ with them.

      So…maybe it depends on when you go!

  4. We don’t have a masjid here. There used to be one up in Denver that had a tiny, stifling room for women. Now they keep trying to find places to rent and most of them have had women’s space separated from the men by dividers. I don’t know where they’ll end up next. There is a Sunni masjid here in town but I’ve only ever found it locked. I work during the Friday prayer time, though, and I think that might be the only time they’re open outside of the month of Ramadan.

  5. I really don’t understand how this keeps happening (ok, aside from cultural difficulties…). Didn’t women pray in the mosque behind the men, without ‘dividers’, in the Prophet’s time? Wasn’t it just normal?

    When I was in the Gulf area, the women of the family I was staying with never went to the masjid, which I thought was kind of a bummer! They only went on special occasions…. otherwise they just prayed at home (which is fine), but I definitely was never invited to go to the masjid when the men went, even on Fridays.

    • By the way, that was my experience during Ramadan and during the rest of the year! So the women weren’t even going to the masjid during Ramadan!

  6. The local community here; who try to strictly adhere to Qur’an and Sunnah pray without a divider and with men and women in the same room, needless to say this doesn’t go down well with some cultural Muslims (along with their clear speaking out against selling alcohol, consulting soothsayers etc) because its bad enough they are letting ‘the fitnah of women’ into their masajid let alone having them praying in the same room, and there has been a concerted campaign to prevent the Qur’an and Sunnah following Muslims from getting permission to build an actual masjid or rent a building to use as such, and since a lot of these cultural Muslims are in positions of influence in ‘city hall’ their campaign has thus far been successful. The Qur’an and Sunnah following Muslims are forced to rent rooms in a Church run community centre, and this harms the entire community. Another masjid a few years back welcomed sisters and did a sisters halaqa and quelle horeur (sp) even had sisters on the committee in charge of the masjid; when I advertised their halaqas on a message board; I got brothers replying saying its haram for women to come to the masjid; women should only learn and pray in their homes; and if its a sister who is a revert or has a home that isn’t suitable for sisters to come to learn with her in; then thats tough.

    • yah unfortunately there are always clashes between the cultural Muslims and the religious Muslim…very, very, very typical. Our masjid has that issue too from time to time.

  7. in my home city most masjids(they are not separate buildings but rented space from some building etc.) are female-friendly and have enough space for all that attend (no extra space though) so jumah is usually full but still women have space to pray. but on black friday when i attended, first women were filling the womens side and in the middle of khutba some brother came to ask all the sisters to move downstairs (a bit smaller space) cos brothers were coming to use the womens side. in the middle of khutba! they were late from jumah and standing in the hallway and then they move us to somewhere else (and cos speakers were not on we coulnt here the khutba and hardly heard the prayer.). it was public holiday so they should know better and come EARLY so we could have changed our place better. it kinda set the mood off. and those brothers should know that it is fard for them to pray every jumah at the masjid, not just public holidays…

  8. Well, I agree with your comments- here’s a few extra points:

    Some people don’t like women coming to the masjid because then all the kids come along as well, and problems arise from the noise and distraction that arise.

    On Fridays, and especially in Ramadan, the men like their food ready when they return from the masjid, so it’s more convenient to leave the women at home to finish all the preparations.

    And finally, I’ve heard some men complain about the fitna caused by sisters turning up at the crowded masjid for Jum’aa wearing tight, inappropriate clothing and moving through the brother’s areas, or standing around outside main entrances making displays of themselves.

    I have to add- these comments don’t necessarily reflect my own opinions- but in my experience they are real factors. What do you think?

    • I think it’s good for kids (at least the ones old enough to understand that they have to behave!) to go to the masjid so that they experience it from an early age.

      I noticed when I was in the Gulf during Ramadan that the women of the house were busy all day preparing food for Ramadan and barely got around to their prayers or had to rush to do them, which was a shame! Although the food was DELICIOUS!!! lol But still, it’d be nice if they got to be more involved in other Ramadan activities, aside from food!

      It is a shame that some sisters go the masjid in that way, but it is worse if that prevents sisters who are appropriately dressed and behaving modestly from attending prayers there. On the other hand, I’ve seen some brothers turn up at the masjid wearing questionable outfits too, and no one rebukes them! :p

    • wa salaam, yes I agree that some sisters do make a display of themselves at the masjid…still, just cuz a few do it, all sisters shouldnt be barred…1-the masjid shopuld have more stringint policies about attire in the masjid and sisters ought to take it upon themselves to ensure others attending arent dressing like hootchies with a scarf on. LOL and 2-the brothers shjould be lowering their gaze and not lookin’ in the first place.

      I dunno… just a few thoughts of mine…

  9. Um, while I know you say those are not your opinions Halima; I do find it quite shocking whosoever believes those things.

    1) Most sisters I know who want to attend jumu’ah or regular congregational salaah, do tend to be either younger sisters not married and without kids; or older ladies who perhaps have grown up kids. Even if they are not; there is nothing in the deen against bringing children to the masjid; providing they can behave reasonably well and are toilet trained. Certain rather cultural sects have something against kids coming to the masjid but that is more cultural than having any Islamic basis. In my experience those cultures that frown on kids attending the masjid tend to have the absolutely worst behaved kids on the rare occasions they do attend masjid; ie the two eids.

    2). In the west most brothers have to work on Jumu’ah even if they are allowed a break at salah time on a Friday so by the time they come back from work at 5pm their womenfolk; if they are not working themselves have had maybe 4 hours to cook dinner, obviously in Muslim countries it is different but there are always restaurants; or maybe cooking food in advance or heating it up; thats if you believe that all the ladies in a family are needed to make one meal.

    3)Again I do notice its in the cultures where women are not really welcome at the masjid; that when some women from those communities or cultures do attend masjid on very rare occasions; they dress inappropriately. I believe this is because they simply have not had a chance to have the learning experience of proper masjid etiquette. The community I know; the vast majority of sisters wear overhead abayas or a two piece outfit that looks similar, and the majority wear niqab as well. You do get some brothers who also loiter outside the masjid or places where they hold classes, sometimes harassing female passers by and this is never addressed. I do know of masajid which were closed down, such as the only masjid at one university which was also the only masjid in that entire town, because of this problem and female students both Muslim and non-Muslim felt threatened.

    The main problem here is not sisters wanting to attend jumu’ah anyway but sisters when out and about being unable to pray AT ALL because there is either no womens section in a masjid or if there is it is locked most of the time. Would those brothers rather the sisters pray in the street, at risk of being attacked, than in the masjid? It seems in a lot of cases, they would.

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