Sunday, June 17, 2007

Women in the Masjid

Never enough. For whatever reason, I had been very slack about attending Friday evening programs at the masjid in the Spring. (I can tell you the reason actually... it was working from 3:30-7:30am on Thursdays, staying up all night Thursday, and then being dead dog tired by the time I got off work on Friday afternoon, so sleeping instead.) Nevertheless, now that is over, Friday afternoon rolls around and I think, "Yes, I should go to the masjid!" Last week I made a particular point of praying maghrib there when I could. That was three times last week... Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. (I work 8p-12 on Monday and Thursday.) Alhamdulillah, that was so refreshing. I missed doing that more often.

Friday was an odd experience, though. I went to the class for sisters with the imam--they are reading Riyad-us-Saliheen (I mentioned this before) one chapter a week. I've been there for most of the last few classes... and the imam still teases me about taking notes. Maybe other people can commit things to memory on one shot, it takes me a few tries. But then I review the notes and things stick better. So anyway, the topic I mentioned before, seclusion.

The topic took so long to discuss, though, that there wasn't time for general q/a afterwards , and I had a question I wanted to ask for some friends. But class was over so I just went to pray. I didn't go to jumu'ah that day, but found out only after the maghrib salaat that the night program between maghrib and isha was q/a with the imam!!

Before I go there, I want to say that praying in the masjid when it's crowded can sometimes be an adventure. This is because no more than 25-35 sisters can fit in the musallah to pray (this amounts to two small rows... the brothers have far, far more room, and the sisters then are forced to pray outside of the musallah (ok this makes me angry) inside the gym... where the small children are playing!! It is very noisy and difficult to concentrate out there... balls flying, never know when one might come and hit you (this has happened to me, hit by a basketball in salaat!). But sometimes in the musallah it's not much better. For example. there were maybe 45 bodies, maybe 50, in the women's "section" (ugh how I hate to call it that.) Little bodies. Little, fidgety, whining, screaming, roaming, climbing, pushing bodies. And strollers!! Women are praying in the gym and they bring their strollers into the musallah!?!?

Okay, well anyway it's packed as usual, there's not enough room for the women quite obviously, but usually what happens is after the salat, the women who prayed go back out with the women who didn't pray (I'm very skeptical they are all on their periods.... mm-hmm...) and they spend the rest of the evening chatting and so forth outside while their children run amok (they are everywhere around the masjid, running through people, jumping over walls, playing ball in the parking lot in the dark.)

Then a few women remain inside the musallah to listen to the q/a, most of them hiding behind the partition, some behind the opening against the wall, and me and another sister practically in the opening leaning against a pillar. And the imam starts from the right... which is of course the left, but anyway, it's his right to start from his right and call it the right if he wants. So the opening of the women's section is more or less in the middle, in the back, and I'm on the far right pillar (which is of course the left pillar) to ensure I get to ask this question that I told my friends I would ask.

And he goes around... someone asks about 401k plans, someone asks about children playing around them during prayer. At that question, he talked also about having a sutrah, and if there is a wall, moving close to the wall to keep people from walking in front of you during the prayer. (Adults, that is, because children don't matter, and this is talking about an individual salaat, not one in jam3at.) He said even step forward if a space opens in front of you. That got me thinking...

So once the mic came to me (and I was sitting in such a position that I'd get it as soon as I could and not let it pass me) I asked first my question about praying one rakaah on time and catching the prayer, and then I kept the mic (uhoh!) and asked this other question. You see, he said to try to pray close to the wall of the qiblah if you didn't have a sutra (he meant the front wall of the masjid or room or whatever) and so I asked... if women are told to pray in the back... is it better for women when they are praying alone to pray in the back, or near the wall.

The answer is unclear. But either way, people should place a sutrah in front of them so people aren't constantly walking in front of them distracting them. The problem of course is this very small space for the sisters, and when there are a lot of sisters... they pray behind the imam without a sutrah, you see. Then, they stand up and start praying sunnah. Even the sisters in the back row do this, and the women in the front turn around, walk in front of them to get out the door. And even as it thins out, you find women opting to perform their sunnah salat in the back row. Ok, I never ever do that, unless there is no way I can avoid it. I didn't know you could move up though so I'll do that from now on inshaaAllah.

I think it doesn't matter where you are, as long as you've got something in front of you. For my own part, I'd rather be against the wall (or in my case, partition) than even have a sutrah (which is going to be my keys and sunglasses most likely, unless I happen to bring my purse in as well) because I can still see people walking in front of me. So I just move to the front when I can. And for my own added simplicity, I usually pray in the front row too... yeah, I can hear you saying "but sister, the best rows for women are the back..." and all I can say is if praying in the back row is more difficult, and more distracting, it's not better. Besides, the door is in the back so lining up back row first doesn't make sense, does it? You'd have to walk through a row to get to the front and that's just silly. But it's worth mentioning that if I want to pray a few rakaat sunnah after the fard jam3at salaat then I can do that without having to worry about finding a space, or waiting until it clears out, etc. I'm so obnoxious about this I know... but anyway.

So I asked my question, then offered the mic to other sisters. A young girl had come up beside me now, maybe 8-10, with a folded up piece of paper. She was reading a question for her aunt. It was kinda cute really, but I had to help her with it because I think the hand-writing wasn't clear. Then pass the mic again... another sister has a question. Then another one. Then another one. MAA SHAA ALLAH! Then another! Then another!! And we aren't supposed to ask more than one question but several of the sisters were. When I did, heh, the imam was like "for the sister, ok." But this was silly. Some of their questions were silly (I think this after I have heard them time and time again) but all the same, they were asking. Typically, when I have been there on nights like this, the women are very shy about asking questions... very shy.

There is one sister who would come up with questions and want me to ask them for her, in the past. But I didn't like the questions, and she was even asking me how to ask them, to ask them for her... and I found them very offensive to ask so I wouldn't do it. But mashallah, several sisters tonight, many who I hadn't even seen spend much time there before, were asking questions. There is a new sister who has been coming to the class for sisters who is from Malaysia and she asked a few good questions, and there was another who I haven't seen before, and then another young sister like myself who comes to the class... young sisters. I think this kind of participation is excellent really, and is a step towards getting women to be more active in participating in the community, aside from babysitting and children's events.

The only problem was that with the sisters asking all these questions, they sort of monopolized the time. About half of the session was spent answering questions from sisters. Although, I must say, the questions were not all about women's issues (like menstruation etc.) One sister asked the difference between ghusl and wudu and if one could make ghusl in the shower. (Actually, she called it goosa. The imam didn't understand at first... goosa.) One asked about if women could touch the Qur'an or enter the masjid during their periods, one asked if impurities on the clothes necessitated wudu.

If anyone is reading this and finds that I shouldn't apologize for women participating "equally" (I said they got about half the time and called it a monopoly) I should mention that there were many more brothers than sisters present, and many were left with questions unanswered because all the sisters were asking more than one question. (OK, I do feel bad about that precedent... and yeah I thought some of the questions were kind of embarassing.) But the reality is that there is an open q/a session for just sisters every month, just for sisters. The brothers aren't so lucky, so I figure hey they deserve a turn too.

But I'm happy that the women were so willing to participate. One asks and then the others aren't so afraid to do that... alhamdulillah. Upcoming post inshaaAllah: why there need to be women in the masjid.

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