Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Should Women Attend Mosques?

Yes. And I'll explain why.

Having lately moved to a new Muslim community, the subject of women in mosques has been giving me some thought. My recent post, A Mosque for Women Too, brought up a few of the issues on my mind, especially after reading another article discussing one facet of the problem, behavior and treatment of women in mosques, examining a cause and effect relationship. (I.e., the treatment resulting in the behavior.)

But lately it seems I have taken for granted the obvious reasons for women to be at the mosque in the first place. Or, in other words, it seems other people take for granted the need and benefit to involving women in mosques, and are oblivious to the damage resulting from their absence.

Allow me one disclaimer: I am not referring herein to societies in Muslim-majority countries, where a Muslimah is likely surrounded by other Muslims and Islamic resources. I'm more specifically discussing the situation occurring in Western non-Muslim countries, like the USA.

Inside our communities, there are basically four categories of women who I say should be attending mosques, either because they can directly benefit from attending, can provide benefit others, or might get lost in the unIslamic dunya. Moreover, the involvement that various women need might fulfill educational, social, financial, or emotional needs, but I think every woman has educational and social needs the mosque should meet.

Among the women, the categories I mentioned are as follows:
  1. Non-Muslim women
  2. Muslim women who practice a little or none at all
  3. Practicing Muslim women with some knowledge and some weaknesses in practice
  4. Muslim women who are strong in knowledge and practice
1. Non-Muslim Women
Firstly, I start with non-Muslim women, and make that a category, because it is not a rare occurrence for a non-Muslim woman to visit a mosque seeking information about Islam because she is considering embracing the faith of Islam. There are other reasons non-Muslims visit mosques, like school projects and to interview Muslimahs, but perhaps the most pivotal visits are for those women who are considering embracing Islam. Because she is considering becoming a Muslim, she'll want to ask questions and make observations, so is looking for both education and social interaction with Muslim women. These integral steps help her seek more information about Islam to determine whether she is being guided to convert.

Having spoken to many women in that position, and having been there myself, I know how critical this stage is. What if the woman finds no women at the mosque to help her? What if she is turned away, or even insulted by the men who are there? Do you think she is likely to ever return?

A couple weeks ago a woman visited a local mosque around the time for Friday prayers--she didn't know where to find any women, where to go, how to dress, whom she could speak to or what to say. She found brothers who were willing only to take her number to pass on to some sister who could follow-up later. A precious opportunity could have been lost! Alhamdulillah, this woman encountered another Muslimah while she was leaving, who invited her inside to listen to the khutbah and observe the prayers, and who continued the da'wah with her from that point on. Had that not been the case, the woman might have been turned off of Islam forever, and disinterested when she finally got a phone call or email. And the only reason this woman was able to meet that Muslimah in the first place is because women were allowed to come to the mosque, and had a place (though not ideal) to listen to the khutbah and pray.

The mosque is a should be a central pillar of the community, and a key location where someone considering Islam should feel safe to visit, either to observe, meet Muslims, or have their questions answered. If the prospective convert is a woman, she will need other women to talk to, and there should be classes and social events, not to mention regular services, which women can and do attend. These are the needs of a non-Muslim woman at the mosque.

2. Non-Observant Muslimahs
In addition to being open to non-Muslims, the mosque should be a welcoming place for Muslims who are not yet knowledgeable or observant in the practice of Islam. Suppose a young Muslim woman, who has been spending her weekends going to bars and partying, takes a step to improve her spiritual condition by and deciding to forego the club, and visit the mosque instead. In her mind she is doing a righteous thing--visiting the mosque--though she might not know the expectations regarding her dress and behavior while she is there. What would be said to a young Muslim woman walking into the front door of a mosque, dressed like she is going to a party? She might find someone yelling in her face, directing her to leave immediately.

Even though she came to the mosque looking for guidance, for help from the Muslims, she was rebuked, probably insulted, and essentially kicked out. She is looking for more knowledge about Islam to get on the right path, and to make friends with Muslimahs who can help her in practicing Islam, as her old friends were steering her astray. She had two primary needs, educational and social, for which she visited the mosque, assuming it to be the natural place to fulfill these needs. And if she is turned away, where will she go? More than likely, she'll be going back to the bar without any interest in returning to the mosque, and with less guilt about her behavior, thanks to how she was treated.

3. Observant Muslimahs
The third case pertains to women who might have once been in a previous category, but who now, maashaaAllaah, are learning about Islam and practicing what they learn. They already have some Muslim friends who they can socialize with, so do they still need to go to the mosque for social interaction? They already know the basics about Islam, so do they still need to go to the mosque for education? The answer in both cases is yes, and doing so will strengthen their connection to the mosque and to the Muslim community. They should be trying to constantly improve themselves in knowledge, and develop ongoing relationships with other Muslimahs in the community, offering support when needed.

The Qur'an is not silent on the importance of seeking knowledge:

Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, "Are those who know equal to those who do not know?" Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding. [39:9]

And among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colors similarly. Only those fear Allah , from among His servants, who have knowledge. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Forgiving. [35:28]

In fact, if a person is struggling with weakness in iman, a common prescription is that they should increase their knowledge, and with knowledge comes taqwa. A person cannot simply arrive at a level of knowledge and assume that it is sufficient for the rest of their lives--rather, we should all spend our lives trying to improve ourselves. Women have even fewer opportunities to go study Islam full-time than men do, but the best option for them is ongoing education through classes and halaqaat with local 'ulama--and where else should these take place but in the House of Allah, the masjid? So the mosque should serve as a school and a source for the women to learn more about Islam even as their lives are busy with other responsibilities.

As for the social aspect, these women should still try to socialize with other Muslimahs on a regular basis, learning from those better than them, and helping those who are not. In particular, it is important for these women to form a connection with the mosque to cement their connection with Islam, and to protect them against diversions. While it is possible to socialize at places other than the mosque, meeting at the mosque strengthens the bonds of the community, establishing the mosque as a pillar of the community, uniting rather than dividing it.

4. Knowledgeable & Observant Muslimahs
The last category of women are those who have been blessed with knowledge and iman. Maybe classes at the mosque have little to offer them in the way of fresh knowledge--but at least they can be a reminder. But the greater reason women in this category need to attend the mosques is in the benefits they can offer to their sisters, as a good example. They can perhaps teach or just lead with their actions, and they can offer support to other Muslimahs. In this way, a community is not left with the blind leading the blind. With her knowledge, a woman becomes responsible for helping others (by teaching, volunteering, etc.), and doing so also benefits herself, by improving her own knowledge and as she does righteous actions which will benefit her in the Hereafter.

Children and the Mosques
After talking about the immediate reasons why women should attend mosques, it's important to mention children as well. I constantly hear Muslims wondering why their "youth" are not attached to the mosque--is it any wonder when they and their mothers, the people most directly responsible for raising them, are not welcome at the mosque in the first place?

If women are not attending mosques, then it stands to reason that children won't be attending either, at any age. That is, unless or until they begin going with their father. And in that case, if women are not welcome, it's likely that sons will benefit from the mosques but any daughters will be left behind with no incentive to attend. And if a girl doesn't attend as a child, why would she start attending as an adult?

On the other hand, if a child's mother does attend the mosque--for any reason--it offers him (or her, as I am talking about boys and girls here) an opportunity to socialize with other young Muslims, forging bonds with Muslims that will serve him as he ages. He also has the opportunity to observe how adult Muslims behave, to learn the etiquette of the mosque (more), to learn respect for the salah and the reading of Qur'an. And if children are coming to the mosque, it's likely their parents will try to have classes established for them to learn the Qur'an, Arabic, and Islamic studies with other children their age.

So with a mother attending the mosque, her children are already getting a foundation in Islam, and making a connection with the mosque that will support them throughout their lives. Because children grow up to be the men and women of our communities in years to come, we can't ignore them when they are young, unless we want them to ignore us in their maturity.

In this way, women's presence at mosques benefits not only themselves but the entire community, while their absence harms not just themselves but also the entire community. It is not sufficient, especially in Western non-Muslim societies, for women to seclude themselves from society in general, content to let others speak for them. That French people want to ban face veils, thinking that Muslim women are forced to wear them (rather than that they choose to do so) shows what can happen when Muslim women are silent and not active in their larger communities. And how can we as Muslims expect an entire nation to listen to a voice that is not heard, not even present in the mosques? If women are kept out of the mosques, kept from learning about Islam, then they are kept silent, and have no recourse against the oppression which will inevitably befall them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Preacher's Wife

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ (c)Isn't it funny how our parents can make pretty good guesses about our future? My dad had figured out what kind of men my sisters and I would marry, or so he said. He had long thought that one of my sisters would marry a military man, and sure enough, she did. He thought he got my other sister right as well, but I'm not sure what kind of man he is. And for me, I got my dad to tell me, many years ago, what kind of man he thought I would marry. And he thought, for sure, that I would marry a man of the church, a preacher.

Funny how that works out, doesn't it? Obviously when I became a Muslim, marrying any kind of Christian was pretty much out of the question. And it's not like my husband is an imam. But I wonder why my dad figured I would marry a preacher? Because I had a passion for religion, maybe? Or just appreciated that quality in others?

It's not like I could be a preacher myself, because most (though not all) Christians don't have a place for women to be true leaders in the church, and certainly not to be preachers. So involvement in the church, specifically leadership, would probably have to be as a preacher's wife.

Now that I am married I can think back on this and really appreciate the respect for women in Islam, and how Islam has a history of women being scholars of the religion. And I can also think about what my dad's perception of me was then, and how (or whether) it has changed. Our parents know us better than anyone, so what was it my dad saw in me that led him to that conclusion? Because in the past few years I have tried to improve my knowledge about Islam, and I've even taken on some responsibilities in Muslim communities or organizations to help others, at least with respect to the religion. The religion is important to me, and it's important to my husband as well, a trait we share. So was my dad right or wrong?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A mosque for women too

Alhamdulillah, I came across an article from today in my email, with a headline that immediately jumped out at me. Women Behaving Badly in Mosques. It made for a great read today, since I had recently considered writing a similar article myself.

Instead of just complaining about how women behave (which is an easy and unproductive reaction to the observation of such behavior), the article elaborates on the source of that problem, her own reflections parallel to my own.

Before now, there was really very little I could complain about with regard to women in mosques. When I lived in Raleigh, the accommodations for women were excellent, and women could easily integrate into the larger Muslim community, were active on committees and the board and their voices were heard by the administration. Similarly, they took care of some issues to benefit the women and the entire community, allowing resolution of most of the complaints people make about women in mosques.

But now I'm on the other side of the country with a different set of problems. The mosque I've been attending has consistently failed to live up to my expectations. Now, maybe I haven't given it a fair chance but it's hard to make myself go (I rarely, if ever, actually want to go) when I encounter dirty and smelly floors and never have the opportunity to see the speaker, imam, or khateeb. Overall the impression I get when I go is that it's a mosque for men that women are allowed to attend, although not encouraged to. There are some activities for women which I've attended but unfortunately found underwhelming. And I sadly found out just recently that of course there are no women on the mosque's board, and their voices are heard only through "the husbands."

The common response (among men) I've heard when making complaints about facilities for women is that there's not enough space. And as far as excuses go, this one is sickening enough to make me vomit. For men who don't see value in women participating in mosque activities, there will never be enough space. Space costs money, and why spend money on something that they don't need? If women don't need to attend the mosque (arguments being that it's better to pray at home and jumu'ah is not obligatory for them) then why spend money on facilities for them? That's the flow of logic I see when I hear this excuse, that there's not enough space. There would be enough space, I argue, if it were a priority, so clearly it is not a priority and that is the real problem, and not the space.

So because women aren't even welcome in the mosque, their facilities are usually sub-par. The article describes how women sometimes don't know how to behave in the mosque (due to not being welcome in their home countries, often), and often make some mistakes which causes men to further dislike their presence at the mosque in the first place. The author explains also the conflation of the cause and effect in the matter of women being ostracized in their mosques.

Right now I'm trying to come to terms with the situation here, and trying to find a way to improve it, though I lose hope every step of the way. If men don't want women there, and don't care what women want so they (the men) insist on running the show, how are women ever going to get fair opportunities at the mosque? This issue, more than any other, is what bothers me most about my new home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayers for Travel

There's nothing like going on a 2-week road trip to help you learn the du'a of the traveler. My husband and I tried to make it a habit so every day, several times a day, we would repeat this du'a. Unfortunately, we really only would say the short version, which is printed on this little card. A gift from Qabeelat Nurayn, I've kept this card in my car as a reminder, and to help me learn the du'a.

The full version begins with three takbirs ("Allahu Akbar") and then continues as below. The bold bold portion is the only section on the card:

How perfect He is, The One Who has place this (transport) at our service, and we ourselves would not have been capable of that, and to our Lord is our final destiny. O Allaah, we ask You for birr and taqwaa in this journey of ours, and we ask You for deeds which please You. O Allaah, facilitate our journey and let us cover its distance quickly. O Allaah, You are The Companion on the journey and The Successor over the family, O Allaah, I take refuge with You from the difficulties of travel, from having a change of hearts and being in a bad predicament, and I take refuge in You from an ill fated outcome with wealth and family.

So you see, the real du'a in the prayer is the part that comes after what we would read, which is praise and a reminder. The full portion we only read on occasion, when I'd dig out my du'a book. I think it's important to know this du'a and the meaning (translation) of it, to remind us especially while traveling that our welfare is not in our own hands. Firstly, our means of transport has been provided by Allah, whether we are driving, flying, etc. And we should try, regardless of where we're traveling, to continue to do good deeds, and try to maintain a life of righteousness (birr) and God-consciousness (taqwaa.) And it's good to remember that Allah can take care of us while we are traveling and our families left at home.

When arriving back home, we are supposed to read the above du'a followed by an additional line:

We return, repent, worship and praise our Lord.

Why? Repent for any sins committed along the way, maybe, and just as a general rule we should be asking forgiveness. And Allah has made us return so we should praise Him.

There's also a du'a, while traveling, to make upon entering a new town or village. Honestly we didn't make this du'a very much; the only time I can remember making it was in Sedona, AZ, where we planned to stay for a few days. But looking back, I think we should have made this a regular nightly practice, as we pulled in to our hotels. Maybe we should have even said it wherever we stopped for meals, prayers, or shopping.

O Allaah, Lord of the seven heavens and all that they envelop, Lord of the seven earths and all that they carry, Lord of the devils and all whom they misguide, Lord of the winds and all whom they whisk away. I ask You for the goodness of this village, the goodness of its inhabitants and for all the goodness found within it and I take refuge with You from the evil of this village, the evil of it’s inhabitants and from all the evil found within it.

It would have been good to recite this at our stops because we would have know way of knowing what in a town was good or evil, or which of the inhabitants would guide us in one direction or the other. A lot of times we didn't know what was a good or safe part of town, or what kind of trouble we might run in to.

There's another kind of du'a to make for the locals, which I wish I'd been more diligent about making. Honestly, we had a lot of help from locals along our trip: where to find a starbucks, a good breakfast, or a decent hotel, for instance. Also, which places had the best meals, where to buy particular souvenirs, reports on weather and road conditions. Was it too much to ask that we make du'a for them in return? I think not, and so that is one regret from my trip.

Here is the du'a of the traveler for the resident:

I place you in the trust of Allaah, whose trust is never misplaced.

There's also some supplications a resident should make for a traveler, which I hope to remember should I come across anyone traveling:

(1) I place your religion, your faithfulness and the ends of your deeds in the trust of Allaah.

(2) May Allaah endow you with taqwaa, forgive your sins and facilitate all good for you, wherever you be.
Traveling across the country, we drove through a couple mountain ranges, and I wish I had known about this narration:

Jaabir said: While ascending, we would say:
(i)‘Allaah is the greatest.’
…and when descending, we would say:
(ii)‘How perfect Allaah is.’
Driving through Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests, this might have been especially nice--we would have been making dhikr all afternoon! And then come evening, there is a du'a to make while stopping for lodging.

I take refuge in Allaah’s perfect words from the evil that He has created.

This du'a kind of reminds me of the importance of Qur'an and reading it, and again a reminder that we don't know where evil might be lurking on a journey. There's also a prayer for the traveler as dawn approaches--I'm guessing a good time to make this du'a would be right after praying fajr.

May a witness, be witness to our praise of Allaah for His favours and bounties upon us. Our Lord, protect us, show favour on us and deliver us from every evil. I take refuge in Allaah from the fire.
Since it's most likely the traveler would be leaving his loding and accommodations in the morning, this du'a is nice to ask for protection as the beginning of the day. Any given morning we weren't sure exactly who or what we might encounter during the day. And the du'a ends with asking for protection from the worst affliction, the fire of the Hereafter.

These supplication translations are taken from Hisnul Muslim, or in English, Fortification of the Muslim, available online at The supplications about travel are numbers 89-99, although I didn't print them all here, and some I placed in a different order. All of these supplications should be listed there with English translations, and the Arabic forms as well.

I really hope that next time I travel anywhere I remember to make these prayers. Since I have a copy of the du'a book, I'm not really sure what my excuse is for not making them. And if I'm not making du'a, then the only one really losing is me.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Shahadah Reminders

Last week my husband alerted me to a halaqa for sisters at our local masjid (i.e., the one across the street.) I've since been recommended to this particular halaqa by a few other sisters in the area, so I'm getting the impression it's supposed to be pretty good. I've been twice now--last Friday and this one--and don't think I've really gotten the chance to see what others see.

The first week, the instructor wasn't there as she'd recently been visiting with family overseas. This week's halaqa involved a little bit of catching up, and then it was planned to be short due to some activity at the Redmond Masjid--I can't seem to figure out what it was though. But it was further cut short (and mind you, I'm not complaining about this) by a new sister wanting to take shahadah. That actually took 15-20 minutes--even though the sister had studied Islam plenty before choosing to make this decision, I guess it is the protocol here to run through a crash course in aqeedah for anyone who wants to take shahadah, so the remainder of the halaqa was spent reviewing the articles of faith and pillars of Islam.

In Raleigh, we would basically quickly articulate the primary tenets of faith and practice if the convert was new to the masjid, but not nearly so extensively as I heard tonight. So I begin to wonder how other masajid react when someone wishes to say shahadah?

But more than the aqeedah crash course, a new shahadah is always a reminder of guidance in our lives, a reminder that Allah guides whom He chooses. Maybe if we busy ourselves with da'wah we start to think we have a hand in people finding Islam, but so often people just show up at the masjid, ready to take shahadah (this happens a LOT in Ramadan.) The guidance truly is from Allah, and He leads people to Islam. While we should definitely try to be as active in da'wah as we can (as it's from the Sunnah and has the promise of a beautiful reward), it's plain that we only inite, and we cannot guide.

Watching someone say their shahadah also brings to mind the overwhelming feeling of truly embracing Islam. From a hadith qudsi we know that Allah comes closer to us as we come closer to Him, and it's been my experience that certain acts of worship, performed with sincerity, nourish the soul beyond the imagination. For me, saying shahadah was the first such experience I had being overcome with faith in this way, and I've seen that experience reflected on the face (and in the tears) of many others when they also embrace Islam. Do you wonder why so often converts cry at their shahadah?

At the very least, their sins have been forgiven. Even if they don't know it, all their bad deeds are now written as good, and the effect of that beautiful purification--as we are being purified of our sins by Allah--is not merely academic. It can be felt in the heart, and so it's extremely emotional.

Tonight, getting to see that, just reminded me of what I should be striving for.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Blogging Troubles

See, now you all realize why I've wanted to overhaul my blog--random things start to malfunction. For instance, the banner. You might have noticed, if you had visited in the last few days, that the banner image disappeared. So I replaced it with a picture from my honeymoon, but as I don't have any image editing software (other than paint) there's not much else I can do.

I'd like to post more, but now I'm getting embarrassed to put anything up with the way my blog is looking. So inshaaAllaah I'm going to go all in and get a very nice blog with my own domain and everything. So keep your eyes peeled for that inshaaAllah.

In the meantime I'm just trying to find my way around Bellevue.

ETA: Now I have picasa, but it didn't really do me much good. At least now there's a title up there with the image.