Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A mosque for women too

Alhamdulillah, I came across an article from altmuslimah.com 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.


Sabirah said...

have you had a chat to the other muslimas in the area? what about a petition? Is it crowded? In our masjid, the men's area is really fancy and consists of two large rooms, the women's space is where they are storing the heaters and chairs etc and just tiny. But they don't seem to mind, they even joke about it.

Amy said...

Wow, thankfully it's not that bad here, I just have a higher standard in mind. There are some different activities for women, some not at the mosque at all, and truthfully there are some other mosques in the area. I understand one is undergoing expansion and is improving the state for women.

But at your masjid things seem even more bleak. I hope it improves, because that is sure to turn people off more than anything here.

A Brother said...

'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?'

As somebody who finds this logic pretty compelling- I fail to see the problem, assuming there's anything wrong at all. Mosques are strapped for cash as it is- why pay for a resource we don't really need?

Now before you bite my head of- try formulating a counter-argument. And then make a post of it :)

Why should women be included on mosque boards? Why should they have their own space in which to pray? Etc.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant 'off'

Sabirah said...

yeah, women at masjid are tiresome. half of them might not even be able to pray cos they have their monthly stuff the other half is moaning about or gossipping, not paying attention to the kuthba anyway. they only come in handy when there is food needed for an event or ramadan and that is the only thing that they are good at anyway. why taking them to the masjid if they have husbands and sons that understand islam and hopefully have them under control.

Anonymous said...

dont they have a vacuum cleaner? in our mosque there are no paid employees to cleanup the carpets etc and we do it ourselves.

If they have cleaning equipment then why don't you do it yourself or with your friends? would be a good exercise in getting reward. and your mosque does not have vacuum or cleaning stuff then how about raising funds to buy such stuff and place it in the mosque? its the house of Allah and i m sure you ll be rewarded.

point is if you are not willing to do it yourself then why are you making noise about other people not doing it? you do not have the right to complain here.

Amy said...


There's a few different problems with your response, I hope you'll allow me to address. Firstly, as a newcomer to the area, how am I supposed to know about the facilities management of the masjid right off the bat? I'm not. So let me talk about the vacuum situation. The floor is vacuumed every Friday. So it's clean on Fridays--well, it doesn't have small bits of food and paper scattered about. But it still smells. And trust me, my initial reaction to the icky floors was to purchase cleaning equipment and address the problem myself. But it seems that they already have the equipment. So then my bigger complaint is why the floors aren't really being taken care of in the first place--I'm fairly certain that the last time I prayed there, it was where someone had changed a diaper. (Based on the smell.) That's just gross, isn't it?

But anyway, the floor is vacuumed on Friday's and it's probably even steam-cleaned once in a while.

But who is in charge of doing it? I don't know, and maybe I'm wrong here but I don't think anyone would appreciate my just walking up to the masjid and steam-cleaning the floors. But please don't make the assumption that I'm not WILLING to help clean it up, as that is not the case.

Amy said...

"A Brother:"

The logic is flawed, and the answer you seek should be obvious. The fact that it's not leads me to assume you believe that women are somehow spiritually inferior. If that is your belief, please read the article referenced in my post because its author gives ample evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah to set you straight, that women have EQUAL spiritual value and worth as men. Resources for women ARE needed, unless you want your community to stagnate or utterly fall apart.

Here in the USA for example (and I am explicitly talking ONLY about non-Muslim countries where Muslims are a minority), it's necessary for women to be able to attend the mosques because this is the primary way for them to learn about Islam. (Do I need to explain to you also why it's important that women need to learn about Islam?)

Also, facilities are necessary for women so that children are able to come to the mosque from an early age so it becomes a part of their lifestyle. If women are excluded from mosques, then families are excluded from mosques. Women are charged with the responsibility of raising children, and how can they do that Islamically without access to mosques? If they themselves are stunted by lack of absence to scholars?

It's also important for women to be able to attend mosques from a social perspective--so they can interact with other Muslim women, and to provide interaction for children as well. The mosque should be able to act as a community hub where all the Muslims have access to social and educational infrastructure to help them all grow as productive members of the Muslim community.

In a non-Muslim society the burden falls on a child's parents, (and especially the mother) to instill Islamic values in him. Preventing or discouraging women from visiting the mosques stunts their own spiritual growth and consequently hampers the development of sincere Muslim children.

It's a cycle. Women do NEED access to mosques, proper facilities at the mosques, and a variety of activities to keep them coming to the mosques for educational and social reasons. Without it, women will fall away from the Muslim community and so will their children, causing the community in general to either stagnate (a community of men only who just come to pray, who will eventually stop attending, replaced by new immigrants), or completely fall apart.

A Brother said...


I found your response condescending and not a little impolite. I did make sure to phrase my initial question as carefully as possible, as as not to give offence.

I don't think the answer *is* obvious. I have good grounds for supposing that I'm not completely stupid. And supposing I did take the view, for the sake of argument, that women should be discouraged from attending the mosque- that certainly wouldn't make me a misogynist. It wouldn't make me value female piety any the less. It just means that their homes are better for them, as was unambiguously stated by the Prophet (salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam), and by some of his sahaba, on numerous occasions.

As it happens, I generally agree with you. But it isn't hard to problematise the view that keeping women away from mosques = misogyny.

Amy said...

"A Brother:"

I'm not surprised you found my response impolite and even condescending. But if you don't subscribe to the opinion to which you wanted a response, then what's the problem?

Point of interest: Misogyny is a different problem altogether than the one I am dealing with here, and isn't something I addressed in my post or comment, nor is it something I accused you of.

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said that the best prayers are prayed at home, with the exception of the five daily prayers. So before we go on about how "their homes are better for them," let's remember that homes are better for men as well as women with only five exceptions during the day.

So the only reason that men ever have to go to the mosque is for daily (fard) prayers, is that right? Is it? And while they're there, they do NOTHING else but pray those (fard) prayers?

That's a pretty lame mosque, if such is the case. So think about what other activities go on--social interaction (meeting and greeting other Muslims in the community); other acts of worship (reading Qur'an, taraweeh prayers, for instance); classes about Islam.

We know for a fact that the women of the sahabah used to go to the mosques, and if those are the best women in Islam EVER, then following that example is it incorrect for women to visit the mosques today? It's not.

What about preventing women? The Prophet (saws) clearly forbid that women be prevented from attending mosques.

So obviously--and yes, it ought to be obvious--there needs to be a place for women at the mosque.

A Brother said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Umm Salma said...

Assalamu alaikum Sister Amy. This is Norlaila (Umm Salma) from the AlMaghrib forums. I emailed you when you first moved to Bellevue. Anyway, I would love to help you in any way to solve these issues with our masaajid. I know many sisters in Bellevue who also want to improve the conditions of the community, and if we work together inshaAllah, I think we can implement these great ideas and increase the activity and productivity on the women's side. Please let me know your ideas and if you would like to get in contact with these sisters, I can help you with that also.

human about said...

askum, great blog. do u know an ironic conspiracy happened in a mosque ?
i added u in my link, would u add me too ?. thanx. wassalam