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A women-only mosque is dangerous for men because it could take away control from them

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On Sunday, the Muslim Women’s Council had a public consultation on proposals for a women-only mosque in Bradford. It follows the opening of a women’s mosque in the US earlier this year. There are also plans for something similar in India.

You would think that in a city where there are many people of South Asian and Muslim origin, this would go down a treat. The proposal has been met with a mixed response. Bradford West’s newly-elected MP Naz Shah has already come out against it, writing in the Guardian that she does not want to see “greater gender segregation, or women’s involvement pushed to the margins”.

When this idea was first proposed a few months ago, the topic was discussed on the BBC Asian Network’s phone-in show.  On their Facebook page, one comment read: “Islam has given rights to women but within limits not to abuse and go on the feminist band wagon. I know of plenty of mosques in Bradford that cater for women so I don’t understand why the need for women only run mosques?”

Another read: “Hmmmmm a mosque for woman [sic]! Aren’t woman [sic] better praying at home? They have a lot of family commitments hence it’s never been made [obligatory] for her to pray in a congregation. Women are not obligated to pray in congregation, they cannot be Imams. In fact, the best place for them to pray is in their homes, not that this means a ban from our mosques! Therefore, not sure how this can be called a mosque.”

You know what the disheartening thing is? These were women commenting, not men.

Although the prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “If the wife of anyone of you asks permission to go to the mosque, he should not forbid her,” another hadith quotes him as saying, “It is more excellent for a woman to pray in her house than in her courtyard, and more excellent for her to pray in her private chamber than in her house.”

Men receive more blessings and rewards from God if they pray in a congregation whereas women are told that staying in the home is best for them. With this entrenched in the psyche of many Muslims, it is no wonder that women are often excluded from the mosques, where even if they are (begrudgingly) permitted to enter, the facilities for them will be poor.

For this reason, Hind Makki, an American Muslim interfaith activist based in Chicago, created the Side Entrance Tumblr blog, which showcases women’s spaces in mosques around the world. The photos of women’s facilities range from fantastic to pathetic.

I have often gone to my local mosque to hear a (male) scholar give a talk on various topics; the women would be seated upstairs, watching the scholar on a live television feed. Sometimes it would be a struggle to hear him speak as the babies and children would be running around making too much noise.

Female leadership

Some men -and women – object to women leading prayer and giving sermons; others worry if women’s-only worship catches on elsewhere, it could divide communities along gender lines. As opposed to what? Men and women are already segregated in the mosque! Considering that the genders are segregated in many aspects of life, surely then the men will not object to having their own, private space. Right?

What we must bear in mind is that a separate space means that the women have more autonomy. Even though the women are shunted to the back of the room in the mosque, or seated upstairs hidden out of sight, the men know that, at the end of the day, the women are there, under the same room, where the men can control exactly what sermons are being read out, and what women are learning. A women-only mosque is dangerous for men because it could take away the control they have yielded over women.

A more progressive idea, in my view, is the London-based Inclusive Mosque Initiative, where everyone, even gay Muslims, are welcomed with open arms, and women lead men in prayers. Perhaps this (controversial) model only works in London, which has always felt like a separate country. To those of us north of the Watford Gap, such a model is lightyears ahead.

Moreover, not all women would be comfortable praying alongside men. The idea should be to have a space where women can feel comfortable and included in an environment where they have traditionally been excluded. This is why the mosque in the US seems to work; in this BBC interview, we can see and hear a woman doing the call to worship – something women never do – and some of the women do not even have their hair covered.

In a statement on its website, the MWC write: “Muslim women have been marginalised for many decades by Mosques in the UK which are male dominated, patriarchal spaces. This has led to a frustration amongst women who would like to be included in religious spaces.”

Sounds great. But the statement goes on to say, “We disagree with the view of women leading mixed congregational prayers and this will not take place under the MWC umbrella… Our intention is not to be divisive, nor to go against the values and principles of Islam, but to provide a space for the community which shows how women can lead and be included in places of worship and also impact positively on their families and communities.”

This is sending mixed messages. Either you believe women can, and should, be in positions of leadership or you don’t. Just because an initiative is led by women doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be radical or progressive. Women, as we are aware, can often be the vanguards of patriarchy.

I am not against the idea of a women-only mosque as such; rather, I am more interested in what types of views they will promote and whether they really will challenge the status quo. It remains to be seen as to whether this initiative is going to be a force for the good.

Perhaps this is not something that should be a long-term solution – it is a reaction to an age-old problem. When you marginalise and disenfranchise a section of society (in this case half the population) it is not a surprise when they decide to create their own space.

Segregation should not be the answer but this is a small step in what could possibly be a radical shift for the next generation of British Muslims. It depends on which scholars and imams they decide they get on board.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

August 3, 2015 at 6:09 pm

7 Responses

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  1. I believe an all woman’s Mosque is foolish. Simply because the women are expected to live by his laws same as man should be able to worship the same. Now maybe not so much with the men but at least within the same walls. After the men have their time then by all means alow the women to show their love and submission to their Creator al the same. God is for ALL not just men. Just my opinion. I could touch on this further but I haven’t the time right now.

    African InAmerikkka

    August 3, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    • To African InAmerikkka:

      Ok, so how about a mosque where the women get the main area, and men get a little room upstairs, completely seperated?

      bootjangler1

      August 3, 2015 at 8:40 pm

  2. “You know what the disheartening thing is? These were women commenting, not men.”

    Disheartening is correct. You would have also seen many Christian women gnashing their teeth at the idea of women Bishops, as well as certain types of Rabbi refusing to shake hands with women, and them accepting it. Strange, isn’t it?

    This all reminds me of a certain “commentator” who was widely active until a while ago.

    I asked him a few times on Twitter for his thoughts on the “inclusive mosque” initiative, but got no answer.

    I then watched with jaw hitting the floor, the “When Tommy Met Mo” documentary, where he explained why women need to have a seperate space in mosques. I paraphrase, but it went something like this, “Could you concentrate with a woman bending over in front of you – I couldn’t.”

    The quote from Naz Shah makes a bit of sense on one level, but I don’t know what else she has said on the subject regarding getting rid of seperatism in a male/female environment. Maybe nothing, but I didn’t see the article.

    But, if it means a challenge to the men who wield the power, then they should go for it.

    bootjangler1

    August 3, 2015 at 6:45 pm

  3. good read for further contemplation:)

    michelleswunder

    August 3, 2015 at 6:54 pm

  4. Yes it’s segregative. We need the space. Prayers require a clear head and quiet environment. When you are praying in the same place you cook/clean/watch tv/have meals/make out with your hubster/have arguments with the family in it gets distracting and for some of us the prayers aren’t as effective as compared to praying in a place where it is specifically designed to pray and learn about religion.
    Sisters are always going on about how its wrong to get on the feminist bandwagon and how we progressive muslimahs are wanting all the rights from men while holding an immodest princess complex dripping false wealth in pricey drapes and letting their kids run around prayer rows in their token eid visits to the masjids. Obviously women only masjids wouldn’t be for them-they have no use for it.

    Liberalmuslimah

    August 4, 2015 at 10:11 pm

  5. […] Continue reading on Iram Ramzan’s blog. […]

  6. A women-only mosque is a bit radical in my opinion. If the current mosques do not have sufficient or acceptable facilities for women then would it not be better to rather upgrade these facilities than to open a women only mosque.

    newbeefc

    August 6, 2015 at 12:51 pm


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