Recently, (mommy) blogger and activist extraordinaire Safiyyah, turned me on to a particularly condescending and patronizing post on Muslim Matters called “My Dear Ramadan Stay-at-Home Mom, I Salute You.”
No doubt there are moms who will find comfort in some of the suggestions this male author decided to make for women in his terrible attempt to understand what it means to be a mother during Ramadan. I however, really couldn’t connect with his assertions that I long for the days before my girls were born; attending the mosque is a responsibility for men only, so I just shouldn’t worry about it; every woman who stays at home makes it by choice; I use my mensus as an opportunity to slack off; and that it’s simply impossible for a woman with children to attend the mosque.
Newsflash: it’s not impossible, especially if fathers and husbands work with moms and wives to help make it happen. So here’s my response, written in a similar style.
I know how much pain it causes you to leave your wife behind at home, taking care of your children, while you and everybody else enjoys their taraweeh prayers at the mosque. I know how much you miss your family, and yearn for the day you can all grow in the deen together by enjoying the warmth and identity that comes with worshiping as a family in an inclusive mosque.
But I also know how embarrassing it is for you to bring your wife and children to the mosque, with the great hope that they will be welcomed — only to hear about the indignity they suffered after being forced to pray in a small, cramped room with other women and children. That while you enjoyed the gorgeous chandeliers, domed windows, and gold calligraphy in a large, air-conditioned room with other men, your wife had wet Cheerios flicked onto her hijab by an unruly 3-year-old, your young daughter sweated and cried for fresh air and your son ran around with other children screaming and disrupting any semblance of peace and tranquility that is always destroyed when women and children are hidden behind barriers and forgotten in basements.
I know how much you want your wife to enjoy just an hour of peaceful worship during this blessed month of Ramadan and that worship for her is crucial to her self-worth and identity as a Muslim, as well as her relationship with God.
For all the times you help her achieve this and more, my dear Ramadan feminist dad, I salute you, and may Allah reward you.
Let me share with you few things that will hopefully create a dialogue of compromise so that every partner can enjoy a beneficial experience in this month of Ramadan, insha’Allah.
1. You are not alone in this.
Lots of men dislike praying separately from their families. Some even push for gender equality and work together with women to set up mosques and prayer spaces that raise the equity bar by allowing for men and women to pray in the same room or side-by-side. A few even don’t mind being led by a woman in a mixed-gendered prayer — especially if she’s more knowledgeable in Islam and the Qur’an. So why not find out who in the men’s section feels the same, and work towards creating a family-friendly mosque?
Often, when a working mom comes home after a day of work and fasting, she’s expected (or offers) to cook iftaar. She’s probably just as tired as you, if not more. So if you’ve already divided up childcare and house chores to accommodate the “duties” of both working parents, why not apply that same philosophy to religious events? Take turns praying at the mosque and taking care of the children at home. Offer to take the kids for a special Ramadan ice cream so she can attend her halaqa. Plan taraweeh dates and arrange for babysitting at home so you both can share a special night of worship.
Or why not help organize childcare at the mosque, so single fathers and mothers can pray in peace too!
Don’t forget that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “the best of the believers is the one who is best in manners and kindest to his own wife.” So give your stay-at-home wife (or stay-at-home husband) a break by taking the kids out for an hour so she can read Qur’an, or any other form of worship she’s longing for.
2. Don’t be sad about praying at home
One of the biggest misconceptions about prayer is that it’s obligatory for men to pray in congregation at the mosque — obligatory, as in “God commanded.” It is indeed a sunnah practice that our Prophet encouraged men to pray in the mosque — but it’s not sinful to skip out on the mosque if you have difficulties getting there (source). In fact, in some cases it may be better to establish prayer in your home — especially for the non-obligatory prayers like taraweeh. Or when your wife tells you that she refuses to take the kids to the mosque basement again.
Ramadan isn’t just about you and how many times you can finish the Qur’an at the mosque. Imagine the reward when you celebrate Ramadan by worshipping with your family at home! Your children will learn to love Islam by hearing the Qur’an live, instead of from a crackly and broken speaker system! You can encourage the whole family to make dhikr! Your wife can even lead prayer on occasion!
It’s a win-win situation for the entire family.
3. You can still come to the masjid
Did you know that the Prophet carried his granddaughter Umamah, while leading prayer? He also took care of his grandsons and other children during prayer. So if you decide to take the whole family to celebrate Ramadan and pray at the mosque, why not let the kids pray with you?
From my personal observation, children tend to be better behaved in the men’s section anyway. There’s more to see, more to do, and more action going on in front.
4. Why should women come to the masjid?
This is a valid question — especially when so many women have terrible experiences at the mosque. But when the centre of the religion is experienced at the mosque; when special prayers, recitations and events are held at the mosque; when the only chance to meet other Muslims happens at the mosque — it’s hard not to feel divorced from your community and deen when you’re told your reward is found only at home.
My dear Ramadan feminist dad,
All of your hard work in supporting mothers is appreciated. Thank you for the times you take the kids off our hands. Thank you for coming home early from work to give your wife a break, so she can make it to her evening educational classes, or her second job on time. Thank you for cooking dinner on Thursdays. Thank you for being all-around involved and awesome dads who enjoy spending time with family. And thank you for practicing the sunnah of the Prophet who darned his own socks, cleaned his house, took care of children, and welcomed women in the mosque.