There’s something about Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s smile and glowing face masha’Allah — that makes me excited to be married to a Yemeni.

This is what he has to say in response to a question on the desperate exclusion of women in mosques in the UK.

Here’s an exert of the good stuff if you don’t want to watch the entire thing:

It hurts me deeply that most Muslims today do not implement the commands of God and the counsel of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in regards to women. Women in our societies do get oppressed. And one of the worst expressions of injustice that women are exposed to, is that this oppression in many circumstances is vested with the garment of religion. And the time has come that we who represent religion, who speak on behalf of religion, to move away from defending the faith and how it sees women — to defending women by using the faith itself…

In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) women used to enter the mosque from the same door as the men. And she used to take part in doing things for the mosque in exactly the same way the men took in working toward the betterment of the mosque. And she would go out of the mosque to the marketplace and ensure the marketplace is living according to prophetic code of moral character in its business interaction — exactly like the men would.

I know this. You know this. He knows this. And insha’Allah one day I’ll be sharing a video of some of Islam’s prominent female and male scholars discussing and supporting a serious action plan on how we can change the status of women in the majority of our mosques.

Via Side Entrance.

Advertisements

A friend just floated me this article on Reverts and their Muslim Communities, with the good intention of reminding us of the importance of mosque participation. The article describes how isolation from the Muslim community can eventually erode one’s participation, belief system, and eventual connection to Islam. Accordingly, “Islam is not a religion to be practiced in isolation—it demands community.” What’s keeping people from leaving the religion is the support of other Muslims, and so converts especially should strive to involve themselves in the mosque culture.

Mosques as well have a social responsibility to retain adherents. Mosques, as the article argues, can offer the positive environment needed to support new and returning Muslims, create fruitful communities, answer religious questions, and help foster one’s involvement and feelings of belonging and devotion to God. But only if the mosque community is focused on outreach and the retainment of members — through community potlucks, book clubs, play dates, iftaar dinners, convert-oriented lectures, outreach volunteers and Q&A sessions with the imam.

This article did not resonate at all with me.

I don’t go to the mosque. And even if I did, I wouldn’t be welcome. I’m a woman — normally there’s no space for me, and if there is space, it’s not very welcoming. I speak English — and while it is a language of privilege, I’m excluded when lectures are ONLY offered in Arabic, Urdu, or when the lecturer preaches only to men. My hijab isn’t traditional — this becomes a barrier for others who think I’m not an engaged or a properly practicing Muslim.

When I do go to the mosque, I either go to the uber-progressive centre — which rarely has events geared to my interest, or I pop into the mainstream, mini-barrier mosque — which keeps me segregated during the programs I’d like to be taking.

So like many others, I’ve left the mosque and have decided to create a community of Muslims for myself. I have my list of available scholars on Facebook and iPhone, learned colleagues who work with me to help offer programs to the community, a wide selection of brilliant online commenters and bloggers (I love you all), and a group of mothers who get together for playdates, lunches and halaqas.

There are brilliant mosques out there where women are active, engaged and who are driving the community. But the above article wasn’t written for them. It’s written for the droves of converts who have slowly become dissatisfied with the Muslim community, and for mosque administrations who are not well equipped at meeting the needs of a diverse congregation. A pot luck, lecture, or face time with the imam are not going to entice me, because each will be segregated, or will really be geared toward encouraging male converts into the community, because I’ll be stuck in a balcony trying to avoid receiving the disapproving look from fellow congregants who think it’s best for me to be at home.

No, what mosques need to do first is to change attitudes, create positive space for women, and then concentrate on outreach programs.

This is exactly what Aisha al-Adawiya of Women In Islam, Inc. suggests in the brilliant publication, Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage. Written in 2005 as a call to action for mosque leaders to make the mosque the centre of the community by fostering equality for all, the study looks at the traditional role of women and men in Islam, and drives home the point that the majority of mosques fall very short of the equality and inclusion demanded by Islamic standards of social engagement.

The study bases its framework on the Masjid Study Project — a census by CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA of 416 randomly sampled mosques in the US. What it found was that: women felt excluded from education opportunities because they couldn’t hear or see the scholar, or were barred from participation altogether; the untapped resources of professionally trained, young professional Muslims go unused by many mosques who rely on an “Old Boys Club”; qualified women scholars are not invited to speak or become role models and mentors; women interested in converting are AFRAID to enter the mosque; when women do participate in the mosque, their roles are relegated to cooks and cleaning staff; women’s ideas and suggestions are ignored; mothers reported that they would attend more frequently if there were child-friendly spaces; and many feel that expectations of modest dress are not applied equally for men as they are for women.

Success of a community is not measured by how many people attend a pot luck — especially if only half are included. For me, success would be for every mosque to have a copy of this study made available to every member. To have this as required reading for every community leader before climbing the mimbar — and for community leaders to proactively implement the study’s suggestion:

Each masjid must gradually but in a determined fashion modify its architecture, governance, and programs to be inclusive of women and children. The leadership at each masjid must be proactive in initiating and supporting these changes.

Changes that include the Full. Participation. Of. Women.

This publication deserves to be read. Read it. Pass it along. Contact Women in Islam, Inc. and inquire about workshops for making your local masjid or Islamic center more women-friendly. This is how women, disaffected men, youth and children can start reclaiming the mosque.

Some points from the publication:

A Call to Action

  • There is a recognized need to revitalize the masjid as a center of the community. During the time of the Prophet, the masjid was a place where all were welcome, all participated, and all contributed regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and status.
  • While some mosques are inclusive, the trend towards inclusion is not as widespread as the standard demanded by Islam. There are confirmed reports that mosques relegate women to small, dingy, secluded, airless and segregated quarters with their children. Some prevent women from entering and discriminate against women by denying them the rights of membership, voting, or holding office.
  • Now is the time for community leaders to seize the opportunity to create vibrant mosques and Islamic centers that honor the contributions of both women and men. Leaders must promote and demand a higher level of competence in the serving of all functions associated with running professional Islamic institutions, which must include the full participation of women.

The Current Situation for Women’s Access and Participation

  • The majority of those who regularly participate in mosques are men. The Masjid Study Project showed that on average, across most mosques, 75% of regular participants are male.
  • While 50% of mosques report that women have served at one time or another on their governing or executive boards, a sizeable proportion of mosques still prevent women from serving on their executive boards (31%). Nineteen percent said they allowed women to serve, but did not have any women actually serving on a board for the past five years.
  • The practice of women praying behind a curtain or in another room has increased. In 1994, 52% of mosques reported that women make prayers behind a partition or in another room, but that practice was adopted by 66% of mosques in 2000.

What You Can Do

  • A masjid that is open to women’s access and participation is a masjid that welcomes present and future generations of Muslims.
  • If your masjid already does not do so, make dignified accommodations for women to attend Friday services, and make available designated space for women in the main prayer hall.
  • Make sure that shared and separate spaces are clean, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing. Encourage men, women, and children to participate in the upkeep of spaces.
  • Invite appropriate women scholars and community activists to give seminars at the masjid. Invite women to organize community programs, introduce speakers, offer opening and closing dua or prayer during educational programs, moderate panels, and direct question and answer sessions.
  • Ensure that women are represented on governing boards, and if your masjid is already doing so, collectively strive for greater equality and quality of representation.
  • Advocate for and be a leader in implementing women’s rights to vote in matters that affect the masjid and the community as a whole. Stand up for and implement women’s right to have official membership in the masjid. Your active support and commitment to this issue will set an example for other leaders, and help others take up the cause.

They are armed with a handful of obscure Hadith and Qur’anic verses. They are loud and pushy. They speak with authority. They rain down judgment. And they are sincere with their advice, even if they’re power tripping.

Every mosque administration has an unofficial volunteer on board, policing the congregation, offering suggestions for ultra-pious living and worship, announcing the “correct” way to do just about everything.

Often times this secret police is an unwanted hazard. As Muslims, we are enjoined by God to think critically, to question our spiritual leaders and to right wrongs when we see them. This occasionally invites a special breed of person to walk into a congregation and start ordering people about. While they are truly sincere about the knowledge and opinions they spread, they unfortunately come across as being pushy, opinionated, no fun, nay-saying Grinches.

My favourite example is the prayer police. This brand of secret police will literally march up and down the prayer lines during the prayer, to correct perceived wrongs (never mind that their own prayers are delayed… correcting others is a higher duty to God for this SS). No matter the location, the prayer police will interrupt your prayer by telling you that your clothes are wrong, wear a skirt over your jeans, your hands are in the wrong placement, your hijab must cover your chin, wear socks, you must stand foot-to-foot with the people next to you, your objections are wrong, you are an affront to how Islam should be practiced and that any violation will result in your prayer being invalid.

Woah. Heavy.

I normally don’t get involved with the secret police. It’s just not worth my time to discuss how I worship with someone who will refuse to hear my points of discussion. Years ago, I would enter into heated debates and stand my ground.  But after realizing that the police are judge, jury and executioner, and that no amount of theological debate will change their mind (especially for a convert who “couldn’t possibly know all of the subtle, nit-picky rules of worship” despite her masters degree in Islamic law and history), I decided to simply acquiesce.

Now when offered correction, I’ll just say thank you and smile. That seems to work. The police will feel sated that their correction has been accepted (whether or not it actually has) and they’ll move on to the next victim.

Except for this past ‘Eid.

(more…)

The ongoing, drawn-out, oft-repeated, groaning-oh-not-this-again dialogue regarding child-free public spaces is well, ongoing, oft-repeated and leaves me groaning as much as I do for debates on banning the niqaab.

Specific to these debates is the notion that when we exclude children, we invariably exclude their primary caregiver: mommy. So what do you do when excluding children means excluding women from religious worship?

This article by Shehnaz Toorawa found its way into my in-box this morning. I was actually surprised to find it, because Muslim women are always talking about it, but I’ve rarely ever seen anything done or written about helping create child-friendly mosques.

Imagine a masjid (mosque) where the imam pauses during salah (prayer) and the entire congregation waits so a toddler can finish his game. Imagine a masjid where an imam leads salah while he holds a child in his arms. Imagine a masjid where the cry of a baby changes the imam’s intention and shortens the prayer for the entire congregation.

You’d think that a communal religion would help foster child-centric spaces in the main place of worship. There ARE child friendly spaces, such as the basketball courts, classrooms, kitchens, and community centers that are common fixtures at the mosque. But, not in the musallah — the actual place of worship.

(more…)