Women in Mosques

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society, Women Topics: Women Views: 7124

The Mosque in Islam today can be much more than a place reserved exclusively for worship. In some cities and towns (although they are still too few), it is also a centre for neighborhood events, civic gatherings, teaching, counseling and lifelong learning. It can be a library and information centre as well, acting as a storehouse of accessible knowledge for people of all ages. Its function in both local and national Muslim communities should be to provide all of the resources and services necessary to the well-being of its whole spiritual family. 

During the era of the Prophet -- may God's peace and blessings be upon him -- the Mosque was also a seat of local government and its legislative assembly enacted major decisions or policies affecting the entire community. Thus Islam was an early pioneer among world religions in making its centers of worship truly multi-functional and holistic. 

The first comprehensive Mosque university in history, for example, was Al Azher in Cairo, Egypt. Since its founding more than 1,000 years ago, students have learned about the physical sciences, social sciences, mathematics and medicine, alongside their core religious subjects. 

Unfortunately, with the passage of centuries and other historical disruptions, many Muslim congregations became disconnected from their mosques as focal points of community life. Gradually, some mosques lost their holistic function and became places reserved only for worship; and wherever this was allowed to happen, Muslims inevitably suffered. 

Today in Canada and other parts of the world very few mosques offer anything close to the variety of services and functions available during the Prophet's time. Few of them, for example, can provide full-time educational programs ranging from kindergarten to secondary school. 

In Canada Muslims have no religious university of their own in which to train and graduate Imams, much less any access to undergraduate or graduate programs designed specifically for faith-based post-secondary learning. 

As well, there are far too few mosques that can share sports facilities with the community at large, or offer family counseling, day care, and Islamic medical services. 

But with all the urgent needs mentioned so far, there is no issue more pressing right now than for mosque communities to encourage and nurture a more welcoming atmosphere for the women in their midst. 

At the time of the Prophet, and during the period of the first four Khalifs, women were full participants in the life of their local Mosques. Many women at that time routinely performed their five daily prayers, the Friday Juma prayer, Ramadan Taraweeh prayers and Eid prayers, as part of their mosque congregation. They also took on full roles in educating and defending their communities. Many were teachers, nurses, business professionals, community leaders and political activists. 

But today in North America, the physical space available to women in our mosques is all too often symbolic of the ground they have lost through the neglect of history. This physical space can be one of five types: 

  1. No space is allocated for women at all. 

  2. The women's space is made completely separate from that allocated for men, either in a separate room, on a second-level mezzanine, or in the basement. 

  3. The women's space is partially enclosed through the use of a movable partition. 

  4. Women share a space equal in area and parallel to that allocated for the men, but without any physical barriers between them.

  5. Women occupy space at the rear which is equal to that of the men, also without any physical separation between their areas. 

Fortunately, the first type of Mosque is very rare in Canada. Advocates of the "no-women" mosque argue that females are better off worshipping at home. They base this argument on a single Hadith, narrated by Ibn Khazema, that the Prophet said the prayer a woman makes at home is better than one she makes at the Mosque. But that Hadith was rejected as Gha'reeb (invalid), because it contradicts actual practice during the time of the Prophet and the first four Khalifs when, in fact, women attended Mosque services without restriction or opposition. 

The other four types of Mosques do try to offer women a specific place, keeping in mind a recorded practice during the time of the Prophet, when a cluster of men, followed by clusters of children and women, would come to worship as a congregation with him. 

It should be noted that at the time of the Prophet, there were no physical barriers at all between men and women within the mosques. Even today, at Mecca's most sacred Mosque, groups of women and men can join together in congregational prayers, just as they have since the time of the Prophet. 

Therefore, in keeping with Islamic history, Muslims must work to develop more welcoming and accessible spaces for the women in their congregations. Their spaces in mosque buildings must be inviting, well-lit and shared with men in the same physical area. As long as all Muslim adults respect the Islamic rules for proper dress, greetings and conversation, there is no reason why women and men should not share the same physical space in a mosque. 

Similarly, women of the congregation must be given equal opportunity to hear and see the Imam, or any other speaker, during weekly Khotba talks, or seminars. 

Only when women are encouraged, invited and welcomed as full participants in our mosques, will Muslims be able to claim that they are truly living the values of their Islamic faith in this country. 

Encouraging more "user-friendly" spaces and programs in our mosques could then lead to women being more fully accepted as holistic participants in the life and leadership of their congregations. 

With that goal in mind, The Canadian Islamic Congress established seven years ago the "User-Friendly Canadian Mosque Award," and every year the award is given to encourage Canadian mosques to follow in the Prophet's footsteps.

 

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.


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  19 Comments   Comment

  1. Zinedine from Morocco

    Salaamu alaikum,

    I agree with Dr Almasry, the only mistake he made in this article is of historical nature. The oldest mosque/university in the world is Jamiat Alquarawiyine in Fez Morocco built by a WOMAN Fatima Alfihria in 859. Alazhar also mosque/university in Egypt is 2nd built in 970 & Bologna, Italy is third built in 1088 Paris, France in 1150. They all provide religious & educational learning. If Egyptians find it hard to believe me please go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_universities_in_continuous_operation.

  2. natasha khan from Fiji

    Strongly for it. In present times there are many women like me who are either single/divorced/widowed and if we are not allowed regular contact with our masjids we lose out a lot. Masjid is also a place where being with other likeminded Muslims we strengthen our Iman. When working and living in Fiji I had to delay my salaat on numerous occasions because the nearby masjid does not allow women access for salaat and all workplaces do not have facilities to perform salaat there. I sometimes wonder if the sins of these delayed salaats will fall on the brothers who barr us access!! I hope our Muslim brothers of Fiji who look after the masjids acknowledge womens perspective rather than defaulting due to some of 'fitna'!!

  3. ziaul islam from usa

    About Physical barier between men and women need to have some authority with hadiths and other teachings. this is his opinion and I respect his opinion but not agreeing with that. The time of the Prophet and today time is different

  4. Jawad from US

    This hadeeth by Ibn Khadhema is not Gha'reeb.

    There is no contradiction here:

    The prophet sallahu alayhi wa sallam did not

    forbid women from the masjid. He said the

    woman best prayer is at their home. He said

    what was more rewarding & best for them.

    The best guidance is that of the messenger of Allah. Don't you sisters want what is better?

    Yes, the masjid was use for legislating Allah's deen. Not for Entertainment.

    Allah's messenger said: The masjid is for the

    rememberance of Allah. Men and women are

    not suppoosed to mix. HARAAM, Wow! Fear Allah!

    May Allah guide the writer of this article, Ameen

    The ummah is in dire strait because of not wanting to follow the religion as it was practice at the time of the sahaba.......What

    a shame to read things that clearly contradict our blessed sunnah...Subhanallah

  5. MA from UAE

    This is a good article and Muslims need to go back to the example of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)to undo some of the cultural and other biasis that have clouded the issues like women participation in Mosques.

  6. KHAN from US

    Well written but some muslims men & women are confused as some of them have no basics of Islam or do not know Islamic history as well. They are misguided by western culture and creating problems when we already have so many other issues. If you do not like Islam, fine, Allah does not need you. HE has lots of angels that worship him all the time.

    Yes, women have V.I.Place in Islam & they have the best rights in our religion than any other faith.It is a different story if we,the muslims do not follow the quran & Hadith and abuse the women. Just read other holy books & see what they say and treat women in their periods etc.(Eve,prophet's wives & Mother Mary-Jesus moth Luth,s daughters,Haggar, and so on)

    Read the stories about our pious ladies Maryam, Hajira/Sara,Qadija and Fatima, the wives of Prophet.Muslim women should follow them and see them as their role models. No one lead the prayers for men at prophetic and early Islam period & no one questioned their men in religious matters.

    Br. Aziz,If Moroocco has passed the legislation for women Imam for both men and women,Is it allowed under Islam? Why did the Prophets and Khulfah did not do let their women to lead as Imams when they were more pious and religious than we are?

    Sr. Nicole: I totally agree with that men all muslims should see Prophets and their women as a role mode and try to follow them. That is the best.That will be the day we will be united and have peace even among us

    Sr. Samina mentioned about Ashram. Does anyone knows what goes in there or any other places of worship?Wallahu-Alam. Please do not compare other worship places as Masjid is supposed to be the purest place on the earth.

    I agree Masjid is A Allah's house, should have a campus with almost everything and place for all activities, we respect and it has rights too.

    Allah has created men and women for companionship(Angels and Jinns?)have different and unique responsibilitiesHE made our religion perfect & complete thru

  7. tanwir from usa

    Asalam o alaikum, I think this author, like many others who want western culture acceptablity, have overlooked the issue of seggregation of men and women.There is no doubt that a woman's prayer in her house is better for her than praying in the mosque, as is indicated by the Sunnah of the Prophet(Peace & Blessings of Allaah be upon Him). He said:"Do not prevent your women from going to the mosque,even though their houses are better for them.(Reported by Abu Dawud in al-Sunan.See also Saheeh al-Jaami no.7458)

    Whenever a woman prays in a place that is more private and more hidden, that is better for her, as the Prophet(Peace & Blessings of Allaah be upon Him) said:A woman's prayer in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her bedroom is better than her prayer in her house.(Reported by Abu Dawud in al-Sunan, no. 3833)

    Umm Humayd, the wife of Abu Humayd al-Saa'idi reported that she came to the Prophet(Peace & Blessings of Allaah be upon Him) and said:"O Messenger of Allaah, I love to pray with you." He said:"I know that you love to pray with me, but praying in your house is better for you than praying in your courtyard, and praying in your courtyard is better for you than praying in the mosque of your people, and praying in the mosque of your people is better for you than praying in my mosque." So she ordered that a prayer-place be built for her in the furthest and darkest part of her house,and she always prayed there until she met Allaah(Reported by Imaam Ahmad)

    But the fact that praying at home is preferable does not mean that that women are not permitted to go to the mosque,if mosque is the only source of islamic education.But care must be given to regard hijab between genders.Otherwise the mosque will become center of dating for young people.You can see that occur right after the friday prayer.Author mentions about Mecca,he needs to know that in Mecca woman do not mix with men.In some middle eastern counties women can't have Hi

  8. Robert 'Mamluke' Kolakowski from USA (Native Poland)

    I do agree with the author for the most part.

    The fact that first Calpihs started struggle for power over the still warm dead body of the Prophet, Allah Bless Him and Keep Him, shows that only reason why they are amongst 10 persons who will go to heaven is because they have been close and helped the Seal of All Prophets.

    Therefore, I rather follow the example of the Prophet, Allah Bless Him and Keep Him, than example of his successors.

    He was the last, and after him, one must have reasonably expected that as the time grows longer, the ones who came after him would start to adjust his example to their own views and traditions, and would alter it into a progressively less and less perfect one (example).

    Perhaps, the most guilty of, through a slippery--slope, empowering any and every more important leader of a local Muslim community to claim to be a spiritual leader regardless of their religious knowlegde, was Caliph Umar. I do believ that he is amongst The 10: who will go to Heaven; because he did aid the Last of All Prophets. However, I do believe that no man should ever claim to be an Amir; he wanted power as much as "The Sword of Islam" wanted vane recognition (I will not comment on his desinfectant bath).

    He, however, in his usurpation of position akin to that of a prophet, has tried to be fair and honets; therefore, in spite of his claim that the Judaistic punishment for the adultery was (repeated) in the traditionally 2nd Surah, he did allow the persons in charge to put Honorable Qur'an independently of his over--zealous self-deception.

    In a way, thisd fact shows that Honorable Qur'an was written down exactly as it was told to the Prophet, Allah Bless Hima and Keep Him.

    I do, however, agree that men and women should be in the very least placed in two different sides of the masjid or there should be a flimsy partition in between, but the space for men and women should be equal, or in the case of men and women and children equatible--proportional.

  9. Ralph X from The United States Of Africa?

    While Im in agreement with the Prophet Mohamed on this issue other issue I am not in agreement with, that woman and men should pray seperately when praying in a mosque. Mainly because Believe the hearer of prayers listen to both prayer seperately and indidvidually.

  10. Kashif from Canada

    Assalamua'aikum,

    Insha'allah our Ummah will wake and start living the early spirit of Islam with proper research, analysis, and contexualization.

  11. Sylvia Horton from Canada

    Salam Alaikum,

    I happen to live in Ottawa. The first thing that I did upon arriving here was try to contact a mosque. I had a difficult time finding a mosque that was open to females here. After being here for 1 year, a sister took me to a mosque that accepted women.

    Secondly, I to think that a mosque should be for learning this deen. Ottawa, in my opinion, is one of the most racist places that I have yet been as far as minorities goes. Forget women of different races salaming you here. I recently brought my 8 year old granddaughter here, and the first thing I told her was, Muslims here do not greet eachother. So, be mindful. Maybe this is why there are not so many schools and gyms here. I would never support something that I could not be a part of.

    I would like to give the American muslims credit, CAIR (after 9/11) took surveys about problems in our community. Not only did they read about the problems, but they worked on them as well. Racism within the Muslim community was at the top of the list. Perhaps they could give the Canadian Muslims a lesson on that.

    Sister Fatimah

  12. Mustafa Aziz from USA

    TO the posters saying this article is wrong, what is it that you fear so much? I can't imagine an argument that would be sensible that seeks to exclude women from the affairs of the community on an equal basis. I think your views reflect your own insecurities and childish nature rather than the message of Islam. Morrocco has recently approved legislation that would allow women to become Imams as well, they are definitely in the right direction. The backwardness and simple sexism practiced by a large portion of the Muslim world needs to end, and the best way to do that is to involve the victims of this misinterpretation of the faith themselves. True Muslims, both men and women, must stand for equality of the sexes...period..as another poster said.

  13. Nicole from usa

    Greetings in the name of ALLAH. This article is long, long, overdue. As a African American convert, I get so discouraged and saddenned by the way women in Islam are treated. I am blessed to be apart of a community in Rochester NY where women are treated well. However, there have been some instances where culture interferes with the actual teaching of the religion especially in regards to women. I wish that more Muslim men behaved like the beloved prophet of Islam. I cant understand for the life of me why Muslim men act so contradictory to him. I think this article is much needed and will be well received by all.

    P.S.

    For the sisters, lets stand up and claim what is rightfully ours; which is a place in the Masjid!

  14. khan from bdesh

    completely wrong interpertation, women can never be allowed to share same space with men in the mosque..period. Haji is the exception although women usually find their own space and the the initial free mixing was later changed by the khalifs as were many othe practices. Refer to a scholar and not some uiveristy academic!!!

  15. Samina from India

    Dr,

    I am completely for whatever you quoted in the article.I always felt bad at women being not allowed / or physically separated in mosques but accepted it as Allah's wish but the restlessness in my heart found peace after learning that during the time of the prophet (pbuh),women were treated equally in mosques as well. Everybody needs to know that. Moreover, the idea of mosque not just as a place of worship but also a place of learning, councelling and meeting is too appealing to me. I have a childhood dream of having a place where worship,teaching, councelling, helping, social work, spiritual upliftment everything happens together...Similar to the concept of Ashram in India (if u have heard of Art Of Living Ashram) . Insha Allah, this dream will come true some day....

  16. Alfonso from United States

    Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah,

    Part of welcoming women is building a stronger brotherhood and sisterhood. As was mentioned, we in North America, at least, have masjids but very little centers for learning the deen; and if you want to become an imam or sheikh, why do you even have to travel overseas? Why because there is a huge void of learning. Our parents have focused on giving us degrees, and phds, but what about our deen. Most masjids in this area are there to pray and that's it. The community and brother/sisterhood is nonexistent; and if you are a revert, as myself; don't even dream of being accepted, on the basis of being of a different nationality or race. Excuse me? What? Yeah, what happened with being Muslim? Doesn't that overwrite and cross race and nationalities? Masjids should be open not only to sisters, but to kids brothers, reverts and to anyone seeking knowledge.

    Take care

  17. nafissa abdulai farouq from ghana

    i think is very good .what is good is what u people are doing .even the quran said that non of un is a good muslim until he or she love hi s brother as himself

  18. Hind from Canada

    Excellent article and I strongly agree with it. Its time muslims stop making islam more difficult by adding thier own opinion on what islam should be and start living as we are taught to live with equality between men and woman. I imagine that a masjid that is inviting to both men and woman and a location that offers to be more then just for prayers will build a really strong community for muslims and then alot of positive things can be possible. Masjids should be places where people look forward to visiting and as a woman at times I can feel intimidated to visit it. (well knowing that that was not how I'm suppose to feel.) Islam is a very positive and open minded religion....unfortunatly its people who can tend to complicate it!!!

  19. saleem from usa

    aoa,

    The author misguides by giving example of grand mosque in mecca. That place is entirely different than the rest of the worship places and is thus called masjid ul haram. I think author deliberately calls it Grand mosque in Mecca, instead of its name Masjid ul haram. which in itself means inside this mosque many things are haram (forbidden) which is usually allowed in Islam , outside this holy place. Meaning exceptional.

    Then again the author deliberatley does not includes / metions the first masjid in Medinah, built by Mohammed (PBUH), that it is segregated fully. Today.

    Then again the author, provides no historical reasoning for the change, why this came into being and how. If with any difference. h Just saying it was not like this before, that his reason, with no supporting statement. I think the author needs to study in detail and mybe he will find his answer why this change took place on the first place.

    But again we need Not to forget the author is conviently ignore, every now and then.