Rights of Women in the Grand Mosque

Category: Featured, Life & Society, Middle East, Women Topics: Masjid Al Haram, Women Views: 12069

Recently a number of Saudi newspapers carried a report concerning possible new prayer arrangements for women at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The new arrangements are based on proposals made by a special panel formed according to directives from Makkah Governor Prince Abdul Majeed. The panel was composed of representatives from the Makkah Governorate, the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs and the King Fahd Institute for Haj Research. It proposed that the present prayer area for women at the mataf (circumambulation area) be shifted to two other locations on the ground floor on the northern side of the mosque. The panel members said that women would thus get a larger prayer space in the new area compared to the present one at the mataf. They said the new area was away from places of overcrowding, the mass movement of people and the focus of television cameras, thus ensuring the safety and privacy of women and allowing them to see the Holy Kaaba but avoid the disruption of tawaf (circumambulation).

As this proposal was made without considering the views of women, I thought it my duty to express my opinion of it with the hope that the panel's proposal is rejected. It not only goes against the message of Islam but also wounds the feelings of Muslim women.

The main problem of this proposal is that it denies Muslim women the right to pray at the holiest place on Earth, near the Holy Kaaba, where prayers are answered and where the faithful can achieve better devotion and closeness to God. This is also one of the factors that differentiate prayer at the Grand Mosque from prayer performed in hotels overlooking it. Throughout Islamic history - from the earliest days of Islam - women have never been banned from praying inside the mataf or any other parts of the two holy mosques. There have, however, been many recent restrictions on women praying and this new proposal is simply further evidence of this. 

The religion of Islam was revealed for both men and women. Both sexes are equal when it comes to performing their religious duties and in terms of rewards and punishments. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has instructed that women must not be banned from mosques. Despite these facts, we have observed that the general trend at the two holy mosques is to restrict the prayers of women and limit the areas where they can pray - as if they were a nuisance to others and unsuitable for those holy places. Some even think that the presence of women in the mataf will affect smooth television coverage of prayers inside the mosque and it would be better if the women had been confined to their homes.

We have also seen people widely circulating certain Hadiths, whose authenticity is doubtful, that it was better for women to pray at home than in other places as if the status of the two holy mosques is lower than that of a house. 

Women, especially those coming from distant lands, face many problems and constraints at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. The revered Rawda Shareef is open to women only a few hours each day while most of the time, it is for men only. Women, unlike men, are not allowed to face the grave of the Prophet and can only pass by the side of it. The same is also true for the graves of the early Caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar; women can only pass by them - not face them. 

Whatever the circumstances, no Muslim can seriously entertain the idea that the presence of women in the Haram disturbs worshippers and visitors. We don't hear the same said about the presence of men. Are the prayers of men somehow better than those of women?

Let us return to the Grand Mosque in Makkah where women are often driven away by officials - both male and female - who tell them to complete their prayers quickly and generally interfere with the women's prayers and meditations. At present, women are limited to an enclosed area in the mataf from which, if they are sitting, they are not able to see the Kaaba. The area is small, confined and similar to a prison and is often moved depending on seasonal demands and a variety of justifications. Now the proposal is to remove this prayer area from the mataf once and for all. 

My contention is that the panel should have made its proposal without denying the rights of women. In Islam, the only instruction regarding the prayers of women is that they should not pray standing in front of men and, in our times, woman pray in the last rows or on the upper floors of mosques. 

In order to allow women to pray in the Grand Mosque in the proper manner, let us allocate a special area for them beginning from the Kaaba and ending at masaa (the running area between Safa and Marwa). The width of this area could be determined based on field studies conducted by the Haj Research Institute on the number of women who come to pray at the mosque. If this were done, the equality of sexes promulgated by Islam would be achieved. 

It would also protect women from prejudice and ensure that no men prayed behind them. Moreover, women would be able to pray in comfort, sit closer to the Kaaba and achieve maximum devotion and closeness to God.

I hope the officials will base their final decision considering the rights of women. I pray they will not implement any proposal which violates the spirit and message of Islam that was sent for all of humanity without any discrimination.


Hatoon Al-Fassi is a Saudi writer and historian based in Riyadh. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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  50 Comments   Comment

  1. Naini from Pakistan

    Agree with Article. Since Mecca is the symbol/epitome of what is Islam, Saudi govt should be VERY careful about ANY of thier actions so they dont reflect negativley on muslims. Also, though the Saudi govt should definitely make facilities better during Hajj, they should not make too many physical changes in the Haram or around it, I want our generations to e able to enjoy the actual environment/atmosphere of Hajj. And the original architecture. Simplicity of the Hajj and Haram represent Islam. All that gold-plating etc is too superficial and a waste of money, not in accordance with Islam. They should giv that money to the poor.

  2. Yahya Bergum from USA

    Assalamu alaikum. Is there no place of worship where women needn't flee from men who could take either too much or too little notice of them for Allah's sake? If women can't safely prostrate before the Lord of the Worlds amongst the men at the Kaaba then what hope is there for the Muslim community somewhere else?

    As for careless photographers and insensitive editors I find the wrong sort of close-ups offensive. And I let those feelings be known. While I don't really know what people to whom I have expressed such feelings actually took to heart they did at least seem to be listening.

  3. Kris from Malaysia

    Assalamualaikum wbrt.

    To Zakia, Sayeed Ali and Nazli, Please read the article carefully. Yes, in fact all of us disagree with the proposed plan of the Saudi authorities i.e to keep the women out of the Grand Mosque.

    Look, the esteemed writer is disagreeing with the Saudi proposal. So, therefore if you also disagree with the Saudi's authority plan, then YOU MUST BE IN AGREEMENT WITH THE WRITER. Therefore on the actual record, there are no dissenting opinion FROM THE WRITER.

    Please read carefully next time.

    Wassalam. GOD Bless.

  4. Kris from Malaysia

    Assalamualaikum wrbt.

    Dear Brother the conscious author of this article,

    I whole heartedly agree with your views. I am a male Muslim who had once performed my umrah and I entirely disagree with the Saudi authorities ( if it is true ) plan to exclude women completely from the mosque.

    Let us go to the fundamentals of the religion, the prohibition for women in a congregrational prayer is only that they can't be placed in front of the men or can't mix in the same row as men. Of course the " Adab " is also that they must not be seen too clearly by the men.

    But to exclude them is wrong. Due to constraint of time today, I shall write more to express my opinion on this matter later. Wassalam. GOD Bless.

  5. Imran SYED from Australia


    Brothers and sisters in islam. I totally support the writer views. I just wanted to let you know the picture for this article you used is having a image of a lady taller than kaaba. can you please change it to something appropiate. As we muslims both male and female has to repect kaaba.


    Imran SYED.

  6. Asma Mirza from USA

    This is a good and convenient idea. Moreover it is high time that the Saudi officials think about the rights of women and act in the light of Quran and Sunnah and come out of prejudice, arrogance and defiance. With the house of Allah in Saudi, they should be role models in making better decisions and showing the world, the true aspects of Islam and the equalities that Islam has bestowed on women. The rights that Islam has given women are far better than any man

    or country in the west can ever conceive.

  7. zalehah Md min from Malaysia

    Alhamdullillah that you have taken up the issue .We from

    Malaysia take intensive courses as long as 1 year and mostly

    longer to make ourselves as well versed and as near to

    perfection as possile , to achive our hajj as "Mabrur" as possible

    and we came with sincere wishes and ardent prayers for our

    ourselves and families.We know that mothers' Doa will be

    fulfilled by Allah, and know that at certain places are more

    blessed then other places.












    I feel that such pitiful men can only feel they have"power "if they

    trampel on the weaker beings and the easiest victims are


  8. Tulip from USA

    the Saudi rulers ..consistently go against Islam in their behavior and actions, showing no respect for the feelings of Muslims around the world.

    And they certainly show no respect whatsoever for the Sunnah and the Qu'ran and this article shows yet another example of their love for this world rather than for Allah and His Prophet. When we went for Hajj years ago, I faced the same problem of not being permitted to pray and meditate because I was female and somehow a nuisance. Their behavior makes me fear returning to my spiritual home.

    Frankly, considering the Saudi aversion to what is good and right, such as preserving the character and integrity of the holy cities, we cannot expect anything even approimating fairness and justice to women or even the to the pilgrims in general who go through so much to be in Mecca and Medina, and yet face the destruction of what they love. The Saudis only care about their money and making a nuisance of themselves to the people who go so far and with so much trouble to filfill their obligations to Allah.

  9. Alam Suleiman from USA

    This is an excellent idea which needs to be considered seriously. Congratulation Sister Hatoon.

  10. Mohi from Canada

    I asked the Saudi authority to be fair to women. I would request them to go back to the Islamic history. Is it not a woman who was left alone in Mecca, the wife of the fatter of Islam, the Prophet Abraham? How can we forget the legacy of the great woman, Mother Hazera. It is she who was the pioneer of the city of Mecca. If Allah allowed her to stay there alone without her husband. Then how come women can not drive in Saudi Arabia?



  12. Ailia from India

    Assalaamu alaykum

    How dare they even thought of it?If more Space for circumambulation is required then let all step a little back,its starts from the rows of Men to rows of women .We never demanded equal area,but that which is ours is ours.Be Off..

  13. razia from USA

    From the comments of Zakia Sayeed Ali and Nazli,it seems they agree with the article and are against the segregation proposal. I think they checked disgree box by mistake thinking it is for the froposal.

    I hope there is a way to correct it.

  14. zakiah Sayeed Ali from usa

    If we accept this proposal, we the women will be considered second class human beings; not good enough to do the regular prayers that we have been doing around The Kaaba. The prophet has specifically asked that the right of all muslim women be protected and nurtured. Segragation like this will further give the WEST chances to criticize the "backward" religion of Islam. For more than thousand years, we have prayed at the mataf. Please don't let the powers to be, to become arrogant in their positions and turn us out of our right to pray at the mataf.

  15. L Alahem from US


    Does it matter my gender? The Holy Quran says that each soul earns what it gets, and that each man or woman is responsible for its own sins and its own reward. Am I angry? Yeah, maybe a little, because I really thought that Islam as practiced by muslims would be different that the hypocracy of the christians that I grew up with. But it isn't you see. Because humans are humans, the world over. This is a prime example of humans using the divine word to oppress those they perceive as weak.

    I have spent 30 years struggling to just get a break, and have found that the issue is not a religious one, but a human one. I do not think I was wrong to accept Islam as the answer to life. But it does not help us as muslims, when our men are criticized as being oppressive to women, and we have WHAT to show for it?????

    So yeah, I am a little angry, at petty little boys that want to somehow keep all their marbles and not share with their sisters. The Prophet, pbuh, did not see women as second class, and I fail to understand why those who claim to follow his example act as if they do.

    So again, I ask you, what difference does it make if my gender is male or female? Would it make the points less valid?

    Tag, brother/sister, you're it.

    L Alahem

  16. junaid from UK

    Whatever the authorities are thinking to do should be done only and only under Islamic laws and not someone's personal openion because Allah(SWT) is all mighty and He knows the best.

  17. Melekah from USA

    Jazak Allah Khair brother muhammed Taufiq.

    May Allah reward you for your defence of women! You are a jewel!

  18. Maryah from Mexico

    Assalaamu alaikum:

    It appears that the Wahabbi influence is alive and well in Saudi Arabia. Inshallah one day the care of the Holy sites will be removed from the control of the Sauds and given to an international body of Muslim officials and they will decide the division of allowable prayer space. The impression I receive from the Saudi mandates is that they would just as well desire to remove women from the face of the earth. Too much of arabian custom is infused into their decisions. They seem to forget that they are but a small percentage of the total sum of the Ummah...why should a minority with such a disregard for the sayings and way of the Prophet (pbuh) hold hostage womens access to one of the greatest pillars of Islam..will we have different areas to live in Jannah? We will all stand as equals in accountability on the Last Day...so why the differences!

  19. Sahar from Canada

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    As a muslim woman I was sad to read about the proposal becuase it's a blessing to pray closer to the Ka'aba for all muslims. We respect our scholars and people who are incharge but it would have been better if there was a shura with ladies as well just to get an idea to how we feel about it. Also, the reasons that are given do sound legit but the solution by author also seems workable. In this day and age, when women are part becoming more active in most fields, we truly would appreciate our input. These things can be best resolved through dialog and with mutual respect. When muslim women are so active that they are driving, educating their kids, becoming professionals, shopping in the malls, they also want to be active with their mosques and religion. If they can do anything else but then quoted that it's best for them to pray at home and wallahi I know it is our beloved Prophet's hadith (PBUH), we become more inclined to the one which asks not to stop us or become more active with the house of Allah.

    I just pray that these things get resolved with mutual dialog, respect for one another and understanding each other's stance on this issue.

    Asslamu Alaikum.

  20. abdifatah suleiman musse from USA

    bismilah, this is my second comments on this article, from now on I must watch my comments, I said the leaders of our holy sites must be respected, and puting woman far away from where they want to see the ka'ba is not good, If i take the matter seriouslly woman should be allowed to pray where they pray at, if imams decide to give more space to our sisters they should do it without taking over their currenty space and the other space should be additional

    and the leaders of the two holy sites must take this matter seriouslly, for us itsn't legal to argue much and rebell against our imams and our leaders and our imams should be easy and understanding

    islam does not tolerate discrimation

    and our holy sites have been hijacked isn't the two holy sites our capitals and our islamic centers? how dare you come up with such a sad and horrible news from our center of peace and justice

    there is something weird going on,

  21. Ahm from USA

    Why is there a issue regarding the Grand Mosque anyway. I could understand regarding crowding times when strategic ways to welcome and suit people but why is there an issue regarding women. Is not the grand masjid the only mosque on earth where women and men can pray next to each other. Ive been there and ive seen them pray next to each other, no one seems to have a problem as whoever is there knows why they are there...

  22. Anbar Ahmed from USA

    Women should be allowed to follow in the Prophet's (Peace Be Upon Him) Footsteps.

  23. saba from USA

    i too feel that you our right! they should take

    opinion of women before implementing such law.

  24. Tabassum Grover from Canada

    I agree that women have the equal right to pray wherever they would like to, inside the Grand Mosque in Makka.

  25. Nada

    This is for L alahem,are you male or female?

    you do not seem like a female to me ,behind your words are a lot of anger and disrespect,that a muslim does not usuly have .

  26. Nada from Kuwait

    The writer wrote about women not bieng asked about the changes,I want to ask,do the changes go against any ruling in Islamic sharie'a?

    I am a muslim woman ,and I support our muslim scholers,Iam sure with all the scholers (Men& women)in Saudia if this desion was wrong ,they wont go for it,I have another question,did the writer send a letter to any scholer in Saudia,why is this letter ,here in Islamicity?When are we going to wakeup and know that (women issues)have become the skapegout for being upset with or against Muslims.there are thing that make us immotional ,but are nessary.

  27. Ali Sharifpour from USA

    While not ignoring any positive things that people in the Holy

    City do for pilgrims and for their own and other's righteousness,

    the negatives cannot be ignored nor glossed over. I have seen

    many woman's prayers interrupted near the sacred shrine and

    my own prayers as a man were interrupted once when it didn't

    conform to the wishes or ideas of one soldier or guard! This I

    believe is complete and patently wrong and sinful behavior and

    more should be done to communicate this clearly and directly to

    other muslims and to those who do these things. The truth

    should be told! La ikra fi Deen!

  28. Nusrat H. Naqvi from India, Pakistan and USA

    The current action depicts promotion of slavery in its best form. There are more women than men in the world today. How can a panel without apropriate representation decide on an action that affects woment without their input. I am strongly opposed to this shauvinistic action. Instead of progressing with time in recognizing the rights of women, there seems to be a move toward usurping as many as possible. How could it be okay at the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)for women to pray without restrictions and is now undergoing bans? The reason is simple. Men are acknowledging their weakness that they can not focus properly in the presence of women and thus are trying to eliminate or restrict them from the scene as much as possible. It could also be economically motivated. Instead of promoting equal access, restrictions can discourage women from doing Haj, which is a religious duty. This is anti-Islamic. Brothers please don't do this in the name of Islam: justice, Peace and fair play!

  29. nazli from USA

    Whoever does the segregating and short changing the women's rights to be in the spiritual environmentof the Holy Kaaba is thinking himself to be above the Prophet & Allah. If Allah would have wanted it differently he would have inspired the Prophet to make the change, but He didn't. When women pray during Haj, Umrah and do Tawaaf, their thoughts are pure clean and focussed only on the Supreme Being. I am sure most men conduct themselves similarly. It is only the impure men who are forever trying to push the women in oblivion. I suggest they make a faraway corner from themselves and push themselves into oblivion.

  30. rsm from usa

    Assala mu Alaikum all,

    is there any action taken regarding the new plan of the saudi government, to not move the ladies prayer area away from Al Kaba? I believe it is duty upon all the belivers to `correct `the `authority.

  31. Taha Al-Samarrai from New Zealand

    I think women must be able to pray in comfort, sit closer to the Kaaba and achieve maximum devotion and closeness to God. No devoted Muslim should accept to degrade our mothers and sisters If others( non muslim) done that we should not allowes this to happens in our muslim communites.

  32. Nanc Long from U.S.A.

    I agree. Thank you for bringing light to this situation. We women need to be vigilant in protecting our rights and self-respect for ourselves and our daughters. I am Christian, and we have similar issues and responsibilities in our churches.

  33. M Saqib from USA

    ;-)~~ I can't help but smile at comments posted on this article. I should be crying really. Ms Sameena you are really what ashames muslim women. Its not because you talk about your rights, its because you speak in the "language" of kuffar. I mean you want to ask your Allah given rights, rights allowed in sharia please ask them in those terms. How .. you have to be to say women should bycot Mecca. Do you know what Mecca means to muslim women ?

    The other point I wanted to mention is perhaps it might be better if there were diffrent times perscribed for men and women... this way there would be segregation of the sexes as well as all will get to perform their prayers etc.

    Just my opinion though.. might not be the best.

  34. L Alahem from US

    This comment is for abdifatah suleiman musse who asks "who are you to disrespect the imams of the Holy Mosque?

    Well, brother, let me tell you who we are. We are the ones who continue to suffer ostricization, exclusion and downright blatant disrespect from the men of the mosque. We are the ones in the closet, in the rafters, who have to strain to hear the Khutba, can't see, can't breathe and and quite frankly are sick and tired of being treated like second class muslims. The one place in the world that women are guaranteed equal access is in the Holy City, and now? Guess what? That is being taken away from us too, of course for our own good.

    Brothers, we appreciate that you wish to protect us, but do us a favor, all of us muslim sisters. Remember that we are grown ups too, and don't think for us without our permission. And stop trying to pass off second class and second best as "protection". We are on to you.

  35. jahzee from USA

    To all Muslim sisters - I pray that Allah grant the many muslim men greater iman and confidence to stop all oppression of our muslim sisters. The author is correct that many muslim men continue to relegate a great part of our community to a second class status by acts like this. The brothers that interpret the Koran and hadiths ofen have their own agendas. It would be great if sisters all over the muslim world could be empowered as women in the prophet (PBUH) life. Brothers please stop the double standard.

  36. Razia Ahmed from USA

    I think it is an outrage that such a proposal has been made. I agree with the author completely. Further, I propose that Masjid e Nabvi in Madinah should be integrated as Masjid Al Haram is in Makkah.

    Were women acompanying the Prophet(peace be upon him)segregated during tawaf?

  37. Sameena from US/India

    This whole nonsense about women getting more ajr if they pray at home, is really one of the means men have to prevent the participation of Muslim women in our civil society. Segregation is inherently unequal and very patronizing. We dont need men to protect us. We can decide what's best for us. I hope if this proposal passes, muslim women will boycott the Mecca and send a strong message that our men need to hear. The current islamic construction of gender relations is very antiquated and it has made Islam and muslim men the laughing stock of the world. Enough of this stupidity! We live in a day and age where women are unavoidable in the mosque, in politics, in the workplace and in practically every other sphere of civil society there is. Either Muslim men get used to sharing space with women or they will get treated like the morons they are so bent on becoming.

  38. Jawad from USA

    There is a Hadith that states that a woman best

    prayer is in her home. But, the Messenger of Allah also said do not prevent them from going to the masjid. However, the point is that, if the Messenger of Allah say that your best prayer is at home, who should argue with this. The message has been revealed to him. These hadith is not weak, nor someone opinion. This is not to degrade women. The women reward will be counted equal to the men if they obey Allah Messenger. Allah does not allow anyone reward be counted less than others if it is according to the quran and authentic sunnah. Allah and his Messenger knows best. Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah.

  39. abdifatah suleiman musse from USA

    who are you disrespecting the imams and the leaders of the holly mosques, I believe those people in the holly mosques deserve respect, and nobody is mistreating women in our holy mosque, please be respectful to your relgion and its leader, salam aleykum

  40. Farooq Hussaini from United States

    I do agree completly with your article.

    It seems we (some of us men) feel good in down grading women and restricting their movements, all this against the teachings of Allah and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)

    Thank you for your article.

  41. JoAnn from usa

    absolutely correct, it seems some muslim men like to make it difficult for sisters to just be muslim. Islam is for eveyone, not just men.

  42. Mike Gorund from USA

    It seems to me that forbidding Muslim women to pray in front of men, forcing them into some small building to pray separately etc. is discrimination. Why shouldn't a husband and wife pray together standing side-by-side? Why are women always treated inferiorly?

  43. Nuurulhaqq

    Assalamu alaikum wr wb, it appears to me that the space alloted to women has not changed in the different times that I have visitted Makkah and Madinah within the span of a decade. Yet, at each visit it I was very obvious to my eye that the number of women who made hajj and umrah had been increasing. Yes very subjective you might say, but I doubt any government body has done the most logical thing as to study the number of women who come to pray at the mosques and allocate space for us realistically. To me it is not just a simple rule of demand and supply, but it is a sign of justice and equity which Islam prescribes.

  44. Maryam from USA

    Its really sad. I wish there are some knowledgable women in the committees involved!

  45. Hashim Shomari Ibn Sharrieff from USA

    IQRA, Insha ALLAH we must read the sister all over theworld are the largest segment of the Ummah; therefore the must be afforded the most space. The future of the Ummah is with them and the children, if we insist on making them second class citizens in their deen, we will open the gates to the confusion of the world! May this proposal be denied immediately.

  46. Salim Chishti from USA

    bismillahir rahmanir raheem

    And with those words I find it impossible to actually say what is in my heart. Rasul Allah (SAW) reminded us not to act in anger so I won't. I pray that Allah (swt) guides this decision, it is categorically wrong to prevent any Muslim from reaching the Kabah. In these days we should be opening more and more equality for men and women not closing it down.

    Peace and Blessings,


  47. rafi' from singapore

    I agree with your suggestion, it is the one who teaches about haj manasik to emphasize on the women's behaviour in the grand mosque, cause I saw women willing to expose their aurat because they want to kiss hajar aswad. bottom line I still say that the shiekh or the one who teaches the manasik from all over the world have to play their part to educate their women. but to give women a specific place to perform their prayer at the grand mosque is out of the question as long as they know how to behave

  48. muhammed Taufiq from singapore

    it is time the saudi govt and people got off their high horses and respected women. it is bad enough arab men make a mockery of islam when in foreign lands but to do this?! im apalled. maybe the princes should come to singapore and see their countrymen in our pubs here. beer in the left hand and tasbih in the right. oh sorry i forgot the left hand is dirty so the tasbih has to be held in the right hand. respect your women and respect islam. stop being such damn hippocritical bunch! good work for the writer. hope they dont come haul u off to prison or something. I have nothing but the most highest form of disgust for arab men in general.

  49. Amina from Kuwait

    I believe that women should be given their rights to stay and pray any where in Two Holy Mosques.

    God Almighty and His Prophet(PBUH)teaching in the Holy Quran gives the Women their right and no man can take or misuse that right. And if they do are they forgetting this world well end one day and they will stand face to face with GOD.

  50. Tahir Aslam from Canada

    we already face a lot of questions from muslim as well as non muslim females reagrding treatment of sexes in muslim world. i strongly agree with the writer that there must be fair and just treatment of all faithfuls irrespective of their sex. House of Allah must stay open for all believers whether males or females. may Allah guide us all to understand true Islam.