The inclusivity of women in mosques has recently become a hotly debated topic among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The lack of space and facilities for females in the vast majority of mosques in Britain has left many women feeling ‘unmosqued’ and excluded from their own communities. Although the faith does place greater emphasis for men to offer their prayers in the mosque than it does for women, this shouldn’t mean that the women’s section of a mosque be reduced to a poorly kempt, stuffy basement or, in some cases, no room at all.
When women have confronted their local imams about the lack of facilities, some have been dismissed and even escorted away for questioning the ‘status quo’. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the board members of these mosques are usually male and of a singular cultural identity. This problematically results in a narrow-mindedness that neither connects with the community they are supposed to serve, nor does it help in the inclusion of their female counterparts. The results of such lack of provision are indeed damaging and in an attempt to respond to the situation, some women have put forward Islamically aberrant ideas, such as female only mosques and mixed prayer congregations, turning to the prevailing wind of secularism to popularise their ideas.
Whilst many Muslims tirelessly work to fundraise to build mosques here in the UK, we must remember that the mosque is an amaanah (trust) from Allah and not the possession of any one man. Of course, people are free to erect their own buildings for the purposes of their communities to use as they wish, with their own rules and regulations. If communities wish to enact their own cultural norms as rules, they should refrain from calling these buildings masaajid, and instead refer to them as ‘cultural community centres’; after all, how can you possibly call a building a masjid if you’re going to turn people away from worship on the basis of their gender? Mosques are the houses of Allah and no one should be turned away from them.
As a Christian, I was never turned away from a church. However, on my journey through Islam, one of the issues that continues to perplex me is that some mosques think that it’s perfectly acceptable to turn me away from the masjid based on my gender, and prevent me from worshipping my Lord in a comfortable place if I happen to be out and about. Moreover, at a time when Muslim women perhaps need more support than ever before, turning them away from the doors of a mosque is extremely counter-productive, and in some instances, it can further feelings of isolation.
From my personal anecdotal experiences, I remember the instance of a young woman who had recently converted to Islam that I found crying in the street. She was looking for some Muslim women to befriend to help her through her spiritual journey, so she decided to attend the mosque to pray and meet with other Muslim women. However, instead of being welcomed, she was sternly turned away. Feeling rejected and helpless, she walked away in tears as onlookers merely watched her. This woman turned to the mosque for support, but she was shown no empathy and was instead turned away. If women in a similar situation to her cannot turn to their mosques for support, where else are they supposed to go?
One of the ideas that underpins the lack of female provision in certain mosques is the notion that women are a ‘walking, talking fitna’ that need to be kept behind closed doors. Such thinking is problematic; it perpetuates the idea that women are sexual objects, inherently sinful and just waiting to invite someone to look upon them in a lustful way. Moreover, the internal misogyny that has developed within certain factions of the Muslim community is fed by hazardous ideas that women are a lesser part of the whole. One of the fundamental factors perpetuating this is cultural misogyny, which is mistakenly conflated with religion. Thus people misuse scripture to justify archaic ideas, such as the notion that women should stay at home. It is of course ironic that many Muslim apologists argue that Islam liberated women, and whilst many Muslim women do indeed find the faith empowering, the cultural oppression women face that prevents them from being an active part of their communities is anything but liberating.
The way that modern British Muslim women experience Islam is very different to the culturally motivated Muslims of previous generations. In an attempt to ‘protect’ their daughters, the older generation constricted their spiritual growth by keeping them away from the mosque. Certain parts of the deen are chosen for reinforcement and others are left, leaving British Muslim women in particular victims of their own family’s cultural preferences. Moreover, this isn’t just exclusive to going to the mosque. This type of cultural poison can leak into things such as choosing friends, choosing a spouse and even how their children are raised allowing the vicious cycle to continue.
The time has come for us to realise that we don’t live in a time where women are confined to small villages where they don’t travel much, and thus do not need to use the masjid often. Times have changed, and we must realise that our mosques need to be able and willing to accommodate female worshippers. Ignoring the issue will only cause further damage in the long-term.