An Open Letter to My Masjid Calling for an End to Separate Prayer Rooms


The issue of separate rooms between men and women in the mosque has troubled me for quite some time. Actually, I was quite surprised the first time I went to a mosque (armed already with my studies of the Qur’an and Hadith including the descriptions of women praying behind the men, seeking to convert to Islam) to find the man who opened the door embarassedly directing me to the basement for the women’s area. Little did I realize then how prevalent this has become! Recently, I learned that the closest mosque to me is beginning renovations to expand and improve the facilities. I was saddened to read that the separated spaces would continue. After feeling myself quite alone in my thoughts on this for many years, I have recently read several well-reasoned and well written articles on the problem, which is apparently quite widespread. Among my inspirations, Wood Turtle’s heartbreaking account of stopping by a separated mosque with her husband and daughter. Nahida’s refreshing repeated trumpet calls for women’s rights. And a very welcome man’s perspective from Mezba. Plus several other recent articles such as this one a friend passed along to me and this video which was ironically re-posted by the very mosque I’m addressing. But this issue is not limited to my nearest mosque. In fact I have never in my life been to an unsegregated mosque where men and women prayed in the same room as in the sunnah. Thus I am posting this, before I even send it, as an open letter. I am also looking for both feedback and input, before I send this letter, because I must send this letter. Perhaps more of us must send our own equivalent of this letter. It is time for me to stop complaining about the state of affairs and do something about it. If not me, who? If not now, when? If I want things to get better, I have to do something about it.

“Whoever among you sees an evil act, let him change it with his hand (by taking action); if he cannot, then with his tongue (by speaking out); and if he cannot, then with his heart (by at least hating it and regarding it as evil) – but that is the weakest of faith.” (Muslim)

Wabisa bin Mabad said: I came to the messenger of Allah and he said: “You have come to ask about righteousness ?” I said:” Yes.” He said: “Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and moves to and from in the breast even though people again and again have given you their legal opinion [in its favor].”(An-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith Qudsi)

occupy_the_masjid


Assalamou alaikum,

I have received and read your emails recently about the planned expansion for the ___ Masjid. I am very happy to hear that there are going to be improvements made and space added. But there is one important issue that it is high time to address in this expansion. The ___  Masjid is, and based on the letter describing improvements with added prayer space for both men and women, will continue after renovations to be: segregated by gender.

Segregating men and women into separate rooms for prayer is not the sunnah of the prophet Mohammed, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. It is an innovation added after the completion of our religion. And it is not, as some have argued, beneficial to our ummah, rather it leads to further division and corruption of our ummah.

It is clear from numerous hadiths that prayer was not separated into two rooms in the time of Mohammed (pbuh) as it is in our masjid and so many other “modern” mosques. They were not separated with a curtain as is used in some other locations. They did not have the men upstairs and the women downstairs. They did not have the men and women side by side with a rope in between, as we have seen at Eid!  I have seen all of these things, but I have not seen a masjid, here in the US, following the sunnah of the prophet Mohammed with the men in front and the women behind, in one room, without a division. This segregation by gender is not in the tradition of our prophet, it is in the tradition of the division and separation of women which was a problem amongst the people before Islam and continues to be a problem hundreds of years after we are supposed to have learned its message, despite the many instructions in Islam which attempt to correct this behavior. In Saudi Arabia, one speaker mentioned recently, the extreme segregation is prevalent not only in the masjids but everywhere in society. EXCEPT in the mosque in Mecca, for Hajj. Surely if this were imposed there would be too much outcry because such separation is against the sunnah of the prophet Mohammed in every tradition. So why are we continuing and reinstating this here? This video, by the way, was posted by ___ Masjid’s Facebook page! Can we not learn something from it?

At the time of the prophet, the prayer took place in one large area with both men and women attending.  The men formed the first rows and the women formed the rows behind them.  The prophet said “The best of you of the men are the ones in the front, and the best of the women are the ones in the back.” This does not even apply in the separated rooms scenario, so who are the best and worst then? The separated rooms removes the reward of those who hasten to the front or back for this reward. Some people who support the separated rooms bring the verse where the prophet Mohammed told a woman that the best place for her prayer is at home. This leaves out several important caveats. For one thing, he specifically forbade anyone preventing women from going to the mosque, on numerous occasions. Even he did not prevent it with his own wives. Much like the hadith where it says the front rows are best for the men, and the last rows are best for the women, it does not mean those in the other rows should not bother! No matter how many rows there are, there will always be first and last rows.

My objection, I would like to specify, is not in the fact of having an overflow room that is usually used for something else to be an expanded prayer area when the main room is full. Nor that there should not be separate rooms for classes, for retiring to if privacy is needed for some purpose, and so on. The objection is that there is one room for women and one room for men. In light of the improvements planned for ___ , I will not go into the fact that in most mosques, the men’s room is of considerably better standards and larger, than the women’s room. There should not be two prayer rooms to begin with, to say one is better and one is not. There should be one shared room, the upkeep of which falls to the shared ummah, the improvements of which can be enjoyed by both men and women.

The fact that women are encouraged to attend prayer (with both men and women present in the same area, as at the time of the prophet) is further reiterated at Eid time, in the hadith where one woman lacks an outer garment to attend, the prophet Mohammed says that she should borrow one and attend anyway so she may see the gathering of the muslims. The gathering of the muslims, men, and women, is important enough to bring everyone together, in fact even women who are not able to pray at that time. Note there is no evidence whatsoever that the Eid prayer at the time of the prophet was segregated by a rope or anything else, or set up side by side instead of with women praying directly behind the men, but this is an issue that goes beyond the current setup at ___ , since Eid prayers are not offered there.

Because certainly, the only benefit of attending the mosque is not just offering prayers, for those who say that it’s not necessary for women to attend because praying in the mosque is not obligatory on them. The mosque is the center of the muslim community. EVEN MORE SO in our community here because most of the people in this part of the country are not muslim. If the muslims cannot gather at the mosque, where can they gather? Where can they find community leaders? Where can they discuss issues affecting the ummah, if not at the masjid? And how can this discussion either incorporate viewpoints of the entire ummah or benefit the entire ummah when only the male half of it is involved in the discussion?

Listening to the imam lecture or discuss over the microphone in a closed-off room is not participating. There is no opportunity for feedback or interaction amongst the community. In the time of the prophet, there were not two communities: the female muslim community and the male muslim community. There was ONE muslim community, one ummah. But here, in today’s world, reinforced at ___ Masjid, it seems we have two communities, the male muslim community, and the female muslim community, with no discourse between them.

In the prophet’s mosque, he gave the instruction that if the imam made any mistake in the prayer, and a follower noted it, a man should say subhanAllah, and the woman should clap, to indicate the mistake. How can this sunnah be applied in the separated room scenario?

The prophet told the women praying, they should not raise their heads from the ground until the men raised their heads from the ground, in prayer, presumably so they would not see the awrah of the men. How can this play out in the separate rooms? Now do not say that it is better in separate rooms because there is no chance of seeing the awrah of the other person. It would have been very easy for the prophet Mohammed to say, so that no woman should accidentally look at the awrah of the row in front, put a curtain or wall between. But he did NOT say that. Why are we assuming in today’s world we know better?

He indicated in the prayer also that we must follow the imam. Followers must not place their head on the ground before the imam, and should not raise it up before the imam, and so forth. How, in a separate room, over a crackly microphone, can this sunnah be observed? There is very little connection with the imam at all. Yes, it is sometimes possible to follow by voice alone, just as a blind person may follow the prayer. But why, are the women relegated to praying blind when they could follow the sunnah and pray behind the men, behind the imam?

The prophet Mohammed said, to both men and women, pray as you have seen me praying. In the absence of the prophet, let no woman try to learn from the imam today, because there is no way to see how he is praying. Also, please do not say that following the other women in prayer is sufficient. To begin with, the first woman still has the same issue that the imam is not visible to follow appropriately. Secondly, female attendance is so low (possibly due to discouraging lack of ability to actually participate) that at some prayer times I have found no other women. There always must be the first. Hopefully it is not a person in need of guidance or help, since there will be no one accessible to give it.

The prophet used to address both men and women in his khutbah. The women and men both used to ask questions, and hear the answers. This allowed discourse in the community. To further assist the women, he also held separate sessions to address their questions with them. Not only are there no separate sessions to address the concerns that women might have and be reluctant to voice in front of the entire male community (which yes, is legitimate) but there is no opportunity for them to participate in the general community with any type of question or feedback.

The prophet Mohammed was not the only one who had discussions with women. It was also common for other men to come and ask questions of his wives, as mentioned in the verse that if anyone had to ask a question of the prophet’s wife, he should ask from behind a screen. This was specific to asking the prophet’s wives, when visiting them, in their homes! Note that the prophet’s wives also attended the mosque without separation, despite this. There are other hadiths indicating mixed conversations of both women and men about islamic matters, this was not limited to the masjid.  In fact gender segregation did not extend outside the masjid either, women and men attended markets and purchased items from each other, fought side by side, worked side by side. So why, in our current day, do we have this segregation within the mosque?

The fact of the matter is, life outside the mosque goes on unsegregated as usual, albeit with a mixture of muslims and non-muslims, at work, at school, at play, at the shop. Most of those interaction, because of the makeup of our community, are with non-muslims. As a result since there is absolutely NO interaction between men and women at the masjid, this becomes natural amongst the youth. Why should a young man or a young woman feel comfortable interacting with a young muslim of the opposite sex, when they are prevented from doing so at the natural gathering place of the muslims? They interact freely or not in every other avenue of life with non-muslims, so it is natural this is the way they will begin to feel comfortable. Not only are we tieing the hands of the community by preventing any input from men or women from reaching the other side of the mosque, but we are also preventing our young people from learning how to properly treat the opposite sex in Islam. Isolating a person from the opposite sex is not a protection, it is doing them an injury. Especially when they are not really isolated from the opposite sex, they are only isolated from other muslims of the opposite sex, who they have no idea how to act around except that they apparently may not speak to them or pray in the same area, contrary to our prophet Mohammed’s example. With non-muslims, interaction is free. This is completely contrary to how we should be raising our children. They should grow up knowing who the members of the opposite sex in their community are, not the least for identifying future marriageable partners and learning the proper etiquette and respect for treating a wife or husband!

Segregating the muslim community also extends to segregating the family unit. How appropriate is it that a family cannot attend the masjid and pray together or see each other? What about muslims who are not part of a family unit? The forgotten ones of the muslim ummah especially in this country seem to be the single women. NOT EVERY woman has a family speaking for her/taking care of her. NOT EVERY woman is married! there are muslim women on their own, speaking for themselves, yet when it comes to interacting with the community, it seems to be assumed that they will operate through their husband or muslim family. Please let us lay to rest the antiquated notion that every woman has a husband or father or brother speaking for her. This was NOT the case in the time of the prophet Mohammed and it is not the case now. There are women who are unmarried and whose family lives far away. Or, their parents have passed away and they do not have any children. There are women who may have family, but their family is not muslim and has no interaction nor desire to interact with the muslim community! There are women who are widows and left without any tie to the community if their only tie is through their husband. There are divorced women with children, raising their sons without any male mentor or positive role model in Islam, because of this separation. There are SINGLE women with children (they do exist) who have found Islam, but have not found any support in the community, let along a chance of being married when there is no contact with the entire male half of the ummah.

It is not only the lack of contact in the masjid that causes problems in this avenue, but what results from it. Male leadership that does not take into account the problems and issues facing women in the community. A standard that separates brother from sister, man from wife, when it comes to religion, instead of binding them together as in fact the most concrete unit our ummah can build on. Services that are denied sisters because of their lack of a male counterpart to speak up for them in a room where they have no voice. I speak from personal experience of myself, and other women, in this very community, where we are unfortunately isolated by the fact of being women. The issue is not limited to our community, it is widespread. But it IS present in our community, we are not immune, the segregation practices of ___ Masjid and other area masjids only perpetuate the problem. This is NOT the goal of Islam or the message of Islam. Islam repeatedly calls out and addresses the needs of women and the oppression of women by men which has played out repeatedly in history, from the beginning of recorded history. Islam does not try to pretend this does not exist, which it does, in every society, but instead targets it and corrects it, if only we followed the message.

Why do we have instructions in the Qur’an and hadiths like lowering the gaze from each other, not stamping the feet to draw attention to hidden adornments, covering our bodies, speaking in a non-enticing way, not wearing perfumes to draw attention, traveling with protection (assuming you even have a wali!) and treating men or women with kindness and respect? Why do we have admonitions to look away after the first glance, to not look at the awrah while praying, for the women to exit before the men, when ALL THIS COULD BE SOLVED by never having men or women interact with each other (except when against all odds they somehow meet anyway and marry)? Because that is NOT a solution, that is a fallacy that is damaging to our community. By making that the solution, you are ignoring the fact that Allah did NOT make that the solution, but gave us instructions on how to deal with each other instead. Men and Women are the two halves of the ummah, they serve as balance and counter balance to each other, their voices must be heard against each other. Mohammed (pbuh) heard the objections of the women against the men’s behavior, and he heard the objections of the men against the women’s behavior, and those objections are very much like the same complaints we hear today about the behavior of the opposite sex. He did not act by erecting separate rooms in the prayer space! Instead, we have guidelines and rules for how to treat each other properly, rules that are never applied when we never meet.

A woman alone in this community has nowhere to turn for help from any man in the community, be it an imam, a wali to stand in for her, a counselor to help mediate a problem with her husband if she IS married, a scholar to ask questions of, any of these things, without the accompaniment of a husband (or other male muslim family member). I know, because I have tried, and I know other sisters who have tried and found nothing. I do not blame ___ Masjid for this but I do blame the separation that has been created between men and women throughout our muslim community to the point that interaction between the sexes is non-functional except in limited venues outside the mosque. And this is if you can even find those venues, as a practical matter a muslim man outside the mosque blends almost seamlessly into the non-muslim community, if he so chooses, unlike the muslim woman (at least in hijab).

This is a problem that ___  Masjid could address, by starting to follow this aspect of the sunnah, by bringing our community together again.

There is another aspect to the segregation that is little discussed, and that is our children. Creating a women’s and men’s section of the mosque, in effect, means creating a “women and children” and men’s section of the mosque. Yes, sometimes a child may go into the other room or graduate to attending with his father, but other than that, the women’s section is also usually the children’s section.

I have already discussed the damaging effect of the segregation on teenagers, at a time when it is most critical to learn appropriate behaviors to the opposite sex, and also a time, though we don’t think of it much in today’s world, to be thinking about marriage, because they are already thinking about the things that go with marriage, and in the absence of potential muslim partners that they have ever met, it is about the non-muslims they interact with daily, who are only too happy to become a girlfriend or boyfriend. But teenagers are already graduated to praying in separate rooms with the appropriate sex.

What about the younger children? It is the example of the prophet Mohammed that children were allowed in the mosque, I would even say encouraged due to the fact that he allowed children to climb on him, whilst he was leading the prayer! How different is this from the behavior today which relegates children to the back room with the women, where sadly most of them neither attempt to pray or show any interest in the prayer at all, even at the age where they should begin to learn. How different would the reaction be of a young child who grew up watching the imam pray, who played beside him and was indulged by this, who saw the eye of his father watching him if he got disruptive, who saw the family and the entire ummah come together as one, who actually participated in the prayer and was welcomed? I routinely hear and read about those who complain about children running undisciplined and making noise in the mosque.  Perhaps this is also a factor in wanting to have a separate room to keep women and children’s noise out of the way! My personal experience has more often been of groups of children apathetic and entirely uninterested in the prayers.

Either way, this is NOT the way to deal with this situation in Islam, to shut women and children in a closet so the men don’t get distracted. We must deal with any issues of this sort as a whole, and personally I think including the men and the imam in the room would be a start to begin with of restoring some amount of discipline and desire in the children to follow along. Even if there are children crawling through the rows, this is not a “women’s problem” to deal with alone, the prophet Mohammed held his grandchildren while praying, he allowed the children to come there. How else will they integrate Islam in their hearts and desire to follow, without these examples?

My son has never seen an imam praying, except from the far side of the room (very far, separated by ropes and side by side unlike the sunnah) unintelligible over a loud microphone, at Eid. He has never watched men come together and pray or seen any man he could relate to demonstrating not only how to pray and follow Islam but how to treat and interact with women in a religious setting, except to avoid them altogether! I know exactly what this is teaching him, but without the help of the male community, I am powerless to do anything about it. Nor will I be pushing him alone at the age of 7 into the unknown male side of the mosque to fend for himself! This is not community. Nor is the problem limited to male children. Perhaps even more, a female child should have the example of the men of her community how to treat women, of the proper behavior between girls and boys. It is equally important that a girl see how men in her religion treat women with respect and give them their rights, including the rights to full access to the mosque and interaction as a member of the community. How can I tell a girl how Islam grants her these rights and respect and protection, when our local example of Islam as embodied in the mosque is distant and separate, with men a closed off presence not seen past the mosque parking lot, unlike the welcoming non-muslim community which greets her open-armed? How can I explain why the ummah described in the hadiths doesn’t actually play out here, and rather, the muslim community seems to actively work against the prophet’s example of unity? To a young girl growing up, and learning she is different from the non-muslim community, my explanation of Islam from the Qur’an and hadiths is remote from what she sees in her own community and deals with day-to-day, and it is not a positive comparison.

Driving a wedge between men and women of the ummah is also driving a wedge between the boys and girls of the ummah who are born here. This is their inheritance. It is up to them to keep Islam going in the future and keep the ummah strong and united, but instead it is being splintered by this segregational behavior. Do not say it is unnecessary for women to participate in these aspects of the masjid, would you agree if I relegated all men under the age of 25 to one room and told them their elders would be handling all discussion from now on, and they could listen in? Would they consider this unfair? How is the segregation of women any more fair? It does not bear up under the sunnah and example of the prophet into an inclusive community. It is a not a “good bidah” either, if there is such a thing, because it causes division and further unfairness in the community and does not give women the same access to Islamic resources.

I am aware there are those in the community, BOTH men and women, who support the segregation. This is clear and in fact throughout many muslim communities this segregation has become far more prevalent than it used to be, if you were to look back a few generations. In response I say, we are not tailoring Islam based off the whims of people, Islam is very clear and Allah knows well what the whims of people are and has given us guidelines in accordance with that. As I mentioned earlier, it would have been an easy thing in the Quran or an instruction from Mohammed (pbuh) to set people up in separate rooms, but he did NOT do so. This should be enough reason that we should not take people’s current trends or desires as a reason to impose this innovation! Those who support segregation often also refer to Aisha’s quote that “if Mohammed had still been alive, he would have prevented women from going to the mosque.” This brings up a few points. First of all, it reiterates that he did NOT prevent women from doing so, even when he recommended to some of them praying in the house.  Secondly, it makes it clear that the “corruption” that people claim makes this necessary in modern times was still there within Aisha’s lifetime. Regardless of the century the general impression always seems to be that society is going to pieces and morality is going downhill. Be that as it may, there are numerous references in the Qur’an and hadiths which are the exact same issues people complain about today, including drunkenness, adultery, hypocrisy, inappropriate contact between men and women, etc. Segregating the mosque is not the solution to that. And in polite deference to Aisha’s statement, Allah knows all that will occur and that would occur and perfected Islam for us, it is not in need of modern updates. If it were best for us to have been told to pray in separate rooms, then surely Allah would have stated this and Mohammed would have enforced it in his own time, rather than giving people other guidelines to “deal with” interacting with men and women and children in the same room. For us to argue that “if he had known he would have changed this and that” is a dangerous path to go down. Islam is not a religion that needs new rules added and revised especially at the core in how we offer our prayers! There are other areas of life that change with new inventions and technologies that did not exist (cars, air travel), but offering prayer, in congregation, with men women and children, is the same or SHOULD be the same as it was in the time of our prophet. People are no more corrupt than they have always been, and Islam is just as perfect now to deal with that as it ever was.

I sincerely hope that you will contemplate the practice of our prophet and the need to return our prayer to that of a united ummah, in one room. There will assuredly be some naysayers, but there will also be those who have currently abandoned the mosque and muslim community here altogether as a result of the segregated practices and exist as islands, who can once again participate in Islam with their brothers and sisters and husbands and wives and sons and daughters. Most importantly, opening the prayer will be fulfilling the sunnah and example of our prophet Mohammed which there is no good reason to turn away from and which the leaving of  has already done much damage to our community. I will leave you with Allah’s words:

“O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another.”

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Update 5/29/2012: I did receive a reply back from the masjid, but I’m not copying/pasting it here verbatim because it was actually addressed to someone other than me (a man, I’m guessing, based on the name) who apparently also talked to the sender in person.  I can only assume that he got the two of us mixed up. On the plus side, this suggests that someone besides me addressed the issue with the masjid, which is somewhat heartening :). However, the representative who contacted me did say that there was not going to be a solid wall between the two halls in the new mosque. This does beg the question of what kind of division there is going to be, since they are described as two separate halls. (The current mosque appears to have been originally built without separation, but there is sort of a makeshift wall which completely separates the two sides). So we shall see… more to come insha’allah :).
Update 7/29/2012: To date, I have not received any further response regarding the original letter or my followup (shorter :P) email replying and asking about what type of division would exist in the new mosque, since there were two halls described.

Update 8/31/2012: Although I never did get any further clarity from the masjid, I did receive some more info and a floor plan from another attendee of this masjid which clarified matters a lot! The  new plan will have a main hall, and a separate smaller room behind it connected by a wide, open doorway. The two rooms are variously referred to as the main hall and the auxiliary hall, or the men’s room and the women’s room.  The person who passed this on was of the understanding that women would be allowed to join into the main hall (though that wasn’t the impression I got from the person who responded from the masjid, but as previously noted, the response wasn’t particularly clear). Still it is promising and an improvement on the current setup. It remains to be seen how it will play out, whether the main hall will be inclusive and whether the “women’s auxiliary area” will remain openly connected (it appears the current mosque was once one big room as well which was later separated…). If the main hall is to be all inclusive I’m not sure why it’s built as two separate rooms and the smaller referred to as the women’s area. But time will tell :).

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About qatheworld

I review various and sundry items of life, thereby helping you to seek out positive new experiences and escape the less savory. I also perform a quality review of the other issues encountered in my general life.
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23 Responses to An Open Letter to My Masjid Calling for an End to Separate Prayer Rooms

  1. Assalamu Alaikum, this is really great! It says all that I’ve ever wanted to say on the subject and touches on even more topics that I never thought of before! Thank you for sharing this as a public letter, and I’m looking forward to the response you receive from your masjid inshallah 🙂

    I’ll be sharing this on my Facebook page, as I really think others need to see this!

    Salaams,
    Sarah

    • qatheworld says:

      Assalamou alaikum Sarah, Thank you, I really appreciate the feedback and I am glad you are sharing it; I hope we can find the strength to bring this message or similar messages to many more masjids that need it and help our communities in the process. Insha’allah I intend to post any reply from the masjid as well.

  2. qatheworld says:

    After some time to sleep on it and reflect I’ve now sent this to my masjid. The concept of this letter has lived for so many months in my mind, long before I put fingers to keyboard to congeal my thoughts into something useful, and even kept me awake at night with the injustice of it all. I am both excited and apprehensive to have finally taken this step. The next step is awaiting any response! May Allah benefit our ummah with any positive result this may bring and forgive me for any negative that may result! Insha’Allah others will be brave enough to take this step with me as well. “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. (13:11)”

  3. I do not know much about this religion, but I think I have to re-read this blog post of yours when it is not so early in the morning! This post is filled with so much good information, and I agree with you about your opinion segregation in prayer. I have only been to one mosque unfortunately. It was in Hong Kong and I found it to be an eye opening experience to know that my boyfriend and I had to enter in separate ways and when we met again we were shown and explained the segregation of prayer areas for men and women. It was interesting and I always wondered why this was so but have not had the time to become educated more about your religion. But it seems what you are speaking against is brave because I have an idea about the nature of this ancient religion…I wish you well in your endeavors!

    • qatheworld says:

      Thank you so much for your reply and support, Frances! It does seem that in recent history there has been a resurgence of reinstating what are really pre-Islamic practices which lead to unfortunate division between women and men. I do not know if all the muslims who acquiesce to this realize it actually goes AGAINST the teaching of the prophet Mohammed (the sunnah), who shows us how to apply the Qur’an in our everyday lives and treat each other with kindness and fairness. But I do know that some of them are just understandably reluctant to speak out, or their message has fallen on deaf ears. It is not a radical message, but I think turning away from something as key as worshiping together and in turn understanding how to treat one another does damage the community and has a ripple effect of negativity inside and outside the mosque!

      Feel free to post any questions you have, by the way 🙂 also the posts I linked to at the beginning are also related to this topic and have some great quotes (I didn’t include a lot of direct quotes in mine, in part because the mosque leaders probably already know which hadiths I am referring to, and in part because I was already a bit long-winded lol) :D. Maybe I should add annotations to the blog version 🙂

  4. Umm Ibrahim says:

    asalaamu alaikum. Personally I prefer if the masajid is sex segregated because I feel its a better environment. Now, I do dislike blatantly sexist masjids where the women are forced into some crazy, tiny, hot, cramped room, but if its a normal masjid with a divider down the center or front to back, I rpefer that. No way do I want to be around men when I am at the masjid. Ditto for iftars and meals…the men and women should not sit by each other. Its just immodest for both sexes and I think really restricts our freedom to relax and practice our deen if we have to constantly worry about men seeing us relax in the masjid. The masjid I generally go to is no under the control of more liberal Muslims who even tried to take the divider out of the musallah, but I was like, heck no..No way am I praying In the Musallah where men can see me. Talk about immodesty and indecency! Ditto for meals, they tried to put men and women together for the lunches…Uh, No way! I want to be able to eat in peace without men looking at me. I honestly prefer the more stricter masjids because they enforce the sex seperation more and I just find that more conducive to the masjid environment. I dont think masjids need to be free, open, spaces of inter-gender mixing…thats really immodest. Im kind of very old school and conservative in this regard. Again, im against the blatant sexist stuff that occurs in some masjids…but if the masjid has equal but seperate spaces for men and women, thats ideal.

  5. Umm Ibrahim says:

    Also in turn…along with masjids now trying to be come…I dunno, open spaces of free mixing…but Muslims also arent really caring about their attire or behavior in the masjid! Its on both the men and the womens shoulders to behave modestly and decently and to dress modestly and decently in the masjid! Maybe if the women didnt come into the masjid in butt tight pants, short shirts and short scarves and talk with the men and act immodestly and in turn the men come in, in immodest attire like shorts and tank tops or tight clothing and oogle the women and show a lack of respect for their sisters in the deen…if both sides had their act together and men woujldnt be checking out sisters butts when they pray…then yes, maybe I could go for a non-seg masjid…but thats NOT going to happen. Some muslims realy have no hayah and use the masjid as a place to look at the opp. sex, show off and be indecent…so really…its a blessing to keep the sexes seperated…also I prefer to be able to relax and loosen my garments and hang out and have fun with my sisters in the masjid and not worry about the brothers seeing that! There are extremes to both sides and we need to stay in the middle.

    • Hayyah says:

      Actually, you aren’t old-school in your opinion. Because old-school for us is the Sunnah. And the Sunnah is for men and women to be in the same room without a partition. So you have apparently made yourself even more ‘modest’ than the Sahaba. What saddens me is that those of us who do want to follow the Sunnah can’t because women like you help prevent that from happening. A degree less than making the halal haram. I honestly don’t have much respect for modesty when it gets to the point of calling the Sahaba indecent.

      I also have yet to meet a convert who started thinking like this, who did not lose her Deen within 10 years. That says something.

      Ibn Abaas (ra) reports that, “Once the Prophet came out (for the ‘Eid prayers) as if I were just observing him waving to the people to sit down. He then, accompanied by Bilal, came crossing the rows till he reached the women. He recited verse 12 of chapter 60 to them and asked: ‘O ladies, are you fulfilling your covenant?’ None except one woman said ‘Yes’. The Prophet then said: ‘Then give sadaqah.’ Bilal (ra) then spread his garment and said ‘Keep on giving alms’. (Bukhari)

      Wa Salam

  6. qatheworld says:

    I understand that there are different levels of comfort with the open or separated masjid, but I guess I feel that it shouldn’t be about our personal comfort or whatever is the societal convention at the time, when there is the sunnah to follow. That includes, of course, the guidelines about how to behave when there are both men and women in the masjid which are referenced in the hadiths, not a huge free-for-all, but with respectful behavior on both sides. You mentioned that the idea of having no barrier seemed immodest and indecent, but how when the prophet Mohammed, who taught us the best of ways to live, did not choose to separate people in this way but instead established behavior guidelines in response. How is it up to us to decide what we are more “comfortable” with when this is the way the prayer was laid out by the prophet Mohammed pbuh? I am aware of poor behavior of both men and women, but I want to raise the question… is this perhaps increased by the fact that nobody ever learns how to behave around MUSLIMS of the opposite sex (in the US, where I’m located, there’s by necessity quite a bit of interaction with the non-muslim opposite sex, while I’ve never been to a masjid that wasn’t segregated)? Obviously you should treat them the same but the masjid is the only place where the person on the other side of the interaction is also expected to follow islamic behavior. I see quite a lot of people as a result developing very different behaviors towards muslim vs. nonmuslims of the opposite sex which I think actually leads to more division, because ultimately people become more comfortable interacting with non-muslims of the opposite sex (both men and women have made this evident to me). There are a lot of references to correct behavior towards the opposite sex in the hadiths (especially in the masjid) but with the type of segregation taking place, very little opportunity to actually put it into practice. I wonder if having to be on good behavior and follow the sunnah, as well as seeing more examples of good behavior between muslim men and women in a traditional (following the time of the prophet) masjid would actually improve this behavior and help make our society more cohesive.

  7. Kish says:

    Share!!!! Thank you so much! I thought I was alone. I have broached this subject with other women and was SHOCKED to find out they thought something was wrong with me. There is one masjid in DC (Masjid Muhammad) that stands out and has a set up exactly like the prophet Muhammad masjid PBUH.. and there are two in MD (ISWA and Masjid Taqwah) that have veriation but very very close to the sunnah…..those are the only ones I frequent. However, most seem not to. I have blasted off about this subject many times when my hubby has come home upset that quran and sunnah were not being followed in some way in the masjid. “Yeah?” I say….well you brothers will kick up a fuss about that…but nobody’s saying a word about the cubicles!!” May Allah guide us all.!! I thought it was just me being a newer muslimah (5 years)…but I guess not. I have stopped going to events (conferences, lectures etc) where my husband is placed on one side of the room and I’m on another. There should always be a section for families at those types of functions as well. May Allah guide us.

    • qatheworld says:

      Thank you very much for your comments and your share, Kish! 🙂 I am always relieved when another person is willing to speak up about this and then I know I’m not alone! I am also very glad to hear that you have at least some options where you live that allow you to follow the sunnah in this respect. Unfortunately like you I’ve received backlash from both genders on this topic, but also it warms my heart to see more women and men who are willing to talk about this, it will take both to help reinstate this practice, and I think it’s very important to do so. As with many other items of the sunnah that may seem unimportant to certain parties on the surface, I feel it has far broader implications for society and the family unit than most people think about. The prophet Mohammed pbuh also said: “Whoever revives an aspect of my Sunnah that is forgotten after my death, he will have a reward equivalent to that of the people who follow him, without it detracting in the least from their reward.” (Tirmidhi)

  8. Kish says:

    Additionally, I guess by being raised outside of Islam I take for granted the “normal” that I feel
    interacting with people in general. I have worked jobs where I was the only women in an all male field (in more than one career) I’ve never been shy. However I have always been no-nonsense, I demand respect… and don’t play any hanky panky..and now being muslim I know how to guard my gaze and the rules of engagement. Therefore, I know how to be polite and pleasant without becoming flirty and alluring. I have absolutely no problem being in the same room eating with others sisters and their families. As a matter of fact, for dinners at my home i don’t separate the meals…we eventually go into our respective chat corners but I feel if we are muslims we already KNOW how to behave. If we are all doing as we should…we are only looking at the one we came with and those of our respective genders…How are we supposed to lead lives and work and function in the world if we can’t be in the same room with one another (as muslims)?? I have seen time and time again where muslims are having a hard time finding a good brother/sister to marry…because they have no opportunity to even see them let along observe from a far. Wasn’t it Khadija (may allah be pleased with her) who saw the prophet Muhammad pbuh, observed and verified his character and then sent another women to send word of her offer to marry him?? But I guess some would argue that was pre-Revalation..I’m just saying I see this way of live is beautiful,easy and clear-cut…it’s the people that get it all jumbled up. I am a southerner by birth and it’s nothing for me to speak to every other person I see on my hiking trail (not men unless they say a polite hello first)..Isn’t saying salaams and smiling sadaqa?? Not just Sadaqa for our own gender.. half the time out brothers don’t even Salaam us ….because of what?? I truly feel that approachability makes people outside of islam see us (muslims) as normal folk and not some cult or something to fear. But I digress.

    • qatheworld says:

      I have to agree with you there. I do find it odd that the same people who seem to have no trouble eating in a restaurant surrounded by non-muslim men and women will not so much as speak to muslim of the opposite sex that they meet, if they will even be in the same room (this is outside of the mosque, where such an opportunity actually might present itself). Some people for instance have no problem with their wife working in a mixed, non-muslim workplace, but raise high objections to her having dinner at a friend’s house if the friend’s husband will be present. In which situation is she likely to encounter better behavior and safety? The marriage issue is but one problem aspect (which I’ve run into personally since my divorce) but it is certainly a big one, not to mention the ability to function as a family and allow children to observe proper behavior between the genders. Unlike you, I wouldn’t say I’m “at ease” interacting with people in general for various reasons including shyness, it actually became much easier for me after I converted for some reason 🙂 but, I do try to fulfill smiling and giving salams if I see someone else I know is muslim. Generally this is women in hijab since otherwise I don’t really know (unless the other person has greeted me first), but many times they do not even reply either :P.

  9. Assalamu Alaikum,

    A few comments on your article.

    1) As for saying that separating the men and the women in a Masjid is an innovation this is not something said by the scholars of the Salaf, the Tabi’een or those who came after them. This is because an innovation is something which is an act resembling worship wanting by it closeness to Allah. As for separating the men and the women this wants by it to minimize mixing between the men and the women and it does not interfere with the worship (prayer) itself.

    2) Imam Bukhari mentioned in his authentic collection: Chapter: If there is between the Imaam and the people a wall or a Sutra. And in it is the statement of Abu Mijlaz that they complete with the Imam even if there is between them a road or a wall once it is that they hear the Takbeer of the Imam. And he used the Hadeeth where the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) prayed Taraweeh in his room and the people followed him from behind the wall of his room. See Kitaab Ul Adhaan chapter 80.

    Hence, how can it be seen as an innovation when it is clear having a wall between the Imam and the congregation is lawful?

    3) Even if it is that we were to say it is an innovation. Then in that case I beg the question as to whether or not the women dress and act now as they acted in that time.

    Umm Salamah reported that when the women completed the prayer they stood up and left (Bukhari). If the women stand up and leave as soon as the prayer is finished then this there would be no need for the separation.

    Additionally, the women used to dress in garments which enveloped their entire bodies where, according to a Hadeeth in Bukhari and Muslim, they resembled black crows and were not recognized from the darkness of the dawn. However, nowadays women do not dress in this manner. And even in another narration in Bukhari, ‘Aisha said that if the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) dressed and acted as the women did in that time he would have prevented them from the Masajid like the children of Israel prevented their women from the Masajid.

    Therefore, if the separation is not to be implemented in a Masjid then the women must dress and act as the women of the companions.

    Hence, due to all these factors, that it is not an innovation and has not been seen as an innovation by any scholar, that it is lawful to have something separating the Imam and the congregation and that the women of this time neither dress nor act like the women companions of the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) how can it be concluded that having a separation is unlawful and furthermore an innovation.

    Although, there is one matter to note, and that is if the women are praying behind men there should be a mechanism wherein the women can see the men however where the men cannot see the women e.g a one sided glass, in order for the women to follow the postures for the prayer.

    Musa Millington

    • qatheworld says:

      I think I addressed all of these points, some at length, in the article, but I will refer back to them here.

      1) “This is because an innovation is something which is an act resembling worship wanting by it closeness to Allah. As for separating the men and the women this wants by it to minimize mixing between the men and the women and it does not interfere with the worship (prayer) itself. ” I think this exactly qualifies by your definition as well. Prayer is an act of worship. There is the idea inherent in the barrier that separating the men and women with it is somehow improving this act of worship from the way that the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) used to do, because he did not separate men and women in this way.

      2) I am not suggesting that the women’s prayer in another room, etc is “invalid” at all. I even mentioned in my article that I am not objecting to having an overflow room, etc if there is not enough room for people. However, despite it often being portrayed this way (that there is a main area and then this is just an extra area and the women end up there because there is no room) is not accurate at all. I have seen mosques described that way but that is not how it plays out. The women are relegated to a separate area even if there is plenty of room in the main area. For that matter if more room is needed, why not open up the entire space? Again, my point is not that you *can’t* pray from behind some sort of barrier, it is that segregating genders this way so the women are cut off from the congregation and imam is not the sunnah. The example you quoted does not involve separating the women from the rest of the group.

      3) I already addressed this including the quote from Aisha and the instructions about behavior (such as allowing women to exit first… which is different than women getting up and leaving immediately after prayer. If there is a lecture, sermon or other discussion after prayer there is no reason for the women not to stay and listen). Regarding the comment from Aisha, as I stated in the article, with all respect to her, saying that if the prophet had seen what people are doing now he would have made such and such ruling is not a valid reason to change the sunnah. You could say this about anything (and people do…) but that does not change the sunnah. Unlike Aisha the prophet was given a clear message for the people from Allah. Even though he did not know how the world would change, except as Allah revealed to him, Allah knew well of course how people would behave in the future, and made Islam complete for us at the time, in full knowledge of all things to come. If such a clear part of Islam as establishing the salat in the mosque would have been better by separating the men and women, for any time in the future to come, there can be no doubt that Allah would have guided the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) to order this. But through his life he did not order that and men and women were not segregated by any barrier in the masjid. Instead he imparted many instructions about how to behave in the masjid (and elsewhere) between men and women, and many guidelines to accommodate men and women together in the masjid, which would have been unnecessary if they were segregated. To suggest this is to suggest that the idea of segregating the genders did not occur to the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) or Allah or that people today have some improvement or better idea about how to perform the salat than what we have been taught by the messenger (for which we should ask forgiveness even thinking such a thing!).

      The last argument you presented is unfortunately the worst one in my opinion, “Therefore, if the separation is not to be implemented in a Masjid then the women must dress and act as the women of the companions.” First of all, I should point out that many women today dress completely enveloped as you say. Despite the fact that comparing their dress to having crows on their heads as described in the hadith doesn’t exactly establish this fact because that is a somewhat ambiguous description. There are a number of traditions about women’s dress handed down, which are not specific enough to establish an exact garment. Suffice to say there is a way to cover properly and modestly, about which opinions vary as to how that should be executed or exactly how it was executed at the time of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh). You don’t have any basis to say how differently muslim women of today dress, but surely there is not only one particular method of covering one’s body which is acceptable. I feel I also must mention that it is almost certain women’s dress of today more closely approximates the dress of the women at the time of the prophet mohammed (pbuh) than men’s dress of today does, in terms of modest and covering. There is considerably more info about men’s garments in the hadiths and the tradition of the time is not the tradition of today in most parts of the world. Does that mean men should only dress that way today? Why isn’t men’s modest dress in the masjid coming up in your question? In fact, the way the prayer is situated according to the sunnah, the women have more view of the men than vice versa, unless the men are turning around to stare. However, my take is that no, neither men or women need to dress exactly as the companions of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) did many years ago and this does not mean they cannot still dress modestly and fufill requirements of hijab. Dress varies considerably by time period, culture, and location, however modest and covering alternatives are always available, and yes I believe they should be followed. There are many people, men and women, who could do well to dress more modestly.

      HOWEVER
      the premise that this barrier has been established because of poor behavior or dress of women is a laughable one. Secondly this type of method of control is completely unislamic, no matter the type of dress anyone is wearing to the masjid. If there is a man praying in the masjid and a women enters wearing a bikini, should he A) lower his gaze and focus on his prayer or B), put her in a closet where she cannot be seen or heard? The same corruption issues that exist today clearly existed to some extent in the time of the prophet. There were hadiths about certain clothing being appropriate or not (of both men and women) because sometimes people dressed inappropriately. Likewise adultery obviously occurred at that time, there were many references to it. On the other hand there is no record of barring anyone from the masjid because of how they dressed or separating them on that basis even on an individual level. At most we have hadith saying for instance, for women not to come to the masjid wearing perfume, or for men and women not to come to the masjid after eating garlic. Missing is any type of instruction forcing these people into a separate room if they show up.

      There is a difference between guidelines instructing people how to behave in an environment with both men and women present (such as the masjid at the time of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh)) and attempting to control and suppress them by shutting them in a separate room instead of allowing prayer in the main hall and participation with the rest of the muslims. The prophet’s method of instruction was not to cut people off from society, the absolute core of society, of coming to the masjid and worshiping with the other believers, listening to and learning from the Qur’an and the khutbahs. He expressly forbade preventing women from coming to the masjid on numerous occasions, and he did not separate them or anyone else for behaving or dressing badly (even if we were to buy into your broad statement that women today dress incorrectly).

      The imam or leaders of the mosque have no authority to say “these women are not dressed properly so let us keep them out of the main area, and if they learn to behave they will be allowed in.” Would they post someone at the door to keep out anyone judged not to be dressed appropriate? The idea is ridiculous to the nature of Islam as an all-inclusive religion, which is for everyone on earth, and of which the basis is learning and improving our behavior, not shutting people out on a human’s judgement if they fail to measure up to your standards. The failure to live up to any standard of Islam is not a reason to cut people off from other members of their religion, and basically from the main center of Islam and source of learning in the community, the masjid. This is completely contrary to the prophet’s (pbuh) example and way of teaching people. If the goal were *really* to improve the dress or any other behavior (which as I already mentioned, I don’t buy as the reason these barriers exist), that would not be the way to go about it. There are so many hadiths which illustrate this and the prophet’s method of guiding people to right behavior, which is not by isolating them or shutting them away. And I do not believe anyway that this is why anyone establishes a barrier, it is just an excuse and a method of controlling and silencing the women in the community. And that is not a new issue in human history at all, it is one the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) fought to correct in his time as well.

    • Amin Attaullah Hawley says:

      Brother, this is indeed the worst of bid’ah in this day. You take the right of the separation of Imam to mean that its okay to separate sexes. How can they be the same? The congregation of men and women followed an imam behind a screen, not a screen between men and women. As for dress, you must not understand hijab for men and women. As for my experience in American Masjids, the women are much better at following hijab than men. Since they are separated, this is from experience in the parking lot, and comparisons made between my wife and me. Never have we been to a masjid that gave the same respect to women that it shows to men. What I have found is that the women not trying to have some form of modesty are those who are non-Muslim. Christian and Hindu women coming to masjid as the wife of a Muslim man. Yet these women are accepted by the other women, while my white american muslim wife wearing much more modest clothing is shunned by both the women and men. How many men wear full length clothing that is sunnah? How many men cover their heads with both taqiyah and keffiyeh? Men stare at me like I am crazy wearing full length dress shirt over an undershirt in the middle of summer, and Ramadhan at that. Yet they complain how hot they are, without the first thought of what the women must feel. I wear hijab for men as a solidarity with my muslim sisters. Why should the men be allowed to break sunnah of dress so they can be cool, while their wife is sweating so bad that she is faint? No I will be faint as is my wife so that I know when the men are being wrong (don’t turn down the thermostat! take clothes off! WHAT??? No wear clothing of same thickness as your wife and if you are too hot, then is she not also?)

  10. qatheworld says:

    This is an relevant study about women in the masjid, supported by prominent Islamic groups in North America. It also contains important statistical info about how women’s access to space in the masjid has been decreasing and the importance of shared space. Please read, share and pass on to local masjids! http://www.isna.net/assets/ildc/documents/womenandmosquesbooklet.pdf

    Some quotes:
    “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.”

    “The alienation that women feel also has profound consequences for younger generations of the ummah. When children are taught that Islam treats both men and women as spiritual equals, and that Islam has accorded women rights that are unprecedented, and then observe that the practice contradicts the principles, their willingness to adhere to the faith is challenged. Without early and continued exposure to the masjid in their early and formative years, children, both boys and girls, are less able to integrate into the masjid as they become older.”

    This last point is of especial concern to me. There are things I can endure for my own self, that I feel for the sake of my child, for other children, and the future of our community, we must pay attention to and fix.

  11. Musa Millington says:

    There are some issues with your reply,

    1) The definition of innovation which I mentioned is not my definition. It is the definition of Imam Ash Shaatibee in his book Al-‘Itisaam. And as I mentioned it is an act which resembles ‘Ibadah wanting by it closeness to Allah and ‘Ibadah according to Shaikh Ul Islam refers to everything that Allah loves and is pleased with from statements and actions whether they are done in secret or open. Examples of worship or ‘Ibadah are prayer, fasting, Hajj etc. Upon that basis and premise:

    (a) How can putting a barrier be termed an innovation when it has nothing to do with the conditions of ‘Ibaadah which are:

    (i) Number

    (ii) Type

    (iii) Reason

    (iv) Place

    (v) Time and…

    (vi) Manner

    The way the prayer is established is one thing. If a person changes the number of Rak’aah, changes the manner of prayer, or prays in a time which is incorrect this would turn into an innovation. However, if a wall is placed between the men and the Imam or the women and the men this does not interfere with the worship in and of itself.

    (b) If it was that having a barrier is an innovation i.e prohibited then why is it that the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) did not prohibit his companions from behind behind him with a wall between them? And what is the difference between a wall between him and his followers and one between men and women?

    (c) I have not seen a precedent from an early scholar regarding the claim that it is an innovation. Neither any of the Imams of Fiqh or their companions nor the Imams of Hadeeth. Hence, the claim that it is an innovation is only based upon conjecture and not knowledge since knowledge is taken from its people. As the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) said in a Hadeeth in Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of ‘Abi Sa’eed Al Khudri:

    “But he takes knowledge by taking away the scholars.”

    Therefore be careful of making rulings based upon your own understanding of the evidences rather than the understanding of the early Muslims and the scholars.

    (d) I clearly mentioned that if it was that the pardah is an innovation then in that case the women would have to implement what the women companions did. One cannot have his cake and eat it, in other words it is preposterous to take the Ahadeeth and approach it from one angle (the non-existence of the Pardah) without taking it from the next angle (the fact that the women dressed and acted in a specific manner). Additionally, the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “The best of rows are the last and the worst are the first (i.e for the women)” And that their houses are better for them. Meaning that it is better for the women to not be seen than to be seen. However, we tend to not emphasize upon these mannerisms of women in the Masjid when talking or discussing these issues.

    Also the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) would have prohibited them from coming to the Masajid as ‘Aisha (radiallaho anha) mentioned. And for you to say, with all due respect to ‘Aisha (radiallaho anha) and then proceed upon your own understanding regarding the Ahadeeth shows that apparently precedence is given to a modern understanding of the Prophetic Ahadeeth over the understanding of the Prophet’s own wife. I rather take from the Prophet’s wife since she would have more understanding regarding this matter.

    Furthermore, Imam Nawawi (rahimahullah) elaborated in his Titling of Muslim: “Allowing the righteous women to go to the Masjid.” Additionally, in the Hadeeth of Umm ‘Ateeyah in Bukhari and Muslim the women were ordered to come to the Eid prayer with the Jilbaab and if they did not have a Jilbaab to get one. This shows the importance the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) placed on women’s dress and their behaviour when going in public and elsewhere.

    2) There is no difference between having a Pardah in the Masjid and the women leaving the Masjid as the prayer is over. Because in both instances the women are not seen by the men. Therefore, the issue of women being ‘isolated’ from the men is not a real issue since in both instances the same result is fulfilled.

    And Allah knows best.

    • Hayyah says:

      No brother Musa, the same result is not fulfilled. In one situation, the women are part of the religious society. They can breathe fresher air and see and hear clearly and feel like a full human being. In the other, they are stifled together like herd animals, breathing stale air, unable to concentrate due to modern technology having to be used to make the whole thing functional, having to rely upon modern inventions like one-way mirrors for their prayers to be valid, totally cut off from community affairs. No, they do not achieve the same purpose. And just as I would stand up against all costs to support racial desegregation, I will do the same for gender desegregation in masajid.

  12. qatheworld says:

    I do think that separating women to pray in another area is a change to the manner and place of prayer. The last one I went to was a small room approximately 12×12 room in the basement below the main hall, with stained carpet and a loudspeaker system in order to hear the imam. This is not an isolated case either. It doesn’t have to be my opinion it’s obviously different than what was established at the time of the prophet. I get the impression you did not read my original post or reply very carefully, because I never said that praying from the other side of the wall was prohibited or anything like that. I said that segregating the women from the imam and men behind some sort of barrier was a not according to the sunnah. It is being used as a means to divide, control, restrict, and oppress this part of the community. As I mentioned in my original article, if all men under 25 were told that they have to pray in a separate room smaller room (perhaps, with the women!) on basis of their age, not due to lack of space or anything else, and only the older men could remain in the room with the imam, or provide any feedback, would you consider that to be fair and just? What if they were told it was because of their method of modern dress, showing up with form-revealing jeans in the style of the day, which was inappropriate? Would you see anything wrong with this arrangement? What if it was only those in your age group? Regardless of the type of divide, segregating a portion of the community into separate (and worse) quarters from the main body and the imam is oppressive and not according to the sunnah.

    There is also indeed a difference between separating the men and women with a barrier, and allowing the women to leave first (and by a separate door). Also, I take issue with your assumption that the sole idea between either is for the women to be unseen. The women were both seen and heard in the mosque at the time of the prophet and afterwards as indicated in the hadiths. There were also other admonitions to both sexes as to how to behave in the mosque and elsewhere that would have been unnecessary if neither of them could see the other, and again could have been solved by dividing the congregation if that had been Allah’s will. There are numerous other reasons both for women not to be obligated to attend prayer in the masjid and for them to be allowed to leave first. Have you ever tried to leave a crowded building with a group of people? To claim that this is the reason for either of these hadiths is unfounded and simplistic. As is the claim “Also the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) would have prohibited them from coming to the Masajid as ‘Aisha (radiallaho anha) mentioned.” There were many occasions in the hadiths where the closest companions of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) including his wives misinterpreted what he said or wished to do something that the prophet objected to and guided them to a different response. Islam was completed and perfected before the prophet (pbuh) died. No one can validly establish or prohibit things on the basis of “If he had known X would happen he would have done this.” As I mentioned before, Allah imparted our religion for the remainder of our time in this world with full knowledge of all things to come, and made the message complete and perfect. It’s not necessary to come up with improvements of this nature on the basis of some type of corruption you imagine didn’t exist before, even if it didn’t, or to say well, he would have done this if he had been alive today. That is your opinion. (Yes, it is your opinion, because Aisha’s opinion was about her own time, which is nearly as distant from us as the prophet’s (pbuh) time). In my opinion if he entered one of these mosques and saw what was going on today with the separation and oppression of women, as a means of trying to get around his explicit commands to allow women to come to the masjid, he would be appalled. I’d also like to point out that despite the fact that Aisha had this reaction, there is no record that I’m aware of that she actually followed this up by attempting to prohibit them from going to the masjid even then or set up a barrier. There is a difference between someone going to a masjid today and making the same observation, throwing up your hands and sighing about the state of society, versus actually forcing women to go into a separate inferior space thinking this is somehow righteous and an improvement on how the prophet (pbuh) handled things.

  13. Amin Attaullah Hawley says:

    Sister, I was researching for a future Khutbah when I found this letter, Mash’Allah. Well organized and thought through… What does Sunnah matter if we ignore it in the most of important of things? In the building of a Masjid or in the performance therein of Salat. Jazak Allahu Khair. You have said many things that have burdened my heart for so long and given me some new angles to research. Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

    • qatheworld says:

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments and taking the time to read my letter! I am most grateful that it’s been a useful starting point and I can only hope that the thought continues to spread to more people and we can bring back this sunnah and in doing so help our communities. We must remember that these guidance and practices came to us from Allah through our prophet for our own well being and to solve problems that still exist today.

  14. real talk says:

    Certain situations like at my masjid for juma the entire floor is filled on the mens side. What do you do in a situation where you have no room? Many of the masjids I have visited are not huge spaces to be honest for the community it holds, I think it just becomes more practical to create gender specific designated areas although I agree tactics involving sending women to cold damp basements is unfair and probably a way to discourage women from attending, which is clearly wrong. How would u provide a solution for the above case?

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