Yesterday, Kashmala, my six-year-old niece, called me to give me two sets of news: “great news and great, great, great, GREAT news.” The great news was ❤ and the great, great, great, GREAT news was ❤ ❤ ❤ times much more. She was so excited to say: “I went to a mosque, and there was no wall there! Everyone was in one big room!” She’s six years old, Muslims. If a child knows something’s wrong with the space that women have in most other mosques, you know you’ve got a huge problem to work on decades ago.
I sometimes just don’t get us Muslims, period. I don’t get our inconsistencies. I don’t get our hypocrisies. When it’s just us Muslims, we’re one way; when non-Muslims join us or they’re around, we’re something else.
The usual old-ass disclaimer because: Of course, there’s gonna be that one reader who thinks this is me being Islamophobic – because self-criticism counts as Islamophobia, too, apparently. True story: A well-known Muslim woman once totally accused me of being Islamophobic and inciting Islamophobia once. I was discussing misogyny within the Muslim community and challenged someone’s claim that Muslim women can’t/shouldn’t marry non-Muslim men because non-Muslim men would abuse our rights – because apparently, Muslim men don’t abuse our rights. And this person, L.S., comes out attacking me for being so Islamophobic… ?! Because to recognize and point out our own misogynies is an Islamophobic act. This disingenuous thinking takes away from what should count as real Islamophobia because, for God’s sake, misogyny inside our own communities is also a form of Islamophobia! (More about this here (on the Islamophobia of abusing, disrespecting, and hating on Muslim women, esp. Muslim feminists) and here (on the ideal victim and perpetrator of Islamophobia.)
Anyway, so my point about giving that disclaimer was to say: up yours if you won’t acknowledge a Muslim woman’s right and need to call out misogyny and hypocrisy in our own communities. Misogyny is a real problem, and the broader problem of Islamophobia doesn’t get to take away our right from us to criticize our communities. And it says a lot that we’ll silence the women of our own community members just because the problems they face are not faced by the men of our community. So obviously, Muslim women’s struggles are a “private” matter that doesn’t need to be pointed out publicly – because these stinking non-Muslim Islamophobes will have a play day with that information. But, yeah, never mind that Muslim women are tired and sick of the way they’re treated by their own communities, whether inside the mosque or outside of it.
But I was saying.
See, here’s the thing. Gender segregation in mosques, with all the different ways it is practiced by different Muslim communities, is one of our most hypocritical realities. We won’t let women and men in a mosque even look at each other or greet each other with salaam. We require women to pray behind the men, almost always with a barrier of some sorts of between them (sometimes it’s literally bars… yeah, think about that for a few decades). We won’t let the women pray in front of the barrier or wall. Because modesty, apparently.
And then a non-Muslim visits our mosque. Or non-Muslimsss in case of interfaith activities/events. What do we do then? Easy: We insist that Islam honors women, so we push off the barriers in the mosque, if they’re portable. (And, yes, let this sink in, too. What does this say about this barrier business?) We more than welcome non-Muslim women into the mosque; we show them around, we introduce them to the imaam, the Muslim males of the community greet them, talk with them, and otherwise just show as much respect as possible to them. But that’s really only because they’re hoping to get rewards in the possible case that this non-Muslim woman converts to Islam. You know how that goes: the more people you convert, the more jannah points you get because then for each good deed this person commits, you get a bonus point to take you to jannah. Yeah, dream on.
And then, of course, the same people who demand gender segregation in mosques are the last to recognize that they actually work with multiple genders and sexes in their workplace – and that’s totally okay. But somehow, just somehow, the most important thing to do in a mosque is to separate people by their gender. Why, exactly? I couldn’t tell you. But it comes down to something like: Apparently, women and men go cray-cray if they’re allowed to pray together. No one will actually get their prayer done, and everyone will just be gawking at each other, jumping at the apparently open opportunity to have sex – because that opportunity obviously doesn’t exist outside the mosque, as we all know – and women will be having babies left and right out of wedlock and marriages will be breaking because, well, women won’t let their hubby jaans bring new wives home. Or some version of this totally preposterous fear.
But is this something that can happen when non-Muslim women and men are joining us at the mosque? No, not at all: It’s only when it’s just Muslims, apparently. That’s why we get rid of the curtain/barrier in many of our mosques when we’re hosting interfaith events.
And do we have gender segregation during Hajj? Nope. No. Not at all. Absolutely not. There, women and men get to walk around and do their prayers with each other – and shockingly enough, our anxiety of gender-mixing is suddenly gone. Then again, maybe God is at work with Her special Powers in Mecca because people are more interested in performing the Hajj right, so sex isn’t on anyone’s mind. Whereas in ordinary mosques, you can’t be so sure… or something.
BUT the thing is, there are plenty of “mainstream” mosques where women and men do pray together. And sure enough, the Muslims there are still hanging in there – none of the men are jumping at the wonderful opportunity to, you know, do whatever we fear they’ll do if they got to see women in the same space inside a mosque. Astaghfs.
So here’s the thing, Muslims: If you put up a barrier in a mosque when it’s just Muslims but that same barrier vanishes when non-Muslims are in the picture, the barrier has no place in the mosque. And it means that your fears of the absurd potential consequences of no gender segregation in the mosque are completely unfounded. Admit it: You have absolutely NO excuse to have that barrier there in the first place. You have absolutely NO excuse to treat Muslim women like fifth-class citizens in the mosque – or anywhere else. If you have to hide the true reality of your mosque and the way you treat the women of your mosque when non-Muslims are visiting your mosque, it’s quite clear that you know you’re in the wrong, that you know your treatment of Muslim women is unacceptable, embarrassing, and was supposed to end 1400 years ago.
[P.S. Raise your hand if you knew that there were no barriers in mosques during the Prophet’s time. So much for claiming these barriers are sunnah or, worse, obligatory.]
People be like, “But it’s about modesty.” Having barriers has nothing to do with modesty. If you need a barrier to separate the genders so you can be modest, you’ve got modesty all wrong.
Then they be like, “But women want privacy.” Look, I totally believe in women’s choice to have it however they want it. The thing is, most mosques don’t do a damn thing because it’s what the women worshipers want. They do it because the men leaders/administrators there are too insecure to let women have a decent space to worship in. BUT! About this whole “it’s what women want,” let’s not forget that our likes and wants and comforts and whatnots are influenced by what we are told is right and wrong as well. If all our lives, all we’ve seen is barriers in mosques, that’s what we’ll think is correct unless the imaam of the mosque does his job right and actually teaches us that these barriers aren’t necessary or required. I’m no fan of men telling women what’s wrong and what’s right, but let’s be real here: Most community members really trust their (male) imaam to teach Islam to them. So if you don’t normally challenge a man’s attempt to mansplain anything to you but the only time you do is when the imaam is giving you legit information about your rights as a Muslim woman, yeah, that’s not cool.
The mosque I go to has a sign (that’s not always visible, but it’s still at least there – yay for our standards) on the curtain between men and women that reads: “The positioning of the curtain is at the discretion of the sisters.” And other times, we see a sign that tells us we can pray either in front of the curtains or behind it, wherever we’re comfortable. We still end up praying behind the men – because the Muslim woman’s rightful position is always behind men – but for now, I am supposed to be (and I actually am) grateful that I have the choice to pray, even if all by myself most times, in front of the curtain if I want to.
I hear there are mosques in the world that don’t have women praying behind the men. In these mosques, one gender is on the left, the other on the right. There’s still space between them, but no one’s behind anyone else based on their gender. I can work with this idea.
I also hear there are mosques in this world where people can pray wherever they want with whomever they want ❤ This is my ideal mosque. This is the mosque that is truly My Creator’s Home. There’s at least one of this sort in Toronto. It’s called El-Tawhid Jum’a Circle. Here, no policing happens, either. You wear whatever you gotta wear to be one with your Creator.
Also, speaking of interfaith stuff. So, I love this idea, and I love all kinds of interfaith things, and I totally believe in building bridges and all. But you know what I think is actually more important most times? Intra-faith dialogue. The same mosques that are first to invite non-Muslims over or willingly hold panels with non-Muslim organizations and synagogues and churches and temples and all are also sometimes the very first to promote hatred against non-Sunni Muslims. Yeah, so excuse me for not trusting your motives very much and your “oh let’s get together and love each other and embrace each other” nonsense that does not extend to Muslims who don’t practice and understand Islam YOUR way.