‘Eid Mubarak to everyone! ‘Eid ul’adha is a reflective time for Muslims all over. There’s the story Abraham and Ismail’s sacrifice to God and what that sacrifice means in terms of our own relationships to God. There’s also Hagar’s story of being in the desert and actively asking God to help her find food and water for her and her child. During Hajj itself, there are many lessons learned by the pilgrims. One of the greatest is the equality of all Muslims before God. During hajj, men and women stand side by side to worship God. This is a point made by Nadia Jamal in an editoral in The Sydney Morning Herald about the lack of equality in the Australian mosques. Jamal asserts that in Sydney’s largest mosque, there is physical separation of the sexes that doesn’t occur in Makkah.
Jamal rightfully points out the gender segregation that occurs in Australian mosques and mosques all over the world is way beyond what was the norm during the time of Prophet Muhammad and that prominent Muslims in Australia, including Sheikh Fehmi, are working to change this. However, they are facing opposition from conservative elements. Jamal’s anecdotes of gender segregation sound woefully familiar to situations encountered by Muslim women, myself included. In one situation, Jamal walked out of a social gathering that was gender segregated. This is a common occurrence at mosques and a situation that can be very uncomfortable.
I am glad that Jamal pointed out that often gender segregation is not a result of official policy at mosques but a result of conservatism by various men and women. I have experienced this first-hand when a partition was pulled in front of me during prayer, despite the fact that the president of the mosque in question told me himself that this was not official policy.
One thing I do wish Jamal had done, though, was call for more dialogue between Muslim women and men to address this issue. At the end of the article Jamal insists that Muslim women have to “insist on sitting at the same table as their Muslim brothers.” I agree that we have to insist on our rights, but I do think we also need more dialogue between the genders to discover why gender segregation is occurring at mosques, despite the fact that gender segregation is not even possible outside the masjid. If men aren’t engaged, then I don’t think much will change. Also, I think we have to call for calm dialogue and not put men in a position where they feel like they’re being attacked. I know this is easier said than done.
Also, I wished that Jamal hadn’t placed the actions of some on the entire Muslim community. “When Muslims are criticised for being “backward” I am among the first to defend the community. My latest experience makes this stance one that is increasingly harder to maintain.” I know that dealings with fellow Muslims aren’t always easy, but I think we have to resist the urge to make blanket statements.
Lastly, Jamal speaks about men who prevent gender inequality at mosques. I think that we also need to look at the role women play in gender inequality as well. Some of the biggest defenders of gender inequality and gender segregation are women. Their support helps to maintain the status quo just as much as the support of men. Jamal’s editorial will hopefully help to increase dialogue on this issue and make our mosques more open.