For many of us, the last few weeks before the start of Ramadan mark a time to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for gaining the benefits of the month ahead.
As such, the mass email forwards began arriving in my inbox in early August, with lists prepared by various Muslim institutions gently reminding the faithful to beware of the “Common Mistakes Made During Ramadan.”
The Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, recently published one such list (see the list in Arabic here).
The notion of a subtle reminder not to let the blessings of Ramadan slip from our grasp is worthy and appreciated.
But, as U.A.E. newspaper The National points out, nearly half of the “mistakes” on Dubai’s list concern women.
One such “mistake” is “wasting too much time” on food preparation and spending most of the day in the kitchen during Ramadan working on elaborate iftar (fast-breaking) meals, the department says.
Another error, it notes, is a tendency of women to wear too much perfume and make-up when attending congregational prayers and then mingling with men when they join their families after prayers at the mosque.
“Such behavior may distract others from worship,” The National quotes the department as saying.
In total, six of the 14 errors that the department says Muslims make during Ramadan deal specifically with women.
The critiques are all valid in their own right. It is unfortunate that Ramadan often becomes more about cooking and feasting than fasting, and some women may very well come to the mosque dressed more appropriately for a night of revelry than a night of prayer.
But what the list fails to mention is the idea that often times, the females of a household spend hours in the kitchen not of their own accord, but because it is demanded or expected of them by their families.
Further, perhaps the time and effort it takes to prepare such meals for fasting family members could be considered an alternative form of ibadah, or worship.
More generally, though, this list and others like it beg the question: Why is it that women are so often found seemingly in need of reminders about the error of their ways when it comes to religion?
Is it because women are not encouraged to attend the mosque on a regular basis in many of our societies, where the fundamentals of faith are often taught?
Is it because Muslim women are often told what not to do without being told the rationale behind the edict?
Or are these lists simply not cognizant of the fact that these supposed breaches of behavior have more to do with societal factors than by virtue of being a woman?