This was written by Peter Gray and originally appeared at his blog.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to zigzag across the country, visiting mosques and writing about the people that use them? Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq thought so. Now they are on the second leg of a Ramadan road trip fueled by faith, food, and good old-fashioned male privilege. Recently, in an attempt to explore the gender divide in Muslim places of worship, the duo documented the women’s area of a mosque that hosted them in Little Rock, Arkansas. This could have been a great opportunity for Ali and Tariq to reflect on their privilege. Instead, they chose to exert it over the women they visited, leaving a number of them upset – and rightfully so.
Bassam Tariq wrote a blog entry about the experience, which had good intentions but went horribly wrong. In the opening paragraph, he descibes what motivated him to focus on the women’s area:
[...] I realize how tired I am of photographing men, hairy men, brown men, Arab men, black men, men wearing kufis, men laughing, hobbit looking men, bald men, Aman and the occasional ambigious man boy. And that’s how I decided it’s time to spend a day in the women’s area.
The women of that mosque must be thrilled to know that Tariq visited them out of boredom. After all, everyone appreciates being told, “Hey – I’m getting tired of my regular friends; let’s hang out!” Surely he understands that women deserve attention because of their intrinsic value – not because they make useful substitute-men.
But it only gets worse from there. In his next sentence, Tariq explains, “In my headspace, Muslim women exist only as my wife and my mother” [sic]. He suspects that “perhaps that is one of the reasons why it has taken a while to finally jump into the women’s side.” Perhaps. His aloofness toward Muslim women would certainly account for the social incompetence he displays around them in his visit.