After a recent performance in a different part of her city, an internationally renowned artist needed to pray Maghrib. She looked up the nearest mosque and upon reaching it, she found the doors to the women’s section locked. Buzzing the intercom to the main office, she prayed that someone would answer her call. She prayed that the uncle on the other side of the intercom would not shoo her away. She prayed that the mosque would not be one that bans women.
She was pleasantly surprised when a man actually answered the intercom. Unfortunately, his response was that the women’s outdoor gates were locked. So she braced herself and wondered whether she would have to argue with a disembodied voice about women’s rights in Islam and how the bedroom of Lady Aisha (RA) was annexed into the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. As the sun set in her city, she wondered whether she would be allowed to offer her Maghrib prayers in this house of God.
“Come through the main entrance and you can go to the sisters section through here.” The voice told her.
She was relieved. And surprised that he didn’t sound upset, didn’t sound like she messed up his day. In fact, he sounded happy to be helping her, to be facilitating her prayers, to be simply doing his job as the custodian of a House of God. When she stepped through the main entrance of the mosque, a young man walked out of the office, welcomed her, and directed her to the women’s wudu facilities and prayer space. Maghrib had already started, so she made her way quickly.
She offered her prayers in the women’s space, taken aback by how beautiful and well-kept it is. After Maghrib ended, she went to the office to thank him the man for his hospitality. And then she went home and wrote a message on Facebook, commenting that since she’s usually the first to point out mosques that are unwelcoming toward women, she wanted to give props to this one for her beautiful experience.
To be clear, her beautiful experience was that she was welcome to enter a mosque. That the mosque employee was pleasant and professional. That there was a well-kept women’s prayer space. That her prayer experience – as a woman – was included as an inherent part of the services this mosque offers to it’s community. And this experience was unusual enough that she decided to write about it.
This is not another “woe is me” type of anecdote about how women are excluded from mosques – though that is too often the case. No, I tell this story to underscore the timely and profoundly critical work of the ISNA Task Force for the Inclusion of Women, in which I have been honored to serve over the last year. The Task Force is proud to make public a statement we have prepared – endorsed by the Fiqh Council of North America and other North American Islamic scholars – on the inclusion of women in mosques. It begins by outlining these points:
Striving to realize the Prophetic model, we call upon all masjids to ensure that (1) women are welcomed as an integral part of masjids and encouraged to attend, (2) women have a prayer space in the main musalla which is behind the lines of men but not behind a full barrier that disconnects women from the main musalla and prevents them from seeing the imam; and (3) women actively participate in the decision-making process of the masjid, best realized by having women on the governing bodies of masjids.
It is critical to note that our recommendations are not innovations; we are calling for the return to the Prophetic example. We are calling on communities to build and sustain mosques that include women and girls – in short, mosques that the Prophet (PBUH) would recognize as belonging to his blessed community.
The campaign will be officially launched at the 52nd Annual ISNA Convention in Chicago over Labor Day Weekend (you may read the full statement, and sign your endorsement, here). This fall, and over the next year, we will host forums across the country, working with mosques and communities, to help facilitate the full inclusion of women in American mosques.
My friend’s experience – her apprehension about whether she will be allowed to pray in a mosque, her pleasant surprise at being welcome at this mosque – is one that is unfortunately shared by countless women in the West. That’s because in many mosques, women’s inclusion is not a given. The ISNA Task Force for the Inclusion of Women is working for a time when women’s inclusion becomes a natural and inherent part of mosque culture across the country. We are asking Muslim communities to learn about women’s mosque experiences during the Prophetic era, to excel at the innovative use of architecture and inclusive space, and to share best practices around good governance. We are rooted in the Prophetic model and supported in our endeavors by national institutions and prominent scholars. Won’t you join us?