“Muslim Men Can Be Feminists” by Adeel Ahmed

 Adeel Ahmed – “Muslim Men Can Be Feminists”


Living in local pagan society in the 7th century Arab world, the Prophet Muhammad was seen as a feminist. Women were given little to no rights. It was custom to bury unwanted female newborns. Women were property of their husbands and they weren’t allowed to vote. The Prophet Muhammand preached and advocated against these actions. Islamic law made the education of girls a duty, giving the right to women to inherit and own property. Even the Prophet’s wife, Khadija, was a businesswoman.

Of course, 14 centuries later these advances may not seem like much. But, now, living in the 21st century, it seems like Muslims are stuck in the 7th century. We’ve heard about the honor killings, the lack of rights given to women in Muslim countries, and of course, shooting of girls like Malala all in the name of Islam. Yet Muslims defend their religion saying those who are using Islam as a justification to these actions are misconstruing the religion. Only to lead one to ask, “then where does this come from?”

The problem starts within the Muslim community itself. Go to a mosque and a woman will find herself entering through a separate entrance, usually a back door of some sort, into a small cramped room or the basement of the building. I’ve even witnessed a women’s room that didn’t have air conditioning during the summer while men did. The women of this mosque had to raise money through a fundraiser to get their system working, even though there were funds within the mosque that could do this.

Recently, at a local mosque, I was asked to join a shura, a consultation committee that puts together recreational events and makes decisions for the mosque. The purpose of this particular shura was to help promote and encourage youth and young adults to come to the mosque through programs.

It was near the beginning of Ramadan, so we planned a Ramadan kick-off barbeque in a park. As we laid out the details, I soon realized that the all-male shura was only planning to invite young men. When I raised my hand and asked why women were not invited, I was stared at with shock.

“But Brother, we cannot encourage mingling with the opposite sex,” one shura member explained. “That is bid’ah,” (innovation of the religion that is looked down upon).

I tried arguing about how unfair it was that women were being left out. Yet, no one listened. So, I decided to do research on women and their “mosque” rights.

I began sending emails to the men in the shura. First about how the mosque’s structure was flawed by separating men and women. During the Prophet Muhammad’s time men and women actually prayed in the same space. The prophet Muhammad didn’t put women behind partitions. I further explained that during the most sacred event a Muslim can partake in, Hajj, or pilgrimage, men and women stand side by side and pray together. If you believe separation is absolutely necessary, I explained to the men in the shura, there’s no need for walls and sheets as barriers. Barriers are just sexist man-made rules.

No response.

Next, I asked about the consequences of discouraging women from partaking in mosque activities. Would we also tell children they cannot come? Afterall, it is the women of these families who take care of the children. If the mother is treated like a second class citizen, how do the kids of these families get involved? The Prophet never discouraged a woman in a mosque, who are we to do that?

Again, no response.

As a consequence of these emails, I was slowly separated from the shura. No more emails about weekly meetings, I was taken off the WhatsApp group. No more text messages about upcoming agendas.

I don’t think all mosques are like this, but I do know enough to know that many women around the globe are treated as second-class citizens in Muslim communities. Living in America, it comes to me as a shock. How are second-generation American Muslims okay with this behavior and carrying on these traditions that are intertwined by culture, not religion?

As American Muslims, perhaps we should look at American history. During times when women were suppressed, men stepped up. During the woman suffrage movement, men were some of the first active and vocal supporters. Without votes by Congressmen, women’s rights would not have moved forward.

And just like the brave men who stepped up to move women ahead and help them gain rights, Muslim men must step up and push for the rights and voices of women in their communities and mosques. It is important for Muslim men around the globe to become vocal about these issues and hopefully move forward from the 7th century mentality and culture. There have been enough Malala shootings and honor killings. We must start from within our community with baby steps and start to respect Muslim women in order to see a change.

Adeel Ahmed is an actor and writer based in NY. He has performed at The Kennedy Center and his work has screened at Sundance Film Festival and SXSW. Most recently shot a pilot for HBO entitled Criminal Justice. Credits include: The Domestic Crusaders, Law and Order, Deception. He has been a guest on NPR, BBC and more. 

63 thoughts on ““Muslim Men Can Be Feminists” by Adeel Ahmed

  1. Great Article, but there are few things to be cleared up.

    You can ask a scholar you are comfortable with for more information, but in Sunni Islam, women are encouraged to pray at home. Women do not receive more reward for coming to the mosque the same way men do. in fact, women receive more reward for praying in a more secluded area of the home. Also, many cash-strapped mosques find it difficult to take care of the sisters in the mosques, and sometimes end up ignoring their requests completely, because Islamically women are not actually required to come to the mosque for Jumaa. However, many modern day scholars encourage women to come to the mosque being that many of us in the west live in predominately “un-Islamic” environments. Women are especially encouraged to come for Jumaa, where beneficial Islamic knowledge can be learned. And Allah knows best.

    Secondly, the writer mentioned that women and men do not receive similar treatment in the mosque is an extremely valid point, and this can be observed in many mosques. (Air conditioning, space, etc.) However, the concept of men and women not being close together should still exist in the logistical layout of a mosque. (referring to “Barriers are just sexist man-made rules.”)This is because the concept of “lowering the gaze” exists within Islam i.e. keeping a minimum interaction with the opposite gender. Even in the Prophet’s time, women prayed behind the men’s group in the mosque, and the women started their rows from the back row.There are very specific Islamic etiquettes for interacting with opposite gender within Islam, and I IMPLORE the writer and anyone reading this to TALK to a SCHOLAR they are comfortable with about this before they form a misinformed opinion. That being said, there still should be sufficient areas for prayer for both genders, as well as the inclusion of women in community events. Women should not feel out of place in the mosque, but they should keep in mind that there are very specific rulings within Islam regarding minimum separation of men and women in the mosque, and outside of it as well.

    Thirdly, the writer brought up the line of reasoning that during Hajj, men and women pray together. That is simply due to the sheer numbers of people at the Harram at Mecca, and it is only deemed appropriate in that circumstance.

    Again this is a great article that brought very valid points affecting the Muslim community, but I would like to ask again for the umpteenth time for anyone reading this article or my comment to SPEAK to at least two Islamic SCHOLARS who have studied the religion extensively for many years, as well as do their own personal research before they formulate any opinion about the this issue in general, because there are very specific rulings regarding men and women interaction within Islam.

    • This is a great article and Zachariah you bring up some good points. However, I don’t think you either have done extensive research on the topics you brought up.

      1. When you talk about how the Prophet encouraged women to pray at home, I assume you are talking about how the Prophet suggested that the best place for a woman to pray is at home as opposed to the mosque. He also did say that if a woman were to come to a mosque, they were to be welcomed. Furthermore, if extensive research is done, one would find that this quote was established when women from far cities were making an effort to come pray with the Prophet which is when he addressed the issue saying, it is better for them to stay at home. Aisha was also quoted saying women used to pray Fajr along with other prayers with the Prophet.

      2. The “Islamic etiquette” you speak of when it comes to interacting with women isn’t Islam, that is called CULTURE. Another point, if men are to lower their gaze at women, this must mean that barriers didn’t exist and aren’t necessary, which proves the writer’s point; that barriers are sexist man made rules.

      3. When it comes to Hajj the number of people that are allowed into the country during the time is limited. If it was NEEDED for men and women to be separated, I am sure the government could regulate it if they thought it was correct.

      While I don’t consider myself a scholar of any kind, I think the writer’s point here is that the issues that stem from Muslim communities must be addressed at home. And I commend him for that. As a revert to Islam, I can only agree with this article. Good post!

      • Haha I didn’t do research but yeah I guess my comment did seem a bit long winded and provocative.

        I had no idea that was the reasoning the Prophet had when he told women to stay away from the mosque because they lived too far away- that could be true..I’m no scholar either. Thanks GP.

        As for the Hajj thing, I haven’t been to Hajj, but I’ve been to Umrah- allow me to describe it to you so you could see where I’m coming from. Thousands of men and women are doing tawaf around the Kaba. As soon as the second call to prayer comes- everyone stops and prays together unsegregated. It is simply physically impossible to rearrange the male and female congregants into separate groups at that point. That is why it is appropriate for men and women to pray together. As to whether or not the Saudi government deems it necessary to segregate, I guess one would have to ask the Saudi government what they would rather do, because they already restrict the number of visas during Hajj season. (Personally know family members who got rejected, safe to say they were bitter about it.) And the Saudi government really does a lot to accommodate more people, as they are constantly expanding, and helping make the Hajj/Umrah easier for everyone.

        I also don’t think barriers are necessarily built as “sexist man made rules”, the people who run mosques with barriers usually have good intentions behind it. It doesn’t exist to assert male dominance over females or anything of the sort. It just exists to keep the male and female congregants from interacting with one another during prayer services or other mosque functions. I go to mosques with barriers and without barriers, Again some mosques can’t really afford to have a huge spacious hall where men pray in front and women pray in the back, so they usually have a separate room for women to pray, and often times, as the writer had said, women there don’t receive the same kind of treatment as the men.

        I thought the article was great in bringing up the different very observant inequalities in the treatment of men and women by mosques sometimes. I just wanted to shed some personal light on it based on the very little knowledge that I do know.

        Thanks again,GP!

  2. I love your post. Thank you for speaking up on this matter. It so aptly puts forward your point of view. I completely agree with it. Once again, great job !

  3. That women get more reward for praying at home is one thing (which by the way, is not agreed upon. Some scholars, yes scholars, say that the reward is the same either way – and that it is a woman’s choice – which is reported as the view of Imam at-Tabari, who merely considered it mubah either way – in part, but not exclusively because of the nature of the very hadiths you would put forward to opine that such is best), but to therefore use that as a justification that women should somehow be less welcome, have less space, or if one must choose, it’s ok to simply give them the short end of the stick so to speak, in the mosque by virtue of being women is ridiculous. I would add that Umm ad-Darda'(RA) used to not only pray in one of the central mosques in Damascus, but lecture there, and as a consequence there is a wall in that mosque named after her.

    Keep in mind that more women tend to show an interest in Islam – and thus as a consequence convert – and that often in the American mind, the first place to contemplate doing that is by visiting a mosque. Hence, this not only hurts Muslim women, but hurts women thinking about becoming Muslim.

    It was fine 5 centuries ago even for women to be dissuaded from praying in a mosque insomuch as they often had a strong community around them that included female scholars from which to learn and other meaningful spiritual outlets. But Islam is a system and can only function as such. Therefore to cherry pick a couple of rules to the exclusion of others and to thereby, in the name of Islam, overlook what is in the overriding interest of the sisters themselves is a misuse of fiqh. As some scholars have pointed out, women now go everywhere all over the world, from the university to even the markets, which are considered the worst of places. But only in the house of their Lord are they turned away.

    I have spoken to more than two scholars who have studied Islam extensively for years, and this is the lubb of the wisdom they imparted to me.

    Related article to the above (which by the way was well written and applaud the brother for standing up for something even when it is not “his problem), I will add another along the same lines: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/islam-studies/save-the-sisters-abdelrahman-murphy/

    • Yeah I agree, I talked to a scholar, and he also shared the same sentiment that women should come to the mosque because of the society we live in in the present day and age. I guess that wasn’t clear from my writing.

  4. I find it a bit out of line that we have to consult a “scholar” on how to interact with the opposite sex in order to lower my gaze. “My eyes are up here, not down there”. I sometimes feel that Muslims have a complex regarding women, and you see it pass down from each generation in the more conservative circles, in a manner that is unnatural and associating every faux pas to be a sexual advance.
    When I am at work, with my non-Muslim friends, out in public, or wherever, conversing with the opposite sex comes across natural and confident, respecting the individual and not having to be so self-conscious about lowering my gaze or feeling like an outcast.
    I feel Muslims in any society take this whole segregation of the sexes way too far. I understand there is a certain decorum that needs to be observed in the Mosque. I have seen masjids I have attended were accommodating of both men and women, and some run by “mullah uncles” who set their own paternalistic code of conduct by erecting barriers or “separate but equal” detention rooms. I mean, honestly, these are the leaders that need intervention and learn more about equality and women rights from the teaching/seerah of the Prophet.
    I guess growing up in the U.S., I have my own unique experiences that may not jive with the traditional Islamic values, so be it. I am at a point in my life it doesn’t matter how other Muslims, family and relatives with their cultural baggage may judge me. I feel a lot closer to my non-judgmental non-Muslim friends than I do with the dwindling number of Muslims I know.
    At the end of the day, we are all held accountable to God and no one else.

    • That’s true, I grew up in the United States too, so I definitely see where you’re coming from. Only reason I said to talk to two scholars is because some give pretty good advice on how to best practice the religion in a place where the majority is not Muslim. (Just personal experience). I have also been to mosques with barriers and without barriers. The people who run mosques with barriers usually have good intentions behind it. Again some mosques can’t really afford to have a huge spacious hall where men pray in front and women pray in the back, so they usually have a separate room for women to pray, and often times, as the writer had said, women there don’t receive the same kind of treatment as the men.

      I’m also sorry to hear that your Muslim friends are so judgmental, in general I think judgmental people turn off others from the appreciating the beauty of the religion in its core essence.

      Best of luck.=)

    • “I sometimes feel that Muslims have a complex regarding women, and you see it pass down from each generation in the more conservative circles, in a manner that is unnatural and associating every faux pas to be a sexual advance” Aptly put… thank you! 🙂 We as a community have a long way to go and learn the difference between carrying oneself with confidence in a friendly manner and when to be humble and lower our gaze. Sadly, this unattended ‘complex’ impedes and tarnishes healthy relationships among young Muslim Men and Women given the Mosque culture… Mosques can be such beautiful spaces to cultivate open forum about dialogue, community building and activities that lead to positive and stronger families and community bonds.

    • Hi Zachariah, I understand your point of review and interested in reading your posts. I think in the U.S. society, there are no outlets for Muslim women to engage in Islamic learning (fiqh, halaqahs, Quranic, etc.) outside of the masjids. Because we do not live in Islamic nations nor do we live in 7th century Mecca, the only venue for most Muslim women to congregate and also have social gatherings with other Muslims is within a mosque.
      That is why I find the argument that “women should stay home and pray there” very weak, demeaning and misogynistic. It goes against the teachings and spirit of the Prophet. We are a religion rooted in “ilm” – education, learning, scholarly discourse and sharing of ideas within a community. You cannot have a community if you repress half of your population and allow the other half an unnatural, artificial and insecure indoctrination of women. Then, we will continue to repeat the mistakes of those who come here with cultural baggage. There is a difference between bidah (innovation) and discerning what the true intention of living in a healthy and vibrant society.
      Thus, these petty issues about barriers, no A/C, cramped rooms because “this mosque is too small for both genders” is utterly garbage in my mind. It is akin to forcing women “to the back of the bus”. I commend and inspired by Muslim women and men who stand up to the injustice, no matter how “well intention” the mosque leaders may be. We need more Rosa Parks in the mosques.
      I think these days you find a lot of other venues and outlets other than mosques where Muslims tend to congregate, socialize and learn more about Islam. I tend to go to more conferences, lectures, university events than I do entering mosques other than for Jummah prayers.


      • In fairness to Islam, it must be noted that the original intent behind not making it compulsory for women to go to the mosque to pray was out of concern that women had children and other responsibilities at home and asking them to leave or make other arrangements while they went to the mosque was difficult. In pre-modern times, without communication devices and transportation, it was truly difficult. This is understandable and appreciated.

        The problem is as many Muslims here come from cultures where women did not attend the mosque at all (it was not within the cultural norm), they are not very open to accommodating women now. The needs of Muslims here are in many ways the polar opposite of what is the case in their countries of origin.

        That is why it’s so important for our mosques/institutions to have policies which include input from those born/raised here and not from a foreign-perspective under the guise of Islam. It is a struggle between first vs second/third generation Muslims here and the enormous gap in outlook.

        The damage being done when women are excluded should be the first consideration. This damage is far beyond any perceived “sin” caused by fear of “mingling” – but the apparent blindness to this fact or even the seriousness of what it encompasses – is also a massive problem.

      • I agree with your post, but I didnt say that women should pray at home, just that they do not recieve more hasana for coming to the masjid to pray (amongst other things, but that’s what I was trying to get across). Also many scholars in the present day and age actually advocate for women to go to mosque community events, classes, etc. just because, as you said mosques are sometimes the only places for those things.
        Personlly I believe the mosque should be open and equal to people of all genders and orientations. But people should also respect the rules of the mosque they go to.

      • I agree with you, Zachariah. I should have been more clear and say that we should do more to encourage women to attend classes, and social events at mosques and community centers. I think you do see a shift now where the mosques are being run by more rooted American Muslims rather than immigrants, where there is no need for women to attend mosques in Islamic nations. The best places I have seen diversity is on college campuses at MSA led events, Muslims from all backgrounds that host talks, lectures, interfaith and inter-campus outreach events. It was always a great feeling to see the unity and respect of each other at colleges. Perhaps it is the like-minded college students, our youth at the time, and the higher learning environment that brings people together at universities.

  5. As-salaamu alaikum. I agree to some of the observations. As a Muslim convert i made it sure that Islam is the religion that me and my wife really fit in. A religion that is logical in treating all types of people, a religion that knows no race or gender. In most mosque that we visited, yes there is a partition but even my wife agrees with the settings.

    We used to be church going (Christian) couple and when we reverted to Islam we realized a lot of difference between a church and a masjid. This segregation in the mosque we attend to is only during the salaat. We have activities where men and women are together like Quran reading and feeding programs.

    Generally, i like the article as this may make us Muslim men more sensitive in our dealings with women. What we, me and my wife, only see is that this segregation, with a divider or lowering down our gaze, is to protect us both men and women from the unnecessary. Living in a Christian country and neighborhood we know and can see the difference.

  6. Wajahat’s actions and research reflect what I have been told. The separation is culture NOT Islam. I have experienced the same shunning (talk about bid’ah!) when raising these issues myself in some quarters.

    And its not just at the masjid,

    Once, on Hajj, for Friday prayer, in Mecca, a man accompanied by his wife and two daughters came late. He made a point of literally and insistently squeezing them into a group of women in a rude manner. When he was satisfied, he went and squeezed himself into a mixed group NEXT TO A WOMAN! Worshippers in the area expressed deep but polite condemnation of this…he actually became uncomfortable and moved farther away.

  7. What a great post by Adeel Ahmed. It is unfortunate that people in charge of mosques (at least in North America) who may not accommodate Muslim women are missing one massive point:

    – As we live in a minority situation here, the main place for us (male or female) to meet other Muslims is at a mosque. As we do not live in a Muslim majority society, we may not meet other Muslims (besides family) for months.

    The entire: “But Brother, we cannot encourage mingling with the opposite sex” is a tired and useless excuse to exclude women. The hypocrisy occurs when the artificial segregation of the mosque environment results in more normal exchanges of salams and usual family inquiries between Muslim men and women who know each other, outside the mosque. Basically, almost everyone begins to talk to each other – now free of the anti-mingling brigade.

    I guess the parking lot or sidewalk is more amiable to Muslims than the restrictions within the mosque. Also, this gives Muslim men a chance to possibly meet or ask respectfully about Muslim women (whom they do not usually see) as they search for a wife. It gives older women a chance to ask other women about daughters who may wish for an introduction for marriage, if possible. With all the problems of meeting marriage partners for Muslims, the mosque is one of the few places where Muslims meet.

    Ironically, the same Muslim men who are barred from “mingling” may get onto transit and stand or sit quished next to a strange woman on the bus/subway – right after leaving the segregated mosque.

    Segregation is mentioned in the Qur’an specifically for the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives: “If you ask his wives for anything, speak to them from behind a curtain. This is more chaste for your hearts and their hearts.” (Sura 33:53)

    Historically,(contrary to popular opinion) the concept of veiling and seclusion was taken by the Arabs from Byzantium and Persia and was introduced later, as veiled women were a reflection of higher class and status. Then this cultural practice was imposed on Muslim women.

    If it was simply a matter of modesty, why then were slave women (Muslim or not) forbidden from veiling/hijab in Islam? Veiling is not just an issue of modesty, it is one of socio-economic status. A free woman was covered or potentially segregated, but not if she was a slave. So it’s about modesty for “some”, but not all – regardless or age or perceived level of attractiveness.

    Can Muslims not be depended upon to behave appropriately in a mosque? Are women to be treated like children, requiring supervision and direction in their movements? Can everyone be welcomed in the spirit of brother/sisterhood in our mosques without cultural impediments in place?

    Fortunately there are a number of mosques which have embraced the full participation of women, with classes and programs. I hope others will take their lead from their examples and face the necessity of inclusion in North American life. In this matter, time is “not” on our side.

    • Aaah, the infamous sidewalk/parking lot rishta (engagement) inquiries with fellow Muslim friends. The innocent glance from the opposite sex (you get one halal glance, then you must look away, gents!) when leaving the mosque. I do see many mosques encouraging women to participate in classes, programs and halaqahs. We are more cognizance of this as a society than I would say 20 years ago. A lot of it is serving the diverse Muslim population that has grown. It used to be that the earlier mosques in U.S. were started by a few families within a small community. The demographics have changed for the better and there is greater awareness to retain and attract a diverse community of followers.

      • Yes, the parking lot was awfully crowded at times. Decades ago as a child in my large city, we did not have a mosque, we had an “Islamic Centre” with a handful of Muslim families and students attending. Later, money was raised and the first mosque was purchased. Muslim women prepared baked goods etc for sale and we kids helped to sell them for fund raising. This went on regularly including other events.

        Later as immigration stepped up, the various Muslim ethnic groups set up their own mosques with services in their specific languages. Therefore, no one outside of their national group would attend due to this limitation. This reinforced whatever the cultural norm for that group was – including attitude towards women’s participation.

        Leadership in many of the mosques consisted of older men who had “Dr.” before or “PhD” after their names. Often they were engineers etc with no formal background in Islamic training and relatively new to North American life. Muslim insecurity fueled the need to constantly have “Dr. so-and-so” in leadership positions. This continues to be in case in many cities as it is falsely considered to hold weight.

        Trying to negotiate the needs of second generation Muslims within this negatively diverse group was difficult at times. Fortunately it is changing with a new generation of Imams and leaders who are more aware of our needs.

  8. Go to the scholars and that will clear it all up? Hardly. There are some scholars that say a woman’s prayer is invalid if she prays behind a partition. There are some some scholars that assert a pious Muslim woman should be locked up in her home, silent, obedient, and fulfilling her husband’s every wish (particularly those sexual ones). Some scholars say women are inherently dangerous because of the aggressive nature of their sexuality and their penchant for degrading good Muslim men. Some scholars say a woman is equal to a man in matters spiritual. What is a confused Muslim to do? Most people end up going to the scholar who confirms their personal biases.

    The current masjid system in the USA can be summarized in one convenient tweet: The Mosque is the place where the men go to pray.

    Mosque board attitudes, as far as I can tell, are children, women, and animals only distract men from their business of praying, women are forever trapped in a childbearing limbo, only men (or their wives who will toe the party line) should sit on the Board. Family friendly? What’s that? We go to the mosque to ESCAPE from those ingrates and hang out in our old boys’ network. All that fundraising we do (the only time we let the partition down, you know, to get the women to pony up some cash) is for the chandeliers in the men’s section. Women, should they appear, can be stuffed into the mildewed basement because this is how we show our respect to women, especially the mothers.

    And where should the LGBT Muslims pray? Oh that’s right, no one is gay in Islam, because THAT would TOTALLY mess up the whole gender segregation game plan.

    • Firstly, if a scholar gives an incorrect fatwa, the sin and blame is upon him, not the person who listens and acts upon It. Again we shouldn’t bash Islamic scholars, because many of them have spent years and some even decades studying the religion, and as a result, have a deep knowledge of Islam.
      There are gay muslims, some have their own mosques. LGBT muslims, in general, seem not to be accepted by majority of muslim society, probably because homosexuality is considered a major sin in Islam. May Allah give them hidaya, and lead them to the straight path. (they have at least taken the shahadah).

      • I’m not bashing Islamic scholars, I’m just saying there is a whole rainbow of opinions out there, especially when you go back in history and consider the different schools & madhabs.

        As for “homosexuality is considered a major sin in Islam”, maybe you should do some reading because there were lots of Muslim majority societies in the past that had a pretty high tolerance for this ‘major sin’. There are other “major sins” (corruption/theft, adultery, intoxicants, miserliness, arrogance, etc) which Muslim congregants partake in and our mosques seem to have a high tolerance for that behavior. Perhaps these kinds of sins are tolerated because they don’t question the gender segregation paradigm.

        The basic problem in the USA mosque culture is there is no respect for dissent; if you don’t like how we do things here, go start your own mosque. Conformity is rewarded, no matter how much it conflicts with people’s personal values and information base.

        “Why Societies Need Dissent” by Cass Sunstein should be required reading for all mosque board members.

    • Am of German descent and am dating a muslim convert of 20 years.Any group of men that impose restrictions on women as to how they should be “allowed” to worship THE GOD,and make up “rules” of their own interpretation of the holy Quran to suit their own interests are simply hypocritical, chauvinistic, insecure,selfish cowards.These men need to read the book of god for it does NOT exclude women from worshiping in the main prayer hall,nor are there any walls ,curtains or barriers but includes them in the back row.To exclude women from the worshiping in congregation is a mortal SIN. for that same reason I would NEVER convert to this sexist run Islam system here.It is a shame for I think the Quran is a beautiful book that if applied as it was intended would promote Love and Peace among all of us.The solution to this problem would be for the sisters to form an alliance,open their own masjid,no imam needed either for many masjids dont have one anyway.All the prayers can be played on CD/video,for that is all they get anyway when they are exiled into their separate areas under the pretense of “privacy” that way none of these weak men have to fear looking at any females and at the same time the sisters the degrading treatment would stop.Think !! Why would any sister that does not like the unfair arrangement in the mostly male dominated masjids even bother to give their time or money to them when they could have their very own beautiful masjid to worship ALLAH ??? Who is to stop you ??

  9. Love this! I don’t think you need to be a scholar to share your thoughts and feelings, obviously you have to do thorough research and your facts have to be right before you write something like this which I think you have. Looking forward to another one from you.

  10. JDay makes a number of good points. Another issue tolerated by a number of imams is performing nikah (marriage) ceremonies for Muslim men taking second wives here in North America. They did so knowing full well that the man’s first (existing) wife was not aware of this other marriage. This situation has been reported in the media.

    These women were devastated, their lives and their children’s lives ruined as their husbands lied to them about their whereabouts in order to spend time with second wives. When this issue was escalated to imams, the reply was “it is halal” so they are not going to protest it.

    Where is the fairness in all of this? These imams are so quick to condemn gay Muslims but don’t seem to think twice about heterosexual Muslim men who are literally up to no good, showing complete disrespect to their wives (contrary to Islamic teaching). There is also absolute disregard for the law as bigamy is illegal and a criminal act.

    • @ JDay and Sarah Just because some present/past Muslim societies/Imams tolerated some sins such as homosexuality, arrogance, disrespect, etc doesn’t make the sins any less sinful. In fact, tolerating it was probably the correct course of action. If we lived in an Islamic state- adulterers would be stoned to death, and thieves would have their hands cut off. But in the modern pluralistic world we live in that isn’t a viable or option, especially in the West. Tolerance is evidently the best course of action. I mean, what else should Muslims do? Have Imams kill sinners, pushing them farther away from the religion itself? You don’t see any modern Islamic scholar (Jihad Brown, Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb, etc.) preaching such tactics.

      I agree that mosques should be open for everyone, but congregants should respect the rules of the house of worship they go to. The concept of gay rights in Islam don’t really exist because it’s considered sinful and shameful very explicitly in the religion itself. Analogously, there probably shouldn’t be any marijuana rights groups in Islam, or secretly cheating on your wife groups in Islam. That is why many gays have opened their own mosques, and many “liberal” Islamic groups have cropped up in the United States, which promote a variety of things which are sinful in the religion itself. These groups usually eschew prophetic teachings and the Quran to practice Islam the way they want to practice it, picking, choosing, and changing certain aspects of Islam to suit their agendas and lifestyles. Are they considered Muslims? Absolutely, if they took the Shahadah and are not committing shirk Does that mean their actions are justifiable within the religion? Absolutely not.

      However, at the Day of Judgement (an integral part of the belief system of Islam which even some of these groups have omitted)- Allah is the only one will we are accountable to, and to him we shall return. He is the Judge and the great Equalizer in the big picture- not the Imam, not the media, and certainly not us.

      • You wrote “…mosques should be open to everyone, but congregants should respect the rules of the house of worship they go to.” What if those two are diametrically opposed, i.e. the rules of the house of worship are disrespectful to the congregants?

        Is the purpose of the mosque to gather like-minded individuals together in worship? If so, then the current system is satisfactory. The people that go there are happy and satisfied with their experience. There is no need for reform or dissent. Dissent creates discord, people fight with one another and disagree. If you just want people to all get along, then differences of opinion should be squashed in the name of group cohesiveness.

        However, if you are concerned that current mosque practices are “pushing them farther away from the religion itself”, then you will need reforms. If you want young people, or women, or the disabled, or different ethnic groups, or LGBT to come to the masjid then you have to have these people on your masjid board and give them a slice of decision making capabilities. You cannot “speak for” these people because you have never been in their shoes. You don’t know what they go through, you don’t know what makes them angry or happy or want to participate in the mosque. Until you really listen to them and give their suggestions a try, you will continue to have the same like-minded people who agree with you (or are too afraid to speak out) coming to the mosque. But bear in mind that your board meetings will no longer be ‘efficient’ and ‘smooth’. You will have arguments. You will be angry at one another. Sometimes it will take much longer to get things done. You may have to make some compromises.

        What do you want your mosque to be? The place to hang out with your same-gendered friends? The place to bring your family? The place to meet people with different points of view? What is your vision? Figure out your vision, and keep in mind your vision may require some people to give up their uncontested positions of privilege.

      • I agree JDay, concessions do have to be made in order to make mosques more open and comfortable for everyone. Many mosques have programs catering to children, women, youth, etc. (Think youth groups, classes, community events, etc.) I’m not on a mosque board but I consider myself of a somewhat active Muslim in the local mosques in my community, and it’s pretty obvious that such programs and mosques do need improvement. (Depending on which mosque you go to)

        I’m probably repeating myself but I highly doubt an average mosque will go out of their way to make LGBT muslims feel more welcome, because by doing so, the mosque is condoning/accepting homosexuality, which is a sin in Islam. Do you really honestly believe that majority of mosques (talking about the United States) would take suggestions from the LGBT Muslim Community seriously? From a purely Islamic viewpoint, it would be just like having an alcoholic, smoker, gambler, etc. come to the mosque and asking to change mosque policies in order to make them feel more welcome (somewhat of a bad example, but I think you can see what I’m saying). Also, why would mosques encourage congregants to hang out amongst different gender groups? It goes against Islamic principles. Some of these principles come from culture, but the concept of lowering your gaze with non-mahrem members of the opposite gender is pretty important within Islam.

        Saying that the rules of the house of worship is disrespectful to the worshipers may be true, but majority of mosques I’ve been to at least try to make the mosque as adherent to Islamic principles as possible. (Again, depends on where you go). If congregants find that Islamic rules within Masjid policy disrespectful (segregation for example), they should seriously think about their faith and where they are trying to go with Islam. Are they trying to get to a higher level of faith and practice the religion as best as possible? Or are they instead following their nafs (desires) of this life?

        Again thanks for your comment, and I agree that many mosques need to make concessions..

      • There isn’t one of us who has not sinned or may continue to sin in certain regards. Even neglect of responsibilities or performance of requirements may constitute “sinning’. If a person is gay by nature, that is what God made him/her.

        Islam condemns the homosexual act and not the person and many of our gay brothers and sisters may choose to be celebate – as many straight Muslims do. The fact is we really don’t know what anyone’s private behavior is, as it is not for public consumption. Gay Muslims have rightly made efforts to participate in Islam, often within their own mosques, holding prayers, Ramadan iftars, etc. Perhaps this is the end result of not feeling welcomed in other mosques.

        As far as “choosing or changing certain aspects of Islam” to suit agendas is concerned, all we have to do is take a look at centuries old Muslim practices throughout parts of the world and we would be horrified at what passes for Islam. This would including praying at the graves of “saints” for wish fulfillment, use of amulets which are deemed to have “power” and countless other beliefs which come dangerously close to shirk.

        Muslims throughout history have absorbed a number of practices from non-Muslim cultures which are either negative or neutral to Islam, some are so shockingly defiant of Islamic ideology that it leaves one speechless. As Muslims are the dominate majority in many places and foreign beliefs have crept in and established for hundreds of years – no one appears to question it.

        Only God knows our circumstances and condition. He is aware of our struggles. He is the final Judge. We as limited and flawed humans should continue to be inclusive of everyone, as western society already presents a number of great challenges for Muslims who wish to stay within the fold of Islam. But is also offers a more democratic perspective as well where fairness towards others is valued.

  11. “Prophet Muhammad was seen as a feminist”

    Feminism didn’t come into existence until 1300 years after the Prophet (s). How could a 7th century Arab be seen as a “feminist”. If by feminist you mean someone who believes women should be afforded equitable rights then “feminist” isn’t the appropriate label.

    • I think you mean the term didn’t come around then. Here is the definition of “feminism” according to Websters Dictionary:

      the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

      I think the term the author used is an appropriate label.

  12. sorry to say if with this pic u r trying to say that this was how HOLY PROPHET SAW was……..
    lanatullah-i-allal kazibeen

  13. Thank you for writing this. As a Muslim convert, I have a VERY hard time with the segregation of men and women in our Muslim community. I know it is not a fair comparison, as it is done out of misguided respect, but I can’t help comparing our segregation to the old segregation of the American South. One of these days, I just might pull a “Rosa Parks” on our back-row prayer arrangement!

  14. You are right. And like you, our holy Prophet Muhammad pbuh was a feminist. In his time, not only were women at the mosque (it was like a community centre with his home attached) some say they even led the prayer in his absence (Umm Salama and Aisha it is said did so.). Brothers like you are helping to lead the way to return to the Islam of our Prophet. May Allah swt bless and protect you. http://www.mpvusa.org. http://www.mpvottawa.com

    • Wait…  There is evidence that WOMEN led prayers???  Give me the Hadiths so that I have some teeth to my arguments!!!!

    • Just to be clear, Umm Salama and Aisha as you say only led prayers for other WOMEN. Men were not present. It is not permissible for women to lead prayers with men behind them.

  15. I have to say, as an educated woman (I have 2 Masters and a Doctorate) I have been diverted from organized “Islam” for some of these very same reasons. I am a psychologist, and have learned that oppressing others, treating others poorly, and demonizing others, seeing them as “bad” or second-class (whether they are women, a different race, religion, etc.) comes only from deep-seated insecurity/
    inadequacy in that individual or group of individuals. It is not true religion to me.

  16. ??? I thought it was ALLOWED for women to pray at home – not as much encouraged – because it is EASIER for them, because of the care of children (baby’s asleep), because of the household tasks (you cannot simply leave your food on the stove and leave) AND because like this no one notices when you cannot come to the mosque for let’s say more natural (hormonal) reasons. That at least is what my teacher taught me (I’m converted). Wrong teacher?

    • You are allowed to pray at home. But will you be having small children forever? Will you be menstruating forever?

      The paternalistic, “Why go when you can pray at home” smacks of
      1) if this guy had a free choice he would choose NOT to go to the mosque and
      2) I know better than you what you want ala “Why give black people higher education? They will only fail and that will lower their self esteem”. Let me decide how much self esteem I want. Let me decide where I want to pray.

      • @Ann Casimira Van Goidsenhoven and JDay. Ann G. you are correct, there are hadith which support your line of reasoning. There are also hadith which actually say that women don’t receive more reward for going to the mosque, and that they get actually get more hasana for praying at home. Look at my first comment as well as following ones. Umman also makes several valid points regarding this issue.

        But like most Islamic viewpoints there is ikhtilaf (differences of opinion). Here is a valid viewpoint from Imam Suhaib Webb linked here: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/islam-studies/is-a-woman%E2%80%99s-prayer-at-home-better-answered-by-shaykh-al-dido/

        Just spreading useful knowledge so we can all attain Jannah. Hope it helps!

  17. It is heartening to see men clamouring for a change in the lifestyle of Muslim women. From what we read and know, Muslim women suffer innumerable atrocities world over. I hope you keep up your movement against the perpetrators of injustice.

  18. Brother, I am a Muslimah and a scientist. I often feel so belittled and second-class in local mosques, that I often don’t go. Rather mashaAllah on campus the students have prayers without barriers. I hate listening to someone who I cannot see…feel very disconnected to the speaker and somehow not quite there. I give talks and attend many talks…and so you can understand my sense of discomfort in the mosque. Also to add, I think there are some of my sisters who actually prefer the barriers…I personally think this excuses us women from being more engaged and contributing to the running of our communities..it creates an environment where gossip and wasting of time is possible. I feel both men and women exhibit better ‘adab’ or manners/etiquette when the opposite sex is in the room. These are my thoughts and observations and opinions only.
    I am very proud to have a brother to champion this cause and hope more of my brothers will do the same and more of my sisters will speak out. This ummah 1.5 billion strong, is not using enough the contributions half of it can make, trust me! You can guess which half I mean there.

    • oh yes sister, I feel you! I have lost interest in going to my local Masjid for feeling like a ‘second-class citizen’. And yes, it seems that the other sisters do prefer having the barrier, as it is something they have gown up with and are used to. The other sisters seem so uncomfortable around men. Is it really better for our Umma to be so divided? So uncomfortable with each other? I’ve grown up very Western, so it grates on me. Insha’Allah, our community will wake up soon.

  19. “Real feminism is when women can not only come and go inside mosques, but should be gender free, i.e. is there really anything wrong with women leading the prayer ? or what about somebody that is a homosexual ? The absurd idea of sexuality is quite old-fashioned. Personally I do not care if someone is committing incest, as long as they can speak anything about worth, they should be allowed in. Feminism is a going to give rights to all…it would be cool see a lecture on Friday by Irshad Manji…and even Salman Rushdie”

  20. “As American Muslims, perhaps we should look at American history.”

    Um, right, because slavery, genocide, and rape of Africans and Indigenous men and women really sets a good example for women’s rights.

    While I support the author’s advocacy for feminism in the Muslim community, the framing here is extremely problematic. Indeed, sexism within our communities must be confronted, but characterizing the global Muslim community as having a “7th century mentality and culture” falls into the logic of Orientalism. The author contrasts this with a glorified image of American society, ignoring the pervasive sexual violence and heteropatriarchy that is perpetuated in the U.S. Unfortunately, the framework here seems to be Muslims = “backwards,” and white non-Muslim America = “progressive.”

    There is a lot of amazing work being done by women’s rights groups in Muslim-majority countries, too. People don’t need to be in the U.S. to recognize the sexism and misogyny in our communities (saying otherwise would imply that Muslim-majority countries don’t have a conscious for women’s rights and other social justice issues). I don’t think Muslim men should be looking to American history to learn about women’s rights and equality. We should be listening to the Muslim women who have been and *are* confronting patriarchy and misogyny. Muslim men need to speak out against heteropatriarchy and sexism without resorting to these Orientalist narratives that stigmatize and stereotype our communities.

  21. Thank you for this great post. I have always felt extremely annoyed at the attitude towards women when it comes to mosques in Pakistan. Many mosques do not have a separate section for women and I’m pretty sure many local imams would have a stroke if some woman asked to be allowed to pray in the same room as the men. This is not only discriminatory but very inconvenient too if you are running errands for instance and need a place to pray. Unlike a man you cannot always stop at the nearest mosque and offer your prayers.

  22. Very interesting discussion. I live in Saudi Arabia and I can tell you that segregation is not the solution to any problem. The dangers of segregation of the sexes is that it’s effects play out in the long run. There seems to be some romantic notion among Muslims living abroad that Saudi Arabia is an example of the perfect Islamic country – it’s not. Segregation has made their women passive and men aggressive. Women cannot walk on the streets without being harassed. If you attempt to walk on some of the best parts of town (especially on the weekend) then every other car will stop in an attempt to pick you up. Some males (tweens and teenagers including) will even go as far as to flash money.

    It is a society of an extremely confused generation of young people who explore their sexuality by engaging in same-sex relationships or having secret lives away from families. Most young men and women do not know how to interact with males outside of the family. When young girls and boys do get the chance to mix, their behavior is shocking and cringe worthy.

    People here are trying hard to move away from segregation because they’re finally realizing that this way of life is unnatural and divides families and friends. Logically, why would Allah create two genders and then tell them to always stay away from each other?

    If we are going to segregate, then why stop at mosques? Let’s segregate offices, schools and cities because it seems easier than teaching young men and women to respectfully interact with each other.

    • So true!
      Especially what you said about it easier to segregate than teaching to interact respectfully, and why would Allah create two genders and tell them to stay away from each other. I wish everyone looked at it from that point of view.

      • why would Allah subhana wa ta ala create two genders and tell them to stay away from each other, to save you from the Haram……
        Men being aggressive is not the result of women being passive, the men have not moral being…no shame and they don’t fear Allah.

  23. In essence I agree with this post. These criticisms are valid – The long-term solution for which would be to give more green paper to the masjids so that they can expand. This is part of the price we pay for being a minority community.

    I agree with what Sarah wrote on March 21, 2013 at 10:05 pm, especially about the hypocrisy of using separation of an excuse to exclude women from the masjids or to create a physical partition/barrier (isn’t that a bid’ah?)

    But, I also want to comment on the mixing of Islam and Feminism. But before I jump into that, let me take a short detour to illustrate a point. Every few decades non-Muslim civilizations create a new idea that they feel is good. When Muslims get ahold of that idea, some feel that they need to mix Islam with that foreign idea. If the idea is called Foobarism (made up a term), then they will posit their own “Islamic Foobarism”.

    One example of this is so-called “Islamic Socialism” that took root in the Muslim world in the 60s-80s. Anyone who has studied Economics in depth, such as yours truly, knows that though it sounds good, Socialism is a *BAD* economic system, especially bad for the poorest of the poor. But, at the time, the idea of “universal equality” and “equal property distribution” sounded good. But look at the death, misery and horror it created for the Muslims in China and the Soviet Union.

    So when ideas like feminism come our way, we shouldn’t just say “Sounds good!” and accept it. We should question the validity of Feminism. Feminism rests on the notion that men and women should be treated 100% the same. Obviously we’re the same in most cases, but no reasonable person would also deny that there are major differences between men and women that cannot be ignored – and not all different treatment should be seen as “evil sexism from the patriarchy”. The difference between Islam and feminism is that Islam recognized those differences and is appropriately adjusted for them. Feminism routinely denies them, often through a denial of science – which is why the most virulent anti-Feminists are biologists and atheists.

    Next, when people feel that they can mix Islam with feminism, they should ask themselves what in Islam do they feel is so deeply lacking that it requires feminism to be patched up? There is an implicit assumption that Islam is lacking somewhere and requires this new invention of the 1900s to fix deficiencies. If some feminist ideas happen to conform with Islam, then what do you need feminism for? And if they disagree, then feminism is wrong and Islam is right.

    To say that the Prophet Muhammad SAAWS was a feminism is not only extremely disrespectful, it is a lie against feminism. Because whether we like it or not, there are aspects of Islam that are undeniably patriarchal in nature, and have been for 1300+ years.

    Though I’m very very non-Salafi at this point, Ustadh Yasir Qadhi gives an excellent talk called “Making Progress with the Progressives” here: http://muslimmatters.org/2007/04/23/making-progress-with-the-progressives-sh-yasir-qadhi/

  24. What an excellent post! I so agree with the “Barriers are sexist man-made rules”. I wish most muslim men and young boys would grow up to think with a liberal and honest mentality like yourself — such positive thinking would really reshape our society & gender stucture for the better and enlightened.

  25. What an excellent point of view! I totally agree with “Barriers are just sexist man-made rules”. I wish more musim men and young boys would grow up to think with such liberal and honest mentality. This mode of positive thinking could easily lead to reshaping our society and the gender structure for the the better & more enlightened. Eagerly hoping for that backwards-neanderthal-misogynistic mentality evolution sometime in my lifetime!

  26. islam is a living hell on earth, especially for women. even aisha said islam is only suffering for women. the only way men can be feminist is to stay away from allah’s teaching where he called women inferrior, allowdpolygamy(adutery), pedophilia (since muhamad married a hild pedophilia is legal in islam), allah allows to beat wives 4;34 and calls it mercy, women are said that most of them will go to hell, men are given superriority rank and women are enslaved and made toys of men, men can do all they want to women. all because women in islam area wrah, hated, despised and enslaved

  27. The only purpose of hijab (not mentioning niqaab or burqa) is to dehumanize women and deprive them of their own identity, dignity and voice in the society. They walk as black ghosts without their own face and individuality, as if they didnt exist, mere shadows walking among men. Hijab degrades and humiliates women and is a symbol of them being property of men and of islam. Instead of islam teaching men to grow up and mature and control themselves, it blames women for men’s lusts and weaknesses making women awrah – filthy and punishing women for men’s problems…very sad.

    no muslim woman would ever wear hijab if it wsnt for islamic manipulation. islam made the lives of women a living hell even aisha said that islam for women is only suffering…

    Jesus came over 600 BEFORE Muhamad and Jesus said who He is (God)and what He came to do (die on the cross for humanity. Thn 600 years after Jesus came Muhamad who lied raped killed, was pedophile and adulterer and denied words of Jesus….

    • Clearly the holy spirit inside you is angry. Are you speaking in toungue?

      Like most christians, you are uneducated about your bible. I have never seen anything that contains so much rape, murder, and theft.

      The head covering is also in the bible! Paul commanded christian women to cover their heads or shave all the hair off!!

      Remember, philippians 1:18 commands christians to lie, cheat, and decieve.

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