MUSLIM COMMUNITIES AND WOMEN’S ROLE IN MOSQUES
PHD Candidate, University of Tehran
Mosques has always been, the center of moral and spiritual learning and growth and a public place for discussing issues of concern to Muslims, and to respond to challenges facing the Muslim community. The Qur’an is clear on the equal responsibility of both men and women for developing public good:
The believing men and women are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise. (Al-Tawbah 9:71)
During the formative years of Islam, women participated in public services, and shared the Prophet’s mosque (peace be upon him). Participating in public prayer allowed women to fully engage in public debate and influence decisions affecting their lives and the life of the community.
In many Islamic communities mosques are not regarded just as a worshiping place but as a symbol for spreading knowledge, charity and help. Women in many parts of the Islamic countries are actively speaking for Islam as preachers, teachers, and interpreters of religious texts. women’s access and education is an important issue in Islamic teachings: neither the Holy Quran nor the practice of the Prophet restricts women from entering mosques. However, there are regulations on how a woman in a mosque shall conduct themselves (the same applies to men). Mosques can be segregated, either in time, or in space. Presently most mosques are allocating space and provisions for women to participate in Mosques; knowledgeable women educate women and teach them to fight against oppression based on misconception and misinterpretation. Furthermore, the offered training programs will help them towards education and awareness. When women are engaged with the mosque, their children will be encouraged to attend as well and thus the education of future generations will be in the hands of women who are empowered.
As it was mentioned alongside offering worship, mosques are an important community resource. They offer a range of services and activities such as education for children and young people, legal advice services, accommodation or housing services, welfare, health and healthy living. Mosques are also involved in fundraising for the relief of poverty and hardship, interfaith or multi-faith activities, holding study circles and hold seminars for women in the Islamic center.
As an example a 500-member team of female volunteers were assigned to work in the women’s sections of the Great Mosque in Mecca during the holy month of Ramadan, worked under the Red Crescent Authority to provide first aid to worshipers who may be suffering from low blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and other ailments.
In Cairo up to 1,000 women may show up for the Koran lessons or twice-weekly religious lectures by women in one of the major mosques of the city, Al Sedeeq. On any given day, several hundred women buzz around the mosque, organizing clothing drives, cooking meals for the poor or teaching women to read. Al Sedeeq also has medical clinics and a day care center for children of women who do volunteer work at the mosque.All the activities are organized by women - not the mosque's administrators, who are men. On one recent day, the only men seen in the building were workers doing renovations and worshipers who popped in to perform one of the five daily prayers required by Islam.
Numerous mosques and centers are playing an active role in non-Islamic countries and the major role is played by women. In non-Islamic countries mosques play a major role in helping Muslims to keep in touch with their communities as well as familiarizing non-Muslims with Islam. Thus mosques are a place for seeking Islamic Knowledge for Muslims and non-Muslims, and they hold formal classes for newly converted Muslims to familiarize them with Islam teachings. Children also receive an Islamic education beside the secular education of their public schools. Iftar party, eid party, marriage, and other Islamic ceremonies also take place in mosques to keep Muslims in contact with one another.
In many mosques around the world reference libraries are also available where people can study about Islam. Knowledgeable teachers and professionals (many of them are female, as they have more free time) in the community coach students and provide them counseling and advices with regard to Islam or some social issues. In some mosques, Muslim physicians, male and female incorporate a free medical clinic for poor and needy members of the community (both Muslim and non-Muslim) who are without insurance or those who are in need of emergency help can receive treatment.
Currently some controversies about the equal position of men and women is mosques and some movements such as “the women’s mosque movement” have raised. The Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque is written by Asra Nomani, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal; the bBill itself is quite controversial as it ignores the cultural and social diversities that exist in different Islamic communities. The Bill lists 10 rights that women should be granted when participating in the mosques activities; these include issues such as entering the Mosque through the main entry door, and not be required to only enter through the back and to have full access to the Mosque without separation by barriers designed to segregate women from the men. The list goes on to grant women the right to freely address the members of the congregation whether they be men or women and to hold leadership positions as well as to receive equal treatment as the men. One of the most controversial parts is about the article which asks women to have “an Islamic right to hold leadership positions, including positions as prayer leaders, or imams”
Another controversial group known as Muslims for Progressive Values, is a nascent American reformist organization which takes steps that Muslims regard them as perversion of true Islamic teachings by breaking taboos: Women are leading congregations in prayer and gay imams are performing Islamic marriages, and men and women are praying side by side. This has raised lots of protest among Muslim communities and mosques that ask for a return to true Islamic teachings.