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Muslim Women in Public Sphere: Reading patriarchy in the light of Qur’anic Justice

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Islam mandates justice and equality of men and women. However; Indian Muslim women find themselves in need to protest for equal rights, alongside women of different faiths; against patriarchal norms, demanding their right to worship and religion.

Don’t all believers get equal access to mosque? No, not all believers get access and space in Masjid. A discriminatory practice going on with women for ages has now become a collective conscience among people, and the idea of a woman entering mosque to pray seems ridiculous to many.

While growing up in hometown Ranchi, I too believed that women don’t go to mosque as I never saw any woman going there. Masjids by common understanding were male spaces, so ‘no entry’ was accepted as a norm. The idea of ‘exclusive male spaces’ was further reinforced when being chided away from Eidgah during Eid prayers, as female kids were not supposed to be there. It was only later, I came to know that contrary to what is practiced, women can certainly go to Masjids as there is no Islamic prohibition.

Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said: “Do not prevent your women from entering the mosque of Allah” as being narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar, who was the close companion of the Prophet Muhammed(peace be upon him).

Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said: “Do not prevent your women from entering the mosque of Allah” as being narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar, who was the close companion of the Prophet Muhammed(peace be upon him).

Salah and Woman space in Masjid

Is masjid only a male space? Where should female believer go?

Daily obligatory prayer known as Salah which is one of the pillars of Islam and foremost duty of every believer whose importance and significance is stressed upon many times in Holy Quran. “Maintain with care the (obligatory) prayers and (in particular) the middle prayer and stand before Allah, devoutly obedient”. [Holy Quran 2:238]

Observing Salah is so imperative that believers are not exempted of this obligation even during unusual or war like condition. While in our society,when away from home at salah time, the male members attend Masjids while female counterparts are compelled to skip the daily obligatory prayers altogether owing to ‘no female entry’ norm in most of the Masjids. The managing committee of masjids doesn’t care to address the genuine need by allotting space and accommodating women. The reasons asserted is ‘lack of space’, while in reality, usually there is plenty of space in Masjid which are often empty for all daily prayers. In Islamic tradition woman’s prayer inside house is considered better. But when praying at home is more stressed upon the obligation of daily prayers it does not do justice to women. Do women have to choose between staying home or skipping prayers, Is this even practical? Owing to these factors, women are impelled to neglect their religious duty. Shouldn’t they have equal access and space for same responsibility of observing five daily prayers on time in Masjid?

Owing to these factors, women are impelled to neglect their religious duty. Shouldn’t they have equal access and space for same responsibility of observing five daily prayers on time in Masjid?

A petition on behalf of Muslim women has been filed with Supreme Court that appeals to end discrimination against Muslim women in all Masjids in country. While this issue of allotting space to women in Masjids is agreed upon by many scholars and they are accommodated for prayers in some Masjids in their separate spaces. But acquiring a rightful place inside Masjid does not put end to discriminatory practices. At many instances listening to the accounts of the allotted space to women expose the negligence toward them again.

Segregating and discriminating

Segregation of women from male spaces, the spaces which enjoy the facilities; pushes women into negligence. Women end up getting fewer spaces with inferior provisions. The justification comes as the ‘needs’ of men and women are different. Validations of such logic do great harm to women. It hinders their growth, experiences, mobility, equal participation, and makes them stagnant in their ‘private sphere’ (secluded confinements) where their voices are allowed to reach only to fellow women. We rarely see women in decision making roles or in the managing committee that defines the ‘need’ ‘space’ and ‘provisions’ of men and women both.

 We rarely see women in decision making roles or in the managing committee that defines the ‘need’ ‘space’ and ‘provisions’ of men and women both.

Discrimination owing to segregation is evident on many occasions. It is not always they get to participate in socio-religious programs. Women having allotted space and facilities only when there are some left after attending to the male members. One such community program I attended in a female section, was a small segregated space with no chairs, barricaded with tents, we watched the program on a small screen projector. On inquiring about the double standards with women, a local Masjid imam said “I had to press for projector and screen in women section, even that wasn’t considered necessary by the managing committee earlier.”

Women are shut out of Masjids. They don’t get to attend Jamaah (congregational) prayers. No organized space for Taraweeh(special night salah) in Ramzan. There are no congregational Eid prayers for them. How many times women are accommodated for community programs?

In ‘Deen aur Dastoor bachao’ (Save Religion and Constitution) conference organized by All India Muslim Personal Law Board in Ranchi, which was attended by Muslims from all over the state, had no women presence. Nothing extraordinary about it, this is usual!

There is rarely any attempt made to change the condition, the status quo is maintained as the change is deemed unnecessary because these things are institutionalized as ‘not obligatory for women’.

How do you expect women to grow and realize their potential when their public and political participation is frowned upon? They are not included, heard, discussed with and are denied existence to even have a say in public discourse and are held at the mercy of their male counterparts. Women are expected to live their social and community lives vicariously. Such expectations are grounded on the idea of female bodies to be a source and origin of Fitnah.

 

Fitnah(chaos) and female bodies

Female body is presented as the source of Fitnah which must be kept out of public (male) spaces and gazes.

As one of the citation in support of such argument goes is of Shafi Fiqh, taken from the book ‘Reliance of the Traveler’ written by Shihabudhin Al Misri, in the context of women prayer in Masjid,- “It is better for a woman to pray at home than at the mosque”. It is offensive for the young and attractive woman to come and pray at mosque, though not offensive for women who are not young or attractive when this is unlikely to cause temptation. “If temptation is feared but not certain to occur her going becomes offensive.”

A female body becomes a source of ‘Temptation’ the origin of Fitnah which can lead men astray. Portraying women as the source and cause of temptation justifies shutting them out as preventive measure against eventual sin and puts the blame on them for evil in society. Thus, completely omitting the equal responsibility of men, in maintaining chastity, purity and order in society.

Islamic injunction puts equal responsibility on both sexes to guard their modesty and maintain mutual respect of each other. The Quran mandates both men and women to guard their own modesty have mutual respect for each other and conduct themselves at public spaces.

“Say to the believing Men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing Women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…”(Holy Quran 24:30-31).

Women and men are equal in their worth before Allah. Both are termed as believers, friends of each other, guardians and protectors assisting each other.

“Believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And establish prayer and give zakaat and obey Allah and his messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them.” [Holy Quran 9:71].

But how often are women believers assisted for dispensing their duties? Women don’t get to have equal claim in opportunities. Most of their rights are not granted to them. Their needs are not acknowledged and addressed properly. Their convenience does not seem to matter.

But how often are women believers assisted for dispensing their duties? Women don’t get to have equal claim in opportunities. Most of their rights are not granted to them. Their needs are not acknowledged and addressed properly. Their convenience does not seem to matter.

Rationalizing ‘no entry’,  putting ‘conditions’ on women, perpetuating the fear of ‘Fitnah’ through females presence instead of encouraging women to pray, make more impediments which create a hostile environment for a woman to even approach Masjid committee for their needs. Skipping prayers and accepting the status quo becomes easy instead.

While Masjids are pivot to Muslim societies, then is it not incumbent on us to set standards of Islamic equality and mutual respect through Masjids?. Giving women their rights and treating with par will inculcate respect for women and their rights in a patriarchal society with discriminatory mindset.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Bakwaas article hai… just dragging out the meaning of their need with the meaning less or mislead means and explanations..
    This article is the symbol of lack of knowledge…

    • Dear brother, it would be great if u can point out the specific point which u think is meaningless and try to give the proper meaning instead of saying bakwas article.

  2. agreed …islam is tha only religion which grants equality of men and women is each condition .and islamic scholors should work in this regard to make proper and effective space in society for gender equality …and this need can be understand and achieved only by making society literate .

  3. Praise be to Allaah.
    Woman should be protected and concealed from men as much as her guardian can do that. The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) preferred for women to pray in their houses and said that their reward for doing so is greater than their reward for praying in the mosque.

    It was narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “A woman’s prayer in her room is better than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her cabinet is better than her prayer in her room.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, 570; al-Tirmidhi, 1173. This hadeeth was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, 1/136).

    “Her room” refers to a woman’s own room in the house, and “her courtyard” refers to the central area (in a traditional Arabic house), off which all the rooms of the house open.

    A cabinet is like a small room inside the large room, in which personal items are stored.

    (Commentary from ‘Awn al-Ma’bood).

    It was narrated that Umm Humayd the wife of Abu Humayd al-Saa’idi came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I like to pray with you.” He said, “I know that you like to pray with me, but your prayer in your room is better for you than your prayer in your courtyard and your prayer in your courtyard is better for you than your praying in your house, and your prayer in your house is better for you than your prayer in the mosque of your people, and your prayer in the mosque of your people is better for you than your prayer in my mosque.” So she issued orders that a prayer-place be prepared for her in the furthest and darkest part of her house, and she used to pray there until she met Allaah (i.e., died).”

    (Narrated by Ahmad, 26550).

    This hadeeth was classed as saheeh by Ibn Khuzaymah in his Saheeh, 3/95; Ibn Maajah, 5/595; al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, 1/135

    It was narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: “If the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had lived to see how women have started to behave, he would have prevented them [from going to the mosque] as the women of the Children of Israel were prevented.” I said, to ‘Umrah, “Were they prevented?” He said, “Yes.”

    (al-Bukhaari, 831; Muslim, 445)

    ‘Abd al-‘Azeem Abaadi said:

    The reason why their praying in their homes is better is because it is safer from fitnah or temptation. This was later borne out by the way in which women began to make a wanton display of their adornments, hence ‘Aa’ishah said what she said. (‘Awn al-Ma’bood, 2/193).

    Hence women should be careful when praying in public places, or go far away from where men can see them, and should not pray in a public place when the time of prayer comes, unless she has no other place in which to pray.

    Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah al-Jibreen said:

    With regard to women, their houses are better for them. If they need to pray in the marketplace and there is a place that is screened off, there is nothing wrong with them praying there, in sha Allah.

    Fataawa al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah, 1/333

    But what some of the common people say, that a woman’s prayer is invalidated just because a man happens to see her, has no basis in sharee’ah at all. The women used to pray at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in one mosque and he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did not rule their prayer to be invalid.

    And Allaah knows best.

  4. First of all men and women are not ‘equal’ in Islam, they have distinct psychology, physiology etc. as well as the primary roles ordained to by their Lord the most wise, the all knowing.

    Though I would love to see women getting space in masajid as well as the noble seats of learning/teaching all over India and the world, In India Patriarchy ain’t the main reason behind women not being allowed in masajid, or their limited presence in the public sphere.
    It is the Hanafi fiqh.
    You should mention the real reasons.
    And those hanafi scholars don’t hold this position because they are very backwards or misogynist, rather it’s a valid fiqh position.
    Also it isn’t prohibited but disliked.
    So if you or someone else can convince the scholars of the hanafi school to change their thousand years old fiqh position I don’t think we’ll need these articles anymore , and women would be flooding the masajid specially on jumah and eid prayers.

    Other than that you (men and women, who don’t hold that fiqh position) can always lobby for women inclusive mosques in your muhallas, taking the imam and the people in confidence.

    Also to mention that your article seems to be influenced by masajid experiences of women in the western world, because talking about inadequate facilities for women in a place where they aren’t even allowed in the mosque in the first place is quite.. :p

  5. Well written Nazis. I too have read and studied about Islam. Most of the practices and domination are all inclined towards Patriarchy, wherein the teachings of Islam is very much Pro-Women Liberation. Even in the recent incidents it was shown that women were barred from entering Shani Temple and Haji Ali Dargah. Somewhere questioning of Male dominance in Religious-Cultural domain is needed, and for that constant sensitizing of issue is required.
    Well done Nazish, expecting more to read from your penned article.

  6. Indeed, The Quran makes it clear that Women and Men are equal in the eyes of God

    One of the most misunderstood areas in Islam is that of the position of women in the religion. The general perception in the West is that Muslim women are subjugated and almost seen as property. While not all Muslims deal with women as inferior, this is unfortunately true in some segments of the Muslim world and this treatment is supposedly justified by the religion. However, when we look at the basis of the religion, the Quran, we see a very different picture. In the Quran God makes it very clear that men and women are equal.

    [3:195] Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are equal to one another. Thus, those who immigrate, and get evicted from their homes, and are persecuted because of Me, and fight and get killed, I will surely remit their sins and admit them into gardens with flowing streams.” Such is the reward from GOD. GOD possesses the ultimate reward.

    [4:124] As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.

    Guaranteed Happiness Now and Forever
    [16:97] Anyone who works righteousness, male or female, while believing, we will surely grant them a happy life in this world, and we will surely pay them their full recompense (on the Day of Judgment) for their righteous works.

    Equality of Men and Women
    [33:35] The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.

    [40:40] Whoever commits a sin is requited for just that, and whoever works righteousness – male or female – while believing, these will enter Paradise wherein they receive provisions without any limits.

    The Only Criterion For Distinguishing Among The People
    [49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.

    How is it that such clear verses can be ignored? Why are women treated so poorly in some Muslim communities? The answer lies in the fact that those communities take other sources besides the Quran as the basis of their religion. There are many Hadith that denigrate women. Also the pre-Islamic cultures of much of the Muslim world did not value women and had little use for them.

    There are another more dramatic example of how the Quran demonstrates women’s equality. In the Quran it is clear that Adam and Eve are equally guilty for listening to Satan. The fall of mankind from the Garden of Eden is not blamed on Eve. This is shown more than once in the Quran (2:34-36, 7:19-22, 7:27). Here is just one example:

    The devil whispered to them, in order to reveal their bodies, which were invisible to them. He said, “Your Lord did not forbid you from this tree, except to prevent you from becoming angels, and from attaining eternal existence.” He swore to them, “I am giving you good advice.” He thus duped them with lies. As soon as they tasted the tree, their bodies became visible to them, and they tried to cover themselves with the leaves of Paradise. Their Lord called upon them: “Did I not enjoin you from that tree, and warn you that the devil is your most ardent enemy?” (7:20-22)

    Throughout these verses, God refers to both Adam and Eve as being tempted by and giving in to Satan. Thus we see that God makes it clear that men and women are equal. He directly tells us in verses, He shows us in examples from the Quran of His prophet, and He counteracts the cultural bias of language and tradition. For those who read the Quran there is no excuse—men and women are equal.

    Allahumduillah, this article is a complete blend of current scenario and Islamic studies which should be taken forward by the Islamic Leaders to come to a workable solution as it is there is Arab Countries.

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