In today’s world, mosques are confined to the daily five times prayers of Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha’a which hardly amounts up to an hour in the entirety of the day. Furthermore, in many mosques, the entry of women is debatable and a separate arrangement is seen uncommonly in parts of northern India.
Being a Muslim girl, I was fascinated to offer Namaz of Eid in the last 4-5 years in a centre established by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind known as Idaare-tehqeeq-o-tasneef-Islami and the exhilarating experience of offering salah by jamaat followed by handshakes and warm hugs made me crave for more congregational prayers’ experiences. So, I embarked on a survey to find out, do other women also pray regularly in the congregation or at least do they want to?
I live in the city of Aligarh where the prestigious minority institution Aligarh Muslim University resides and a fair share of the Muslim population lives. But I was extremely disheartened to find out that even in the girls’ hostels of AMU, let alone the regular congregational prayers, even Juma’h prayers or taraweeh prayers in the Holy month of Ramadan or that of Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-ul-Zuha are not arranged for the girls.
A resident of the famous and largest hostel – Abdullah Hall, Miss. Bushra Rahman, pursuing B.A Psychology, cited the major issue of ignorance and lack of knowledge amongst girls regarding the issue of the congregation for women’s prayers. Another resident, Miss. Zainab-ul-Ghazali, pursuing post-graduation in Qur’anic studies shared her views and said that she prefers offering individual salahs rather than congregational and other residents around her as well prefer the same. The girls are not aware of the ruling of shari’ah and the scope Islam provides for women on this issue resulting in a total absence of congregational prayers for women in the girls’ hostels of AMU.
Another issue of the mosques being confined for the sole purpose of offering Salahs is discouraging. In the Prophet’s time, mosques were learning & education centres, vocational centres, counselling centres etc. Also, it was a place of prayer not only for men but rather he encouraged women to go to the mosques and bring along their children with them as well.
A few months ago, I had a chance to become a part of a community centre which aims to break this notion of using the mosque premises on an hourly basis and breaking the stereotypes of a women’s role in the mosque. Established in the outskirts of the city of Aligarh, known as ‘Darussalam Islamic Center’, it has started a community clinic, a separate area for women’s prayers, a library with an attached reading room, and a drug shop to promote the use of generic drugs etc. It also aims to start a career counselling, guidance programme and matrimonial services by accommodating Nikah in the mosque.
The community centre offered free coaching classes for the students of class 6th and 9th in preparation for the entrance exams. I was fortunate as a woman to be able to impart my services and taught the biology classes over a period of one month and had the opportunity to offer Salah in the mosque numerous times without any fear, hesitation or harboring the feeling of being excessively conscious of the visiting males in the mosque premises.
This experience gave me hope that with some efforts, the issue of female participation in mosques, and effective use of mosques and congregations can be worked upon for the betterment and upliftment of the Muslim community.
I believe it is essential for Muslim women to understand the importance of attending Juma’h khutba and prayers, the prayers of Eidain and taraweeh at the least, if not the daily five times prayers. The mission of accommodating women in mosques needs to be spearheaded by men. We as women can create awareness, and put in our own efforts by starting congregations in girl’s hostels and actively participating in already functioning mosques with separate women-only premises.