Women and men gather at Chicago’s Loyola University’s Muslim prayer space for a night entitled “Shias, Sunnis, and Food.” Photo submitted by Agnieszka Karoluk
The latest Ms. Marvel issue is titled “Side Entrance,” where G. Willow Wilson’s Kamala asks some very good questions about women and mosque spaces. Photo copyright by @woodturtle_
A recent trip to the Caribbean island of St Vincent brought me to a beautiful Musalla (an open space outside of a Mosque used for praying) in the city of Belair. Unlike my visits to Grenada and Antigua, this building was a bit harder to find since it’s information isn’t online. Thankfully, an old friend of my father’s took me into the mountains where this humble and colourful place of worship is located.
I was happy to see that men and women enter through the same door and share equal prayer areas. The women’s section is a bit elevated and separated by a large window and beautiful latice doorway. Through discussion with Brother Kudama I learned that the island’s small Muslim community (about 100 people) is made up of local people and university students from countries like Nigeria and Kashmir. And not only are women welcome here, but the musalla is the bottom floor of a Muslim woman’s home. Pretty amazing.
Farmington Valley American Muslim Center located in Avon, CT. A former church turned into Islamic community center with classroom space and large prayer area. Men and women pray side by side in the same room with separate entrances and low divider.
Today I was privileged to view a private screening of the documentary Unmosqued. It was a powerful film that touched me deeply.
In my early days of Islam I was shocked and horrified by my mosque experiences. I felt humiliated, isolated, oppressed, dejected and rejected. I never spoke about these experiences, never told anyone how I felt being relegated to a little room with filthy dirty carpet and screaming babies, while the few men spread out on pristine oriental carpets. I never mentioned how it felt to have someone call me a ‘kafir’ and organize an intervention for me because I had stopped wearing one style of hijab and opted for another. I never shared the frightening comparisons happening in my head as I realized I had never, ever been treated like this in a church. I never spoke about any of it, not even to myself.
Instead I walked away. I turned to Islamic scholarship, seeking comfort in the practices of Prophet Muhammad (s) and spent many years healing my torn soul.
I believed myself stronger when I returned to the United States and to community two years ago. But I wasn’t.
I found myself in a tiny balcony with a large city ordinance warning on the wall not to have more than twenty people. I kept counting the women and children and hoping the balcony wouldn’t collapse.
I tried another mosque, but my smiles and salams were to no avail as I was nodded at and skirted around. I went back anyway because the women’s section had been clean and i could both see and hear the Imam. When I returned a rough and messy curtain had been placed between the women and the men. I prayed and went home.
At four other mosques I offered to teach (Quran, Islamic sciences, children, adults), and showed them that I spoke Arabic, have my ijaza in Quran, and am licensed to teach from the scholars I learned from. I was politely turned away.
In essence the unmosqueing of my youth became the demosqueing of my adulthood.
Again I walked away and turned (like so many others) to the creation of a second space, a safe space, an online space for now, as I plan a ‘brick and mortar’ space.
The viewing of Unmosqued brought all of these experiences and feelings to the fore. I felt bruised and spent after watching it. I couldn’t stop crying all the way through, and for a good time afterwards.
I would very much like to #bemosqued (the term coined by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani ), but for now I am thankful that we can talk about being #unmosqued, #demosqued, and #nothankyoumosqued.
It is time to start talking about this. It is time to raise respectful voices. It is time for women to find a welcome mat at the door of any mosque they happen to visit. It is time.
|—||Anse Tamara Gray|
This set of photos are of the men’s prayer space at the Qatar State Mosque in Doha, where the genders are separated. They enter through separate doors and pray on different floors. Men can see only the filigree decorations of the mezzanine level where women pray.
Women pray on the upper level at the Qatar State Mosque in Doha, in 3 lavish prayer spaces. Western visitors are asked to don abayas and scarves when they are visiting the mosque.