Women and Mosques

Today it seems to be accepted that women are not required to go to Friday prayer, and that in general it is better for women to pray at home. But what happened at the beginning of Islam? Did women pray alongside men at the first mosque in Madinah, in an area that was unsegregated? Did they pray all 5 prayers at the mosque, or just Friday prayers? Was the mosque more than just a place of prayer? What purpose did that first mosque serve the first Muslims?

In Imam Bukhari’s Book of Friday, there is the following Hadith: “Do not forbid the mosques of Allah to the women of Allah.” The Prophet somehow sensed that future generations of Muslim men would attempt to prevent women from praying at the mosque, and thus made it clear with this Hadith that women should always be allowed access to the mosque.

In her book “The Forgotten Queens of Islam”, Fatima Mernissi shows how only 400 years after this Hadith, Muslim male scholars began casting doubt on whether it was necessary or even recommendable that women pray at the mosque. Ibn al-Jawzi mentions that if a woman fears disturbing men’s minds, she should pray at home.” What does that even mean? How would a woman disturb a man’s mind? He gives the example of how if a male prays behind a row of women, his prayers are worthless. Aside from whether this is even true, shouldn’t he then advise men to come on time, instead of advising women to stay home?

From this time on, many historians noted that most mosques were not frequented by many women. “We are certainly a long way from the Prophet’s mosque, open to all, welcoming all those interested in Islam, including women” (Mernissi).

The female companions of the Prophet clearly did have access to the mosque. In fact Aisha’s hut was connected to the mosque itself, showing how the Prophet did not feel the need to completely separate private from public, a need most modern Muslim men feel intensely. In Egypt in the early 1900s, feminists had to ask for the right to attend public prayer. How did things deteriorate to this extent for Muslim women, to the extent that we are not always granted access to the MOSQUE – a place of worship!

I will leave you with this quote by Mernissi: “The mosque was something other than a mere place of worship. It was a place where showing ignorance was permitted, where asking questions was encouraged, both activities that today are strongly prohibited.”


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