My background and current work on gender issues leaves me particularly attuned to instances in which khutbas seem to marginalize the women in the audience. I’ve heard numerous khutbas during which the khateebs (person giving the sermon) were, quite frankly, incredibly rude to the women in the audience.
A few years ago, I was at a jum’ah during which a child was crying and the khateeb yelled out, “Sisters, please control your children.” That one sentence reinforced so many gender stereotypes that I wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Why were the women presumed to be in charge of “controlling” their children? Were the fathers in the audience exempt from child care? The khateeb assigned women the care-taking role and, more importantly, embarrassed and judged them during a time when they were trying to connect with God- this is not something that should be done in a spiritual space, that’s supposed to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.
Most recently, I was at a khutba in which I honestly felt like walking out and rejoining once the prayer started for the simple fact that the khateeb absolutely neglected women in the audience. That the women were shoved off to pray in a trailer with no heater, when it was about 35 degrees outside, only made me more bristly that day. The khateeb was discussing the importance of not judging others with, “Men should make sure to not be bad people” and “Men should not support backtalk” and “Men” this, “Men” that. I cringed with each sentence.
Yes, I’m aware that often times the word “men” is generalized to include both men and women, but in this case, especially because the women were so incredibly removed from the prayer site, I felt marginalized. While the khateeb was talking, all I could think is: If you’re going to place women in a trailer in which their only link to the actual jumaa experience is a crackly speaker, then please give us the courtesy of saying “women” or “sisters” at least once during the khutba. His lack of gender sensitivity utterly ruined my jum’ah experience and instead of walking out feeling spiritually enlightened, I felt annoyed.
There is something broken in the mosque system regarding gender inclusivity. The conversation regarding women’s place and role in the mosque is one that I’ve had numerous times with my female Muslim friends; we have all felt excluded and hurt at some point or another by the way women are neglected in certain mosques. I have female friends who actually no longer wish to attend jum’ah because they do not feel included. I know of female converts who nearly regretted their decision to convert when they saw the state of women in the mosque. If I had to be completely honest with myself, some of my most powerful spiritual moments took place when I was in an interfaith council; within the group, men and women were treated as equals and I was able to express myself without worrying about gender constraints.
The subject of women’s role in the mosque, and particularly about leading mixed-gender congregations, is an incredibly touchy one within the Muslim community, as was demonstrated in the outcry Dr. Amina Wadud received from the community when she lead a prayer service in NYC back in 2005.
But, I’m not arguing for women-led mixed congregations right now (that’s a whole different matter). I’m asking for the simple courtesy of being acknowledged and included in Friday prayers. So, to all of my Muslim brothers out there: If you’re giving a khutba, please read your speech over to make sure that it’s gender sensitive and acknowledges both the spiritual needs of men and women. Remember, that both Muslim males and females form the ummah.