Gender & Identity, Life

Do I even belong in the mosque?

I prayed at a church today because there was no place for me at the mosque next door. My own brothers turned me away.

I prayed on the pavement today because when I planned my journey, I failed to check if the mosque that fell in my path was a “men only” mosque. I prayed in the hospital today, because there, a “sisters section” is guaranteed, even if shared with men.

How is it that prayer, the second pillar of Islam, is relegated as an option to woman? Many Muslim men claim that sisters are a “distraction” and are better off praying at home. But listen well: While I will be questioned about my prayer on judgement day, my brothers should also be prepared to be questioned about preventing me and my sisters from our prayer. How is it that I must sit through lecture after lecture on praying on time and yet you still turn us away because only men are allowed at this mosque? May God have mercy on us both.

Interfaith speaker Nisaar Nadiadwala once said, “It is not that they have failed to understand you but that you have failed to express.” But how can I express myself if I’m not given a chance to talk? How can I express myself if I’m dismissed as nothing but a troublemaking feminist? How can I express myself when a brother looks at me helplessly, because even he doesn’t know when someone will turn up to open up the ‘sisters only’ section?

Those who say that women can prayer at home fail to consider sisters who depend on mosques to carry out their daily prayers. Perhaps they travel for their work. Whatever the case, why is it so hard for you to understand why I didn’t want to miss my prayer, why I couldn’t miss my prayer?

I weep in my prayer, I can’t hold back tears on the bus, I sob when I get home. I cry for the sisters that have experienced this and the sisters that will come to experience it. I weep that we don’t want for others what we want for ourselves. I weep that my brothers don’t even understand the consequence of what they have done. But I take comfort in knowing that the prophet Muhammad’s dear companion Umar ibn Al-Khattab, known for his strength and his justice, would also have wept. I take comfort in how my heart has softened to the extent that I am able to cry.

News of the first women-only mosque opening in America only further disheartens me. Muslims can do better – far better.

Let’s go back to what mosques were originally used for: a place of prayer, communal prayer, yes, but prayer all the same. Nothing – not an all-male Qu’ran class, nor a meeting of only men – should take precedence over prayer.

A Muslim should be given the means to pray on time, whether it is a man or a woman. Change has to happen now.

To the early Muslims who were persecuted even within their own homes, the mosque was a place of sanctuary, the only place they could truly be themselves.

Where, then, is the refuge for my sisters? Where is our comfort, our haven?