For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month met with much anticipation. For some, it’s an opportunity to rekindle connection – with nightly iftars, congregational prayers, and other mosque activities, it’s a time where community spirit thrives. For others it can be a challenging time; both physical and cultural barriers result in some, such as women, or mothers, having an unmosqued Ramadan. This is due to the fact that in some countries or communities, women are barred from attending the mosque, or the infrastructure and space allotted to them suggest women’s space in a mosque as an afterthought rather than an integral or central part of the Muslim community.
For the entire month, the Imam leads the congregation in Taraweeh prayer, which happens only during Ramadan. Ramadan 2020 is taking place in the midst of a pandemic, and most people are observing social distancing in some form. As such, mosques will be mostly empty except for the Imam and possibly a handful of congregants.
Understandably, many people fear they will miss out and have a less meaningful Ramadan this year. Without the mosque, there is a lack of that sense of community that so many people look forward to and rely on. The concept of going virtual is somewhat difficult to grasp being far from what people define as a community.
The absence of Taraweeh prayers and the mosque community bring to light a pertinent question: why are men the gatekeepers of religion?
Men are finding themselves in a strange predicament – this year they are on the receiving end of being unmosqued; it’s the first time they’re faced with closed doors, being unwelcomed, and not having a space for worship. Women, on the other hand, know these experiences all too well.
For too long women in Muslim communities have been on the receiving end of the false narrative that their spiritual growth and development are tethered to a man or the men in their communities. For a woman, it’s taken in stride that her presence is not always welcomed or encouraged in the mosque environment, with it being cited that it is better for women to pray at home instead of at the mosque. Women have learned to adapt to these cultural mindsets and advocate for reform within the constraints of a mosque board, though it is not always received well – change is hard to come by.
A spiritual path for women has been purported to be through men, whether an imam or their relatives. Accessibility to God, through religious practices, is taught to be fixed method, that men lead in worship, women follow, and it’s extrapolated that without men leading, women are therefore cut off from particular modes of worship, and their spiritual journey is curtailed.
Social distancing and a pandemic may be putting a damper on regular Ramadan activities, but I’d like to put forward the idea that it’s a time where women can flourish spiritually, and it should be embraced. This Ramadan is an opportunity to flip the script and reclaim what is ours. Now is the optimal time, as women, to recognize and reclaim Ramadan as a spiritual experience that we can set the tone for and experience in our own ways.
It’s scary and unnerving for some women who’ve been conditioned or brought up to think that their spiritual well-being relies on being led by a man when the opposite is actually the reality. In early Muslim communities, women led other women in prayers; they were in charge and invested in their own spiritual growth. Countless women memorized and recited Qur’an, a topic that can be contentious nowadays; though in some countries it is accepted (and encouraged) for women to recite in public, there are still places where the overarching cultural perception is that a woman should refrain from projecting her voice in public spaces.
This Ramadan is surely going to be different from what we’re used to, but there is a silver lining in all this COVID-induced chaos. The absence of congregations this Ramadan actually levels the gender-biased playing field. It gives women the space to unearth what they require to nurture a spiritual relationship for themselves – one which men are not privy to.