A new mosque in the United States is causing a stir amongst the American Muslim community for its female-only approach, with males barred access and woman leading all prayer gatherings. The Women’s Mosque of America, situated on the premises of a former synagogue in Los Angeles, has drawn praise from sectors of the mainstream media and women’s rights groups, but has also seen major criticism from more conservative and traditional Islamic circles in the US.
Woman’s rights activist and American Muslim writer, Raquel Evita Saraswati, said that whilst woman in the country were given access to facilities at many mosques, these spaces were often not as welcoming for women as they were for men.
“The women’s mosque allows them to have an Islamic space where they feel safe, that is opening and welcoming, and that compliments communities without distracting from traditional faith spaces. It actually adds to the community,” she explained.
Having attended several mosques across the US, she said the quality of facilities afforded to women ranged from acceptable, to at times ‘deplorable’.
Whilst the women’s-only mosque has cause notable controversy, Saraswati said the bulk of those complaining were yet to come up with a legitimate religious reason as to why such a mosque should not be permitted.
“It is 2015; there is absolutely no Islamic prohibition on such a gathering that we can really see as valid. Generally I would say that people have been more supportive, especially once they’ve actually looked at the theological discussions on a women’s prayer space,” she stated.
This group of women was inspired by the Islamic legacy of women leading prayer, noting the case of the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), Aisha, who had led an all-female gathering. And despite advocating for better prayer spaces for women at the country’s major mosques, she stressed that women were yet to be offered the same kind of facilities.
“I think Muslims should see this not as a challenge, but an opportunity to show the diversity and strength of the Ummah,” she said.
However, Cape Town scholar Sheikh Fakhruddin Owaisi stressed that according to fiqh, no prayer institution was meant to be solely exclusive to a particular sex, be it male or female.
“It is something that is inclusive of everybody, and the Prophet’s (S.A.W) mosque is the ideal blueprint for all masajid after that,” said Owaisi, the chairperson of the Sunni Ulama Council.
The preferable situation in such a mosque would be where both women and men were allowed to attend the daily prayers five times a day, with women standing right behind the men without any form of physical barrier, he mooted.
However, Owaisi said it was understandable that women would now resolve to setting up a facility to cater to their own needs, especially when men were now beginning to institutionalize the idea of male only mosques; something that was “against the Sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W).”
“There are ulama that support and justify that, and are strictly against the attendance of women at masajid. Some of our sisters have had to fight a war and jihad to be allowed at the musalah for Eid salaah,”
“An action has a reaction, and you cannot blame the women if they want to have a women’s only masjid, if there are so many men’s only masajid.”
He further acknowledged that in those mosques that did cater for women, the facilities were generally terrible, with masajid committees rarely giving much importance to upgrading them.
“It’s not every masjid, and I don’t say that. There are very good masajid which do give good facilities for women, but a lot of them don’t,” he added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)