sisters in our masajid

I’m always wary of attending a different masjid for the first time. I feel anxious at just the thought of finding the sisters’ entrance, which always seems to be hidden for some reason. But I’ve been feeling really distant from God lately and so I decided to set my anxieties aside and join hubs for jummah prayers.

The “sisters’ entrance” confusion was so real the second I got there – while there were many signs for the “main entrance,” I knew this probably didn’t apply to me so I went on a choose-your-door adventure and opened up random ones until hubs finally found it. I walked inside so see this wooden partition standing between the men & women’s area and my heart sank a little. So much of really connecting with a speaker and their message requires being able to actually see them – see the body language, why he’s emphasized certain things, do some lip reading when you’re not sure what he’s said. So I walked over to a part of the sisters’ area where the partition wasn’t blocking my view. I set down my wallet and was about to make up my Fajr salat but immediately an elderly lady sitting in a chair started shouting that I need to go to the back of the room & stay behind the partition. I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t really know how to respond and just moved. If I had the chance now, I would ask her how my standing there affected her? I would ask why she believed this partition, something that never existed in the Prophet’s masjid, was necessary? I’d ask her why she thought it was SO horrendous that I wanted to see the khateeb that she started shouting in the middle of the khutbah to get my attention?

As I was trying to understand the khutbah from behind the partition, I noticed that there was a section up above for the sisters. I thought ‘OHHH, that makes sense! This is just the part for the women who feel more comfortable behind the partition or don’t want to go upstairs. I probably shouldn’t judge so quickly.’ So I walked upstairs and notice it immediately getting warmer and warmer. I also notice that the sound of the khateeb speaking is getting softer and softer. I walk inside the sister’s section upstairs and realize that, while I can finally see the khateeb below, I can’t hear anything he’s saying. There’s a screen and a speaker but neither is turned on. But I’ve missed most of the khutbah in trying to figure out how to actually see it so I sit down and try to listen. In the couple minutes that I was up there, I likely understood 3-4 words at most.

So again, I came back downstairs and found a little corner in the back where I could sit and somewhat see and hear the khateeb. Even when we lined up for salat, half a suff was empty because the partition did not cover that part. After prayer, I sat and thought about how blessed I am that I grew up at a masjid that, for the most part, tries hard to ensure women aren’t treated as second class Muslims. I thought about all the times I’ve been traveling and prayed in places where I could never connect, where I was but in an almost literal box & made to feel like I was only a source of fitnah for the brothers and not a woman who was there to better herself and deepen her relationship with God. Why is it my responsibility to ensure the men do not have any impure desires while we are in the house of God? I have just as much a right to be there as any other man and yet I’m often cast aside or made to feel like an inconvenience.

The only positive interaction I had was a sister who came to me after salat and told me she liked my hijab, with a huge smile on her face. She’s likely the only reason I would go back. If you see someone new enter your community, please treat them with kindness and compassion.

After walking back to the car, I started telling my husband about what happened and just broke down. After years and years of praying and worshipping in inferior settings, it just all came gushing out. I told him how jealous I was that he could simply walk into a masjid, sit amongst his brothers under wonderful lighting & fans and simply listen. How deeply hurtful it was to feel inferior in the house of God when my faith is the exact reason that I am a feminist. How un-Islamic all this is. He was immediately horrified and promised to talk to one of his classmates who is involved in the masjid about my concerns (ladies, marry a feminist – it’s seriously the best). And we drove off and got Rita’s and I tried to forget the whole thing.

And before I go and pass judgements on other communities, I have to recognize that mine is also very flawed: we don’t do right by families who come to the masjid with children, the leadership often makes very problematic statements, we lose children to suicide but no one ever makes mental health a priority. So we all have our problems, and while this was my first time attending this masjid & I may have just caught them on an ‘off’ day, I know that none of the other deeply rooted problems in our society can be corrected unless we allow women to safely enter and participate in these spaces.

While they were doing the announcements after salat, a group of young girls were trying so hard to see through the cracks in the partition. They’re young and curious and likely feel less than because they were barred from engaging and participating. They may grow up thinking that God believes them to be inferior and that’s why they must stay behind. But my young sisters: God does not think you are less. Man does. And he is wrong. You are queens. I hope that you learn that along the way. 

To all my sisters who constantly face these injustices: I’m so sorry. We must continue to work to better these spaces for us and those who will come after us.

You can read more about women’s experiences at various mosques at: Side Entrance

6 thoughts on “sisters in our masajid

  1. I don’t really like this post but I often do enjoy your posts. Just not this one. It’s so whiney. Quite unlike you. You’re not a revert, you’re a Muslimah & grew up so. It’s veeeeeery typical to see barriers between the male & female sections in a masjid. It’s because most women prefer the privacy, not so they’re less a temptation. If you wanted a different experience, you could have done an itsybitsy research to know which masajid close to you would meet your demand. I totally get your feelings, I’ve felt that way before but I’m certain that if the barrier came down, women would be the first to demand its return. I had erroneously thought praying in a masjid would help me with that ‘connection’ but the truth is, the earth has been declared a masjid for us. There’s no masjid more awe-inspiring than Nature itself. Pray by a spring, by a beautiful rock formation, in the rain, overlooking the Grand Canyon…the splendour of Allah is EVERYWHERE!
    I think considering d onslaught against Muslims these days, I really don’t condone us castigating each other. We should instead, unite & present a singular front.
    PS: I apologise for d rant. I mean well. Assalaam alaikum sis and may Allah guide you closer to Him. Best wishes!

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    • I usually enjoy your thoughtful responses but this one is extremely rude and dismissive of my feelings. Reverts are also Muslimahs, I’m not sure why you’re making a distinction there. And I’m not sure which websites you’re referring to but I have never found information about sisters’ entrances or partitions on any masjid’s website. I understand that many women may prefer to be behind a partition, which I did state in my post, but why am I not allowed to sit behind the section where there is no partition if that’s where I am most comfortable? My main critique was of the ‘masjid aunties’ who feel the need to correct everyone until we’re shamed and following their version of Islam. I’m not asking for the barrier to be removed. I’m asking that there be viable options for women who would like to both see and hear the khateeb as he speaks, for a welcoming culture in our masajids and not the intense judgement that occurs the second you don’t recognize someone.

      I never said that the masjid is the ONLY place I’ve sought growing closer to Allah. But I decided to go because it is one of many places that I have felt closer to Him and I have every right to go to one to & have just as good of an experience as the brothers.

      And just because Muslims are being hypercriticized in media does not mean we should stop progressing in our own spaces. I made it clear that the issues I’ve discussed are cultural and not present in the teachings of our Prophet or in the Qur’an. I refuse to stop trying to better our communities just because of the trash people are putting out there. I love my faith. I love my community. And I will fight my entire life to serve Allah by bettering my community from the inside.

      I also posted the same thing on Instagram and more than thirty sisters responded sharing that they’ve had similar experiences and feel horrible because of it. I will always prioritize being there for my sisters over hiding our flaws from society.

      I get the feeling from your response that you didn’t actually read the entirety of my post. In the future if you want to have a conversation about my thoughts, I’m happy to engage but if you come off attacking my thoughts & feelings, I’ll delete your comment. This is a safe space for all to discuss respectfully. May Allah guide you closer to him and allow you to have more compassion for those who are struggling.

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  2. I can understand your frustration, and do not think your post was any attack on your faith or community at all. Women have been marginalized in most major organized religions unfortunately, and pointing this out is not to criticize your faith, but to make it more inclusive, so I commend you for your post.

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  3. It’s unfortunate my comment came across as dismissive of your feelings. It was not my intention.
    You will agree with me that these ‘judgemental aunties’ are in virtually every masjid. It’s who they are. Our job should be to improve things not add to the litany of complaints.
    Being that you are a self-proclaimed feminist, I was hoping for a more…progressive stance (for lack of a better word) from you. I guess that’s where I erred. We do not always live up to people’s expectations of us (and we shouldn’t really).
    But I will point to a comment by one of the sisters on your IG page who mentioned how she took cookies to the masjid and shared them with the kids there. This is what our generation should do; change the narrative and improve on what we feel is deficient. We can find out which mosques offer the best views; join the board or even build masajid ourselves according to our specifications. At this age, we’re getting the opportunity to be in charge now.
    You inspire a lot of people, including myself. I just wished you had used that influence in another way other than just chastising the older generation.
    But then, you did say that could have been an ‘off’ day for them; maybe it was for me too, yesterday. I did not make an effort to carefully craft my words; for that I apologise.
    Take care, Anum.

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    • I agree that I could have ended on a more productive note with suggestions on how to improve conditions in the masjid for sisters but I was writing from a place of hurt and didn’t have it in me to think of different ways to ‘fix’ these problems before posting. I spoke to my husband’s classmate at length with specific suggestions on how to improve conditions in that specific masjid but it wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to all masajid so I didn’t share that aspect.

      I have every intention of being involved in every masjid I come across in my life, to the best of my abilities. In the past that’s meant leading youth groups and conducting fundraisers for various areas stricken by natural disasters. Recently, it’s been participating in health fairs to try to improve understanding of chronic illnesses in the immigrant populations. And in the future I hope to establish safe spaces for young women and start a conversation about mental illness in Muslim communities. I will always support my words with actions.

      The point of my post was not to chastise the older generation. No generation before us as been perfect, we surely aren’t and none after us will be. The point of my post was to express something that many of my young sisters have also been through so that they may feel less alone.

      In the future it may be beneficial if you give your brothers and sisters in Islam the benefit of the doubt before making assumptions about their intention.

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  4. I can definitely relate to your frustration as I have experienced very similar things in the masjid I attended growing up (so much so we switched masjids twice in the last 2 years). These frustrations have caused me to rarely go to the masjid, I do practice prayer at home but still can miss the air of community found in the masjid. To be honest I think it takes a strong person to write a post like yours and I wish I had spoken up sooner. Like you mentioned it is easy for us to find fault in other communities but overlook the faults in our gown, this leads to an inhibition in our growth as a community.

    Much respect to you, and best of luck on your upcoming exam 🙂

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