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.