In Britain today, there are many mosques which do not have access to prayer facilities for women. In cases where mosques have a physical space for women, it may be inadequate. Common issues include the size of the space or the cleanliness of it. You may have experienced it yourself or perhaps your mosque experiences have always been positive.
Whilst there are hadith to suggest that it is better for women to pray at home, it is also known that women spend a lot of time away from home or may be some distance from home whilst out and about with children and family or friends through their week. Because of the changing dynamic of our lives as women, it’s never been more important than now for mosques to ensure that Muslim women in the area visiting the mosque are able to fulfil their daily prayers should they need or want to.
A well-known hadith is that of:
‘Do not prevent your women from going to the mosque, even though their houses are better for them.’ (Abu Dawud)
This list seeks to provide 5 practical steps on making your mosque accessible to women.
1. Sometimes, just a prayer space!
- Fundamentally, the purpose of a mosque is to operate as prayer space. This includes the five congregational prayers as well as others including taraweeh prayers or Eid prayers. Women too need a safe space in which to pray. Whilst many mosques feel they cannot provide prayer spaces for women due to a lack of space or separate room, there is evidence to suggest that women can pray directly behind men without a barrier as was the case with the Prophetic Mosque in the city of Medina.
- In cases where there is not a permanent space for women to pray in due to resource issues, open up the mosque to female worshippers as and when they need. This could be through putting up a curtained section in the men’s section or asking women to pray at the back of the existing prayer space.
- Making women aware that such a space exists is also crucial. With Muslim in Britain facing rising Islamophobia, resorting to praying on streets when mosques do not allow women a space to pray is unsafe and impractical.
Denying women from fulfilling their God-given obligation is also unacceptable so space must be made for women.
2. Work out what the needs are
- There have been numerous examples of mosques which complain that their women section is not full and is rarely used. This may be because of cultural understandings around a women’s prayer or because space is not meeting the needs of women. For example, if the space is not accessible for children or children are frowned upon, the space will probably go unused by mothers.
- Start with working out the needs of women. Call for an open meeting where women in your local community can come together and explain what is it that they would like in their local mosque.
- From this meeting, consider the resource of the mosque and what is practical for you. If your mosque is not purpose built, it isn’t realistic to commit to weekly mother and toddler groups due to a lack of space. But, work with what you have and compromise.
3. At a committee level
- Mosque management committees should represent the diversity of their congregations and the Muslim community at large. As a result, including women on the mosque management committee is KEY!
- Firstly, engage with local women and open up applications for the Mosque management committee in the way your mosque usually runs these things.
- Actively seek out women and ask them to join, and co-opt or elect these women but ensure that their roles are clearly defined and that they are adding value in a sustainable manner.
- Too often, we hear of stories where women are included on mosque committees for purely tokenistic reasons and this should not happen. Women should be included on committees because of merit and their skills. With organisations such as Muslim Women of Merton, the Muslim Women’s Council, Muslim Women Connect and so many more existing, Muslim women are already over-qualified and rightly deserve a seat at the table!
4. Creating a female committee
Some mosques have also found great benefit in creating a women’s committee which is a subset of the main management committee ensuring that women can partake in both. This has proven popular in mosques including the Muslim Association of Nigeria’s Old Kent Road Mosque where women are at the forefront of organising conferences to empower other women, run summer camps for children and more.
- Arrange a meeting and ask the local women if this is an option they’d be happy to lead on
- Assign a lead who the women pick themselves to be the liaison between the committee and the women’s group
- Assign a budget or give a particular time when the mosque’s facilities can be used- this could include rooms, halls, social media, email mailing lists, chairs and tables and the car park should it be required. Be realistic with what the mosque can and cannot do and don’t over-commit.
5. Dealing with grievances:
- When women raise a concern, listen to them in open meetings, via email, on social media and more. Foster an atmosphere where concerns can be easily raised in a non-judgmental space. These concerns should also be dealt with following an existing grievance procedure that is open and known to all parties.
- Try to understand the issues and rectify them. Whilst it’s easy to become defensive and explain why things have been misunderstood, active listening is harder but much more worthwhile and more likely to elicit a positive response.
- Seek an independent opinion where possible.
- For women who are interested in sharing their experiences of Mosques, both good and bad, the Female Mosque Experience is a new forum designed to collate anecdotes and share them with other women.
Take part and tell a friend here