I remember encountering my first ever protest at a mosque and leaving the space feeling disheartened. In a place where the remembrance of God should have taken precedence, female congregation members were forced to rally against injustices they were facing from the mosque committee therefore being distracted from their worship. This experience, amongst others such as working with Mosques for over 2 years encouraging them to increase outreach with their communities and being exposed to the challenges facing the Muslim community, planted the seeds for the Female Mosque Experience forum to be born.
And for those injustices which don’t create protest, I see tweets highlighting negative experiences. These range from things like mosques having no space for women, a sermon with misogynistic undertones or rudeness from fellow worshippers. The events that follow are the same- a woman posts her experience online, other women and men are outraged, people ask what they can do about it, a few ideas are suggested but rarely take place and the incident is forgotten until the next one crops up.
The inspiration behind the Female Mosque Experience followed a similar pattern, except this time, a woman, Fatima Ahdash, provided a suggestion which became this forum.
Muslim women in the UK let' s start an initiative where we indicate which mosques are safe spaces for women in term of non-misogynistic sermons, spaces that don't look and feel like dungeons etc? https://t.co/AafqkdnZjr
— Fatima Ahdash (@Fatima_Ahdash) June 5, 2019
The Female Mosque Experience is a new space, designed to collect the experiences of women within Britain’s mosques.
It aims to provide women a digital space to share their experiences of attending and engaging with mosques in the UK. The lived experiences will be documented and made accessible in order for women to discover mosques which have continually facilitated positive experiences thereby allowing other women to foster positive relations with that mosque and ultimately improving their relationship and connection with God. This allows women to decide whether they would like to engage in worship and perhaps attend or support mosques through donating or volunteering their time. The aim is to equip female worshippers with an understanding of the mosques which are facilitating the religious worship of a woman through understanding lived experiences of Muslim women. As someone who spent a year of her degree working with mosques and thus understanding some of the challenges facing them, I know very well the issues facing women within mosques that need to be tackled.
The Female Mosque Experience is important because whilst we may know of Muslim women who have experienced interactions that have distanced them from the mosque, we have no official data available. Because of this, these incredibly common experiences are missed and their importance unrealised. The stories I hear from friends of a mosque in central London where women have been manhandled out of the door exist. The stories of women facing other women who tut loudly when their babies cry exist. These stories that are heard in coffee shops and in casual conversations should be recorded and used as a tool to empower women to come forward and demand better. And for these bad experiences, there are also good. Experiences I have had include mosques where women create communal lunches after Jumu’ah prayers and invite the community in.
A common question I have been asked is why the forum seeks to publicise responses.
This is because, all too often, in cases where women have raised concerns directly with mosques, the issues have been brushed under the carpet. So it’s time to ensure that these experiences are not just brushed aside in private, but documented in public. The forum seeks to provide a safe space for women where the lack of understanding that is often seen when issues are raised does not exist. The forum is anonymous, with names and email addresses taken for verification purposes but not publicised. The forum is designed to look at mosques in Britain- although it’s had responses from women as far as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan showing that this is a global struggle facing Muslim women. And it’s already had great feedback too:
Love this! I sent Haleema my thoughts and I'm so excited to read the results of the survey!
— Hind Makki (@HindMakki) June 27, 2019
Just sent in my response and looking forward to reading the results as well. Thank you for collecting this information!
— Mobashra (@mobbiemobes) June 27, 2019
When faced with injustice, something I always come back to is my faith. And when I consider the rich Islamic tradition, I know that the exclusion or mistreatment of women in mosques is not Islamic. A particular instance that highlights this is recorded in Sahih Bukhari: ‘One of the wives of Umar (bin Al-Khattab) used to offer the Fajr and the ‘Isha’ prayer in congregation in the Mosque. She was asked why she had come out for the prayer as she knew that Umar disliked it, and he has great ghaira (self-respect). She replied, “What prevents him from stopping me from this act?” The other replied, “The statement of Allah’s Apostle (pbuh): ‘Do not stop Allah’s women-slave from going to Allah’s Mosques’ prevents him.”
The first time I read this hadith, I was floored by the logic of ‘Do not stop Allah’s women-slaves from going to Allah’s Mosques.’ If the purpose of our existence is to worship God and the mosque can facilitate this worship and God isn’t preventing women from attending, who are other men and women to prevent women? Why have we let our places of worship be reserved predominantly for men? What sort of message does this send about the value of a woman’s worship? Why have we allowed that message to be sent?
The Female Mosque Experience may not reform all mosques overnight and ensure every woman will have a positive interaction with the mosque but in collating this data and publicising the experiences of women, I hope it will contribute to empowering women to make a choice about which places of worship they want to actively support, validate these all too common experiences and raise awareness that the current status quo is frankly not good enough.
To get involved and anonymously leave your experience of your local mosque in the UK Fill in the following form
Haleema is an International Relations graduate from SOAS University of London. During her degree, she undertook a placement in the third sector where she worked with Mosques tackling some of the challenges facing them and encouraging them to open their doors under the #VisitMyMosque initiative. Recently, Haleema set up The Female Mosque Experience, a forum to collate the experiences of Muslim women in mosques. You can reach her on Twitter @haleemaakhtar_
By Selina Bakkar