In the UK, two thirds of Muslim women want access to women scholars, just one third of women feel connected to the wider Muslim community and less than 10% go to their local mosque for advice. A new survey which we at Ta Collective (formerly My Mosque Story) did in partnership with Muslim Census has found that the faith experiences of Muslim women in the UK are bleak and yet, this is not surprising.
Ta Collective was set up in 2020 following years of working within the Muslim sector’s charities and advocacy groups, working with mosques, humanitarian causes and more. And our creation was as a result of exhaustion and frustration with the lack of accommodation for women seen in the sector. We initially set out to highlight safe mosques for women and quickly realised these were few and far between. We swiftly adapted our aims because we recognised the spiritual health of Muslim women was at risk.
The lack of access to mosques has a debilitating impact on the faith of Muslim women and creates a perception that women are not worthy worshippers of Allah. One woman explained her feelings by saying: “The males go to the masjid and we are forced to pray in changing rooms, car parks etc. It becomes so that Salah is a box to check off – there is no ease, no Khushoo [sense of tranquillity or focus], no community.”
During lockdown, when mosques across the country were open to men but closed to women, we organised Quran circles and prayer classes over Zoom. Through these sessions, we realised that women needed spaces to just talk and hear from one another, so we became a small part of the internet that was designed to help heal, nurture and accommodate. Using journaling, dissecting the different chapters of the Quran and channelling anxieties into dua, we ran weekly workshops one Ramadan in an attempt to make space for women and show that our religious education should never be seen as an inconvenience or viewed as an afterthought.
A key recurring issue we’ve found amongst our collective is that women are misinformed about their spiritual rights and their status in the eyes of Allah. Many are shamed or scared into silence when they raise objections or question their rights. This is an injustice and it’s something our Scholarly Works campaign seeks to change. Through Sh Akram Nadwi’s texts and a conversation with Anse Tamara Gray, we have sought to bring to light the role of women in the mosque and in the community. The spiritual health of Muslim women depends on it. Through these online conversations which we thought would only interest a few, we have found our audience grow globally showing what a huge issue women across the world are facing.
The survey also found that 2 in 5 women rely solely on online means to access knowledge and advice. One woman commented: “As a revert, I wanted beginner’s advice on basics pertaining to women such as post-menstruation ghusl and required clothing for prayer. No services at local mosques so went online for information. Specifically, I wanted to learn from female scholars/teachers which is something I was able to do online but not in person (i.e. from my local mosque)”.
When considering the origins of our faith in communal and collective gatherings, one can’t help but be saddened that many women have never experienced this. But it’s clear that the online space provides a level of anonymity and allows our collective to participate in the way that’s most comfortable for them. It gives them access to scholars, to other women and to a safe space where they can truly express themselves.
It’s not a rare occurrence to hear deeply personal experiences being shared at one of our online events. There are often tears and desperate pleas for advice. This space which should be available to women in mosques and communities up and down the country is now found over laptop and phone screens. This space which the Prophet’s (ﷺ) mosque in Madina created and nurtured is sadly not replicated in many mosques and communities across the country. Instead, women are shunned, so they turn to whichever means they can find.
This could not be further from the model of the Prophet (ﷺ) who always made space to meet women. In fact, a well known incident describes how women came to him and asked why the men have more access to him. In response, he decided to dedicate an entire day to answering their questions and nurturing the spiritual growth of Muslim women. Women were a critical part of the Mosque in Madina and there was always space for women. During Eid prayers, the Prophet (ﷺ) asked all women to come out, even menstruating women, in order to hear the Eid khutbah.
Shaykh Akram Nadwi, in his translation of Ibn Hazm’s book writes that had women been denied access to the mosque during the time of the Prophet (ﷺ), we would be deprived of hadith that have come to us because women heard them and preserved them.
Rabata is a trailblazer in this space. The team offers a range of courses for Muslim women to study the Arabic language, Islamic law, stories from the life of the Prophet (ﷺ) and much more. There is a recognition that Muslim women need access to high quality scholarship and spiritual medicine and the popularity of online spaces exemplifies this need.
Research projects like this one are meant to create change. But our experience has shown us that large sections of the Muslim community in the UK are resistant to change and in many cases, those who run mosques do not believe that women belong in those spaces. So it’s not our hope that this study improves the physical access for women in mosques, nor is our hope that more women make up mosque boards.
Our hope is for more than tokenism and warm words. We hope that Muslim women can access Allah and His mercy in the best of ways. That young girls growing up are able to learn their spiritual rights and not feel like outsiders in their own faith. That women who are facing spiritual crises can be supported rather than shamed. And that women who dare to speak out are not vilified or criticised, but listened to and heard.
And through our small corner of the internet, we hope that the work Ta Collective was set up to do can flourish, be full of blessings and ease and can support Muslim women who desperately want to be closer to Allah but are so often neglected or belittled. This month, we are hosting the Breakfast Club, a pre-Ramadan series to help Muslim women spiritually prepare for the holy month. Follow us on instagram to sign up: @the.tacollective
May we be amongst those who plant the seeds of change – the spiritual health of Muslim women in generations to come depends on it.