Thursday, August 25, 2011

Women & Praying

I can’t believe that its already the last few days of Ramadaan. I just want to freeze these moments. Never mind I’m exhausted and thirsty and hungry all the time. I still wish that these moments could last forever.

As we start getting nearer to Eid, a familiar argument is making its way the surface again. The question of whether women are allowed to attend the Eid Prayer or not. Many women fight for the right to go. I’m like, just become shafi and it won’t be a problem. *chuckle*

What I find strange is that women, throughout the year, don’t say anything about attending mosque on a Friday, which is a very holy day for muslim, according to some even more than Eid. Why do we not fight to attend the Friday lecture?

But really this argument is much larger than attending the Eid Prayer. What this lends itself to is arguments about whether women should be allowed to go to mosque at all and to a greater degree, a women’s role in society.

All of it is connected because Islam is a religion that is deeply rooted in the community. That is why “the men” pray as one, standing shoulder to shoulder. No man greater or lesser than the other. Because as we stand to pray in front of Allah we are all equal.

I watched a very interesting documentary by Canadian Zarqa Nawaz, called ‘Me and the Mosque’. She goes to different mosques looking at the female section and its issues. In some mosques in Canada they didn’t have a partition dividing men and women (women would pray at the back of the men) and then they put up a partition. The women became outraged.

Here were these women, now suddenly being shunned from the community and banned from “praying as one”. Because if something was a whole and you put a line through it, you get two parts. What did this mean? That just because they were female, they were not worthy to ask question or take part in Islamic discussions? Or because they were female they were not worthy to be seen? (This needs a whole post on its own)

But they are lucky, because at least for a while they were able to experience the mosque as a place where people could ask questions, share and learn. And not only worship. The Mosque was the heart of the community.

In South Africa, it’s very different. The Hanafi’s are not allowed to go to mosque. And the Shafi’s have very small sections for women that are often completely separate for the women. So it’s a room within the mosque. Again divided by walls.

This got me really thinking. Women and roles they play is society as we all know is a highly contested subject. But you know why I think that is? Because as muslim women we can’t agree between ourselves what it is and what it means. So how can we expect Muslim men, or the rest of the non-muslim world to understand?

So the problem here is not the men, who constantly want to own us. It’s us women who fail to define “us”.

One day, I went to the Sandton Prayer room, and was very shocked at what I found. There were women waiting outside in a line to pray. And when I glanced inside, you found women standing with gaps in-between them, some sitting down, others having missed a few spots in front. The places that could have been filled with women can’t be reached because there are too many people to bypass. And for a moment I thought, “Yip! It’s a good thing we don’t have to go to mosque.” I wanted to carry on like a real Apa and tell them, “shift up, shoulder to shoulder, if you not praying leave”.

The university Jamaat Khana is no different, maybe even worse. While some girls are praying, others are talking to each other, laughing and lying around. Apa T wanted to come out again and ask them, “Is this a picnic spot? That you sitting having long long conversations?” But I didn’t, after all, I’m not their Apa.

I was having a conversation once, with a few Apa’s when the one said to the other “Women shouldn’t go to Mosque” the other replied “It’s true, Women don’t know the Adaab of the Mosque”.

Well my question is “Did anyone teach them?” If you were taught that you can’t go to mosque, why would you bother finding out, what you should and shouldn’t do? But I have a lot of respect for these Apa’s, so I didn’t say anything because let’s face it, who am I to comment on such stuff?

But this nagging feeling in my gut tells me something different. Looking at the Sadton prayer room I realised that it so indicative of the state female relationships are today. We are not unified. “We scattered, leaderless” everyone doing their own thing, taking up too much space not worried about their sisters/mothers/aunts in Islam.

The problem with being taught to read salaah at home is that you are not standing next to anyone or in front or behind. So when you are forced to read in a crowed you would stand very far away from each other. The touching of shoulders (if you forced to stand next to each other) is a strange feeling and can also disturb your concentration.

For me it’s not whether or not women are allowed to go to Eid Prayer/Mosque or not. It’s what are we doing with the spaces that we have?

When it comes to prayer, the rules that apply to the men should apply to the women as well. I’ve heard plenty of times the Imaams telling the boys, don’t where this type of t-shirt or that jeans to mosque. The boys in my madressa use to get scolded if they didn’t wear a kurta to salaah. Men still have their issues with each other; this uncle stole that uncles topie when he was in high school. Men are known to sit outside the mosque and skinner (gossip) even though the Imaams tell them not to.

So how different would it have been, if they told the women not to do the same?
Before we get all upset about attending the Eid Prayer, let us first organise ourselves! This is a really good site that states what you can and can’t do in the mosque. This should be practised in all prayer rooms as well.

Shafi women lead the salaah when it is a room full of women only. In my heart I believe this is the right thing. Because again, Islam is routed in the community and when we pray in a group we should pray as one. I believe that by praying together, women will foster a deeper bond with each other. Maybe it is a road to our salvation. That we as muslim women can become kinder to each other, more forgiving to each other, defend each other’s honour. If you have love and respect for your muslim sister, you will not “steal” her husband, slander her behind her back and allow her to go down a path of self destruction.

It’s not about how badly the men treat us or how they ignore us. What really matters is how we treat each other. The whole point of Jumma Salaah and Eid Salaah, is that it is done in a group. So this Friday, do your cooking early. Put on radio Islam and listen to the lecture with your fellow muslim sisters. You can pray on your own, or together in a group, but the key here is that you are together.

P.S...sorry for the working women, this is not an option. Oh how I dream of days, when I’m a house wife *smiling face* Please note that I'm not an Aalima, Imaaan etc...but these are my thoughts


neon said...

I love it and i smaak it stukkend. Very Well said.

Anonymous said...

Well then, you should get married and move to Cape Town :) Because here, more than elsewhere in the country I think - we have ladies facilities everywhere (or almost everywhere). And there are so many programs and institutions that focus on sisterhood and the building of those bonds. Cape Town is not perfect - because many of the ladies' sections are still too small and can be neglected - but Muslimahs here still have it better than many other parts of the country.

I think the exclusion - as you mention - is largely a cultural legacy of those of us from the subcontinent. Of course, there are definite etiquettes and rules about females going to the masjid (e.g. shouldn't be trying to attract attention - via adornment or wearing perfume) - but to totally exclude them and ban them, I think, deprives them of so many opportunities to improve their spirituality and education.

I come from Durban originally, and i think for the women in my family who live here now, the masjid is a daunting place - an unfamiliar environment and one where they'd feel uncomfortable - because in Durban, and in their growing up, it was the sole realm of the man; and women were not allowed.

So I think continuing to exclude women just deprives them - as i mentioned above; but it also gives you that 'lack of etiquette' problem. And the cycle just keeps perpetuating as time goes on. With feminism etc, there seems to be pressure for this attitude to change - so hopefully places like Joburg and DUrban (among others) will eventually get to the level of inclusion that we have in Cape Town. (Of course, with the proper conditions of modesty etc still being applied.)

Lady T said...

This is what happens to me. I read something; then formulate the answer in my head then actually forget to write it out. So My apologies for the late response :)

Thanks Neon.

Dreamlife, Thanks for you response and I agree with you.

It's the "cultural legacy" that needs to break. There is a specific etiquette to do many things, but that does not stop us from doing it. So people hiding behind not doing something because they don't know the etiquette annoys the hell out of me.

Insha-Allah, I wouldn't mind getting married and moving to Cape Town. :)