By Fatima Fatima Est
More than a thousand years ago, some men wrote against the presence of women at mosques. Contrary to the Prophetic practice where men and women prayed together in the mosque even at night, the accretions of the legal opinions of these scholars over time concluded that women must be excluded from the mosques. Their reasoning – to prevent the means to a greater evil (sadd al-dharai), namely socialisation amongst men and women. Despite some small gains in the form of a few gender-inclusive masajid, to this day a majority of the mosques around the world either exclude women or limit their presence in the mosque.
Today a small group of Muslims, the very same who uphold at all costs the ruling against women’s presence in the mosque are arguing before the South African courts that it is unconstitutional, unacceptable, indeed deeply and spiritually painful that they themselves have been excluded from the mosques, to prevent the means to a greater evil, namely the spread of Covid-19. The national regulation does not privilege some religions or some people over others, instead it coincides with broad principles of maintaining public interests (al-masalih al-mursala), allowing both state and Islamic ethics to coincide on this matter, and so we think it should stand.
But from the women who have been excluded from the masajid for a 1000 years, simply for being women, we see what you’re doing and so we want to remind you that:
- you’re willing to spend hundreds of thousands sanitising your masajid, even fighting a court case to re-enter your masajid. Your lawyer told the honourable judge that you are sustained by your presence in the mosque, and so it appears that your masajid have replaced your Sustainer, your Rabb. When you excluded our sisters from the mosques all those centuries ago, we leant then already that we are only sustained by God who also assures us ‘wherever you turn there is your Lord’,
- our Rabb is indeed merciful, for under no other circumstance could you possibly have understood the pain of being excluded from the masajid which, as you correctly argued today, is the spiritual centre of the Muslim community. We’ve known this pain from the day we were born; and unfortunately, now you know it too,
- this pandemic is a time for deep reflection amongst all of us, may your pain at the exclusion from the masajid also lead you to deep introspection, perhaps use your experience as a teacher to hold up a mirror that reflects your own behaviour and contemplate what it is that you have done in excluding women from the spiritual centres of the ummah – the community.
We don’t think you will change your views, because your misogyny and patriarchy runs deeply and is mostly unquestioned in your masajid – indeed some of you believe that Islam is actually a patriarchal faith. Despite having excluded us, know that we are not happy that you are now experiencing the pain that we have always experienced.
What we are happy about is hearing you express your ideas about the centrality of the mosque to the community, and how difficult it is to be cut off from the spiritual centre of the community. We’ve always known this, even when you tell us to find solace in praying hidden in the darkest corners of our home, or when you build ornate mosques without a space for us to pray at, but always a kitchen for us to work in.
You should have seen our shock when you even told the Court that the masajid are a refuge for abused women. Wouldn’t that be amazing, were it true! And God-willing someday we will make that happen. But for now, you will recall that when we ask for a divorce through your jurists’ councils you send us back over and over again, and when we complain about our treatment at the hands of abusive husbands you remind us to be patient; “make sabr” you say. So we offer you the same guidance today; have patience with this virus dear Muftis and Moulanas, with the will of Allah, fortunately for you it will leave some day, and you will return to the mosque. We, however, might be less fortunate if your patriarchy doesn’t also leave with the virus.
The Qur’an tells us that after hardship there is ease. So, we pray that the pain you expressed before the Court and the hardship you are enduring now will ease as the virus leaves. When it does, remember a pandemic can be either a time of learning and renewal or people can display stubborn pride, takabbur, and return to their old ways.
We pray that none of us return to our old ways after this pandemic. As you circulate WhatsApp messages with heartfelt supplications repenting our collective wrongdoings, perhaps think about this as one of them? As a community we can choose to use this moment to reflect and reform ourselves and consider what we need to learn from the pain of exclusion from the masajid. If those who have excluded women from the masajid choose to reform their ways after the pandemic and open the masajid to women then this experience and this pain may perhaps heal us all.
Wa hasbun Allah! And for us, God is sufficient!
23 April 2020, South Africa
Featured image via Flickr
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