the Barrier

The barrier in mosques separating the women’s and men’s prayer area has not only no theological foundation (even during the Prophet’s time men and women had no barrier between them–the grand mosque in Mecca has no barrier!) but is a blatantly offensive obstacle in the participation of women in their communities, “justified” by the fallacious argument that women are not required to attend services and should be elsewhere, or that more men than women would show up anyway. The latter “point” completely ignores the fact that there’s a principle involved and that it is up to God, and not men, to dictate whether or not women have a place in the mosque–but that shouldn’t surprise us, since men seem to think themselves God pretty often.

A third reason is that women are “distracting.” You can throw that out as bullshit, because no man wants to pray in your place. What’s the problem? Surely, if that were the true reason, there would be no issue with the men praying behind the barrier instead. In addition, with this excuse the barrier then becomes another way of policing women’s bodies. You must be kept pure–not for God, but for men. God, after all, cares about your heart and soul. Your body does not become impure unless you intended so. This mentality, that men can “taint” women, is the basic concept behind blaming the victim in rape. The rapist isn’t impure, no, you are.

The barrier is a silent, menacing symbol of oppression. It tells us we are second-class citizens, that our presence is insignificant, that we should be hidden away and kept from being heard because men are deathly afraid of any power shift and forge to communicate that God does not want us there. The barrier is yet another disgusting example of the words of a loving God used by corrupted, insecure men as a political weapon. The more extravagant the barrier, the more pathetic the insecurity.

I know of a mosque–I know of men–who placed a magnificent one-way mirror framed in sections by a firm, painted wall, much more stable and permanent than the flimsy removable board that had been in its place as the barrier separating the women’s prayer area (which of course is in the back) from the men’s. Meanwhile, the rooms in the mosque below the prayer area were rotting. The walls downstairs were a construction white, the tiles were stained, the blackboards were scratched, the desks were worn–and yet here we were, throwing all the money and effort into something that is an insult in the face of God. This is the degree of desperation in keeping women shut out.

And then there is the other barrier type–you know, the one that is stained with some questionable liquid and is crooked in its placement. If you stand on your toes you can barely see over the top. It was placed there as an afterthought, and no one cared to do anything about it since. Because you don’t matter. You’re amazed that this barrier can continue to stand. Despite being flimsy and weak, it still refuses to budge. You are firmly segregated, a subconscious decision that is immovable in its establishment.

Behind both these barriers is space much smaller than what there is on the other side. The area is plain here. On the “men’s side” the walls are beautifully painted. There are framed photographs of the Ka’bah, and intricate calligraphy lines the rim of the ceiling. And you feel God is closer on the other side: it’s what they want you to believe–with the barrier, that is what they imply–that you are spiritually inferior, that you are unwelcome, that you shouldn’t have shown up at all because you belong at home and men will always be closer to God. They dare tell lies in the name of God!

I will go to the mosque. And I will not pray behind another barrier.

5 thoughts on “the Barrier

  1. Amazing article, Nahida. You are an inspiration. Thinking of giving the link to that article on my own blog, (after Sunday of course since tomorrow is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation and I shall only post about FGM to do my little part to the cause.)If you get any weird reaction from not praying behind the barrier, I'm hoping you will extend your post with them and how you reacted. Seeing how you stand up to men might inspire other Muslimah to do so :)

  2. Kind of like the "Separate but Equal" stuff you had in the old South.What it really turned out to be was instead of "Separate for Equal" the White drinking fountain, the white whatever was always superior to the blacks.In the end separate but equal even if one accepts this basically racist (or in your case sexist) concept never works as advertised but instead turns into separate and unequal.

  3. Pingback: How sacred is the mosque’s “sacred” space? | AntiDogmaSpray

  4. rosalindawijks

    “I will go to the mosque. And I will not pray behind another barrier.”

    Yes. A few months ago I started doing something I never thought I’d dare: Praying in the main/mens hall in the biggest mosque in my home town.

    It’s a beautiful, grand mosque that has been around for as long as I can remember (some 30-35 years) The founders/board are Desi/Hindustani Surinamese, but many Pakistanis and Ghanians pray there, too. Religiously, they belong to a conservative strand of Sufism.

    For jumu3a I always go to a small mosque which is a 5 minutes walk away, since they are friendly, respectful and inclusive to all. The big mosque is 5-10 minutes away with the bus.

    Anyways, the big mosque has a grand hall for the men upstairs, and a little space downstairs (smaller then an average living room) for the women.

    That space is always messy, dirty and dusty, and almost always closed, and nobody ever has the key or knows where the one with the key is.

    They also have a balcony for the women, which is almost never carpeted – the carpets and rugs are thrown in the back and the floor is of marble, so praying there would mean thrashing ones knees.

    So one day, I was just so fed up that I refused to pray in the womens area again. Brave pioneer women like Amina Wadud, Asra Nomani etc. inspired me and after reading their writings for years, I finally mustered the courage. And walking into that room was an amazing, inspiring, uplifting and empowering experience.

    I know make a habit of praying there whenever I’m around there to do groceries or shop. And ofcourse, there are always men muttering, but I greet them cordially, thank them for their advise, debunk their arguments when needed……………..and don’t move an inch.

    In that mosque, the back door is for the women. I never use that door anymore, since I consider it degrading & insulting for a woman who wants to pray to have to hide out, lest men see her.

    In my country of origin, Surinam, we had a practice what was called the “nengre doro” – the negro door. Surinam is in South-America, but the culture is Carribean, and we have different ethnic groups & faiths. The largest ethnic groups are Hindustanis, Afro-/Creoles, Native Surinamese, Javanese and Chinese. The largest faiths are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

    The “nengre doro” was the back door which the enslaved West-Africans, my direct ancestors, ahd to take to enter a house. I never really connected the dots with having to use the back door in the mosque, untill after seeing a speech of Aisha al Adaweya, who said: “I didn’t become a Muslim to sit in the back of the bus.”

    Watch her speech here: It is awesome and a must-see for every Muslim woman, in my opinion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjhagDJorug

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