attitudes toward women in the masjid

Consider the following passage,

Women attended the mosques as men attended. Hind bint Usayd ibn Hudayr al-Ansariyyah learnt surah Qaf from hearing the Prophet recite it in the prayer. Ibn Jabir and Uthman ibn Abi l-Atikah says: Umm al-Darda was an orphan under the guardianship of Abu l-Darda; she used to come to the mosques with Abi [sic?] l-Darda in two garments [i.e. her head was not covered] and she prayed in the men’s rows, and used to sit in the circles of the teachers learning the Qur’an, until Abu l-Darda asked her one day to join the women’s rows.

This is almost an instructive demonstration of the accommodating attitudes towards women from which we’ve strayed: this orphaned girl was allowed to pray in the men’s rows, until her guardian asked her to pray in the women’s rows—because, I’m hypothesizing, she had reached an appropriate age of womanhood—whereas the contemporary attitude compels young girls who can pray to be separated from their guardians (if male). Only babies and toddlers are allowed to stay with their fathers, such is the urgency of sex segregation and the perceived threat of women engendered by the immature insecurities of patriarchal men. Contemporary masjid culture is fearful and sexist.

The introductory book (to encyclopedia volumes) from which the passage itself is taken, al-Muhaddithat: the women scholars in Islam, is authored by a man who in the first pages dismisses the feminist assertions insisting that historical aberrations from honoring scholarly participation from both sexes have resulted in the deficiency of objectivity and consequently the oppression of women. Amusedly, he compiles his work with the intention of objectivity, but already betrays himself in this impulsive statement, particularly as it is followed by the disclaimer that he is not familiar enough with feminist positions to thoroughly assess them and critique this claim.

In a single framework of presentation, the intellectual dishonesty of reporting past principles that contrast starkly with the approach toward women in a contemporary age, while simultaneously claiming that feminists have no evidence of deviation, is exposed. Indeed, it was once true that the mosques were built around women for the purpose of catering to matrifocal requirements.

On a different note, previously in my comment section I asked for evidence that during the age of the greatest scholars women occasionally prayed sans hi’jab; evidently, I’ve found it.

10 thoughts on “attitudes toward women in the masjid

  1. freakorist

    I love your blog and I appreciate your critical approach to some of the things most Muslims take for granted. Do you have a list of useful Islamic resources that one should invest in? Maybe you could have a post about general readings and then more specialized ones?
    Best xx

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    1. Well it depends on what you’re looking for… Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam for history; there’s Asma Barlas’s Believing Women in Islam for exegesis, and Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics in Islam for an analysis of… sexual ethics in Islam. =P

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  2. Posing the question I am sure you will receive/have considered- given that she prayed in the “men’s” rows without hijab she wasn’t of age yet- hence when she became of age and moved to the “women’s” rows she had to wear hijab when praying?

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    1. I thought of that, but I’m sure it would mention if he asked her to wear hi’jab as well. Also depending on how one defines hi’jab, isn’t it a separate issue? Does modesty relate to coming-of-age? (Doesn’t that limit it to sexuality?) If not, then she would have had to wear one during prayer regardless…

      Then again, I completely disagree with making young girls (below that age) wear hi’jab against their own choice as though it’s mandatory, so maybe it does relate to coming-of-age in a way.

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      1. I guess it comes down to the idea that legal rules apply to people of age. I take that as the common understanding. So then, does modesty fall under prescription of a rule or a principle and to whom is it expected to apply i.e. we don’t condone stealing by little children but at the same time it is less condemned if a child doesn’t perform salah vs. an adult.

        If the hijab is a headscarf then perhaps this is relegated to the rulebook side of things? Also, I agree with you and this would probably have been mentioned- especially considering there was mention made of what she was wearing in the first place.

        Very interesting.

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  3. From the nicknames given to the orphan girl and her guardian i.e. that they are the mother and father of “al-Darda”, one can maybe assume that he was more than just her guardian. I don’t know if that is relevant, but it would maybe suggest that she was older? Or did she get that nickname later, maybe around the same time he asked her to join the women’s rows? ;-)

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    1. You know, that occurred to me (I thought it was strange she was called Umm) but I just figured it might be of someone coincidentally of the same name, or that maybe it was just being used as an endearment…

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    1. That wasn’t me it is written in the book. xD I’m assuming in good faith that the scholar is familiar with the type of clothing and knew it consisted of only two garments if there is no headcovering.

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      1. Oh, okay. I was thinking of certain Swahili clothing that could be described as two garments but does include a headcovering, so it seemed like an odd assumption.

        Re: the question of evidence that women prayed without hijab. There is a hadith that claims the prophet said that a woman who prays without hijab will not have her prayers accepted. Though I don’t buy that, the existence of the hadith suggests to me that some women *did* pray without a hijab and that’s why the prophet (or someone who made up the hadith) had to encourage them to do otherwise.

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