“Men’s Congregation Only”
By Fadwa Saber
“It reeks,” my non-Muslim friend said as she took off her shoes to enter the mosque. I slowly try to blow off her comment by complaining about how full I am after Iftar. But it wouldn’t blow off. How can she say something like that about the place I go to seek inner peace; the place I’ve gone to for years and made a “mosque fam.” “Reek.” One word had me rethink every detail of the infrastructure of the mosque. From the small bathroom to the yelling children, every flaw began to slowly unfold in front of my eyes. With every defect I saw, I felt crippled and embarrassed. I was supposed to be making an impression on my friend about Islam. I feared she would turn around and say how all these exquisitely designed mosques you see in Islamic calendars were merely an illusion or photoshopped.
Beautiful mosques existed, but not all necessarily accommodate women. It’s like the architecture didn’t include a women’s prayer area. Or if they did want to include a designated space, it would be the leftover crammed basement. The walls are then splattered with paint and the floors are laid down with carpet; a carpet that every time I place my head on the floor, the odor of cooking is ensued into the carpet threads, stinging my nostrils. When you put your head on the floor, you want serenity, a vital connection to your deity, but crying babies obstruct with your ability to connect with anything. What was supposed to be your spiritual visit turns out into a playground, the only difference is this one has a prayer rug. The sound of children is not the only noise-related issue, but it’s also the speaker system. We are in two separate areas, following one imam, yet we can’t even properly hear him as he recites the beautiful words of the Quran. Ramadan is specifically dedicated to the Quran, but kids and an inappropriate sound system get in the way. Then there is a moment of suffocation from heat, though the ACs are on max, the capacity is also on max. The little basement splashed with paint is holding way too many people; therefore there is no proper ventilation.
One might think this is a one-sided view since technically the men’s area is meant for men only, but I’ve been to the men’s area to study Quran several times a week. The spacious area for the men is properly ventilated, with picturesque designs and organization. Scorching heat is at a minimum. One might also think, this is only one mosque or center, but even when I visited Egypt in Ramadan, the only thing I felt was the elbow stab from the woman next to me due to the overcrowding. I’ve even visited mosques where there is no area for women to pray in.
You tell yourself that religion doesn’t prioritize women, but it’s the followers that don’t prioritize us. What justice does it serve to have women struggle in their worship? Then why do we allow tiny spaces to disturb us from focusing on prayer? Ramadan experiences are about the impeccable moments every person grasps on to feed their soul with closeness to God. Every passing year, we expect innovation, yet we establish the same pain and difficulty like the year before. We always try to prove to the people how we are not oppressed and treated equally in Islam, but our own community leaders create burden upon us women. This is not to say that in other mosques, the area for women is more adequately constructed, it is only to point out the flaws and the reoccurrences of a majority of mosques. We, as a community, must voice our opinion on how we feel mistreated we feel; and in order to do this we must put more women on the board of different ages and backgrounds to allow for diversity. Daycares and playgrounds should be created to allow mothers to pray tranquilly. God does not look upon men and women differently in regards to worship. So why should we?