When I first came across the announcement of a women-only mosque in Los Angeles on Thursday January 30, 2015, I have to say the idea resonated with me. But as I read further into the initiatives and thoughts of the founders, it seemed like the two women, Hasna Maznavi and Sana Muttalib, fell into the same trap of the people they are opposing and criticizing. There is no difference between demonizing the presence of women in traditional mosques and prohibiting men from entering the one they just established. Each side is trying to take control over Muslims’ most sacred place in society, the mosque.
Traditionally, mosques were created to gather people and perform congregational prayers and establish Friday services. Both of which are obligations for men, while women can be part of both activities at any given point. The role of the mosque took a broader meaning in the west since it is the main socializing place. In addition to the above it plays a role of an Islamic community center. Hence the greater need to accommodate women and children. Some mosques even have daycare facilities. But the main purpose of such a place is to run perform religious obligations and establish a wholesome community under one roof.
However understanding the mosque territories cannot be evaluated without examining the roles of men and women in Islam. Understanding the different roles of each gender is at the heart of a healthy community.
Men are the providers for families, while women are the provider of love. Men are responsible for hassles outside the house while women are entrusted with people’s health and happiness inside the house. Both sides of the coin are essential for its existence. There is nothing that prevents someone from taking on a role different than the one assigned to him/her. Women can choose to be breadwinners in a family, provided that the kids are not being compromised. A man can decide to stay at home as long as he does not force his wife to provide for the family and pay the bills. Partnership is in the whole picture. It is not literal. Clear job responsibilities.
During the time of the prophet, women held leadership positions, owned lands and conducted businesses and none of that contradicted with their Islamic practices. One of them was even appointed as head of the market place, a position equal to head of a Chamber of Commerce. That happened when women were still in some cases inherited in Europe. The examples of powerful positions are endless in Islamic history. For example, to name a few Al Audr al-Kareema, ruled Yemen, and Shajarat Ad-durr, was a brilliant ruler in Egypt. Women can choose the role they want to play. They can own a mosque and run a mosque. So where is the problem?
It resides in the fact that the establishment of this new mosque in Los Angeles is a reaction and comes in a spirit of competitiveness. While a basic understanding of the role of women and men in Islam is a complementary one and not competitive in any way. It is team work with a “unite and conquer” motto. They are both leaders in their entrusted roles in society. “Women are the twin halves of men” said prophet Mohammad, peace and blessing be upon him. Two halves are equal even though they could look different. Any movement to take over the other’s territories will lead to imbalance and will have its social and economic consequences.
As a Muslim woman, I do not feel the need to rebel against my religion’s view of women, because I feel there is nothing missing. I am at peace with it, the way it is exactly described. Islam’s view of women speaks to my nature, aspirations and ambitions. The lack of women scholars on podiums is a women’s problem, and has more to do with consciously choosing to lead in other areas in life, over the religious one. When I go into a mosque and get marginalized by its hosts, I have no doubt that it is the result of their futile understanding of Islam. And even though it is frustrating sometimes, for the most part it gives me the giggles.
What I find deficient in the establishment of this new mosque is its inability to fit in the big picture of Islam. Islam is a complete religion for those who embrace it and believe in it. Women can be actively involved in any committee and play the role that their shoes can fill. They can teach and preach in the spirit of respect and modesty, without stepping into the other gender’s territories. I don’t feel comfortable bowing down in front of a man, not in prayers nor in yoga or anywhere else for that matter. My obligations as a woman are different than those of men, and do not intercept “their” Friday service, even though I enjoy being part of it sometimes.
If the intention of a Muslim is to please God then the guidelines are clear. For those who want to change the guidelines then that is a different story.