In Islam, every Friday without fail or delay, men are required to attend Jummah Service, a sermon followed by group prayer. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or how rich you are. You stand shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters of faith, a way to keep your community healthy and vital.
Every Friday, Muslims gather and pray as one unit. There are few exceptions to this rule—but we are currently living in one.
Mosques throughout the world have shut their doors because of COVID-19. The Great Mosque of Mecca, which can hold 1.5 million Muslims, has barred people from praying. In my home city of Dallas, Muslims experienced their third Friday Prayers locked out of their place of worship. We were first told not to come to Jummah Prayer, then eventually, all doors to the mosque were closed.
Muslims can no longer pray at a mosque for their five daily prayers, listen to lectures at the knee of their imam or feel the physical fellowship of standing side-by-side with others of the same faith.
The freedom and ability for most Muslim men to go to the mosque is typically taken for granted; mosques haven’t closed down on such a large scale in centuries.
Muslim women, on the other hand, know what it is like to practice their faith outside of a mosque. When men fill in the space, the only thing left for women is a basement or even a closet.
We make the most of it or don’t attend at all.
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One of my first experiences inside a mosque was in the basement kitchen of an old house. I couldn’t hear the sermon, and I didn’t experience the peace and serenity I was taught to expect in a house of worship. I was in a cramped space listening to what sounded like Charlie Brown’s teachers giving a sermon, sitting next to a tray of watermelon with flies buzzing around. There was no community—it felt like there was no place for women, either physically or spiritually. I left with a bad taste in my mouth, and it was years before I would try going again.
It wasn’t until later that I found mosques with vast spaces for women to come to Jummah and daily prayers, mommy and child rooms, kid areas, and bathrooms that were equal size to the men’s. Some mosques don’t consider this vital to their spaces; they only cater to men. This dichotomy stems from the fact that in Islam, Muslim men are required to go to the mosque for Jummah Prayer, and for women, it is optional.
Mosques in the United States haven’t made adequate space for women, often citing the overused excuse of “not enough room.” Women aren’t seen as a priority, so their areas aren’t always thought about until after the men’s facilities are finished. Mosques in some other countries don’t allow women at all. Thankfully here in Dallas, we have a thriving Muslim women’s community. Women’s committees are the cornerstone, and we are elected as board members and given prominent jobs within the mosque.
This type of inclusion isn’t always the case.
For Muslim women, access to the mosque and all that it offers is vital. A moment of peace in an otherwise hectic life. A place to connect with other women who experience similar struggles, to sit with your sister in faith and feel the connection to your creator. Opportunities for women to take a break from work, children, and family to enjoy the peaceful environment of the mosque are often not available. And when women do go to the mosque, it is usually with the added responsibility of caring for children within small cramped spaces.
I’ve seen men drop their children off in the women’s area so they can go pray in peace.
Men who are working from home currently have to face being a 24/7 parent without a break. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada whose wife has COVID-19 and is isolated away from the family, had to balance running a country with being a single parent. He was heard during meetings to say, “Daddy’s on an important phone call.”
For the first time in many of their lives, Muslim men can’t go to the mosque. They can’t feel the peace and serenity, the connection with God. They must create this for themselves at home, a place that is now a hive of activity; adults home from jobs, children home from school.
They must learn to balance responsibilities among family, work and faith.
Now is an ideal time for Muslim men to build empathy towards the difficulties women face while trying to practice their faith.
Women are pros at connecting to God without the physical mosque. We are experts in praying with children screaming in our ear, being a jungle gym while in different positions of prayer, and having to juggle our faith, work, home chores, and the emotional well-being of the family.
Muslim men are experiencing, for the first time, what women have come to expect.
If Muslim men can view this as an opportunity to build their understanding of Muslim women’s day-to-day experiences, they can become advocates. Elect women onto the board of directors, establish women’s committees, and make a real place for women to worship.
In Islam, paradise lies at the feet of your mother. With the complete chaos of our home lives, it is easy to see why this is the case.
Instead of Muslim men viewing this time as a burden, they should communicate with their wives, sisters, mothers, Muslim women not within their family, and find the blessing of practicing their faith at home.
And when the doors to the mosque open again, Muslim men need to consider their sisters in faith and help them have a break, too.
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