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Women's Equality in the Mosque

Published: 21/12/2011 06:13:00 PM GMT
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A hotly debated issue amongst Muslims all around the world is the problem of the equality of women in Islam. The Qur'an is quite clear about protecting the rights of women, as also is the example of the prophet Muhammad. In fact, for the first centuries of the history of Islam, women enjoyed a privileged place in comparison to the rest of the world, equal to men in almost every aspect of life. It is ironic that the rights of women in Islam have followed a pronounced backwards development, contrary to the situation in the rest of the world. Due to the medieval practices of men motivated by the very impulses that Islam sought to stop, women were marginalized once again in many aspects. Women in the last decades have been fighting all over the world to regain the very rights they once had thanks to the birth of Islam, and a modern battlefield of this fight between the sexes is happening right inside of mosques all around the world.

In Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, women are allowed to pray in the same place as men, without any sort of partition or special room. Even in the West, where the more liberal Muslim societies exist, a rapidly increasing number of mosques has returned to placing women in their own room, behind a wall – almost seventy percent of mosques in the West have returned to this practice. In the United States, American Muslim women have fought constantly to overturn these rules.  They have met with mixed success. Attitudes that are firmly ingrained in many male Muslims are very hard to change, as women activists have found. It should be made clear though that this is not a fight against Islam, but a fight against backwards attitudes in many individuals. Just as the fight in Western feminism is not against any one religion but against men that refuse to accept that women should be equal to men as an ethical principle.  In fact, it was not until centuries after Islam was founded and the prophet Muhammad had passed away that the barriers  in mosques were put up, based on a sexist attitude rather than on teachings supported by the Prophet or the text of the Qur'an. Not only is the barrier being questioned, in fact, for centuries women weren't even required to wear the veil when praying in the mosque.

Many Muslim organizations, particularly in the United States, have sought to convince the mosques to respect the rights of women, especially the right to use the same entrance as men as well as praying in the same hall. It is in the best interest of Muslims everywhere that these kinds of attitudes and primitive ideas stop as soon as possible. After all, in the last decades Islam has not been receiving the best public relations in the West and the fact is that, at least in this issue, Muslim men around the world are clearly in the wrong. Treating half of the Muslims in the world as second-class citizens only perpetuates the negative stereotypes that Islam has been associated with in the West.

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