10 December 2011
A campaign to make Istanbul's roughly 3,100 mosques more welcoming for women seeks to remedy inequalities between men and women in Turkey's places of worship.
Istanbul's mosques are now under strict instructions to undertake renovations to provide equal facilities for both men and women by February 2012.
"This is about mosques being a space for women," declared Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul's deputy mufti (pictured, right), the city's second most powerful administrator of the Islamic faith.
"When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion."
As part of the "Beautification of Mosques for Women" project, Erdemli sent 30 teams to visit all of Istanbul's mosques and report back on the facilities for women. What the teams found was shocking, she claimed.
"Many of the mosques have no toilets for women, no place for women to wash before praying," Erdemli recounted. "Most of the places allocated for women were used as storage places, and those that weren't were usually filthy and freezing cold in winter."
But it's not only a push for cleanliness and improved sanitation that is underway. The way mosques are arranged is also being changed, according to Erdemli.
"In most mosques, the women's area was divided by a curtain or a wall, and this is not fair,â she elaborated. "They are sacred places and women have the right to take advantage of their spiritual feeling as well."
Unlike men, women are not required under Islam to attend a mosque; their presence is allowed, but, traditionally, female Muslim believers have prayed more frequently at home. Practices, however, can vary from country to country, and from mosque to mosque. In Istanbul's mosques, to reflect the beautification project's goal of equal worship space, "all the curtains and walls are coming down," Erdemli said. "But segregation will remain; men and children will pray in front of women."
Starting in late December, inspections will start to check if mosques are complying with instructions. Since the program began in March, Erdemli has addressed over 5,000 of the city's imams and religious staff to explain the theological reason for why mosques are for women as much as they are for men.
On the streets of Istanbul, there appears to be broad support for the program among religious women. "Sure, it would be beautiful. It would be much better," said one 30-year-old woman, who gave her name as MÃ¼nevver. "In some places, the spaces for women are clean, but in others they are filthy."
The Diyanet, the state-run administrative body for Turkey's mosques, has not only given its complete support to the project, but also provided a theological justification.
In November, the head of the Diyanet, Mehmet Gomez, gave an uncompromising speech, in which he acknowledged the problem of misogyny in Islam. "There are some wrong, incomplete, biased interpretations that do not reflect the general principles of our noble religion," HÃ¼rriyet Daily News on December 7 reported Gomez as saying.
Erdemli has her sights on the "Beautification of Mosques for Women" project becoming an inspiration for the rest of Turkey. She maintains, though, that its goal is not revolution, but simply bringing the Muslim faith back to its roots.
"All we are doing is taking Islam to back before it was corrupted and misinterpreted, when women and men were treated equally,â she said.
Dorian Jones, "Turkey: Making Mosques a Place for Women" Eurasia News December 9, 2011
"Making Mosques a Place for Women" Turkish Forum December 10, 2011