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A Boost To Women-Friendly Mosques

Published

Source: The Guardian

By Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

A report is being launched today focusing on mosques that have demonstrated good practice in relation to women’s involvement and participation.

Five key criteria for assessing “women-friendly” mosques were distilled by holding over 100 interviews with Muslim women and listening to what the they themselves wanted. These were: a separate prayer space for women, services and activities geared towards women, such as childcare, women’s training or mentoring sessions, an imam accessible to women or a female scholar, the inclusion of women in decision making and women holding office on the mosque committees.

Out of 486 mosques that were invited to participate in the benchmarking exercise, the “top 100” are listed in the report as “five star” and “four star” mosques. The list is prefaced by pertinent verses from the Qur’an to set the context for the report’s impact in the Muslim community. They make for interesting reading, and I’d encourage anyone interested in what the Qur’an has to say about the equality of participation to take a look.

I have a few quibbles with the methodology. Of around 1600 mosques in the UK, only 486 were asked to participate, and this was not a representative sample. And the authors admit that it’s just a start. The 100 women interviewed to identify the five criteria may or may not have been representative of the schools of thought, age and ethnicity the UK Muslim population.

But, you know … so what? From reading the report I sense that this was never meant to be a piece of quantitative analysis. What is important about this report is that it should ignite a public discussion about women’s participation in mosques, why it’s important and how to achieve it. The report highlights some of the key criteria that women feel are important to them, and we get a qualitative sense of the challenges. It’s a great first step.

And here’s my advice on where the report needs to go next: it needs to be rolled out across all mosques – and ideally all faith centres (Muslims are not the only ones with issues around gender participation). We need to identify the factors that led to high women’s participation in mosques, and we need to share that best practice across faith centres.

Mosques are already a vital part of British civic society. And, as society gets “bigger”, community run organisations that cater for local needs will become increasingly important – even more than they are now. So our job is to make them the best that they can possibly be. Encouraging and then institutionalising transparency, standards and best practice is part of that work. In this regard, the support the report’s launch is receiving from the Mosques and Imam’s National Advisory Board (Minab) which was set up to encourage standards and best practice across mosques, is an excellent partnership.

Mosques have been set up through the voluntary efforts of ordinary working Muslims up and down the country in order to build a sense of community, and to offer moral and emotional sustenance. In addition to this, they provide a range of services from English and computer classes, to yoga and crèche facilities, to gyms and function halls. At a time when funding will no doubt become scarce, such services are important. In particular, where they offer support to women and young people they need to be encouraged. When stories of violence come to the fore it is usually where mosques have not been able to deliver a high level of support and services tailored to its community’s needs.

This report echoes wider societal concerns about women’s participation in the public square. If we look at the criteria where four-star mosques fell down, the lack of women’s inclusion at a strategic and operational decision-making level was one of the key failings. But this is an area where women’s participation is generally problematic.

In the political arena, much has been rightly made of the fact the Cabinet is only 14% female – a measly four women. But it’s a wider issue than that – only 21.8% of MPs are women. And the corporate sphere is little better. Only 12.2% of FTSE 100 directors are female, and only four companies have female chief executives.

So let’s see this report as a small step towards that wider social goal of women’s inclusion and participation in the civic arena. Looking through this wider lens will almost certainly effect much faster and more effective change.

Also from The Guardian, Women-Friendly Mosques Directory Launched

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Ify Okoye is a Muslim woman, a convert, born and raised in the U.S. She is from New York and her parents are from Nigeria. Despite the petty hassles of work and school, Ify finds time to travel usually for AlMaghrib Institute seminars and to visit beautiful places. Pronunciation primer for her name, say it like this: E-fee O-coy-yeah!

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Muslim Guy

    June 9, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Very interesting how women are underrepresented in the corporate and political world too despite a century of feminism. At the risk of sounding sexist, I think it has to do with the fundamental nature of the sexes. By and large, Men are leaders, Women are nurturers. And there is nothing wrong with that. When we invade each others territory just for sake of being he same, you have a formula for social disaster.

    • Ify Okoye

      June 9, 2010 at 9:38 AM

      For me, MuslimGuy, the issues are not about being the same it’s about human dignity, respect, inclusion, safety, honesty, and spiritual well-being among others. If as we say, Islam guaranteed women rights or elevated their status, we should not sit by while those rights are usurped and abandoned to the detriment of our communities as a whole.

    • Lara

      June 10, 2010 at 6:29 PM

      ‘At the risk of sounding sexist’? You completely and utterly sound sexist. You knew this, and yet you continued to state your un-Islamic misogynistic opinion?

  2. Amad

    June 9, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Good find
    i think it is this kind of survey that would fit in a logical sequence of events, and much better received.

    You all should consider something like this too in pray-in. Before pray-in, study-out.

  3. Abez

    June 9, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Agree with both Muslim guy and Ify- because as leaders, the men need to take responsibility for the “human dignity, respect, inclusion, safety, honesty, and spiritual well-being” of those they are leaders of.

    And perhaps if the men on those masjid committees were doing their job well and taking care of the spiritual and community needs of the womenfolk, then the women wouldn’t feel the need to “invade” their territory?

    AllahuAalim.

    • Suhail

      June 9, 2010 at 3:58 PM

      It is not as simple for men who are working in those masajid commities to just carry out the wishes of the musalli.

      First of all it should be important to consider few basic points.

      1) The people who are taking care of the masajids are mostly not getting paid for that. They are doing it on a voluntary basis. So they take out time mostly for the sake of Allah and there commitment to the community. If they would not have taken the lead than we would not have seen so many masajids all around the west. So we should pray for our brothers and sisters who are doing this.

      2) The masajid are most of the time stripped of cash except a few exceptions. They hardly have money to operate sometimes on a daily basis. So this means if you are arguing with them about expanding this area and that area you are not doing them any favors. It is hard to manage that cash flow just to operate the mosques.

      3) The people who are managing the masajids are basically doing it on the behalf of the community. So you need to remember that everyone who has donated to that masajid and works there will try to do as he thinks is a correct. Same will go for the Musallis who are the regulars in the masajid. It is the community who makes the masajid to what it is not the other way round. If people do not like woman sitting in the back but rather have a different room and if they are the majority than that will go otherwise the masajid will stop to operate.

      So people who are making these issues into black and white are not doing any favors. As i have pointed out earlier people like Asra and her cohorts who are participating in these Pray – ins are not doing it for the sake of praying in the mosque. Most of them do not even attend a masajid for regular prayers or jumah but since this issue brings them into limelight they will cling onto it with there molars.

      • Abd- Allah

        June 9, 2010 at 4:37 PM

        So people who are making these issues into black and white are not doing any favors. As i have pointed out earlier people like Asra and her cohorts who are participating in these Pray – ins are not doing it for the sake of praying in the mosque. Most of them do not even attend a masajid for regular prayers or jumah but since this issue brings them into limelight they will cling onto it with there molars.

        Aside from the spelling and grammatical mistakes, I agree with brother Suhail that those who don’t usually attend the masjid to begin with but all of a sudden are showing up for these pray-ins make us skeptical of where this group is really heading, and why those people are really there.

    • Ify Okoye

      June 9, 2010 at 4:22 PM

      Abez: Or if they are not up-to-the job, let someone else help out. It’s always laughable to me that these all-male boards think they can adequately address all the community’s issues including women’s issues without even consulting them.

      Suhail: Leave your false assumptions at the door. Can you name a majority of the members of Pray In and have you asked them about their masjid participation, otherwise at the very best you’re speaking of that which you have no knowledge or at the very worst simply lying and spreading misinformation. Almost everyone I know within Pray In is a regular attendee of some mosque or community.

    • Abdullah Brown

      June 9, 2010 at 5:04 PM

      And I agree so much with Abez. During my life as a Muslim I have marveled at the courageous work being performed by Muslim women in almost every arena. Though these women are role-models for all and at times emerge as leaders, I am convinced that very few, if any, desire leadership. Neither do they act from a desire to “invade men’s territory”. Rather, they are simply doing the work that many men are unwilling or fearful to do. I am certain these women would be only too happy to see men doing the work and leading. And please: no excuses about men being tied up with career responsibilities, etc. Many of the women I have met who have truly led the way in the work of dawah, social justice, and political activism have their plates full too.

      • Ify Okoye

        June 10, 2010 at 4:59 PM

        MashaAllah, tabarakAllah, a very insightful comment.

  4. Slave of the Most Lovin One

    June 10, 2010 at 1:01 AM

    In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful!
    Peace and blessings be on our beloved Prophet, his family, his companions and all the righteous believers!

    Salam wrt wbrt!

    Everyone’s experience will shape his or her views and that can become the basis of the way we decide about many things in life… having said that let me remind myself before i remind u all that WE CANT DECIDE TO DO SOMETHIN WHICH IS CONTRADICTIN THE QURAN AND SUNNAH!

    I know women in most of the places are not taken their opinions on many matters BUT i personally think movements like pray-ins are creating another problem from an existing problem…

    i rather have alternatives like havin a woman scholar for females area, or just ask the imam to keep a specific time exclusively for women so that they can ask questions, give their opinions etc.

    I personally don’t wanna sit along with the brothers and i would feel much comfortable to be in a separate area!

    We know that best of people were the people during the time of Prophet SAW and then the next generation and then the next and if we try to take lesson from their lives without tryin to make a mess out of it… things would turn out to be better inshAllah!

    Last point i wana make is believing men and women should help eachother….instead of being chauvinists and feminists …y cant we just be humanists (believers)??!!….i wish we all concentrated equally on our duties as we talk and take great zeal about our rights…

    Let’s come to the core issue…we need to educate people to respect the opposite gender….then we can work out on other things… and let’s also keep in mind each gender have their specific role to play!

    And Allah Knows Best!

    • Abdullah Brown

      June 10, 2010 at 9:40 AM

      well said

    • Abd- Allah

      June 10, 2010 at 1:06 PM

      I agree with what you said, you bring up good points.

      Just one thing, is that I don’t think that the “Most Loving One” is one of the names of Allah. Is it mentioned anywhere in the Quran or authentic sunnah?

      • Umm Salih

        June 10, 2010 at 4:04 PM

        وَاسْتَغْفِرُواْ رَبَّكُمْ ثُمَّ تُوبُواْ إِلَيْهِ إِنَّ رَبِّي رَحِيمٌ وَدُودٌ

        11:90

        waduud means Most Loving

        • Abd- Allah

          June 10, 2010 at 5:04 PM

          waduud means Most Loving

          JazakumAllah khayr, but would that be the best translation for الودود ?

          • Amatul Wadood

            June 10, 2010 at 11:12 PM

            Hmm…yes u r ryt…there wouldnt be an equivalent translation….ok…im turnin it into amatul Wadood… jazakAllah Khair akhi!

    • Mohammad Sabah

      June 10, 2010 at 2:25 PM

      wa alaykum salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. Excellent points. The following lines summarizes what most of the sensible and the God-fearing people are saying on a related post:

      “I know women in most of the places are not taken their opinions on many matters BUT i personally think movements like pray-ins are creating another problem from an existing problem…”

      Nobody has denied that there is a problem with participation in mosque, not just of women but of the community as a whole. How many people do you see turn up on Eid and Jumah, and yet you can barely fill 2 rows in most mosques during Maghrib, Isha – let’s not even talk about fajr! And this considering the amazing ajr that prayer in congregation brings along with it, and it being obligatory for men to make congregatory prayers.

      The core problem with Pray-in is they are getting tunnel-visioned and taking a stupid approach to solving a real problem that will only further divide the Ummah and cause more fitnah. As a result, they are blundering with their arrogant and wrong approach (the incidents in DAH and other places of protests are perfect examples). Let’s apply some wisdom and respect the house of Allah. How many are the sects that hide behind the pretext of following ‘the Quran and the Sunnah’ and yet have been lured by satan and become deviant and far away from Islam! And remember, in Islam the ends do not justify the means. Let’s take a holistic, pragmatic and local approach – that way you will bring in more community support and things will change for the better in sha Allah.

      May Allah show us the light and keep us on the path of truth and justice.

      wasalam.

    • Ify Okoye

      June 10, 2010 at 5:03 PM

      As recently as 2004, in the UK as many as 50% of the masajid did not allow women to attend at all, which seems to stand in contradiction to the sunnah, alhamdulillah, progress is being made but it requires good people to do more than just talk but to take action. Often it is the people of inaction loudest and most abrasive in their criticism all too happy to continue to perpetuate the status quo even they agree they want to see change.

      …Work, for Allah will see your deeds, and [so will] His Messenger and the believers… (Taubah:105)

      • Mohammad Sabah

        June 10, 2010 at 6:07 PM

        Assalam alaykum.

        “Often it is the people of inaction loudest and most abrasive in their criticism all too happy to continue to perpetuate the status quo even they agree they want to see change.”

        SubahAllah – change is for the better, and not for worse. If in the process of ‘change’ you create more and bigger problems, what is the point! I am sure every sane person would agree. Any action to be effective has to be backed by sound reasoning, sabr and sole dependence on Allah – not on emotionalism, impatience and hunger for cheap publicity and media coverage, as has been the case with the Pray-in activities.

        I hope all the time and effort that concerned brothers and sisters have spent in advising (on this and the other related post) was not wasted, and instead of making vague generalizations and being defensive about Pray-Ins, the feedback is taken positively and acted upon.

        wasalam.

        • Ify Okoye

          June 11, 2010 at 9:23 AM

          I’m not convinced that Pray In has caused bigger problems, it simply brings those issues previously largely swept under the rug to light so that we can discuss them as a community, which I believe is positive.

      • Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

        June 10, 2010 at 7:09 PM

        Ify, I apologize if I missed it in your thousands of comments here and everywhere else (May Allah reward you) I haven’t seen any comment on your response to the fact that this survey/report based upon a survey of Muslim women, found that having a separate prayer space for women was one of the criteria that women wanted in a masjid. I gather from some of your other comments that you’d like to have apparently enough different rooms and spaces so that women could choose whatever they wanted and that might be ideal, but it would seem that the Pray-In movement would have to protest the masajid ranked in this report as most woman-friendly because of their separate prayer rooms.

        Also, if your right (and I assume you are) that great progress is being made in masajid in the UK regarding women’s access, how did it come about. I am positive, like you that it came about from work and from women making demands and not being willing to accept the status quo, but I would be surprised if it came about from tactics like Pray-In. I am interested to hear if you know, although I am sure like anything it was a variety of factors.

        I am fairly confident, and again, this doesn’t at all mean that people won’t have to keep raising their voices, that as time passes and the generation of Muslims raised in this country is in charge of masajid, they will be made more women-friendly. My problem with the Pray-In movement has been concern over how women-friendly is being defined.

        • Ify Okoye

          June 11, 2010 at 9:43 AM

          Salaam Abu Noor,

          I’ve been busy these past few days, still have to try to return to my other post to read and/or address the comments including yours I believe. I don’t claim to know if “great progress” is being made in the UK, the survey covered less than 500 masajid and only asked 100 women. Yet, if progress is being made, I’m sure it comes through diverse means, there’s a Channel Four documentary from a few years back called Women-Only Jihad

          In social movements such as these, old ingrained attitudes often adapt slowly, I mean we only have to look at the attitudes towards and increase of interracial marriage or even the discussion of the likely repeal of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy in the military. Can anyone point to the single most effective means these shifts in attitudes and policies have come about? I think the means and reasons are diverse. In a similar way, many can and do argue what they see as the best way to address these issues within our community but I believe there is strength in taking different approaches, which can be of value in furthering the discussion.

          I am hoping to see a day when a woman taking the initiative to come to our often largely empty masajid can be welcomed to pray behind the men if she so desires and not be discouraged, shunned or assaulted verbally or physically, or forced behind barriers or into separate rooms, with recourse only to closed-circuit tv or microphones or simply no visuals at all.

  5. Bryan Jenkins

    July 5, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Women Issues these days are mostly about women empowerment and equal rights among men.-.~

  6. Rebecca Murphy

    August 3, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    women issues these days are more on equal rights with men and woman power’**

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