Emily Esfahani Smith: Islamic Feminists Storm Some Barricades

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Muslim feminists call it the "penalty box." It's the area of a mosque where women, segregated from the men, pray. In Islam, prayer is required five times a day and Muslims often pray in congregation at mosques. During these prayers, women usually are partitioned off in a separate room or behind a curtain, "like naughty children," one Muslim woman tells me, while men pray in a grand main hall.

One Muslim, Fatima Thompson, describes the penalty box at her mosque in Maryland as an overheated, dark back room. Another Muslim woman, Asra Nomani, tells me that at a major Washington D.C. mosque, the female section was in a trailer, where the voice of the imam (the prayer leader) came from a crackling speaker. "It was so humiliating I never went back," says Ms. Nomani, a former reporter for the Journal.

Now these Muslim feminists have had enough. Hoping to reform Islam by making it more women-friendly, Ms. Thompson—an American convert to Islam—has organized several "pray-ins" at mosques in the D.C. area. These include the Islamic Center of Washington and the Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., a mosque attended by several of the 9/11 hijackers and the Fort Hood mass killer Maj. Nidal Hasan. Ms. Thompson's next pray-in target is a mosque in Washington.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureWomen* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

4 Comments
Posted July 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. DonGander wrote:

Usually women give ultimatums….like;

We strap on no more bombs till we get our rights!!!!!!!!!!

Bomb-burners??

Don

July 30, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
2. Katherine wrote:

In Cairo generally speaking the women do not pray in the mosques at all, even for the Friday sermon.  It’s a male gathering.  Women pray in their homes.

A mosque floor will often be covered with individual prayer rugs just large enough to accommodate one person, all the rugs lined up facing Mecca.  Thus, Muslim communal prayer involves closely-packed rows of people performing multiple prostrations.  The thought of men behind women while they do this is a little inelegant.  I suppose they could split the mosque in half, with a women’s side and a men’s side and an aisle in between.  But they don’t.

July 30, 5:58 pm | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

This is also Orthodox Jewish practice, of course.

I don’t see why one couldn’t follow Katherine’s suggestion; indeed, one could go further and have a screen rather than an aisle such that all worshipers could see and hear the prayer leader but could not see each other - a shared worship experience and yet without distraction.

July 31, 8:50 am | [comment link]
4. bettcee wrote:

It seems strange to me that America’s so-called Christian Feminists show no sympathy for the well known plight of Muslim women and I can’t help but wonder why Christians do not offer a safe refuge to those Muslims who wish to embrace the saving grace of Jesus Christ?

July 31, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
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