“Soap box?” I reply intrigued. I have an opportunity to voice a pet peeve? I smile to myself, sitting in front of the computer screen. I don’t have to think about it for a second. I know exactly what I want to write!
Case in point: I walk into the musalla for ‘Isha prayers before Tawareeh. There is a group of what appears to be high school girls sitting in a circle in the back of the small room. Next to them is a group of younger girls, deeply engrossed in their own conversation. I begin to do the two raka’at for the masjid. I can’t hear myself think. There are giggles and loud voices. Normally, I would try to concentrate even harder, but it’s impossible. I politely walk over to the older girls’ gab session.
“Pardon me, pardon me,” I say two or three times, finally getting their attention. “I can’t hear myself pray. This is a musalla. Do you think that you could take your conversation to another room?”
They look at me, somewhat surprised, apologise politely and slightly embarrassingly, and thankfully leave. I turn to the younger girls who, by the way, are so engrossed in their own conversation that they have not even noticed that the older girls have left or that I am standing above them trying to get their attention. I ask for the same bit of courtesy and the second group of girls leaves. I can now pray in peace – at least that’s what I think. But I hadn’t counted on their mothers! Mums have now entered the musalla, bringing their lively conversation with them. But it is not as easy to approach your peers or elders and ask them to be quiet. Even the adhan or the imam beginning the prayers is no deterrent!
And now it all makes tragic, tragic, generational sense.
I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I mean, I DON’T GET IT! No one would talk loudly in a church when a priest is giving his sermon. No one would even think about having a long, drawn out discussion in a business meeting when a colleague was giving a presentation. No student in a classroom, with any sense of survival, would be so engrossed in a side conversation that neither the teacher nor the other students could hear themselves think. But something happens to some women – and yes, I am purposefully referring to only one gender – when they enter the masjid. They seem to completely forget all manners and make it nearly impossible for the rest of us to concentrate. I can’t tell you how many “a’oodhu billaahis” I have to say to myself to control my thoughts. Should it surprise us that we are often banished to a small dark and dreary room, tucked away, silenced and suffocated, trapped with screaming infants and disobedient kids!
Ahhh – I feel so much better now that that’s out…But do I? Do I really feel that much better? Is this welcomed, appreciated, therapeutic, cathartic diatribe going to change things? I have complained about the talking before and the response had been, “It’s cultural. We must take baby steps.”
Cultural! Baby steps!!! I scream silently, painfully to myself. I know for a fact that many of these women are lovely people and come from tremendous cultures; indeed, they are adults, perfectly capable of understanding that the musalla is not the place to hold disrupting conversations. Please, our gender deserves more credit than that! Perhaps, I wonder, is something else is going on? Perhaps…
“Hmm,” I say to myself. Perhaps, the apparent disrespect is a reflection of the disrespect women’s space is given in many masjids – or a reflection of the lack of respect given to our opinions when it comes to masjid matters – or a reflection of the barriers and faulty sound systems that make hearing an imam a feat of great achievement – or, perhaps, just perhaps, we were never expected to listen…
I wonder: are these women protesting, unconsciously, in their own way, developed over centuries, the inequities experienced when those in power do not follow the Sunnah? When the reply to an earnest request is often, “I am not the Prophet”? Perhaps, they have realised that when one lung is incapacitated, the whole body suffers – and they can’t understand why the other lung wants to breathe alone? Perhaps, I do get it. But that, my dear readers, is a topic for another Soap Box!
J. Samia Mair is the author of three children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, The Perfect Gift and How I Help My Neighbors. Two more children’s book are expected to be published in the coming year, insha Allah. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.
Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about. Do you agree? Disagree? Comment below or please send your own original rant to firstname.lastname@example.org