So why is this Sunnah forgotten? Why is it neglected?
Why are women excluded from the ‘Eid prayer and from the mosques generally?
I still remember my first ‘Eid celebration, some six years ago, when I was a newly reborn Muslimah. How excited I was! How eagerly I awaited the end of my first ever Ramadhan and how curious I was about this new festival! Of course I read about it, I asked every Muslim I knew how they celebrated and I viewed amazing pictures of large community prayers in countries like Indonesia. I couldn’t wait to be part of it!
I spent my first ever ‘Eid in my husband’s ancestral village where women don’t go outside their homes unless covered in shuttlecock burqas and where a woman in the mosque is a definite no-no, even on ‘Eid. My first ‘Eid was fun, although it was a bit disappointing not to be able to take part in the prayer, but I didn’t lose hope. I understood the situation and its limitations. I believed that maybe next year, next ‘Eid, in some other place, I would get my chance.
Then we had ‘Eid in Islamabad. The capital city of Pakistan proudly displays the logo of Faisal Mosque on its registration plates, road signs and any official symbols. No wonder, this huge mosque designed by a Turkish architect and situated picturesquely at the foot of the Margalla Hills is the city’s best hallmark. It’s also the only mosque in the whole of Islamabad boasting a women’s section. Isn’t it curious really? Why just one? “The women should pray at home,” I heard as an oft-repeated explanation. Or “Women don’t need to go to mosques.” Or “It’s not in our culture, not in our tradition.” Tradition, really? Isn’t the Sunnah the best of traditions? No one locally ever quoted to me the famous hadith: “Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the mosque of Allah.” (Muslim)
Alhamdulillah, Faisal Mosque goes against the cultural rules, but still I didn’t get my chance to take part in big community prayer, because, as I was told, on ‘Eid day the mosque is absolutely packed with people. It’s impossible to find a parking space, and it’s a long drive from where we live on the outskirts of Islamabad. Furthermore, it’s much more convenient if men take part in the ‘Eid prayer at the local mosque, while women stay at home and get ready.
Then we moved to West Yorkshire in the UK and found a house somewhere in between Leeds and Dewsbury, and here is where we celebrated ‘Eid the following year. I was sure that in the UK, the mosques must be open for women as it is illegal for such institutions to discriminate. As well, I used to go to Regent’s Park Mosque in London to get information about Islam, though it had a very tiny and rather claustrophobic women’s section. Alhamdulillah, Leeds Grand Mosque was much better as I found out when my du’a was answered, and I was finally able to participate in an ‘Eid prayer. It was crowded, but understandably considering the occasion. The women’s section was not as spacious and as pretty as the main men’s section, but it was big enough and undergoing construction which was meant to improve things. I was really happy; honestly, having been Muslim for three years, it was the first time I prayed in the mosque, standing shoulder to shoulder with my sisters in faith. I was also happy that I could bring my little girl to the mosque and tell her that this was because of the special occasion, because of ‘Eid, that we were here.
It would be lovely if that was the happy ending to this story. But last year, my husband was not around on ‘Eid day, and being pregnant with our third child, I didn’t feel confident to drive on my own to central Leeds to take part in the ‘Eid prayer in the Grand Mosque. I decided I would go to Saville Town in Dewsbury instead. It was closer and more accessible, and with some 90 percent Muslim population and nearly 20 mosques scattered around the town, I was sure to find a place to pray. I also used to attend some tafsir classes there, so I set out to ask the sisters I met there about the prayer times and which mosque is most suitable for families with small children.
“There are no mosques here with ladies’ sections. But I heard of one sister who drove last year to Leeds Grand mosque. I’m not sure if she’s going again this year, but I can ask her.” suggested one of the sisters.
I was surprised. So many mosques and not one was accommodating women? Not even on ‘Eid day? Why?
“It is better for women to pray at home. I feel I would get much more reward staying at home and preparing ‘Eid breakfast for my husband and sons. It would be too hectic if we all went.” I got as an answer.
“It is not obligatory for us to attend ‘Eid prayer.” said another sister.
While some Muslims believe that it is not obligatory (only recommended) for women to attend the ‘Eid prayer, some scholars argue that it actually is obligatory for every Muslim to attend the ‘Eid prayer. Imams are directed to address women in the ‘Eid khutbah – is it known that these two khutbahs are the only ones some women will hear year in and year out, so what if we miss even these two speeches meant especially for us?
It is Sunnah and it is our right to attend the ‘Eid prayer. I remember the hadith well: “Umm ‘Atiyya reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) commanded us to bring out on ‘Eid-ul-Fitr and ‘Eid-ul-Adha young women, menstruating women and purdah-observing ladies, menstruating women kept back from prayer, but participated in goodness and supplication of the Muslims. I said: Messenger of Allah, one of us does not have an outer garment.” (to cover her face and body). He said: Let her sister cover her with her outer garment. (Sahih Muslim)
So why is this Sunnah forgotten? Why is it neglected? Why are women excluded from the ‘Eid prayer and from the mosques generally? And in the UK, where you really wouldn’t expect it?
“People bring their culture along. They don’t forget it in the UK,” my husband responded to my frustration. So, if it is local custom in some countries to exclude women from the mosques, no one questions it when they move to the UK.
OK, so I can just about conceive how people migrating from the Subcontinent would build male-only mosques out of sheer nostalgia for things back home. What I cannot understand is why Muslim women are so OK with it. And then I remembered speaking to Julia Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain. She told me a sad story: in a town in the UK, there was a mosque in which women were not allowed. Three brave women, respected ‘aunties’, decided to change the status quo and fight for their place in the mosque and in the Muslim community. But this community turned its back on them, and they were ostracised. And it was not only the brothers who thought they were doing something wrong – the sisters disapproved of their actions just as much.
Knowledge is power as they say, and having knowledge means we have a duty to use it, otherwise it can be used against us. We know it’s our right to attend mosques. When will we reach for the power to fight for our rights and further our knowledge, as we are commanded?
Klaudia Khan is a mother of three lovely daughters, masha Allah. Her passions are travelling and writing.
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