The restrictions being imposed on women’s praying at the
Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah raise many questions about women’s
Despite the Islamic and historic evidences that confirm
that women used to pray at the three holy mosques in Makkah,
Madinah and Jerusalem, we have seen authorities impose so many
restrictions on women’s praying at the Grand Mosque in Makkah
and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah citing various reasons
including space constraints.
There are several sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon
him) that tell Muslims not to prevent women from praying at
mosques. I would like to focus this article on the situation
of women worshippers at the Prophet’s Mosque.
Throughout history the Prophet’s Mosque has been open to
male and female worshippers. Women used to pray at the mosque
without any barriers as they prayed standing behind the rows
of men until about 30 years ago. I remember how during my
childhood, women were allowed to enter through the gate that
leads straight to the chamber where the body of the Prophet
and his righteous caliphs are buried.
We prayed at the Rowda, which was then open to all people
irrespective of their gender.
Our whole family including my mother, father and sisters
spent a lot of time at Rowda, one of the most revered places
where prayers are answered. After paying homage to the Prophet
and the caliphs, we used to visit the Baqi Graveyard where we
prayed for the wives of the Prophet as well as his daughters
and son and companions. We then would visit the historic
places such as Uhud, Quba Mosque, Qiblatain Mosque and the
Some of the historic monuments have been wiped out during
the past decades while some have been replaced with new ones.
This is not our topic of discussion today. Even at these
mosques women are given prayer places at the second or third
floors without considering the difficulties and inconveniences
caused to the pregnant or elderly or sick among them. The
prayer areas for women are surrounded by high walls that
prevent them from enjoying the splendor of the mosque.
Speaking about the Prophet’s Mosque, I would like to say
that there are three main developments that put constrains on
women praying there. First, the barriers to separate women
from men are placed in such a way that women are unable to see
the remaining part of the mosque and the imam.
This prevents women from fulfilling the conditions of
congregational prayer such as seeing the imam (if he or she is
not blind). The Prophet’s wife Aysha (God may be pleased with
her) told a group of women who were praying in her room that
this would prevent them from following the imam. According to
the Hanbali school of thought, seeing the imam and the
worshippers behind the imam is one of the conditions of the
congregational prayer. So, I request authorities of the
Prophet’s Mosque as well as other mosques to remove the
barriers in order to help women fulfill the conditions of
congregational prayer. Women also face a lot of restrictions
at the Rawdah Sharief, which is one of the holiest places in
Islam. The Prophet has said that what is between his house and
his minbar (podium) is a garden (Rawdah) from the gardens of
Paradise. It is one of the most revered places where prayers
After paying homage to the Prophet, every Muslim would love
to pray at this holiest site called Rawdah. This area is open
to men throughout the day while only a small portion (not
exceeding four meters) is set apart for women and that too for
a few hours — about three hours before Dhuhr prayers — between
7 and 10 a.m. and one hour before Asr Prayers between 2 and 3
p.m. Many female intellectuals have protested at this
discrimination toward women in Rawdah, saying they feel
dejected knowing that authorities give lesser value to visits,
prayers and presence of women at the mosque.
These restrictions lead to so many undesirable things such
as pushing, pulling and fighting for space in the area. These
prevent women from having an atmosphere of peace and
tranquility while praying in Rawdah.
A number of female writers like Fareeda Shatta, Nabeela
Mahjoub, Manal Al-Sharief, Fatin Ibrahim Hussein, Najeeb Essam
Yamani, Dr. Ameera Kashghari, Haleema Muzaffar, Iman Quwaifeli
and Nahed Bashatah have written against the restrictions aimed
at the women at the Prophet’s Mosque saying such things have
no precedents in the history of Islam.
There are certain other objectionable practices at the
Prophet’s Mosque such as discriminating female visitors on the
basis of their nationalities and searching them in a
humiliating manner. I don’t want to dwell on these points in
detail due to space constraints. What I want to emphasize here
is that authorities should allow women to pray at the
Prophet’s Mosque with dignity without showing any
discrimination. They also consult prominent female scholars in
the Islamic world before taking decisions on matters related
— Hatoon Al-Fassi is a Saudi historian based in Riyadh.
She can be reached at: Hatoonemail@example.com.