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Thursday, 19, October, 2006 (26, Ramadhan, 1427)

 
Why Impose Restrictions on Women Worshippers at Prophet’s Mosque?
Dr. Hatoon Al-Fassi, Arab News
 

The restrictions being imposed on women’s praying at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah raise many questions about women’s religious rights.

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 Seven Mosques.

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 are answered.

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 to women.

Hatoon Al-Fassi is a Saudi historian based in Riyadh. She can be reached at: Hatoon-alfassi@columnist.com.