JEDDAH, 26 August 2006 — The proposal to shift the prayer
place of women within the circumambulation area (mataf) to two
places inside the Grand Mosque, away from the Holy Kaaba, has
drawn mixed reactions from both Saudis and expatriates. Some
said the move was discriminatory while others said it would
reduce overcrowding in mataf and facilitate tawaf
Opponents of the proposal urged authorities to provide
women wider areas inside the mataf instead of denying them the
right to pray close to the Kaaba. According to the proposal
made by a committee set up by the Presidency for the Two Holy
Mosques Affairs, women will be given two wider prayer areas on
the ground floor, in the northern part of the mosque
overlooking the Kaaba; the first between Al-Fatah and Al-Nadwa
gates and the second between Al-Madinah and Al-Hudaibiya
“These two places are ideal for women worshippers and
provide wider space for them,” an informed source at the
presidency said. “The present area provided for women in the
mataf covers 630 square meters but the new places offer them
double the area,” he added. Suhaila Hammad, a member of the
National Society for Human Rights and the International Union
of Muslim Scholars, opposed the move, saying it would deny
women the right to pray inside the mataf.
“In Islam, women have equal rights like men in terms of
worship and devotion to God,” she said narrating a verse from
the Holy Qur’an. “When we make a decision on this matter, we
should also take into consideration the feeling of the
thousands of Muslim women who come here from different parts
of the world for Haj and Umrah. We should not deny them the
right to pray inside the mataf,” she told Arab News.
Suhaila called upon authorities to allocate at least three
more areas inside the mataf for women to pray and meditate
Hatoon Al-Fassi, a Saudi writer and historian, expressed
her confidence that the presidency would not accept the
proposal that goes against the message and spirit of Islam
that treats both men and women equally.
“I strongly reject this proposal and request the
authorities not to implement it,” she said in comments
published yesterday. Such a move has never taken place in the
history of Islam, she added.
Hassan Misfar of the International Fiqh Academy called upon
the mosque authorities to allocate special areas for women to
perform tawaf. He said he feared that Western media would use
the new proposal in support of their allegation that the
Kingdom’s regulations discriminate against women.
“The move is unfair,” said Safiya Ali, an expatriate dawa
activist, commenting on the proposal. She feared that once the
present area for women in the mataf was shifted they would not
get a chance to stay and pray closer to the Holy Kaaba. Safiya
wanted wider prayer areas for women in the mataf with greater
Osama Al-Bar, dean of King Fahd Institute for Haj &
Umrah Research, supported the plan, saying it would solve the
problem of overcrowding in the mataf area, especially during
peak Haj and Umrah seasons. “We have to take into
consideration that the mataf has a limited area and is very
difficult to expand it further,” he said.
Many other Saudis favored the move saying it was necessary
to create more space for circumambulation around the Kaaba for
the growing number of pilgrims.