Mona Rahman on the consequences of entering mosques through a side entrance and disappearing from sight, especially if you’ve got boys in tow.

I’m going to just come out and say this. En route home from a soccer festival we stopped at a masjid. Alhamdulillah the masjid was open. We went to pray, my dad, my sons and I. I went through the Sisters’ side entrance and up the stairs to the prayer area.  My sons and father went ahead to the “main” entrance to the prayer area.  I could see them but they could not see me. I could not pray with them in jama’a (congregation) so prayed by myself. We like to pray in jama’a as a family.  I went out and waited a while for them to come.  The first thing my son said was, “Mommy, where were you?”
Let me tell you where I’m coming from. I grew up in a community without a masjid but with a strong community Alhamdulillah. When we were able to build a masjid I was 25 and my brother was 7. We were taught how the Prophet’s masjid was, what the Sunnah is and how brothers and sisters are partners to each other. Our community board has an official women’s representative to ensure that the sisters are always heard, and always had. However in addition to the women’s rep we have always had sisters in executive positions on the Board, Alhamdulillah.  We used to have youth and MSA reps until we became too large for it to be practical (and there were other issues) but we developed a forum so that they still have a voice. This was the mentality of our founding families. As such when the masjid was built it was done so with a common main entrance and with symmetry so that brothers and sisters had the same facilities. Yes there are alternate entrances but no one is designated as brothers only or sisters only. There are separate entrances to the musallah but they led to a simple open prayer area with sisters at the back and brothers at the front just as was described for the first masjid of the Prophet ﷺ.

People Aren’t The Same Anymore

Do some people not like it? Every once in a while someone new will come and say this is haram. But you know what? This is closest to the Sunnah. Oh people are not as at the time of the Prophet ﷺ. Really? From my understanding, men used to go to the back rows at the time of the Prophet ﷺ and try to see the women through their legs when in prostration. That is when the Prophet ﷺ said that the best lines for men are at the front and the best lines for women are at the back. He didn’t say to build a wall or stick the women on another floor. The Quran says to lower your gaze and guard your modesty. Lower your gaze is stated first. You are responsible for your own actions. These are principles taught 1400+ years ago but which we have been practicing since, Insha Allah.
Are people uncomfortable with this? Of course there are women who are uncomfortable praying in there same room as men as it is foreign to them, so in order to make everyone comfortable and not infringe on the rights of any of the women, when we expanded the sisters area we expanded sideways in order to create a space with more privacy for those sisters who do not want to be in the same visible space as the men but still keeping the structure of the main prayer hall. Note, it wasn’t done in response to the men who complained. A mere bookshelf separates the area so there is free flow from the private part to the main sisters area. That is their preference and everyone is free to worship in the main area or in the more private areas, which is also very useful if nursing.

Communities and Families Partitioned

Let’s go back to today’s experience. I know what the Prophet ﷺ taught. I have also lived in a different community where there were areas partitioned by walls but they evolved with the community, with greater understanding. From my experience there though, I will say it is difficult to concentrate on prayer and it is sometimes difficult if one arrives late. However, I will pray in your masjid without making a fuss as that is the climate of your community.  I have prayed in the smelly closet by myself. I have prayed in the mezzanine unable to communicate with my sons.
As a mother of boys, who tends to be alone with the boys at the masjid, you have to understand the difficulty we are put in.  If I visit with my sons you are asking me to let them go alone without supervision into a place where they don’t know anyone. They can’t look back to ensure I’m there. They can’t find me if they need help.  They do not feel like I am part of the jama’a. They will not come with me to the women’s area as they are 7 and 10 and once they are 7, they were taught they should go to the brothers section as they are now big boys.
Is this the type of community our Prophet ﷺ built? He was the man who would shorten his prayers if he heard a child cry so as to not cause any more distress to the mother. He was the man who asked the men in his community to wait a bit so that the sisters could leave the masjid without discomfort. He was the one who gently turned the head of his young companion when he couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful woman. He taught haya so that we could be true partners in community. This is a haya which is independent of what others are wearing or how they act.

It’s not about “free mixing”

If I as a grown woman who is strong in my Muslim identity (Masha Allah) feel uncomfortable and uncertain when I go to a masjid, afraid of offending because of my gender or going through the wrong door, then how would one who may be wobbling, especially our young Muslim sisters, feel? How about the sister who goes for the first time? If you don’t teach your youth (or adults) how to behave with each other at the masjid with their brothers and sisters, how do you expect them to know how to behave when in the wider community with their peers? How do you think our sons feel when their mom has to go somewhere else?
It’s not about “free mixing”. That is not what I’m saying. It is possible to pray in a musallah without barriers and still be separate. It is possible to go to school and work without compromising your haya. It’s about proper manners. It’s about truly learning what the Sunnah is and practising it without crutches. It’s about separating the cultural norms of back home from what Allah Most High taught us through His Messenger ﷺ through the Qur’an and Sunnah. It requires us to not just accept what we grew up )especially if it was from a land where most are Muslim) but understanding the why. It’s about learning about our religion from reliable sources, not just relying on what our forefathers told us.
My mother argued with her grandfather who felt there was no need for girls to be educated past grade 6. Masha Allah he was a pious man and ensured an Islamic education and it was this which also taught her the importance of education. So she argued with truth in her words and continued her education, Masha Allah. Sometimes we need to question the status quo to ensure we are on the Straight Path.
Anything good is from Allah swt; all else is from my own deficiencies. I beg Allah’s forgiveness if I have erred or misled.

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)