Muslim Women and Mosques

I mentioned the HijabMan blog before. It turns out he doesn’t live in Canada. Seems like I just imagined that. Anyway, as I mentioned before, he had a post (permalink not working; scroll to the Nov 5 post) on the role of women in mosques.

The mosque I visited is the only one in this general area, so I haven’t really been in any mosques lately, except for those in Cairo. In any case, some American mosques make me extremely uncomfortable. As I walked in, I immediately saw a wall-fixture with a bunch of pamphlets inside. One of the photocopied flyers read (quoted word for word, exactly as it appears on the flyer): Masjid (Islamic) Dress Code for Women and men.

Below this heading were guidelines first, for women and young girls which included, “Clothing must cover the entire body including the head, The clothing must not resemble the man’s clothing (wait, who is “the man?”), the design of the clothing must be of Islamic style, The clothing must hang loose so that the shape/form of the body is not apparent, The design must not consist of bold designs, which attract attention, No make-up and perfume.” A shorter list appears for men. And, “The reason for this dress code is so that the women and men protected from the lustful gaze. They should not attract attention to herself/himself in any way.” I find it interesting that, 1. Rules for dress code are most-likely the only document in which women are emphasized. 2. I found bottles of musk in the Men’s prayer section, seems they are allowed to smell nice. 3. The Quranic statement, “There is no compulsion in religion,” does not apply in some mosques.

In the prayer area, I found that there was a separate entrance for women, and it opened into a space approximately 1/4th the size of the entire prayer space. 3/4th’s were allocated to the men. TheLook (who was not wearing hijab) and BackwardsSmiley were obviously uncomfortable in the mosque. When we walked around at the back of the men’s section just as a man was walking in, the man backed away, looking horrified, as if he had just seen a ghost. He didn’t say Assalamu alaikum, he just backed away with a shocked look on his face. TheLook and BackwardsSmiley scurried back to the women’s section, and the amazingly graceful man (*smirk*) took a few breaths before proceeding to the prayer area.

[…]Opponents of what I am saying will say, “Well, women don’t go to the mosque as much as men, so they don’t need the space.” What came first? The chicken or the egg? Maybe if women were encouraged to go to the mosque instead of discouraged, you would have more female participation. Also, it is usually the women who take the kids in the mosque, wouldn’t that qualify them for more space as well?

[…]If you want to read other women’s feelings when it comes to mosques, please read “Even Angels Ask,” by Jeffrey Lang. I’ll be writing a more coherent essay about gender and space in mosques when i get my copy of that book back, and do a bit more research.

Now he has an online survey for Muslim women to ask about their feelings towards mosques. Here is his post about it:

My name is Javed, and I made a survey with the help of a few friends (male and female), inquiring about Muslim women’s feelings towards the mosque. I tried to make it as unbiased as possible. Of course, no survey will ever be perfect, but I tried to cover as many bases as possible, without making the survey too big. If you have any constructive criticisms, please email me. If you find a question to be biased, again, email me. Please forward this to other Muslim women you know, The survey can be taken here Thanks. If you would like to know the results, again, email me. I will also publish them on my web site, assuming I get enough responses.

So if you are a Muslim woman, please head on over and do the survey.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. I am actually surprised by the nearest mosque to my house (about 2 mins away). It is, what most people from Indo-Pak would call, a “Wahhabi” mosque (or if you want to be technical about these sorts of things, it is part of ‘Jammiat Ahl-e-Hadith’).

    They actually encourage women to come to the mosque, and often hold open days and other events, solely for the benefit of women. They also hold classes to help women who wish to obtain diplomas in teaching both ‘secular’ subjects and miscellaneous Islamic subjects. In fact, they even provide a creche. Though I suppose it helps when you actually have a woman in the mosque who can teach women about religion.

    What I found slightly ironic (perhaps this is just my sense of humour) is that the local “traditionalist” mosque, who many people see as being “tolerant”, was the complete opposite. Women are shunted into the dingiest corner in the basement – near to where they keep the dead bodies in preparation for the burial prayer.

    Though don’t get me wrong – the former mosque certainly upholds all the historical biases against women. Yesterday, for example, we were reminded that “women are deficient in religion” – curiously left untranslated from its Arabic, in a mosque where about half the attendees do not speak Arabic.


  2. Wow, that’s pretty extreme.

    the design of the clothing must be of Islamic style, The clothing must hang loose so that the shape/form of the body is not apparent

    This reminds me of a young black guy (I’d say 18-19) coming to the mosque for the first time and he was, what kids would call, dressed “gangsta.” It was a funny sight Anyways, nobody really cares what you wear. Some wear jeans, most wear Islamic style clothes or something that resembles it.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Zack. I took the survey, sent an email to the sisters in my address book, and have just posted about it to my blog.

    There are a number of other issues in regard to mosques and, for me, the place of women is not actually the most major. Instead, the biggest problem I have is with mosques where I feel isolated and alone because everybody keeps to their own ethnic group and I may be the only member of mine (i.e., as a white convert). Some mosques can seem very foreign and daunting to a new convert.

    But there is a lot of room for improvement at many mosques in regard to women.

  4. Thebit: I think part of this is because traditional Pakistani mosques usually don’t have any space for women at all.

    Arash: I have seen all kinds of variations at mosques. Usually there is more of an emphasis (or obsession) with women’s dress though it is not universal.

    Al-Muhajabah: The ethnic group issue is almost always a problem.

  5. Yeah, I’m not surprised. It happens to be the major issue for me, rather than the place of women, but for other people it could be someone else.

    I don’t mind comments about women’s dress in the mosque per se, what I mind is these people that go on and on about all the things that women are supposed to do to prevent mixing of the sexes, while men are not expected to do anything.

  6. i need to know where the nearest mosque is to my house and i cant find it so find it for me NOW

    Edited for language by ZA

  7. Women and Islam

    Maryam of A Dervish’s Du`a’ has a Powerpoint presentation titled “Is Your Masjid Sister Friendly?” It is worth viewing as it has photographic evidence of the difference between the facilities for men and women in some mosques. I…

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