Imagine being kicked and shoved with a force of anger for simply asking to enter a mosque?
Strange, startling, perhaps nonsensical.
Well, I only wish it wasn’t based on truth.
On a lovely evening, in the bustling centre of London, at Soho Islamic Centre, my friend and I experienced what we’ve decided to call a hate crime; a hate crime against women. And no, before you start, this is not a feminist rant, I would say it’s a purely humane perspective. We were shouted at, shoved, kicked and the door was slammed in our faces simply because we were women.
Men would never have been subjected to this treatment for asking to observe Maghrib. The sad fact was that this was simply a manifestation of widespread sexist and misogynist ideas within Muslim communities.
This was not the first time I’d been rejected from the mosque, and neither was it the first time we’d heard of this boring story.
“No, you cannot pray here,”
“Go, pray at home”.
Yet, it was the first time it was done with physical violence to anyone in my circle, let alone me. And it was the first time it was recorded.
What could bring a person to attack a stranger?
We’ve certainly heard of physical attacks on visibly Muslim women in the West, whether it’s their hijab being grabbed or someone pushing them off the edge of a train platform. Yet, you’d think that at least, Muslim men would have their ‘sisters’ backs.
Clearly, our presence at the doorstep of this mosque triggered anger in these men; rage and disgust that reside deep in their emotional psyche regarding the position of women in Islam. These emotions only furthered their entitlement to aggressivity and superiority over women.
Looking into the hadith commonly cited for this; “The best place for a woman to pray (salah) is in the innermost part of her home”, it is easy to understand that men, as seen in history, like to reappropriate things to suit their agenda. Yet, as Rumaysa, a qualified teacher with an ijazaat in Hadith explains in her essay, the context of this Hadith is based on a recommendation by the Prophet (PBUH). His answer was a considerate and wise response to women who worried about taking care of their children at home. It gave them the option to stay home and gain the same amount of rewards, without the worry of sinning for not attending the mosque.
It was not meant to be an order or a command, but an option. Yet, as we know, many men and women take this literally. Including the women who don’t attend Eid prayers or go to Jummah. It’s a sad reality. The reality was that my friend and I were not close to home and needed to pray.
Rather than the Muslim community uniting in active protest, the divisive reactions came down to “whys”; ‘We need the full context’, ‘Were women trying to ‘force’ their way into a mosque?’ ‘Why didn’t they pray at home?’ and ‘Why didn’t they listen to the men?’
The question should have been ‘why were two women rejected from performing an obligatory prayer?’ We all know who will be questioned on the Day of Judgement.
It goes without saying for those with common sense that the patriarchal corruption of Islam is a disease that so many refuse to see because, to them, it is the status quo. Incidents like these are digested as isolated as it is easier to separate them from the wider issue they are part of.
Spiritual and religious abuse; a term that only came into my vocabulary in recent years, explained so much of what we, as little girls and women, experience when learning our Deen. Men can’t claim that their perspective of religion is completely correct. Yet, just as Muslims claim racism does not exist in their communities, so would they say that sexism is also non-existent.
While we know that Islam and the Quran do not promote injustice, Muslims seem to forget that they are not representatives of Islam and the Quran, but merely imperfect humans. Hence, they forget that their brains are influenced by society, culture and a subconscious narrative of centuries of sexism and racism. They also forget that most of the time, they read translations of Arabic in languages that do not capture the pure miracle of the Quran but capture problematic misconceptions and interpretations of the target language.
Returning to the crux of the problem, women are seen as dirty, seductresses, backbiters, intellectually less than, unworthy of entering mosques, bad drivers, and the list goes on. All these stereotypes lead to entitlement and justification of physical violence, emotional manipulation and even spiritual abuse in both the public and private spheres.
And while rationally, these ideas can be sometimes weaned out, emotionally, the way women are treated across the Muslim world, the way sons see their fathers dominate their mothers, the way scholars and imams regurgitate age-old ideas of women’s positions in life are all things that not only need unlearning but clear accessible actions and information providing a more truthful and nuanced perspective of the position of women.
These stereotypes are not only projections of male insecurities and toxic masculinity, they are also rooted in unjust patriarchal historic and cultural interpretations of Islam.
- We’ve all heard the view that women are impure when menstruating when in reality we are given the same rewards as though we were still praying, fasting and worshipping since it “is a matter Allah has decreed for all the daughters of Adam (Sahih al-Bukhari)” and we are not in control of it.”
So, whatever your Islamic spiritual habits are, you still get rewarded for them. No wonder men are angry and jealous, they don’t have this luxury.
- We’ve also heard that women are a Fitnah to men, but instead of looking at the position of women, doesn’t that just highlight the inherent weakness of men?
Surah An-Nisa Surah 4:28 states that: Allah intends to make things easy on you. And man has been created weak.
- We’ve heard the Hadith that there will be more women in Hellfire, but have we heard the analysis that it is women with specific qualities and that there will equally be more women in Jannah?
He mentioned that Abū Hurayrah cited this ḥadīth to establish that, in comparison to men, most women will be in paradise. Fatḥ al-Bārī 6:325.
- This Ayah in Baqarah, Ch:2: V.283 “if two men are not available, then one man and two women, of such as you like as witnesses, so that if either of the two women should be in danger of forgetting, the other may refresh her memory” is often used to justify that a woman is only worth half a man intellectually. Yet again, this highlights an appropriation of the religion. This verse only applied to financial matters and not religious, personal or any other social issues. Furthermore, the testimony given by the women is given as one complete testimony, not two separate accounts and was set out as a way of support for women in an unfair patriarchal society.
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I’ve only begun to scratch the surface but all these stereotypes permit the abuse and degradation of women. Centuries of repeating one-sided and false interpretations of Ayahs and Hadiths have brainwashed men and women into thinking that women are inferior and hence can be treated in disgusting ways.
This is an international problem that allows all sorts of abuse, not just barring entries from mosques. We don’t want your pity, we need your anger, we need your drive for Justice.
Assia Hamdi is the Spotlight and Newsletter Editor for The Muslim Women Times. She is a graduate of History and Arabic at SOAS University of London. She is also a lover of travel, writing, spirituality and food.