- Sophia Smith Galler
Millions of Muslims around the world fast during Ramadan, but some mosques in the UK do not allow women to pray inside them. Some say it is time for a change.
Almas is rarely able to devote himself to worship, as she is the mother of three children, and she studies at the university. So, Ramadan means a lot to her.
“I looked forward to Tarawih prayers, especially on the weekends,” she says. “But when I spoke to the mosque near me, they said that the elderly, children and women are not allowed.”
The case of Diamond is not exceptional, as several mosques across the United Kingdom decided to close the women’s prayer room during this month. Most of them say the cause is the measures related to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
The matter is not limited to Tarawih prayers, but rather includes all prayers, including Friday prayers.
While family members pray with each other at home, women are separated from men in the mosque, which is what many see as an opportunity for people to concentrate on praying.
Sometimes, women pray behind the men in the same place, but the prevailing mosques separate men and women in separate rooms so that the women are in an attached room.
But not all mosques allow space for women, as more than a quarter of British mosques do not have a prayer room for women. And in mosques where there is a prayer room for women, its area is much smaller.
Anita Nayyar is running a campaign called “Open My Mosque”, to demand more inclusive mosques for women, and says that women usually allocate “second-class” spaces to them. She says that the women’s prayer room is usually smaller than the men’s prayer hall, or in the basement, or behind many closed doors or in higher floors. Sometimes it will open randomly.
The Corona pandemic has increased this crisis.
She says: “We have received reports that the mosques that used to receive women have closed their prayer space, either to expand the area of the men’s prayer hall and allow prayer in it according to social distancing measures, or because they were unable to provide employment in the women’s prayer room to ensure that the place adheres to the imposed procedures.”
The BBC contacted 29 of the largest mosques in Britain to confirm their policy during Ramadan.
Five of these mosques do not provide a prayer room for women in the first place, six said they did not receive women for reasons related to COVID-19 safety measures, and 12 said they receive women, while seven mosques did not respond.
These mosques include the Islamic Center in Greenwich, the Baitul Futuh Mosque in London, the Al-Akbariya Mosque in Luton, and another mosque in Scotland.
The mosque next door to the Diamonds, the Islamic Center in Milton Keynes, did not respond to our first question about why it did not receive women.
But he later said that it was open to women’s prayer in limited places, and that the information available on the site about Ramadan 2021 regarding preventing the elderly, children and women was for a “previous trial period”.
“The outrageous thing is that there is a space for women’s prayer and three big rooms at the bottom,” says Almas. “I know women who go to the mosque who are widows who do not live with their children, and women who have mental health problems. If the closure affects me, I imagine how it affects these women.” . “
‘Easy to do
Julie Siddiqui, an activist who works to make mosques more accessible to women in Britain, posted a video on Instagram in which she talks about the closure of the women’s prayer hall at the Islamic Center and the Jamiat Mosque in Slough during Ramadan.
She says she has received hundreds of messages from British women who have faced the same thing.
“I understand the issue of health and safety. But our mosque has a large area and this can be arranged very easily. So to put it frankly, this matter is bigger than a covid. This is a mentality that allows men to determine whether women can pray in the mosque.”
The mosque in Slough told the BBC that the decision to close the women’s prayer came after consulting the volunteers who were concerned “about the lack of female workers.” He said he could not risk volunteers.
The Baitul Futuh mosque in London also prohibits women’s prayer, and says that it is “not an obligation for women in Islam to pray in mosques, but it is an obligation on men.”
There are opinions that believe that group prayer is obligatory for men, and optional for women, who can pray at home.
The mosque’s statement continued: “Once restrictions are eased, women will be able to return to pray in the mosque.”
Sheikh Ibrahim Mughara, imam of a mosque in Leicester, says that “women and men should be equal in visiting mosques. However, some opinions believe that praying at home is better for women than praying in the mosque. Therefore, the Islamic opinion is divided in this aspect.”
Other mosques changed their position, such as the Islamic Center and the Jamia Mosque in Hounslow, which used to allow only men to pray in it, but its non-political after a conversation about the right of women to pray in the mosque, it started electronically with the beginning of Ramadan.
Zara Mohammed, president of the Muslim Council of Britain, says the guidelines for mosques are equality between men and women in prayer “during Ramadan or at any other time of the year.”
She added, “Women must be involved in developing mosque life, and we encourage more constructive dialogue and methods aimed at providing solutions to ensure that Muslim women have more opportunities and presence in mosques.”