This past Friday was my first visit to the Washington Islamic Academy and MAS Community Center in Alexandria, Virginia. The building is surrounded by some green foliage and as I walked from my car to the front door, I saw a deer galloping off into the woods. There was a woman hosing down the sidewalk outside the front doors with water, which set the tone for my visit there. The school area, although school is out of session, was remarkably clean and neat. This cleanliness continued into the musalla prayer area.
The crowd for jumu’ah here seems to be one of the more mature in terms of managing gender relations. The main entrance to the musalla is used by both men and women, the imam, Johari Abdul-Malik, arrived early, and the khutbah started on-time. When space got tight, Imam Johari asked the brothers to move up to make room for the men who were standing outside. Towards the back of the prayer space there’s a small divider used to demarcate the men’s area from the women’s area and affords a measure of privacy to those women who want it without impinging on those who would rather see the khatib (lecturer).
The space is tight, I hear the mosque community is looking to expand and renovate their unfinished basement. But I was impressed by the normal and respectful behavior of the congregants despite their close proximity as can be seen in the above pictures.
Pictures from my first visit to the Mustafa Center in Annandale, Va.
I went in the morning around 9am and no one was there. I went up the steps to what I assumed to be the front wooden doors and found them locked. I did not see any signs posted regarding operating hours or labeling the entrances. A friend later told me that the wooden doors are generally regarded as the “men’s entrance” and the side door as the “women’s entrance.” For a newbie to the mosque, there was no way for me to know that so I waited outside for awhile until a family arrived and went in the side doors, which were open.
These are pictures from the Muslim Community Center (MCC) in Silver Spring, Maryland.
MCC, was one of the first mosques I ever attended after my conversion. After I obtained my driver’s license, I used to think nothing of driving more than 20-25 minutes each way to attend the fajr prayer in congregation.
Women used to be kicked out the mosque completely in Ramadan and relegated to another building but they fought back and have won these concessions. Not perfect but progress. MCC has a health clinic on-site where Muslim healthcare professionals donate their time to treat those in need.
This past Saturday, I visited the Dar al Noor Islamic Community Center in Manassas, Va, which according to the center’s website, has two women serving on the mosque’s board of directors. I entered through a common door, put my shoes on the shoe rack, and walked to the prayer hall where a mother was praying next to her young daughter in what seemed to be the back of a common prayer area.
I didn’t see a partition so I also prayed there. After I completed the 2 units of prayer as a greeting to the mosque, I noticed a wooden wall to my left. Curious, I walked over to investigate further and much to my surprise found that this appeared to be the area designated for women. You can see it for yourself in the above slideshow.
Imam Rashid Lamptey and his wife Jerusha Lamptey spoke to NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty several years ago for her The Young and the Godly series about their mosque community and making it women-friendly among other issues. There were at least three stories produced here, here, and here. Combined below are two clips about women in the mosque and prayer space.
A few years ago, I volunteered to help present the Islam to girl scouts and their families at event called Open Houses of Faith. Imam Lamptey and some members from his community came and together Islam stole the show. There were a number of other faith traditions there with us but people seemed most attracted to the Islam section, asked us questions, and waited around after the event to watch us pray asr (the late afternoon prayer).
I’ve never visited Dar al Noor but plan to so I can see the set-up in that mosque, insha’Allah.
At the Prince George’s Muslim Association (PGMA) in Lanham, Maryland women are routinely displaced from the pink musallah designated for them to make more room for the men who have a large musallah down the hallway, which is not connected to the pink one. So where do the women go? The women are shunted off to classrooms, only one of which has a television monitor. Please tell me again, how this demonstrates a respect for the dignity of women as full and equal spiritual beings? All things being equal couldn’t the overflow men pray in the classrooms or overflow men and women pray there that way no one is unnecessarily displaced solely on account of her gender?
Years ago, under a different imam, men and women prayed the majority of the prayers in the pink musallah with the women restricted behind large wooden partitions. If you’re tall like me when standing in salah, you could just see over the top of the wooden partitions. Then under successive imams this arrangement was discontinued and men and women continued to pray in their own separate musallah. A flat-panel television screen, which is usually turned off was added to the pink women’s musallah. Now, on occasions where a large turn-out is expected like Friday prayers and perhaps the tarawih (I’ve stopped going here for tarawih), the women are pushed out of their musallah and relegated to the two classroom musallah.
The reality of the situation is that the mosque is generally empty for the five daily prayers and all of the congregants could be easily accommodated within one musallah space.
I used to love going to PGMA for fajr and isha and any other salah I was able to attend but now I rarely go there except when I’m in the area and need somewhere to pray. I had one of my happiest moments in Islam at PGMA behind the wooden partition in that pink musallah one night after maghrib or isha. After the prayer ended, the imam Moataz al-Hallak began related to the audience the hadith in Arabic of the man who killed 99 and then went to ask an abid and an alim if he could repent. The amazing thing was that I had just begun taking a Quranic Arabic class with Dr. Mamdouh Mohamed and I realized that for the first time I understood the words of the hadith and could make my own rudimentary translation from the Arabic without recourse to the English translation that would soon follow. Amazing, subhan’Allah, I think I cried silently to myself at the happiness and joy of understanding the language of the Quran and hadith.
Asra Nomani, Khalid Latif, Zaib Shaikh, and Mohammed Hameeduddin spoke with Katie Couric to try to explain some of the misconceptions surrounding Islam and Muslims, and towards the end the discussion turned to mosques.
If someone visited your local mosque, what would they see and impression would the women’s area leave them with? Many Muslims are pleased to show visitors the main prayer hall but would be deeply embarrassed to show them the sections designated for women.
Thanks Asra for the “penalty box” shout-out!
I shared Asra’s incredulity when she asked what would happen if she came and stood in a parallel section in the front row and Khalid Latif claimed, “we don’t really have a front row.” Really? I find that hard to believe. I visited two mosques in New York City this past December and both had women’s sections on a completely separate floor with no visuals to the imam on main congregation other than through a television monitor hookup, which was always turned off during the prayer.