3 May 2021: A piece published by the BBC today claimed to address why women are not allowed in UK mosques during Ramadan. The start of the article said:
“Millions of Muslims around the world are currently observing Ramadan. But some mosques in the UK are not allowing women inside to pray. Some say it is time for change.”
The way the piece was framed inadvertently perpetuated the same tropes of “Islam oppresses women”, however well-intentioned the writer was. This is significant as Islamophobia continues to plague the UK. Using just a few examples of Muslim women, the piece created the sense that all Muslim women believe they are being mistreated and dealt with unfairly.
Religious background and nuance were largely missed out too, and for non-Muslims, these are crucial for a fair understanding of Islam.
In normal circumstances, Islam allows women to make a choice to either pray at the mosque or at home, owing to their immense duties at home – there’s no compulsion for them. Conversely, men are obliged to pray in the mosque in congregation; this is their religious duty – an obligation women are exempt from.
In fact, Prophet Muhammadsa said the best prayer of a Muslim woman is at her home (Musnad Ahmad), as they are the cornerstones of their homes, but still, men should not prevent women from praying in the mosque (Sahih Muslim). For women, the spiritual merit will be the same, whether praying in the mosque or not. For men, the story is different.
Of course, these guidelines are for normal circumstances.
With this background, during a devastating global pandemic in which mosques are already limiting worshippers (including men), it is perfectly reasonable to only allow essential worship and for those who have a religious obligation to pray in the mosque – men.
Contrary to the narrative pushed by the article, most mosques are actually responsibly helping to curb the pandemic by limiting attendance.
Though it is true some mosques and Muslim communities fail to accommodate women as they should, the overall picture in the article just fed into anti-Muslim sentiments already spreading across the UK.
As the article referred to the Baitul Futuh Mosque of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, it must be mentioned here that the Baitul Futuh Mosque has an equally spacious and beautiful hall for women as for men. While it can be true in the case of some mosques that the women’s area may be smaller than men’s, the Ahmadiyya reason behind it will always be need and statistics orientated which takes the discussion back to women not being obliged to pray in congregation at the mosque.
The report should have spoken more on the freedom Islam gives to women in terms of worship and also needed to clarify the religious obligation to pray in the mosque is only for men and not women.
Certainly, many mosques do need to provide more room for women but that’s an issue for those specific leaders and mosques, otherwise Islam gives women a lot of freedom in terms of how they can worship.
Any mosque that goes against the teachings of Islam and fails to provide the rights Islam gives to women is accountable for themselves.
Here’s some food for thought: If, due to need, a hospital has a smaller gynaecology ward as compared to the orthopaedic ward, will there be an outcry of inequality against women?
Not everything is about inequality.
Ahmadi Muslim women
Ahmadi Muslim women continue to dispel anti-Muslim narratives that seek to misinform the public, especially in terms of women rights. Their vibrant auxiliary organisation, Lajna Imaillah, across the world, holds regular conferences and educational classes from Ahmadi mosques to educate the wider public on Islam.
Despite the pandemic, Lajna Imaillah continues to provide local communities with help and relief, no matter what background or creed, during the pandemic. To follow some of their work see: @LajnaUK @LajnaCanada @lajnamediausa @lajna_de @LadjnaNL @lajnaau