The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If any among your women asks permission to go to the mosque, don’t stop her from going. But in some Muslim societies overseas, they don’t let women in the mosques. They’ve turned the mosques into men-only clubs, contrary to what the Prophet ordered.
In North America and Britain, hard as it is to believe, too many Muslims have brought over this ignorant attitude and many mosques here don’t allow women in. It’s hard to understand why anybody would perpetuate such un-Islamic injustice.
And among those mosques that do let women in, I’m sorry to say that most of the ones I have seen relegate the women to an inferior status. They banish them to basement rooms or other segregated spaces. Too often the second-class spaces allotted to the women are poorly maintained, uncomfortable, cramped, filthy, or otherwise substandard, while the men reserve the best areas for their exclusive use. This kind of treatment makes the preaching about women’s status being equal in Islam sound awfully hollow. Too many places don’t allow women any chance to speak and be heard, let alone have any say in the way the mosque is run.
Too many religions throughout history have put down women and condemned them as inferior beings. A little-known fact is that Islam brought by Prophet Muhammad is the first religion to raise women’s status to be equal with men. You couldn’t tell that nowadays when Muslim countries are among the worst in their unjust treatment of women (especially the Taliban). Talk about ahsan al-taqwîm degenerating into asfal sâfilîn. This is a major disgrace, the best of religions for women behaving as the worst. As Malcolm X said, the fate of a nation depends on how it treats its women.
If some mullas insist on absolute apartheid between men and women, that is going to an extreme (and one could point out several examples from the Sahâbah to contradict it), and good Muslims shouldn’t go to extremes. The danger of total sexual apartheid is that Muslim women become marginalized, have no say in their lives, no voice, no access to decision-making that affects their lives; it seems more a matter of the male elite protecting their privilege of power by treating women as infants.
There are many examples from the very earliest Islam of Muslim women exercising their God-given rights and freedoms to the fullest extent, rights and freedoms which the mullas of later generations succeeded in denying to them. If Muslim women were able to make their voices heard instead of being suppressed by this extreme apartheid, then men in Muslim countries could not so easily get away with beatings, burnings, rapes, and denial of basic human rights like education, employment, and medical care.
In the original Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, the women and men all prayed in one open space, with no sexual apartheid. The best mosques that I have seen in America follow the Prophet’s model. In a few enlightened mosques, like the ADAMS Mosque in Virginia,, the women pray in the same large room as the men, they can speak to everyone, and they can vote in mosque elections and be elected to office (they recently nominated a woman for vice-president in a mosque election; now let’s see one become president!). I love that mosque because it is a family-friendly environment; whole families can attend together in an open, welcoming atmosphere. The mosque needs to be responsive to every Muslim in the community, equally. I chose to live in this community because the mosque here accords my wife and daughters their full dignity as spiritual human beings.
Source: Yahya M’s Islam site