Washington DC Mosque – Muslim Women Demand End To Sex Segregation Again
Last month, a Muslim woman by the name of Jannah bint Hannah led a group of Muslim women in gatecrashing the main prayer hall of the Islamic Center of Washington to demand an end to sex segregation in mosques in America. That demonstration was broken up by Washington DC police but the Muslim women said they would continue with their struggle on this matter. This week, true to their word, risking arrest, the Muslim women returned to the Islamic Center of Washington to repeat their action and their demand for an end to sex segregation in mosques.
Whereas the February protest managed to gather 20 Muslim women, this time round the demonstrating group consists of 6 Muslim women. According to press reports, this group is led by Fatima Thompson, an American Muslim who converted to the faith 18 years ago.
The 6 Muslim women, with hair covered by headscarves, entered the prayer hall of the Islamic Center of Washington through the main door. They then joined 20 other Muslim men present to pray. The main prayer hall is the domain of male worshippers. Female worshippers have their own prayer room at the side, which is much smaller, the entrance door of which is hidden behind a screen.
What is the purpose of this demonstration? Fatima Thompson explains: “Wooden barriers have to be taken down and women have to be allowed to join, to pray behind the men in the main praying area. That’s our request. We are against gender segregation, against the fact that women are put aside or in a totally different room at the mosque.”
Fatima Thompson added: “The general issue we are pushing is gender segregation and the ramifications it fosters. It’s not healthy, and not reflective of our society here. It’s very reflective of very restrictive, ultra orthodox societies.”
Asra Nomani, a leading Islamic feminist who led a similar protest in West Virginia, said last month: “We have this generation of American Muslim women who are saying ‘look, you want us to go to Harvard, to rise to the highest level of Wall Street firms and you want us to sit where in the mosque?’”
Speaking about this month’s protest, Asra Nomani said: “If you are black in this country they can’t tell you to sit in a corner but if you are a woman they can.”
So how did the protest end? Well, like the way the first protest last month ended. DC police were called in to evict the Muslim women. The imam presiding over the prayer meeting announced: “We are going to wait, because some people came to disturb the prayer, until the police come and take care of this issue.” Then he added: “It’s disgusting. If they are Muslims they have to follow the rules.”
The police came, and promptly ordered the 6 Muslim women out or face arrest. So what did the women do? Well they left alright, but they regathered on the street outside facing the metal gates of the mosque to perform their prayers. One male onlooker offered this hopeful advice to the women: “Build your own mosque.”
Did the women expect to resolve things that day? Jannah bint Hannah who led last month’s protest said: “We may not get to see that in our lifetime but we do that for our daughters.” She added that she would continue to fight for shared prayer space.
But the women were encouraged by a comment made by Bachir Kardoussi, a lecturer in comparative religion at the University of Constantine. He said: “Traditions control Islam at the moment, and that’s not the same as Islam.”
Think about it. Is Bachir Kardoussi correct in saying that Islam that is controlled by traditions is not Islam? If so, is there any branch of Islam that is not influenced by traditions? For that matter, is there any religion in the world that is not influenced by traditions?