Reflections on women’s space in mosques

I visited perhaps my favorite place in Istanbul today, the Sultan Ayyoub Ansari mosque and shrine … I came away feeling a bit destroyed instead of spiritually renewed.

It was early in the day, before dhur prayer. There was no prayer going on, but the imam was giving a lecture. There were maybe around 60 men in the main space, meaning it was mostly empty. I joined the few women who prayed in the back of the main hall, behind the small wooden rails where women usually pray. After a few minutes a man came and shooed at us, telling us to go upstairs. I ignored him the first time, then gave in on the third shooing and went up.

The stairs were narrow, cramped, steep, and circular. Treacherous really. I went up and there were about ten women on the balcony area. I started praying, asking God’s mercy and blessings for my family, friends, for Adnan’s hearing, for the health of loved ones, etc etc. Then I looked over and saw a woman emerge out of the stairway door. Except she wasn’t standing up. She was crawling.

She was the first of a number of very elderly women who crawled up those awful stairs on their hands and knees. One of them dragged her cane with her. They would get to the top, then have to be helped to stand up and wobble over to a place on the carpet to pray.

That pretty much broke me. I can’t remember the last time I wept, really wept. I had already been shooed away from a number of mosque doors that were the domain of men only, but this really broke me. What has happened to our men? Where is the mercy and compassion of our Prophet (saw)? How many would send their own elderly mothers up such stairs to sit away from…from what? From prayer?

Balconies and basements across the Muslim world are full of us, sisters, daughters, wives, and yes mothers – the same mothers who carried you for almost ten months, squeezed you out of her body through a passage that ripped her apart, raised you for decades. And in return you send her crawling through back doors, hidden in basements and balconies like something obscene, crawling on hands and knees just to get to a place to sit and worship their God, all so men can assert their control. Their control in a house and on a God that doesn’t belong only to them. God and His places of worship belong to us all. In a religion where both God and Prophet repeatedly emphasize the status of mothers and women, where our history is full of the voices and stories of women teachers and leaders, we are truly at a low.

Muslims face many challenges today, but there is nothing more soul crushing to be oppressed by those who are our brothers in faith. The same men who should be respecting, elevating, protecting us instead are primarily responsible for degrading, marginalizing, dehumanizing us. Muslim men cannot expect or deserve the respect of the world when they deny it to the women in their lives.

When Muslim women attend the mosque, they are not your property. They are guests of God. They are in His house. They are dressed respectfully, purified through ablution, with hearts full of prayers, difficulties, pain. While you spread out comfortably in spaces half-full, with access to all doors, windows, and light, our prayers are said in discomfort. But I bet our prayers carry more weight because we go through so much just to say them. God sees it all, and if these men think on the Day of Judgment they will not be held to account for what we have put up with, and put through, for centuries, they’ve got another thing coming.

I watched my daughter play with one of the elderly women, who gave her candies. Another, seeing me cry for quite a bit, came and gave me sweets and a gift of prayer beads. I felt better knowing that the unkindness of the men didn’t strip the kindness from the hearts of the women. But I have no hope that it will ever be any better in the future, I am certain that even my daughters will become the mothers shooed away into third-class citizen spaces.

I am sick and tired of it, but no matter what will not abdicate God or my faith to this. It is all an affront to our religion.

Shame … on the men who send their mothers crawling on their hands and knees.



This reflection was shared as a Facebook post by Rabia Chaudry.

Photo Credit.


  • NiKe says:

    “How can one love an invisible God when you cant really love the visible living being around oneself ? ”
    Courtesy to a Regional Film from India

  • Letty Baker says:

    I will contribute to a fund to build a mosque for women, it that is possible? This must become a big topic of discussion-and shame to males who condone this.

    • asmauddin says:

      Letty, have you heard about the Women’s Mosque of America? If not, please check the sidebar on this website and you’ll see a link to all of their Friday sermons!

  • I am not a Muslim, so I can only tell you from a Christian perspective. If there is love in your upper room then your struggles to get up there can only bring you closer to God. We are taught to love one another because love is from God, that everyone who is born of love also knows love.

    Those who love have a desire to be with each other, side by side in prayer and worship. because their focus is 100% on God not on the division of souls.

    Ultimately mothers have the tender years of their children, they plant the seeds of love and wisdom in their children’s hearts. If mothers bring their sons up to be men who will be enduring, forgiving, caring more for others than for self, not wanting what they don’t have, not proud or forceful, self controlled, who don’t keep account of wrongs, who don’t revel in another’s misfortunes, who take pleasure in truth, who love and trust God always, who to always look for the best and who never look back.; then they will grow to be men of good conscience who will instinctively know God’s heart for injustices and the oppressed, especially women in every circumstance..

    The women have the power to make the changes, all it takes is one generation, to make that change, they only have to be convinced of it

    Peace my dear sisters and friends of Muslim faith.

  • Ash says:

    Carol, I don’t think it’s fair for you to place the blame for these men’s actions on their mothers for not raising them to be “men of good conscience.” There is more influence on the growth and development of a child than the mother alone, especially in a patriarchal society that already does what it can to silence women’s voices.

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