In a March 27 webinar, seven major organizations (including Women in Islam, ISNA, and CAIR)Â released their third report on American Mosques in the US, this time on Women and the American Mosque. The report is simply excellent!Â You can read it at: http://www.hartfordinstitute.org/The-American-Mosque-Report-3.pdf
The main findings of the report are that fewer than half of US mosques are welcoming of women, as measured by four criteria: attendance of women at Friday prayers, use of a curtain or divider to separate women (a practice that has actually increased over the past twenty years), women’s programs and groups, and women’s participation in mosque governance. Comparing mosques using the four criteria, it was found that those that were most welcoming to women (i.e., met all four criteria, or 3 out of 4 criteria) were W. Deen Mohammed mosques, while those that scored poorest (0 or 1-2 criteria) followed the Salafi approach. Results are also correlated with ethnicity of the congregation, and birthplace of the Imam. The most interesting results, I thought, classified the mosque according to its approach in interpreting Islam:
– looking to the purposes of Quranic text (what we try to do in our Quran Study class), and interpreting and applying them to meet today’s circumstances (56% of mosques self-identify themselves under this category),
– following great scholars of the past (31% of mosques),
– following a particular school of thought (11% of mosques),
– following the Salafi approach (1%),
and correlating this classification with the measure of whether or not a mosque is friendly to women. The results: no method of interpretation made the mosques predominantly women-friendly, not even the “looking to purposes” approach.
The report recommends that mosques develop a strategic action plan to promote the participation of women, as measured by raising female attendence at Friday prayers from 18% at present to 33% over the next decade, offering space in the main prayer area for women to pray without a curtain if they so desire, including women on the mosque’s board, and supporting women’s inclusion in word and deed (in Friday sermons, programs, newsletters, lectures that interpret Islam, and on websites). The object would be to change the underlying belief that women’s presence in a mosque is a source of “fitnah” to a principle that the very dignity of the American mosque depends upon the presence of women. ISNA has stated that its No. 1 priority going forward will be masjid development, with women’s issues at the top of its list of things to improve.
Sisters, perhaps we should help too.Â May I suggest that each of us who attends or lives near to a local mosque should make a copy of this report, and give it to the governing Board with a request that that mosque develops its own action plan to include more women. Let’s see if we can get husbands to help with the request.Â They are intended to be our quwamma. All recognize that when women attend mosques, they bring their children, which strengthens the development of a sound Islamic foundation for the entire family.
I know some of us (myself included) have turned away from mosques as places that have failed to reinforce our Islamic faith. Perhaps with the aid of this report, however, it’s time to go back to mosques to make our concerns known. It would be a constructive way to renew the discussion on the interpretation of Islam to its original purpose, that of a protection and a spiritual renewal for men and women alike.