Source: The Guardian
By Remona Aly, who is a journalist and commentator with a focus on faith and lifestyle. She is also director of communications for Exploring Islam Foundation.
Mosques are opening their doors to the public, but too many keep them closed to practising women. The Open My Mosque campaign aims to change this
On Sunday more than 200 mosques invited the public through their doors to boost community relations and diffuse tensions over a cuppa. It’s the fourth annual Visit My Mosque day, led by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), growing steadily in popularity and reach over the years. But less well known is the Open My Mosque campaign, a social media project led by British Muslim women who are challenging and encouraging mosques to open spaces to women.
Of the 1,975 mosques in Britain, 28% do not offer facilities for women, and up to 50% of all South Asian-run mosques do not accommodate them. When mosques do offer it, the access is restricted, and often does not even include a prayer space, but rather a teaching space, such as a girls’ madrasa.
If you’re a woman, it’s far less likely you’ll get a foot in the door, let alone munch a samosa with the imam
The 36-year-old activist Anita Nayyar established the Open My Mosque initiative in 2015, which highlights how, if you’re a woman, it’s far less likely you’ll get a foot in the door, let alone munch a samosa with the imam. Nayyar has been documenting experiences of women across Britain who use words like “frustrated”, “isolated” and “humiliated”. Her team receives hundreds of calls, emails and social media messages from women (and men) who are grateful to have a platform to express their grievances.
“Women who feel excluded from the mosque face more exclusion than their non-Muslim counterparts,” says Nayyar. “If they cannot participate in religious life, then they can’t get involved in community life, and that increases the already existing lack of inclusion of Muslim women in public life.”
Being denied access to the mosque is an uncomfortably familiar experience for me, too. I once tried entering a mosque in Soho to perform the evening prayers, but out popped a man from a cupboard, shaking his head, and crying “No women!” I attempted theological reasoning but after a “computer says no” situation, I was forced to leave.
The “no women” remark has been hurled at me before, and it’s hauntingly reminiscent of “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs”. And even when there is space for women, it’s often cramped, fails health and safety regulations, or involves descending flights of stairs into a dodgy basement – which also ignores the needs of elderly and disabled people.