Women at the Mosque: shrinking, hiding, triggering


Three weeks in a row I’ve been going for jumah this January. I’ve been trying to be mosqued again. “Get off your butt and get involved,” I’ve inwardly yelled at myself for years. “How can you complain when you don’t involve yourself?” Everyone who watches the Unmosqued film tells us this. At all those community assemblies, the imams and directors say, “Dear sisters, how can you change anything if you don’t come?”

It’s a familiar cycle. I go to juma; I feel like shit; I stop going; then I feel like shit for not going.

My husband went with me. He just goes in, prays, and leaves. He’s not aware of anything but stinky socks near him.

I lug my body around – my woman’s body.

I am conscious of all parts of my body as if they were 500-ton breasts, a 900-ton vagina, 1000-ton buttocks, and 20 tons of hair on my head. I’m aware of my wrists and ankles too now. I’m triggered. 

Today I wrote the current front-page story at http://sideentrance.tumblr.com/

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this one: http://sideentrance.tumblr.com/…/1698634…/no-space-for-women 

bosnianTwo weeks ago, at a local mosque (Mosque A) I found there was no space for women. I wasn’t a category. I parked myself in the corridor to pray.

Then I went to another last week, (Mosque B) and was in a no-sightline balcony. Chandelier. I stayed in the hidden balcony for the khutbah (there were no other women, and the main musalla was about 10% occupied anyway). Then I hurried down for the prayer, putting myself carefully in an unobtrusive corner – I’ll be here, guys; I won’t bother you or contaminate you. If I go back and do the same thing, will they ask me to retreat? I don’t know. Maybe I won’t go back. It’s a calculation.

26733996_1547097822003896_8662317172885949960_nA sightline-balcony is an effort to do an at least. Here goes:

Today, at a desi/Arab large mosque (Mosque C) when I entered the women’s area, my first thought was, ‘oh hell no’ as I saw women sitting in a closed little room with no visual access to the congregation and imam, listening to audio of the khutbah. But then I followed the staircase to the balcony. This is interesting. You can see the main congregation (because, well, the men’s congregation is the main congregation, right?) and the imam for 2 structural reasons: a) the balcony isn’t so high as to make visual access to the lower musalla impossible (you know, when you only see the chandelier, as was the case last week for me) and b) the balcony is headed by a glass wall, not concrete/wood. Fear not, though: the glass is one-way. No men may sneak a peek into crowds of abayah-clad grandmas. Phew.

(So, recommendation for new masajid: if you REALLY don’t want an inclusive main musalla big enough to accommodate women, – which is what you SHOULD have – think about a LOW balcony with a glass wall.)

Last week, for example, at Mosque B, I could see the chandelier, and if I really peeked over the wall, I saw the balding heads of men. (Caution: very sexy heads).

26239875_1547097772003901_1761105767561498546_nSo at least today I could see the imam through a one-way glass.

I am no fan of at leasts. I don’t want to attend your At Least Mosque. I don’t want my daughter to attend your At Least Islamic Center. I don’t want her thinking of herself as an At Least. I want her thinking of herself as enough. In charge.

But at least (see?) I have a place to occupy there. Even if it’s a place that tells me I must be hidden away, I must shrink. An assigned place, right?

But shrinking and hiding are triggering.

Shrinking and hiding in hidey-holes remind me of awful situations. Like listening to a man beating his wife in a room, as I hammered on the door outside to stop him. Like locking a door and standing outside it with another woman, as a man hammered on it, threatening to hit both of us. Like standing at a bus stop, shrinking into a corner. Like being in an alley-way, as a drunk guy yelled misogyny at me.

Shrinking and hiding aren’t benign things. They are triggering. Calligraphy on the walls doesn’t make them better.

And what’s more triggering is when someone – male or female – confronts you and your body, touching it without permission, with demands to cover it or hide it.

When I entered the mosque (Mosque C), on the bright side (we look for bright sides) we entered together. Small victories, right? We go in through the same entrance – and I realized how much of a difference that made to me, that I can occupy the same spaces as the men. My husband and I walked in together.

It was a political sort of day, as Toni Preckwinkle was in the lobby, introducing herself as contesting the Cook County Board president position again. So women were present in the lobby at tables and booths. This made a difference later, as Ms. Preckwinkle was introduced via microphone and she spoke to the entire congregation. Lucky you, I thought to myself. (But she’s non-Muslim, so she’s free. Like Angelina Jolie was.)

So at Mosque C, after the khutbah (long story, into which I will not go, but folks need some education into how preaching against fahsha and zina does not sum up issues of consent, Larry Nassar, etc.; issues of consent need to be raised separately) and namaz, I got up to leave.

Suddenly I heard someone call out, “Excuse me,” and I thought, “Oh, someone wants to talk to me. No one ever wants to talk to me.” So I turned with a smile.

Lady in abayah, total stranger, comes up to me, grabs my wrist – not gently either, but pretty firmly YO PEOPLE LEARN NOT TO TRIGGER OTHER PEOPLE WITH YOUR BODIES BACK OFF AND DON’T GRAB OR I WILL SLAP YOU. Then she grabs my nice ¾ length sleeve, and tugs it down, saying irritably, “you must cover!” 

How many times has this happened in the past?

Listen, girls. I am now almost 50 years old. I am not playing nice anymore.

I tugged my arm away from her, and snapped sharply, with my palm out at her in a back-off gesture: “I’M FINE. I am FINE.” Then I pointed to the heavens and said (she’s not a native English speaker): “Your heart. It’s about your heart.”

But then, I thought, no, it’s not just about your heart. It’s about bodies too. And she needs to learn to respect bodies.

As she walked away, I called out to her – just as she had called out to me. She stopped and turned, and I said, nice and audible: “ And don’t grab my arm again. OK? Do NOT touch me.”

Her eyes darted, shame coloring her face, as she realized other people could hear me. I am not embarrassed anymore. But you touch me, I will embarrass you.

Why can’t people respect each other’s bodies in holy places of prayer and contemplation? Why don’t women – especially – realize that putting your hands on others to grab and stop them and tug their clothes is unacceptable?

You can preach to us to attend and participate. But if every aspect of this space triggers us negatively, there is no way we will attend.

Teach your congregants better. Respect others’ bodies.

As my husband and I exited, a big man in a nice heavy coat was parked in front. He asked my husband for money. Then he parked himself in front again, in the line of worshippers. A panhandler who’s probably not even a mosque attendee doesn’t have to shrink and hide. Because he’s a man.

I’m all upset now. My heart is disturbed.

All my struggles through my life, carrying a woman’s body around, have rushed back to me. The threat, the ever-present threat of being grabbed, of being invisible, of being hurt, are back again.

I swear, I have been trying these past few weeks to return to being mosqued.

My efforts are waning and my heart is weeping. 


13 thoughts on “Women at the Mosque: shrinking, hiding, triggering”

  1. Stay and pray at home like a good Muslim woman is suppose to do. Men always bend over backwards for you in ways they have no need do.

    1. Thank you for this. I applaud your honesty, your compassion and your faith. I too struggle with the same issues in Judaism. Thank you so much.

  2. So much of the shrinking and invisibility of women (& not just in the Mosque space) … Have felt like this all my life in ‘religious circles’ by both sexes. Now that I’m in my forties, I find that I itch to call it out! Baiting for a fight…. Yes! Very triggering and raising aggression in me.

      1. No…Don Quixote. Keep fighting imaginary battle with your 900 ton vigina, and 1000 ton butt, sounds like your real battle might be putting down the double cheeseburger. PUT THE BURGER DOWN!!

  3. This is such a beautiful, painful essay. I think you’re brave and wonderful for finding the at-leasts AND for not settling for them. I hope that you will find a mosque that works for you.

    (On a personal note, this especially resonates for me because I tried hard to stay in the evangelical Christian church for sake of community after losing my faith, but I couldn’t find a space that didn’t think I was going to hell, and all LGBTQ people along with me.)

    1. Thank you for writing, Serene. I hope you find a welcoming community space where you can worship as a beloved member and without being rejected in such an awful way.

  4. I recognize this story all too well. That’s why I was unmosqued for years.

    And because of anti-black racism amongst many non-black Muslim POC, I as an Afro-Surinamese woman has also experienced racism.

    I finally discovered a nice Javanese-Surinamese mosque and a West-African mosque, where women are welcome, too.

    I have also written a bit about my experiences: https://rosalindawijks.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/threatened-in-a-mosque-in-april-2015/


    Sending you salams, love & solidarity. And yes, there is a moment to stop being “nice” to those who don’t respect you, intimidate you and try to terrorize you away from your own place of worship.

  5. You think you have it tough? Think about all the community members who are muff munchers, chutney ferrets and turd burglars! They aren’t even welcome at their own homes, much less the masjid! We all know the story about when Parveen Auntie found out her son was a poo stabber, and beat his botee with a sotee!

    1. I’m sorry but my family and I are laughing out loud at your colorful language. I had to google much of it though. You’re absolutely right though. The level of exclusion and and bigotry they face is extreme.

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