My Eid prayers; or, Why men and women need to pray in the same prayer area, or No More Balconies

This is what I saw during the prayer.

We went for Eid prayers to this masjid.

The people were nice. I should be specific: some were nice to my gora husband, and then to me. But as soon as I arrived, in the space of a few seconds, at least two people insistently told us “You have to go upstairs. That’s the women’s area. THIS is the men’s area over there. You have to go upstairs.”

Calm down. I’m not trying to check out your men. I’m all set.  

My husband introduced me to a man he’d met during taraweeh. We exchanged a few courtesies in the lobby. An officious lady started saying “Salah is starting, let’s go” and grabbed my arm and steered me toward the musalla. Maybe the sister was offended by my husband, myself, and a brother speaking politely with each other.

MIXING!! Who knows what’s going to happen next, right here in the lobby! 

People: as we say to our toddlers: “Use your words, not your hands!” I told her thank you, grabbed her hand and removed it physically from my arm as a (hopefully) clear signal. Yes, dear sister: I am going to the musalla. I am here at the masjid at the time of Eid prayer precisely because I’m going to the musalla. I am not here for the suffocating heat and the crush of people in the staircase. 

We settled in our places – my husband downstairs in the men’s musalla, and my daughter and I upstairs in the balcony. The dream of a family mosque remains in the future. Or elsewhere.

It’s ok, I told myself. Nice mosque. Nice community. Pray the prayer. Be a good example for your daughter. Roll with the punches.

Once the prayer started, the confusion began.

It’s important to know what the imam is doing. For Eid prayers, most of us do not rehearse Eid prayers during the year. Those of us who aren’t really diligent and meticulous forget the 7-takbeers in each rak’ah issue. Eid prayers, as you know, brings together a diverse congregation, many of whom do not normally attend congregational prayer. 

You could see that the balcony was longer than it was wide, so only the first row of women could see the imam and the congregation. I’m sure this was not deliberate. That is not the point. We should learn from the results of these architectural and structural decisions. Mosque after mosque is constructed and structured in such a way that women are left out in the cold.

Even I, who have been praying Eid prayers for decades, forget the 7 takbeers sometimes. Having others to follow and learn from is the whole point of congregational prayer and congregational practice.

But the imam was for men. We could not see him.

In the second rak’ah, the Allah Akbars started racking up, and there was disarray all over the ranks in the women’s musalla. Some are already in prostration. Some are in ruku’. Some are standing and doing takbeers like they ought to. My daughter next to me is down in sujud. I touch her arm to signal her to stand. As I do so, I realize that the standing-takbeers are over, and in the confusion, I too lost track of the count.

Over the bodies of a few prostrating women in the row before me, I can now – for the first time – see a glimpse of the congregation downstairs, and they are in prostration.

So I quickly go down. I’m annoyed and rattled.

Instead of praying, I’m shouting in my head, this is why we should pray in one prayer area.

It’s okay, folks, nothing will happen with men and women in the same area. We will all learn, in fact, from existing in the same and behaving in a moral fashion. And if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and this is the world Allah created with sexual instincts and biology, and we are navigating that by Allah’s will. 

Once the prayer ends, I try to calm myself, and remind my daughter to listen to the Eid sermon silently.

But the khateeb is mumbling. The only thing worse than a shouting khateeb is a mumbling khateeb.

The mike is ineffective. We cannot hear him. We hear snatches of And Allah says in the Quran [Arabic Arabic Arabic] [English English English mumble mumble].

It is pointless. I give up and take selfies with my daughter. I help out the young mom who is struggling to keep her toddler from escaping. It is a better use of time than trying to be silent for the imam.

Officious Lady is standing in the back glowering her disapproval.

And the Eid prayer is over.

3 Replies to “My Eid prayers; or, Why men and women need to pray in the same prayer area, or No More Balconies”

  1. Being a man, I can only imagine what women go through in the roof above or cellar below as they are the 2 typical places the women are sent during prayers. In the UK a lot of the Mosques still do not have facilities for women. Which means the mosque and subsequently the religion has become an “all men religion”. You have summarised the female experience quite well in this blog of yours. All i can do is pray that Allah makes it better for women.

  2. Asalamu Alaikum.
    Thank you for your article. I am happy to see more women expressing their concerns. I genuinely think this is a serious problem of our time, and the community needs to take a stand to change it. Reading about this issue over the years, I don’t understand the resistance the community has had to changing things. I remember complaining to my mother that I thought the inequality of female prayer spaces was offensive (especially as a man who has 3 sisters)…and she fought against my statement and was happy with the status quo and argued I was trying to modernise the religion. I wasn’t. I was trying to save the people’s hearts in a growing community which is dissatisfied. Separating women from the mosque will mean cutting the lifeline of the community in the future. I pray that we mature as a community and see the value of equality for men and women in the masjid. See the importance of the family unit even in the masjid. Inshallah we will see some mosques embrace a more inclusive approach

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