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Ten questions with Zohra Khaku from the BBC’s Muslims Like Us

zohra-khaku

What is it really like be a modern-day British Muslim? The BBC’s Muslims Like Us, broadcast at the end of 2016, sought to find an answer to this question, by making ten Muslims of different backgrounds share a house with each other. There was conflict, there was controversy, but there was also connection.

We caught up with Zohra Khaku, one of the housemates to find out more about the programme and her experience of sharing a house with ten complete strangers.

1. What made you want to appear on a programme like Muslims Like Us?

When talking to the producers of the show, I had been emphasising how strongly I feel about standing up and taking responsibility for our narrative as Muslims in the UK. When she asked if I’d come on the show, I couldn’t really say no!

2. What was it like staying in a house with ten random people?

At times it was brilliant – meeting new people, getting to know them better and experiencing the beginning of new relationships. We had some really fun moments including playing charades and staying up late talking through the night. Some bits were difficult – sharing a room with someone I didn’t know was hard, and the mess in the kitchen really bothered me!

3. Was there anyone you particularly got along with?

Mehreen! We got on really well, and are still in touch almost every day.

4. Was there anyone in particular you clashed with?

I found Abdul Haq’s views really hard to deal with. As you saw on episode two, it was particularly difficult for me when talking about coming from a Shia background. His views on it being okay to harm people who he deems to be ‘outside the fold of Islam’ really disturbed me, and I decided to challenge him. For the rest of my time in the house, every time Abdul talked about prejudice, I pointed out his cognitive dissonance and just couldn’t bear to listen to him any more.

5. Did you find there were a lot of differing views?

So many differing views! People came from such different backgrounds and life experiences, so as expected there were lots of opinions. Eventually we found a way to be functional, although many discussions were difficult and make for difficult viewing.

6. What would you say were the main points of discussion that you all agreed upon?

Nabil’s ‘Feed the Homeless’ activity was such a uniting time for the housemates. We all loved the values that the afternoon represented, and worked together as a team without any issues at all.

7. What were your main concerns going into the house, and how did the reality of the experience match with your initial expectations?

I decided to go in with a really open mind, so I didn’t really have many concerns. I told myself I’d be myself and go with the flow, and that’s what I did. The experience was intense, with some fantastic and some horrible moments.

8. What were your main takeaways from this experience, or what did you learn?

I learned a few things about myself. It seems that I cry when I’m angry and upset! And I learned that there are circumstances under which I would call the anti-terrorism police.

9. Do you feel the programme will help to change the image of British Muslims (either in a positive or negative way)?

I hope so! From some of the posts I’ve seen online and messages I’ve received already, a lots of people seem to have learned some things about Muslims, even if it’s just realising that Muslims are not a monolithic community.
Within the Muslim community I hope it causes some debate, but most of all, I hope that the idea that we need to stop judging each other spreads a bit more widely. I’ve seen comments already calling the group horrible names. At the end of the day, we’re taught to have good akhlaq (manners) and I think some of the comments online could do with a bit of that.

10. Did the experience change your perceptions of what it means to be a British Muslim?

I think I learned some things from the other housemates. Hearing their experiences around issues they deal with in their daily lives was as fascinating as ever. Peoples lives are interesting, and the housemates were no different. My own perception of what it’s like to be a British Muslim hasn’t changed.


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A tribute to my uncles who were gunned down in the Nazimabad attacks

brothers

You never think it’s going to happen to you… until it does.

Just over a week ago, I was in a queue with my four-year-old son. We were waiting for a train ride around the park near my parents’ house, when I received a phone call from my mum. It was the phone call that nobody ever wants to receive; the phone call that informs you of tragedy at home.

Five of my maternal uncles had been shot in Nazimabad, Pakistan. We weren’t sure who was alive at that point, but as we took to Twitter, the true reality of the horror was emerging. A ladies majlis, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW)) was taking place in a private residence; gunmen on motorbikes had opened fire, and three of my uncles, Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas, and Baqar Abbas Zaidi had been gunned down in targeted killings.

My remaining two uncles, Tahir Abbas and Nadir Abbas, and my 15-year cousin, Murtaza Ali Zaidi were in critical condition in the hospital. By the mercy of Allah, they have now recovered well.

Let’s be clear here; the attacks were sectarian, specifically targeting the Shia community. Later, the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took responsibility for the attacks. A spokesman for the group said: “There is no room for the enemies of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Pakistan”, a reference to Pakistan’s Shia minority.

It is important to note that whoever is behind these attacks, they are following a deviant interpretation of religion aligned to ISIS and al-Qaeda. This intolerant ideology comes from Saudi’s Salafi-Takfiris; they are a violent offshoot of mainstream Islam, and this tiny minority group is giving Muslims around the world a bad name.

In Pakistan, Shias are a persecuted minority who are still not free to practice their religion without fear of being killed for their beliefs. These attacks used to take place in public places, such as mosques, schools and hospitals. Now the attacks are taking place in private residences, which means people are not even free to practice religion in their own homes.

You think that these kinds of attacks happen to other people, but there are so many Shias being targeted, the chances are that you will know someone in Pakistan affected by these acts of violence. At the beginning of October, these same hardline groups killed my friend’s cousin, Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi, in a targeted attack, as he stood with his son outside his house. 

This is genocide, and it is specifically targeting the Shia community.

But this blog post is not an account of what happened that fateful day. You can read that yourself in the newspapers that have covered the event, including The Independent, The Guardian and The Seattle Times. The news made the front page of The Evening Standard last Friday.

This blog post is intended to tell you what you might not know about my mum’s brothers. I want you to know about their magnanimous personalities, about their humanity, and their values.

My mum’s brothers were very open-minded, tolerant, loving people who touched the lives of every single person they met. As I write this post, I know that there are not enough words to express the depth of the grief I am feeling, nor are words enough to explain how incredible my uncles were.

The Nazimabad firing took place during the Holy month of Muharram, when Shias commemorate Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. Ultimately, Hussain’s struggle was about freedom from oppression; about sacrifice to protect universal human values. My uncles lived with the love of the family of the Prophet (SAW) in their hearts, and they implemented these values in their everyday lives.

During the attacks, the gunmen attempted to gain access to the ladies majlis in the house. When they could not enter, they fired gunshots on the people who were sitting outside. As the gunmen came forward, Baqar Abbas Zaidi, my mum’s youngest brother, opened up his arms to protect  the door and to stop the killers from going inside the house. He was killed instantly as the gunmen opened fire on his chest.

I think about how many lives Baqar Mamu has saved through this fearless act of self-sacrifice. By standing between the door and the gunmen, he prevented them from entering the house, thus stopping further bloodshed and carnage.

My Mum’s eldest brother was Naiyer Zaidi, a British citizen who had resided in London for more than 30 years. He loved this country as he had spent most of his adult life here.

Every year, Naiyer Mamu would go to Pakistan to commemorate the events of the tragedy of Karbala with his family. He loved to read poetry, books and literature. After retirement, he spent more and more of his time reading about Islam, and he loved to spend his time in the company of learned Islamic scholars.

It is my view that religious conviction manifests itself in the values of humanity, and Naiyer Mamu’s personality is testament to this. He was kind, he was generous and he was incredibly humble. Moreover, he would view everything in his life as an example of God’s infinite mercy. His positive outlook on life and his ability to always see the best in people is incredibly inspiring.

The true essence of religion is about akhlaaq; it’s about how you treat your fellow human beings. When my paternal grandfather, Qaiser Hussain Zaidi passed away, Naiyer Mamu truly was a rock for our family, giving us so much support and kindness in a period of great difficulty.

Another uncle who was killed on that horrible day was Nasir Abbas, a US citizen. Nasir Mamu brought joy, happiness and laughter to every single person he met. In 2008, my sister and I visited him in the US. In only a few days, Nasir Mamu had such an incredible effect on me. He had what can only be described as a magnetic personality. He was so full of life; not only was he absolutely hilarious, but we would spend hours conversing with him about many topics, including philosophy, poetry, politics. He was incredibly open-minded; he didn’t care about who you were or where you came from. He treated everyone with the same love, respect and dignity.

I have been reflecting on the personalities of my mamus and thinking about what I can learn from them. They were all so positive in their outlook, always seeing the best in every situation.

I know that they would have seen even the way they left this world as an example of God’s blessings. They lived their life through the love of the values of the Prophet (SAW) and his Holy household, and they left this world in the same way. As I watch their funeral, I know the cries of “Labaik Ya Hussain!” would have comforted their souls. They have become shaheed.

I feel so honoured and privileged to have known them, and I feel so sad that they are no longer with us. But to have left this world in the way they did is no doubt a great blessing. They have given me a lifetime of beautiful memories, and to know that so many people around the world are remembering them so fondly, is a source of great comfort.

Please pray for the departed souls of Naiyer Mehdi Zaidi, Nasir Abbas and Baqar Abbas Zaidi.

Please pray for Muhammad Zaki Khan and Nadeem Lodhi, who were also martyred in this brutal attack and for the families of the injured and the deceased.

Please also pray for the soul of Mansoor Sadiq Zaidi.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
All images are copyright of Aliya Zaidi. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission.


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Qandeel Baloch: an outspoken feminist in a man’s world

“As a woman we must stand up for ourselves.. As a woman we must stand up for each other… As a women we must stand…“

— Qandeel Baloch

feminism cross-stitch

The tragic murder of the social media celebrity, Qandeel Baloch, is an eye-opener to societal attitudes towards women in Pakistan. This is a case which has divided the nation and exposed the contradictory and hypocritical attitudes towards women.

It is Baloch’s social media profile which divides people and emboldens the haters. While some commenters go far as saying her murder was justified, others act as nothing less than apologists. Many argue that “Oh yes, she should not have been murdered, of course…”, but then go on to shame her by commenting on her lifestyle and public profile.

There is no but. Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered and yet still, all the focus is on what the victim did. The focus should be on the patriarchal structure of Pakistan’s society, where women are seen as the property of fathers, brothers and husbands.

The truth is, Qandeel Baloch wasn’t murdered for being provocative. She was murdered because she challenged Pakistan’s religious establishment, making a mockery of the mullahs and exposing their double standards.

Sections of the media have called Baloch “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian” but she was so much more than that. It is disingenuous to compare her to Kardashian, who grew up in relatively affluent circumstances. Unlike social media celebrities in the West, Fouzia Azeem was born into poverty with few options in life.

“I want to give those girls a positive message who have been forcefully married, who continue to sacrifice.”

Raised in one of the poorest areas of Pakistan, she was forced to marry a much older man, who then beat her. It’s the same old story across Pakistan where girls are forced into marriage and then expected to live a life of hell where they are abused daily.

But Qandeel Baloch chose to take a stand and escaped. With little education and no support from her family, she took matters into her own hands and took to social media to make a name for herself. Her father called her “my son” because she alone supported the family.

In short, she learnt that in life, you have to depend on yourself.

“No matter how many times I will be pushed down under but I am a fighter I will bounce back. Qandeel Baloch is ‘One Women Army’.”

The videos are grainy and she wears the same outfits over and over again. There’s no sign of the privilege given to wealthy middle-class women like Kardashian. To compare her to similar social media darlings in the West totally ignores her back story and trivialises Baloch’s personal circumstances. It is not difficult to see why she went down the path she did.

People are free to ignore the content if they are offended. But both men and women comment on social media, calling Baloch a shameless slut, immoral, cheap, while at the same time, watching her videos and checking out her pictures for titillation.

You could question how a girl like Baloch could make a name for herself in an Islamic country. Pakistan calls itself an Islamic country, but I for one sometimes find it difficult to see Islam in Pakistan. This is a country where a qawwali singer is brutally murdered for simply singing about his passion for family of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A country where minorities are slaughtered on a daily basis. A country where one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abdul Sattar Edhi, is condemned as an infidel by Pakistan’s mullahs. Where Malala is dismissed as a Western stooge, and where a Nobel prize winner cannot even rest in peace long after his death.

“At least international media can see how I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t want to come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.”

But people tolerated Qandeel Baloch up to the point when all she did was post racy pictures of herself. It was when she started to speak out about women’s rights in Pakistan and when she sought to expose the double standards of Pakistan’s religious clergy that society decided enough was enough.

Qandeel Baloch’s murder is more than a so-called honour killing by an enraged brother. It is a direct reflection of Pakistani society, where women are still expected to silently submit. Qandeel Baloch, fearless, outspoken and brave, took life into her own hands and challenged the patriarchy. For that, she paid the ultimate price.

Image credit: Cross-stitch ninja via Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Syrian airstrikes: why Hilary Benn’s speech left me cold

robert-downey-jr“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

— Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

So earlier this week, our illustrious leaders decided to go ahead with airstrikes in Syria. I woke up the morning after hearing the news, feeling broken, deflated and hopeless. As I glanced at my three-year-old son, all I could think about was the innocent children and civilian casualties that will suffer as a result of this hasty, ill-thought-out military campaign.

The sheer hypocrisy and lack of human empathy in this whole situation is infuriating and staggering. I listened to Hilary Benn’s so-called “electrifying” speech in the House of Commons, but failed to understand why the media was raving about words that seemed so empty, so disingenuous, and so well-rehearsed. It is the rhetoric of Tony Blair all over again.

Almost two weeks ago, in an interview with the Independent, Benn argued against bombing Syria. So it is difficult for me to really believe in the weight of his words, since he seemed to change his mind pretty quickly about the whole situation.

This is politics without principle; without humanity and without empathy. In his speech, Benn spoke of the recent attacks in Paris, noting that: “If it had happened here, they could have been our children.” This is the rhetoric of pro-war propaganda. There should be no such thing as “our children” and “their children”. It should just be about our shared humanity. Does it matter who these children belong to, or which nation they happen to be born in?

The language used seems to imply that certain lives are just deemed less important than others. When talking about civilian casualties, Benn sought to distance himself from ISIS, saying: “Unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh, who target innocent people.”

The fact that this needs to spelled out is telling and worrying. Not having the intention to kill innocent civilians is empty and meaningless when you know  that military action will inevitably harm them. It is truly shocking that civilian casualties are talked about in such a flippant and casual way, as if their lives are somehow expendable.don't bomb syria

If the government was truly concerned about the civilian population of Raqqa, they would formulate a coherent military strategy to not only minimise the loss of life, but also have a long-term plan to deal with the consequences of airstrikes. It is blindingly obvious that nations that carry out military activity have a responsibility for the fallout and must know how to deal coherently with the aftermath of war. But what we’re hearing from our politicians is only about the immediate airstrikes with no consideration of what happens next.

Our politicians feel that they have to be seen to be doing something, anything, without really thinking about the effectiveness of airstrikes against Isis. As Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman, said in his speech to the Commons: “If what the government were proposing today, would in any way, not simply or not totally get rid of Daesh, but weaken them in a significant way so they would not go on behaving in the abominable fashion we see, I wouldn’t have any difficult in voting for this motion today. But there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that any kind that bombing Daesh, that bombing Raqqa, will result in an upsurge of other people in the region to get rid of them.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that going to war is playing into the hands of Daesh and giving them exactly what they want. The French journalist, Nicolas Hénin, who was held hostage by Mohammad Emwazi, said that military action was a trap that would only strengthen and benefit Isis.

During the Iraq war, politicians talked about winning the hearts and mind of the Iraqi people, though it never really developed much further than talking. It’s clear that a military solution hasn’t been effective in the past, so maybe it’s time to try something else. Hénin argues that the surest way to defeat Isis is to engage with the Syrian people, stating that “as soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.”

Today, The Independent reported that at least five Syrian children have been killed in an airstrike on a school in Raqqa. If you needed any more evidence of the emptiness of politicians’ intentions not to harm civilians, here it is. Despite assurances from Cameron, it is obvious that in such a densely populated area such as Raqqa, children and innocent people will inevitably be killed.

Some ten years ago, I joined a million people to protest against military action in Iraq. It was one of Britain’s largest anti-war demonstrations to date. The casual dismissal by the government of the voice of the people helps to explain some of the apathy and cynicism we see in politics today.

Today, as back then, it seems that politicians are not interested in listening to the British people. It’s a tragedy that Britain has learnt nothing from its mistakes of the past; today the British government will do what it has always done; bullishly enter a conflict without a coherent military strategy and without due consideration of the loss of life and resulting humanitarian crisis. It really does seem as if nothing changes.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

— George Orwell

Image credits: Neil Schofield via Flickr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/neil_schofield/23283725182/http://memegenerator.net/instance/57725519
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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I got 99 problems, but judging people shouldn’t be one

haram police

It’s  difficult to be a Muslim online these days; if you’re not receiving backlash from Islamophobic trolls, then you can definitely rely on your own community to take the position of judge and jury when it comes to your morality.

Okay, so I’m being a little facetious. But I see it time and time again, and we need to stop it. Right now. Because although the Muslim community has its fair share of problems, one issue that we can fix ourselves is to stop judging other people. If we all took it upon ourselves to be less judgemental, the whole community would benefit. Judgemental attitudes in the community are definitely a major barrier to Muslims progressing in this modern media landscape.

Let me explain. It’s somewhat true that Muslims are misrepresented by the mainstream media. It seems rare that your average Muslim-neighbour next door gets a spot on TV, and more often than not, the position of representing the token Muslim view often goes to extremists, such as Anjem Choudary.

But, on one hand you can’t complain that Muslims never get a platform while simultaneously judging anyone who tries comes into the limelight. If we want more Muslim-next-door types to come forward, we need to stop being so judgemental.

The internet and blogosphere is perhaps the best example of this. There are lots of Muslims doing good things online. But given that there’s so much judgement from fellow Muslims, you have to ask yourself, who would want to put themselves out there and represent the Muslim view?

For example, any Muslim who doesn’t wear hijab or wears hijab with make-up, or doesn’t wear the right type of hijab or wears the “wrong” type of clothing or who puts pictures up of themselves enjoying a concert or music of any kind (etc. etc. etc. Yawn.) immediately gets a selection of comments from other Muslims who think they know better, who feel they are in the privileged position of deciding who’s good and who’s not. It’s no wonder Muslims are reluctant to step forward.

The truth is that we all pick and choose our actions to some extent and nobody can claim to follow the religion to the letter. We’re all struggling with our own internal conflicts and sense of morality. It’s hard enough trying to be a good person yourself without having to worry about anyone else’s path in life or relationship with God.

Furthermore, if deep down inside, you feel you’re doing the right thing, you need to have the confidence to be true to yourself. Life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking or to worry about the judgement of others. If you don’t feel something is wrong, why pretend otherwise, simply for the sake of others?

One of the most basic tenets of the Islamic faith is bismillah, the declaration: In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful. If we really understood the essence of bismillah, then it really wouldn’t be possible for us to judge others are much as we do. If God is the most merciful, the most compassionate and the most just, then surely we need to leave judgement up to Him and Him alone.

If you believe in the justice of God, and you recognise your own pale insignificance in comparison, then logically, it cannot be possible for you to to judge anyone else. Because if you think you know just as much as God, then that has to be the highest form of arrogance. Moreover, by putting yourself on the level of being able to judge another human being, you’ve assigned partners to the Almighty. Therefore judging others surely leads you to committing a form of shirk. It’s a simple message; it’s basic, but please, let’s leave judgement up to the only one who we believe has the capacity to judge.

If we go one step further, it means that as Muslims we have no right to use anyone’s actions to judge who is a Muslim and who isn’t. In a recent interview, after being questioned about what it means to self-identify as a Muslim, Mona Eltahawy’s response was this:

“To say I’m a Muslim. That’s it … You see, when people ask you these observant questions, I know what the goal of this is, you’re trying to put people in a box and say oh you’re that kind of Muslim, oh you’re that kind of Muslim. All you need to know is that I’m a Muslim, and that’s essentially what the prophet said, that you’re a Muslim.”

All human beings are judgemental to some extent and it’s something we all struggle with. But if we want the Muslim community to be better, we must allow for different attitudes and try to avoid judging others. Afterall, diversity within the Muslim community can only be a good thing.

None of us truly know what pleases the Almighty or what anyone’s struggled with or what someone else’s true intentions are. If we believe Allah is just, we must leave judgement up to Him alone. Live and let live.

Image credit: http://www.quickmeme.com/Haram-police

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Lessons learnt: why don’t more women feel welcome in the mosque?

“Woman is a delicate creature with strong emotions who has been created by the Almighty God to shoulder responsibility for educating society and moving toward perfection. God created woman as symbol of His own beauty and to give solace to her partner and her family.”
Hazrat Ali ibn Abu-Talib A.S

barriers-to-faith-flickrLast month, Islamic centres around the UK joined forces to take part in the MCB’s VisitMyMosque initiative. Mosques taking part opened their doors to the general public and served tea and delicious cakes. However, rather than positive stories of communities getting to know one another, the initiative was overshadowed by Cathy Newman’s claims that she was ushered out of a mosque in South London. Through CCTV footage obtained, it is now apparent that Cathy turned up to the wrong mosque, and that the incident of ushering is at best, questionable, and at worse, probably not true at all.

Cathy has now apologised for “tweets sent in haste”; she’s now taken a break from Twitter. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a serious error of judgement on her part, and if there’s one thing we can learn from all this, it’s the all-too familiar modern-day adage “think before you tweet”.

But what else could the Muslim community could learn from this incident? Perhaps we need to scratch beneath the surface and ask why Cathy was so quick to assume the worst.

When there are any negative stories about Muslims in the mainstream media, it’s only natural that Muslims will jump on the defensive. That’s because the mainstream media paints an overwhelmingly negative image of Muslim behaviour, which is arguably grossly unfair. However, we also need to be insightful and self-reflective in order to move forward and improve our own internal problems within the Muslim community.

There’s no justifying what Cathy did, but perhaps she wouldn’t have assumed the worst, if the idea of a mosque being unfriendly to women was completely ludicrous. In this case, the incident was due to a mix-up, not sexism, but the fact is, many mosques could definitely do more to make women feel more welcome.

Sometimes it does feel as though some mosques are made for men. The men’s rooms are always bigger, and they always seem to get fed first, while women have to contend with not only waiting to feed hungry children, but also perhaps not getting any of the dessert. 😉

I can only think back to some of my own experiences of trying to visit unfamiliar mosques around London. I remember being pretty excited to find a local mosque close to my university and eagerly printing off Streetmap instructions for how to get there (Google Maps wasn’t around then – I am officially old). Then being turned away hurriedly at the door with the words “Brothers only, brothers only!”

As a working woman, I also felt it was quite difficult to visit mosques in the vicinity of my workplace in order to pray during the day. When I did muster up the courage to visit a local mosque in the City, I found that I was the only woman in the entire building. Moreover, there were no separate washrooms for women, so the Imam had to stand outside the bathroom to prevent men from coming in while I performed the wudu or ritual ablution. While a separate room was unlocked for me, in the end, I felt extremely uncomfortable being a lone woman in a mosque entirely filled with men, so decided I would be better off praying in peace in my own home at a later time during the day.

The imam did well to accommodate me as well as he could, but it seems that a working woman praying in a mosque in the city is perhaps a rare thing.

You could argue that these couple of incidents are one-off experiences that I’ve been unlucky to have faced. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that many Muslim women aren’t accommodated that well. In an article for The Independent, Sara Khan of Inspire argues that despite the Cathy Newman incident being a mix-up, many Muslim women have faced “very real, unambiguous discrimination.”

There’s a strikingly similar account to mine in an article for the Telegraph and Argus. The author, Nabeelah Hafeez, conveys her own terrible experience of trying to visit a mosque while at university.

And, in a piece for The Muslim News, Masuma Rahim recounts the time she tried to offer salat at the West End Mosque, but was told by the imam that she was “not allowed to pray there”. This, despite having prayed there previously, and the mosque having four floors of empty space.

It seems ridiculous that some imams are putting up barriers to offering prayers; these are people who are going out of their way to pray on time. Surely the role of the mosque is to make it easier to worship God.

There are similar accounts of women facing discrimination in the OpenMyMosque initiative. The campaign aims to highlight good and bad experiences of visiting UK mosques, via Facebook and Twitter:

Open-my-mosque

Posts from Open My Mosque on Facebook – click to expand in a new window

Check out the following tweet by the writer and activist, Raquel Evita Saraswati. It seems that in some mosques, men are often granted bigger areas to sit by default, regardless of numbers:

What about children in the mosque?

woman with child in the mosqueEase of access to the mosque seems to become even more difficult once you have kids, and this seems to be true regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. I’ve spoken to many mums who don’t feel comfortable bringing young children to the mosque because elders say they dislike the noisiness or complain of being distracted.

Furthermore, the lack of baby changing facilities or just a separate, private room to take your children if they need a nappy change, a feed, or just a handy time out can make many parents left feeling unwelcome or reluctant to visit the mosque.

This feels very strange to me. Surely, we should be making it as easy as possible to bring children to the mosque from a very early age, because undoubtedly, the next generation are the future of the faith. And it’s only when they become accustomed to sitting in the mosque from an early age, that they will want to visit of their own accord when they are older. Moreover, visiting the mosque regularly will allow children to socialise and make friends within their own community. Surely, that can only be a good thing.

Even with a separate children’s room, it would be better if some mosques allowed parents to make their own choices about allowing their offspring to sit in the main hall. Putting children in separate rooms often creates pandemonium, whereas in the main hall, children will eventually learn how to behave and sit quietly without distracting others. But, we need fellow Muslims to be understanding and sympathetic in order to allow this to happen.

There’s a good post which explores the importance of bringing children to the mosque in more detail by Aman Ali on Facebook. In this post, Ali recalls his own happy childhood experiences of running freely through the mosque and how this contrasts with what he sees as an adult.

The mosque he talks about had the sign “”NO CHILDREN ALLOWED IN THE PRAYER AREA”, though one father chose to ignore this sign and insist on taking his four-year-old son to prayers.  The dad in question said he often receives complaints and gets shouted at for bringing his child to the mosque.

This is just so sad. We have to ask ourselves what is all this for, if not to allow for the continuity of the faith. How can we expect the next generation to practice the faith, when they are discouraged from visiting the centres of worship?

Is change on the horizon?

Having said all this, it’s not all bad news, however. Mosques such as Hyderi, where Cathy Newman ended up visiting have women on their committees and women are welcomed to pray in the main hall.

Some women have decided to start doing it for themselves and are setting up their own women-only organisations to counter the discrimination they face. Earlier this year, the US’s first women-only mosque opened its doors in LA.

One mosque I frequently visit, Bustan-e-Zehra, has its own women’s section where programmes are organised by a ladies committee. Though more can always be done, it works pretty well, because the women have their own programmes with female speakers and everything is organised impeccably.

While it’s good that women are empowering themselves, the ideal situation is for mosques to improve conditions, to reduce discrimination and to welcome women openly so they don’t have to set up separate organisations for the basic right to worship the Almighty.

I’m pretty optimistic and excited about the opening of the new Salaam Centre. It certainly feels like a new type of mosque, as the project will grant Muslims from all walks of life a much needed community centre. The mosque will provide worshippers not only a place to pray, but also a means for Muslims to educate themselves, socialise, keep fit and much more besides.

The Salaam Centre offers a unique shared space for the community. Open to all, it aims to fulfil the physical, intellectual and spiritual needs of people from all walks of life, age and gender. Beyond the bricks and mortar, we seek to foster an environment of warmth, thought and creativity through the open interaction of users at the Centre, be it during a workout at the gym, a book club in the library or over coffee at the cafeteria. The Salaam Centre can become a place to enjoy with friends and family, a resource for work on projects and shared dreams, and ultimately a space to develop oneself and the community.

The Salaam Centre website

The opening of these new mosques and committees is definitely a positive step forward, but there’s still a long way to go. I’m reminded of the recent HeForShe campaign, because to really change things, we need to recognise that this isn’t a “women’s problem”. We need solidarity, with men and women coming together to implement change, because allowing access to the mosque regardless of gender, race, disability or anything else, truly benefits us all.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. 

Image credits: Barriers to faith, Farrukh via Flickr, Woman with child in a mosque, jankie via Flickr