My personal thoughts on Islamic Topics, not a form of ijtihad rather than applying my mind.

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Location: Cairo, Egypt

Monday, January 28, 2008

No condolences for women! - La "Azaa' lelsayedat!

(picture from 'Me and The Mosque' - Zarqa Nawaz)

At times of loss in any family, condolences are offered to help the family members deal with their grief and offer solace and consolation to them in their bereavement. Losing my father was a heavy blow to me and I wanted to stand up for him, honour him in his death, as I tried doing in his life. Unfortunately I am a daughter, an only one at that! So it was a bit of a problem to get the condolence event at the mosque going the way I thought my father would have wanted it to go.

I could have chosen to have the traditional condolence event at my house, but the whole family decided that it would be better and more convenient for everyone to have it at the mosque and that was when I was confronted with the fact that being a daughter meant that I should have known better than to try standing up for my father.

When I called to book the hall at the mosque I asked if we could have one hall for women and men together and not the usual division of two halls, one for each gender. The man on the phone answered that it was totally unheard of, and when I insisted that there is nothing at all to stipulate or condone that division, he told me that I would still be paying for both halls even if I use only one. I agreed and all was set … or at least so I thought!

When we went to the mosque after maghrib prayers we discovered that they had indeed arranged both halls and made the relevant signs to direct people to their expected places divided by gender. I asked for the person in charge and reminded him of our phone conversation. He simply told me to go speak to the Sheikh, because he was the one who refused to recite the Qur'an if there were any women in the same hall with men.

I went to speak to the Sheikh, because nothing and nobody would have prevented me of standing at the door next to my uncles, sons and cousins to receive everyone who came to pay their respects to MY father.

There were two sheikhs inside the hall, who would be reciting the Qur'an interchangeably. One of them had a kind face and looked at me with an encouraging smile, while the other one had a very stern expression and gave me a disapproving look for daring to venture inside the hall reserved for men – and without permission too.

I greeted him and asked him what the problem was about having a mixed gender condolence event. He replied, averting his eyes so he didn’t have to be looking at me, that having women in the mosque was haram (forbidden). I replied that this was not a mosque, it was only a hall affiliated to a mosque to hold events at and that the presence of women in the mosque was not haram at all. I quoted a few hadiths to him, namely:
Narrated Ibn Umar: One of the wives of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab used to offer the Fajr (dawn) and the Isha (evening) prayer in congregation in the Mosque. She was asked why she had come for the prayer as she knew that Umar disliked it, and he has great ghaira (self-respect/possessiveness). She replied, "What prevents him from stopping me from this act?" The other replied, "The statement of Allah's Apostle 'Do not stop Allah's women-slave from going to Allah s Mosques' prevents him."

And: Narrated Salim bin 'Abdullah: "My father said, "The Prophet said, 'If the wife of any one of you asks permission (to go to the mosque) do not forbid her."

And: Narrated Abu Huraira said: The best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones the last ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones and the worst ones for them are the first ones.

And: Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Glorification of Allah is for men and clapping of hands is meant for women (if something wrong happens in prayer).

I told him that all these prove beyond any doubts that women have as much right to pray in mosques as do men and that we were not going to be praying now in any case, but gathering together to remember a good man in a hall even and not a mosque.

He kept his stern expression and told me that he wouldn't be reciting if women entered the hall, because it was not right. My answer: "that allowing women to go to colleges and to work in public places and to vote in elections, go to the markets or use public transport, all while mixing with men, is not considered a source of some horrific 'fitna', so how could being in a hall, affiliated to a mosque, 'God's house', be considered such a dangerous threat?" went totally under his narrow minded obstinacy. So I tried a different track. I recited the hadith to him namely:

Narrated Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: "Allah's Apostle said, "The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended."

And then I further poked him by asking if he wasn't sure of his own intentions while reciting the Qur'an if women where in the same hall?

That got a reaction out of him and he got angry and exclaimed: Sharrul Umoori Muhadathaatuhaa, wa kulla Bid'atin dhalalah, wa kulla dhalalatin fin-naar" (Translation: Every innovation is a misguidance and every misguidance leads to Hell fire.)

So I told him that this entire condolence event was a bid'a and the correct Islamic way was just to offer condolences at the gravesite saying: inna lil-laahi wa inaa ilayhi raaji'oon (We are Allah's and to Him we shall return), so since it was all a bid'a anyway, even with separating genders, then we might as well as do it the way we originally wanted.

He told me angrily that the customs and traditions are set and cannot be changed. I replied back that there should not be any dirrar or darrar (damage or inconvenience) and that if the urf (customs) contradicted the maslaha (benefit / interest) then the maslaha should rule and our family's maslaha was to have a condolence event where the entire family was allowed to be together and not separated by walls for no reason, neither religious, nor logical nor even commonsensical in this day and age.

I find it extremely offensive that, in our time, any Sheikh can prohibit a female from doing anything as normal as to attend her own father's condolence event, solely based on his own misogynist and outmoded patriarchal opinion. Is it not cruel to prevent a daughter from doing the last service to her father for no reason? To tell a woman that for whatever reason she cannot attend a service is to discriminate in a fashion that is totally removed from Islam. We seem to forget that the Qur'an states: "[6.119] ... and He has already made plain to you what He has forbidden to you..." If we cannot find a direct prohibition in the Qur'an, then no Sheikh, and no other single person, has a right to enforce any prohibition of any kind.

The argument that women 'distract' men from any spiritual endeavours or any other endeavour for that matter and that they arouse sexual urges rests on a completely wrong understanding of what it means to be human. This line of reasoning rests on the fallacy that men are too weak and merely seeing women lets them be overcome by an irresistible uncontrollable sexual urge which makes them forget anything and everything else, never mind the location or situation, in our case here honouring a decent and good man on his last journey. By such lopsided reasoning they imply that men are incapable of taking any moral responsibility for their behaviour and hence women must be invisible and hidden away and prevented from participating in the simplest of services just to allow men to keep their control. What does this say about men's ability to take full responsibility for themselves and others? On what understanding of human nature are these silly arguments based?

I was so angry and ready to launch another offensive on that Sheikh, when the second Sheikh intervened by saying softly : yassir wa la to'assir (make things easier instead of complicating them). Finally the stern Sheikh, muttering a whole barrage of astaghfirullahs under his breath, decided to allow the women to enter the hall, but only in a certain section.

I considered this a victory of progress and reason over blind taqleed and went and took my rightful place next to the men of my family, with the certainty that the time has come when women have to make up their minds that they should stand up to end the dictatorship of narrow-minded Mullahs ruling over their lives and to insist on doing what they deem correct as long as there is nothing (not nobody!) prohibiting them outright from doing so.