Does a woman’s entry to a masjid or eidgah (a place where Muslims congregate for Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha celebrations) create fitna (distress)? If yes, then why not in the Hajj pilgrimage and Umrah (a lesser Hajj), where thousands of Muslim women gather and perform Hajj rituals such as tawaf (walking around the Ka’ba) and sa’I (running between the hills of Safa and Marwa) and ramye zamrat (stoning of the devil ceremony) along with their male counterparts? Why does the Muslim clergy not raise their eyebrows for this assembly?
India has the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Many women are sadly not allowed to enter many mosques and eidgahs (an open gathering place to perform prayers) in India. This is a basic right they should have. The reason we are offered is simple: A woman’s entry instigates fitna and the avertable male gaze.
Critiques tend to argue that Islam stipulates a separate enclosure for women and a strict purdah (veil) system. These two provisions are enough to counter the cynical clergy who are opposed to women’s entry into a place of worship. Interestingly, this clergy is not bothered about women mingling with men in cramped flea markets. I tend to see Batla House market in southeastern Delhi teeming with market-goers, with women jostling for their way, nudging and elbowing. The same crowd is not allowed to mix in a place of worship despite proper disparate arrangement.
The arguments of the clergy are not only flawed on the basis of reason; they are in gross violation of Prophet Muhammad’s directive: “Do not stop Allah’s women-slave from going to Allah’s mosques.”
The message is simple. The clergy should not defy the Prophet’s injunction and must allow women to enter into mosques and eidgahs. I concede that the Prophet has said that a woman’s prayer at her house is better than her prayer in a masjid. But that is only applicable when they offer prayer five times a day. This should not be applied when it comes to common religious gatherings like a Friday sermon or Eid prayers. These congregations are a major source of knowledge, as the sermons delivered in them are a hybrid of Islamic wisdom and day-to-day developments.
Prophet has given special instructions when it comes to Eid prayers. Um-‘Atiya reports: “We were ordered to go out (for`Id) and also to take along with us the menstruating women, mature girls and virgins staying in seclusion. The menstruating women could present themselves at the religious gathering and invocation of Muslims but should keep away from their Musalla.”
In fact, menstruating women are not allowed to perform normal daily prayers and fast in the month of Ramadan during their periods.
Ibn Abbas says that the Prophet would take his wives and daughters to the two Eids: Eid-ul-Fitr (Eid that marks the culmination of the month of Ramadan) and Eid-ul-Azha (Bakraeid, involving the sacrifice of an animal).
Imam Muhammad Bin Ismail al-Bukhari (author of “Sahih Bukhari”, the second most authentic book after Quran; died in 256 AH) specified one chapter as “The Preaching to the Women by the imam (guide) on Eid Day” and enumerated one hadith in that chapter which was reported by Ibn Abbas. Abbas said that the Prophet in one Eid finished his prayer and went straight to the women, gave them a sermon, advised them, reminded them of Allah and ordered them to give charity.
This is a clear indication that Islam accords equal importance to the participation of women in the Eid prayers. The only condition Islam lays down is a separate arrangement for women.
In India, some mosques and organisations organise Eid prayers for women with adequate measures such as separate enclosure, separate waju (ablution) system, and separate entry and exit points. But the majority of Indian Muslims are sceptical and scared of fitna. The former group should be hailed and the sceptics should follow in their footsteps.
The sceptics should take a cue from Maulana Khalid Firangi Mahali, the Imam of Aishbagh eidgah in Lucknow, who, last year, on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, took a bold and unprecedented step and allowed women to enter eidgah to perform Eid prayers. The decision grabbed the national headlines and was widely applauded by the media, Muslim rights groups and civil society.
In her statement, Shamina Shafique, women’s rights activist, who admired the Imam and urged the Muslim community not to restrict it to Eid only. Shafique further remarked, “It is a matter of great happiness that Maulana Mahali has taken such a historic step. This should have been done much earlier. I am sure women will go to mosque in large numbers and pray.”
A similar landmark decision was taken by Maulana Kamaluddin Sanabili who accommodated around 300 women’s entry to choti eidgah in the Gunnaur town of Sambhal district in Uttar Pradesh. The decision got a mixed response. It was hailed on one hand and denounced by the local maulvis on the other. But it was a good start. The local clergy will sooner or later take a cue from it. This will also encourage an ordinary Muslim to raise questions about the established norms instead of following Islam blindly.
Last year, when Muslim women decided to move a petition in India’s apex court seeking the top court’s intervention in granting them an unrestricted entry into places of worship. Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, said that Muslim women could enter mosques. “Islam gives permission for women to enter and pray inside.” And he lambasted male chauvinists in the community for barring women inside many smaller mosques. Smaller or big, women should and must not be interdicted from entering mosques or eidgahs.
Prophet Muhammad’s instructions are unambiguous, as it is evident from Um-‘Atiya’s Hadith, in which all sorts of women – virgins, married and the elderly – were commanded to attend the Eid prayers, including the menstruating women. Prophet Muhammad taking out his own wives and daughters also indicates that women should not be prevented from taking part in Eid prayers.
I wish that the forthcoming Eid will usher equitable access for Muslim women in places of worship. This is an absolute right, granted by the Almighty and His Messenger Prophet Muhammad, and should not be infringed upon.