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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reality,Rights and Responsibilities

Quraysha Ismail Sooliman(Journalist and Lecturer Political Science,UP)


17years into a democratic South Africa and the clutches of apartheid still strangle the Muslim community. Narrow visions and fear of intrusion have prevented the best of scholars from facing reality. The reality of an opening and globalized world where every man carries his own destiny, his own burden and his own responsibilities. That Allah has given us free choice and that with that right is the responsibility that comes with each choice we make.


And in this reality, women from the west are embracing Islam- not because we have reached out to them (

in fact, we have remained still very much shrouded in an apartheid mentality and we endorse the idea that Islam in South Africa is an Indian privilege)but because of globalization and the opening of the world’s borders whether through technology or migration or relocation.


So when the prophet Muhammad (SAW) instructed us simply to ‘not prevent the women from the mosque’ his incredible

naseeha (advise)carried a vision of a world that would still evolve from the time and context in which he lived. The mosque was always to be the centre of learning and development, the centre for creative thought, building Islamic unity and strengthening good companionship.


As the function and utility of the mosque vanished and instead it became only a place of prayer, then so too did the Islamic spirit start to wane and weaken. And in striving to revive the Islamic spirit, communities the world over are restructuring the functions and utilities of the mosques so that Muslims can start to rebuild themselves spiritually.


And part of this restructuring includes a space for women in the mosques- even the small Island country of Maldives has women’s prayer facilities in every one of its mosques. Female tourists do not have to stand in the street whilst their husbands pray, they are equal in prayer and equal in their rights to have access to a place of prayer, especially when they are not at home.


Western women(see the email below from Sister Bonnie who is a revert Muslim from New Zealand) who embrace Islam in a globalized world need access to a mosque or Islamic community centre where there is on-going instruction, stimulation and inspiration. This religion is not of hermits and monks- most of the greatest acts of worship are collective and demand a collective spirit.


It is for this and many more realities that we have been campaigning for the right of women to attend the mosques. This right does not mean a negation of the female’s responsibilities nor her ignorance in answering to her Creator about the conditions she needs to fulfil when she leaves her home for any reason what-so-ever(

the conditions are not limited to attending the mosques alone), but it is a right that is necessary for specific and important realities.


These include: when the woman is travelling, working in a city where her work place is not conducive to private prayer and there is a mosque nearby or if she is a revert and her parents do not know of her Islam and she cannot tell them and hence the only place she can pray in safety and peace is in the mosque, otherwise she cannot pray at all. This last scenario is a growing reality and three young ladies at the University in which I lecture have been in this predicament. They can only pray salaat when they come to the campus mosque or when they are near the DuToit Street mosque, especially for iftaar and Maghrib in Ramadaan and the Eid prayer. 

It is here that they actually get to be a part of the Islamic community and experience the Islamic brotherhood, celebrating the praises of Allah with the takbirs of the Eid salaat or sharing a meal at iftaar provided by the generous.


If these facilities did not exist, it would be extremely difficult for these sisters to incorporate the prayer into their lives or learn how to pray let alone learn to pronounce the Arabic

tasbeehaat in the starting and most crucial phase of their embracing Islam. And they would be denied the benefit of the essence and virtue of Ramadaan and the Eid- again, both of which are closely tied to a community and collective spirit.


Women have rights to attend the mosques and those rights carry with them responsibilities- it is up to us to master both.


The men need to restructure their thought on women’s rights to bring it into accordance with the Quraan and Sunnah and at the same time, we need more pro-active programmes, education and engagement in the mosques. The reality of the globalised economic world means that women leave their homes for work or travel, other women are reverts with no access to a community or private home space, hence they need access to the mosque to pray-

and this does not mean that demanding the right to pray in the mosques implies that women will be praying in them all day, each day, 5 times a day. 

Part of the effort to cater for the reality of Muslim women in the market-place has been the increasing number of ‘jamaat-khanas’(JK) in various shopping malls, airports and restaurants. If this is not a ‘make-shift’ mosque, then what is it? It certainly isn’t ‘one’s home’, so how come it’s ok for women to pray in the JK but not in a mosque?


To claim that the women are ‘out of control’ and cannot come to the mosques, is to blow hot air. If the men were serious about bringing the women to Islam, they would have made a conscious effort to provide alternatives to the ‘mall and makeup’ for the women. This would mean encouraging women to attend daily classes in the mosque closest to their homes where there should be all sorts of social and spiritual programmes. But this requires effort, commitment, preparation and of course time. Are the men prepared to give any of this to the Muslim women?


Many men are(see below), but in some parts of South Africa it suits the men to ignore the Muslim women’s rights to spiritual and educational up-liftment. So let them cook the biryani and serve the tea instead! Men deserve spiritual and culinary rewards, as for the women..?


There are realities, and there are rights and then there are responsibilities. Why is it so difficult to embrace all? Unless of course, we are too comfortable and too complacent.> On 17 Dec 2010, at 16:05, Bonnie Kurt wrote:>> > Salam Sister> >> > I really hope you don't mind me emailing you like this but I kind am> > left with no other option, I found your email address whilst> > researching Arabic Islamic ladies networks. I am a New-Zealand revert> > who came to live in South Africa six weeks ago, when I was living in> > New Zealand I attended Arabic classes, Ladies Quran classes, attended> > many lectures for women on various Islamic subjects and of course> > prayed every Friday at the Mosque. Since I have come here I have found> > nothing available for ladies, I was even reduced to tears when I> > learnt that females could not pray at virtually all mosques. Because I> > am new to Islam ( I only converted this year) I really need all the> > help I can get, do you know of any classes or anything like that> > available?> >> > I am living in Centurion but am able to drive> >> > Thank you so much for any guidance you are able to give me on this> > matter> >> > Bonnie 

So who will stand for the Muslim women? And where should the travelling women, the revert women, the women shopping in the malls and it’s prayer time pray if the home is not at that point a realistic option? These are realities challenging Muslim women today- will those who deny women their rights provide an alternative?