Save the Sisters!


By AbdelRahman Murphy

I get some interesting looks when I suggest that the physical barrier that was recently put up between brothers and sisters for Jum`ah at my school be taken down. They probably think it is odd that a bearded, refreshingly conservative, practicing Muslim brother would dare suggest that there be nothing but chairs separating the brothers and sisters during the khutbah and salah. But I have good reasons.

It began last year, when the older generation of our MSA was completely phased out when the last few students who participated in the “glory years” finished their degrees and graduated. Then, a new group of brothers and sisters took the reins and inherited the responsibility of leading one of the largest Muslim student organizations in the State, if not the country.

For the most part, the new Shura (Council) kept with tradition in most practices of the previous MSA. The prior Council’s success with establishing such a large Muslim body on campus was proof that they were doing things right. So, it was a no-brainer to stick with what they did. There were a few things, however, that changed. One of them was the issue of setting up a barrier for our Friday prayer to physically separate the men from the women. This barrier, I was told, was to protect the khateeb from seeing the women while he was speaking, so he can focus and control his gaze. This was a more intense measure than what the previous MSA Council did; they usually lined up a row of chairs to designate and distinguish the men’s section from the women’s.

“Modesty,” you say, “is an important value in Islam, AbdelRahman. Shouldn’t you be a proponent of a tall physical barrier to promote ideals of modesty?”

That’s a great question, reader. I definitely support modesty between men and women in Islam, most definitely. But this situation is a bit different.

Anyone who has taken a speech class – scratch that, anyone who has ever talked to another human being knows that not all aspects of communication are verbal. When we talk, we may or may not make facial gestures, hand motions, and other physical movements to help get our point across. In fact, studies show that 70% of communication is rooted in something called paralanguage: an auxiliary form of communication that includes everything except speech. In this specific example, the aspect of paralanguage that is most important is called kinesics — more commonly referred to as body language. Putting it in simple terms, the motions a speaker makes during his speech directly improves or worsens the delivery of his message.

Do you see where I am going with this?

When I had presented this concern to the brothers who coordinate the Jum`ah khutbahs at my school, one of their responses was a small retort that shocked my ears and saddened my heart. With an uninterested face, he replied, “it’s not even obligatory for them to come anyways.”

In an event as important and essential as the Friday khutbah, we cannot compromise the effectiveness and impact that it can have on any of the attendees, and that includes the sisters. In fact, the sisters may be more important attendees in certain cases than the brothers. The average brother, though he may not realize it, has many more opportunities to interact with Islamic scholars, teachers, and personalities than the average sister does. For most sisters, the Jum`ah khutbah is the only time they can attend a direct discourse from a respected speaker, outside of conventions and special programs that come every so often.

Why have we adopted this mentality that “the sisters don’t matter, because they don’ t have to come anyways”? Just cover them up and let them stay in the kitchen and give birth to children. The message we are sending our sisters — the mothers of our kids, the mothers of our Ummah –- is that their jobs are menial at best. These same brothers who feel the need to unnecessarily force women behind a blanket are also those who complain most about the onslaught of liberalism and feminism against our sisters. If they would only realize that their unnecessary repression of Muslim women is a direct cause of the future mothers of our Ummah lashing out in rebellion. There is a balance we must achieve, however fine the line may be.

Living in America — and now more than ever – it is essential that we provide as many educational and social opportunities to our sisters as possible, and this includes the Friday khutbah. Do not let our sisters be spiritually handicapped by not allowing them to have the full heart-changing experience of a good khutbah. We need to make sure they have full access to receive the complete message on Fridays, to be able to see what is happening so their hearts are energized for the next week — whether it is at home or at work.

But more importantly, let us be careful not to reinforce the idea that sisters are second-class citizens in Islam; that a room with a garbled sound system and terrible ventilation is sufficient for their educational needs. Even more importantly, let us refrain from strengthening the notion that they should not even come to the masjid — because if we do not have strong, educated, spiritual and active sisters in this Ummah, we are in deep trouble.

May Allah guide us towards what is best, and He knows best.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Do you agree? Disagree? I would especially like to get the sisters’ feedback (both for and against the barrier).

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353 Comments

  1. Khagan says:

    I think you might be getting a bit too riled up over a simple barrier erected to separate men and women at Jummah. And really, a barrier is a more appropriate choice because a row of chairs just seems… cheap.

    Not that repression of women in Islam, liberalism/feminism, rebellion aren’t interesting topics of discussion but slow down there.

  2. iMuslim says:

    Surely it would be easier for one person to lower their gaze, i.e., the khateeb, than for an entire group of people to be inconvenienced, i.e., the sisters placed behind the barrier?

    People make speeches in front of mixed crowds all the time, e.g., presentations during class, a meeting at work, even a speech at a convention, yet they do not go crazed with lust, because they realise subconsciously it is not the appropriate time and place. They are usually too nervous (even if they seem outwardly confident) to have such thoughts… and if they stared at any one individual for too long, everyone would think them odd. So they avoid that, and usually never keep their sights on one place too long.

    Is it so hard to take this lesson to the Jumuah khutbah? As long as the space and congregation is large enough not to feel too “cozy” (and in the case of the post, the author states it’s one of the largest MSAs in the country), then I don’t see the need for the barrier, other than to incorporate ideas people think make sense, when they don’t really…

  3. iMuslim says:

    Btw, I am a sister… and not a particularly “liberal” one at that. Nor do I argue against separate prayer facilities for men and women, cos I do appreciate the privacy. It’s just sometimes the barrier thing goes a bit too far, and as the author points out, is sometimes more of an expression of an incorrect mentality, as opposed to a symbol of true modesty and virtue.

    That is all… for now. Allah knows best, as always!

  4. NA says:

    I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does that a brother wrote this. I think it might be better to get the sisters’ perspective about the barrier as the views of sisters are diverse on the issue, esp in the context of a Masjid.

    That being said, I disagree w/ the barrier in the context of an MSA. The goal of an MSA should be to build a model Muslim community on campus. To have a dynamic Muslim community means two different things in the context of the barrier 1) there MUST be interaction b/w genders to some degree and 2) you are going to have Muslims at varying degrees of practice. If in my MSA we had done such a thing (even w/ chairs), it would have meant alienating those Muslims who were new to practicing Islam, and who later become the backbone of the MSA. Secondly, it would have alienated the sisters, by making them feel even more marginalized than they were. Thirdly, its border-line hypocritical to go to class, have conversations w/ professors & students of the opposite gender & then erect a barrier b/w you and Muslims of the opposite gender. It’s not practical in the real world & Islam is a practical religion.

  5. Afrah says:

    As a sister who has experienced both types of environments, I feel that the best solution is to have a type of type of tv screen where the sisters will be able to see the brother giving the khutbah without the women being seen. To have no real barrier between the men and the women will surely lead to Fitnah. I am a college student myself and know that not only is the problem with the brothers seeing the sisters and becoming distracted but in this day and age of sisters searching for good muslim husbands and only getting to interact with muslims every week at the masjid, lets not let friday khutbahs turn into us checking eachother out.

  6. A sis says:

    This is an important point to bring up. This ‘simple’ situation can directly relate to Islamic classes, MSA lectures, short talks and so on–any means of Islamic education where women receive guidance from. All of this matters. Lets face it, for the most part–at the big lectures, classes and Islamic events that the community flocks to, the speaker is almost always a man.

    I also think the point that br. Abdelrahman–if not elaborates–but sheds light on many, many issues worth venturing into as concerned Muslims. Namely, the issue of practicing Islam in America. How can we effectively benefit and function as a citizen in the West (not Saudi, Kuwait, Pakistan..etc.) while abiding by and not distorting the tenets of our religion. It is possible with Islam.

    If you think my comment went waaaay off on a unrelated tangent, I disagree. I don’t think it’s so unrelated/irrelevant to the issue as you think :-)

  7. a sister says:

    Jazakum Allahu khayran for the post brother. I appreciate your concern.

    However as a niqaabi sister, I would prefer to have the barrier up versus only chairs. Even besides the niqaab, I would still want the wall because I don’t have to worry about seeing brothers and getting distracted myself.

    Furthermore, besides the fact of lowering the gaze, having the barrier would decrease mixing AFTER the prayer and would give sisters more time to just chill and take their time.
    Really, there will be a lot of different opinions because this is based on personal preference. I don’t think the sisters who read this will unanimously agree on something. Allah knows best.

  8. SaqibSaab says:

    From outsider’s perspective, Khagan, I can understand your thoughts on the issue. Maybe it seems a bit overboard.

    However, I’m actually from the same area and have attended that MSA’s khutab before, and alhumdulillah have some context as to what’s going on there. So inshaAllah it’ll help to try an understand Br. AbdelRahman’s concerns a bit more and focus on the main points.

    Usually with most issues, we tend to focus on assessing the net result before the analyzing the source by which it came. Here we’ll look at both.

    Side 1 – Against The Mentality

    “It’s not even obligatory for them to come anyways.”

    This mentality is destructive. Here we had a genuine concern for the sisters on campus, a dialogue as to how to address it, and the conclusion is since it’s not wajib for them to attend, we should basically not really pay mind to this issue, and thus, not pay mind to the sisters. Even if that’s not what the brother meant, and we think the best of him and hope it’s not, that’s completely what it is coming off as.

    Firstly, if we wanna talk about looking out for the women, let’s look at the Prophet (SAW) who (1) specifically said to not prevent women from coming to the masjid and (2) appointed certains times during the week to specifically teach only women after being approached by the Sahabiyat about learning their Deen. Part of the Prophetic tradition is to actively look out for our banat and ummahat (daughters and mothers).

    Secondly, if we wanted to live by way of only fulfilling our wajibat (obligations), then we should basically shut down all MSA activities. Holding Jumu’ah at a university isn’t obligatory on us anyways, when there are neighboring masajid that are close enough by. The on-campus brothers should be able to arrange rides with the commuting brothers and drive half an hour everyday, pay oodles for parking and attend Jumu’ah at the local masajid in the area. But it just so happens that we do have Jumu’ah, we do have an MSA, we DO go beyond just fulfilling our obligations!

    And that’s the whole point; living Islam with ihsan (excellence), and not living minimalistic Islam. And based on that, we should never ever use our minimum obligations as a scape for slack in community affairs. The need for spiritual uplifting for sisters in university years was discussed adequately by Br. AbdelRahman.

    So the mentality of give the sisters just what they need minimum needs to go.

    Issue #2 – The Barrier/Pardah

    In our community (and perhaps others) this issue has become quite big, probably bigger than it needs to be. I personally have found myself on the ends of both, and currently, am not entirely sure as to what is the ultimate and final solution. Perhaps it differs between the different subsets of the community, meaning it depends on which masjid/campus/setting you’re in. Even if I think a barrier is better, which in some cases I do, I don’t think it’s absolutely a must without any second thoughts.

    I feel that the main problem here isn’t whether the sisters can see a khateeb’s hand gestures or not. It’s getting rid of the mentality that exists from Issue #1. Perhaps we should look into some questions that the other side should be asking.

    • Did putting up the barrier drastically reduce the amount of Muslim sisters attending Jumu’ah on campus? What is in some of our sisters that makes them so turned off about a barrier?
    • Have there been complaints from them that not being able to see the khateeb made it harder to benefit from the Jumu’ah khutbahs?
    • Can we have our more active sisters try and reel in other sisters in for Jumu’ah, like a dawah project type initiative, regardless of the setup of the Jumu’ah venue?

    So on and so forth.

    I think, AbdelRahman, you should discuss any findings on these to help strengthen your position. Otherwise it’s an argument made against the barrier based on the basis of kinesics and not on the actual documented effects the barrier has had on our sisters themselves. Basically, what NA said, let’s hear it from them firsthand!

    JAK for the article, and I agree: “Save the sisters!”

    Saqib

  9. AbdelRahman says:

    Khagan – It’s hard to imagine it, but to be honest the chairs functioned a lot better. But in regards to your point. If they had put it up just as a separation, as a distinction between sections, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The bigger deal is the attitude that sisters don’t have a place there, the response, “they don’t even have to come to jumuah anyway,” highlights a common attitude found in masjids across America.

    As someone who has a mother, sisters, and a wife, I’d like all of them to attend jumuah, and would hate if someone tried to hinder their experience because they didn’t “have to go anyways.”

    And really, this post is just concern over the direction we’re headed in terms of how we deal with the women in our community. While the barrier may not seem like a huge issue to some, and while it may seem like I’m going over the top defending sisters, I’m worried about how a mindset like the one described above will affect our communities in the long run.

    Good points Saqib.

    To reiterate, I’m not against the idea of a barrier itself, whether it be chairs or a wall. I’m not a sister, so I’m not sure how the sisters feel about having chairs vs. a wall vs. a different room. I’m also not a liberal person who thinks we should all mingle and hang out together after jumuah for the sake of unity. I wholeheartedly push the idea of a modest environment and having separation/separate seating at all public events (classes, conventions, weddings, etc).

    My main concern is the attitude, as Saqib highlighted. If the sisters feel more comfortable in another room, then I fully support that choice! My main point is to take them into consideration when making these decisions, and not neglect their right to be part of the community.

    Maybe I should’ve written that more clearly in the post, sorry about that.

    NA – I totally agree that it’s not fully my place to comment on an issue that deals 99% with sisters. But as I’ve mentioned, as a brother, son, husband, and insha Allah future father, I don’t want the sisters who are directly related to me (or any sister for that matter) to be neglected due to insecurities of a few close-minded brothers.

    Afrah – Another good point, what’s the balance between setting up a healthy environment for both brothers and sisters and not making one group feel unimportant or unwanted? In this particular case, there are two completely separate entrances on either side of the room, one for sisters and one for brothers, so no interaction goes on at all alhamdulilah. But I do agree with your concerns, totally. And I think the TV screen idea is a practical and effective idea. In masaajid it would probably be doable, but not in a makeshift room for Jumuah used by an MSA.

    Jazak Allah khayr for the mature discussion, everyone.

  10. SaqibSaab says:

    Hah, hey man, it happens. I’ve written a few posts here and there where I’ve failed to get my actual point across and in the end it makes it as if I’m saying something else or forgetting to mention something important.

    With that said, let’s hear from more sisters…

  11. H. Ahmed says:

    This reminds me of that episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie regarding this very topic (keeping a barrier bw the brothers & sisters section)

    http://littlemosqueontheprairie.wordpress.com/2007/01/17/episode-2-title/

    *Spoiler Alert*
    In this episode they decided to keep the barrier half up… :P

  12. Abdallah says:

    I think the title of this post overstates the matter at hand. As individuals we are entitled to our personal opinion of how we feel towards something yet we should not assume that our position in itself defines how everyone else should perceive that particular matter.

    Not to undermine the significance of non-verbal communication, I personally feel the barrier does provide sisters some room for privacy. If someone has to take their scarf off or relax for a bit they could do that without worrying about distracting the khateeb or any of the brothers for that matter.

    Having said that I do agree that after weighing the benefits of each option, we should eventually go for the option which seems to yield more benefit for those attending the Jumu’ah prayers but the decision should not come out of one’s personal biases but from a collective decision of what is considered to be beneficial for the community. Wallahu ‘Alamu wal Musta’an.

  13. koftah says:

    ameen brother! excellent post!

  14. The issue of barriers, yay or nay, is an interesting, neverending debate. Good topic to bring up on a blog in a general, anonymous kinda way, but I’m not so sure about publically nailing one’s MSA on Imam Suhaib’s blog on this issue. Not saying it’s bad, more like, not sure, feels like murky waters are being tread, and from my own days of MSA experience, this would simply add more fuel to the fire, wallaahu a’lam.

    My general rule, if the people who are affected aren’t complaining too much, better to just let it go, otherwise the resulting drama and gossiping that ensues just makes the environment and the relationships among people worse.

    I gave a talk recently at the Loyola MSA’s shura training meeting, and the whole controversy of wiping over socks (I can’t pray behind you if you wiped over your socks) came up, and I told them, look, I wipe over my socks too, but if it’s a big deal to someone and it’s causing fitnah, it’s not that difficult to take off your socks and wash your feet, just do it and save the ill feelings.

    If sisters are complaining, that’s a whole ‘nother story, and it should be worked out, and I think the sisters should be at the forefront of that.

    Siraaj

  15. Abu Majeed says:

    Jazkallahu khairan,

    I hope everyone here is aware that in the time of the Prophet there was NO barrier. This is actually the Sunnah. So of course when reading the many texts which clearly prove this point, I asked my teachers why all masjids have barriers?

    The strictist approach is that this barrier reflects something that was introduced in the time of the Prophet (saws) which is no gender mixing and that if their technology and building abilities were more sophisticated then without a doubt the Prophet wold have had some barrier made. The other opinion is that the truth is that it is a result of almost a unanimous ijtihad based upon the reality that there arose some physical fights and fitnah in and out of the masjid because of some men (supposedly) staring at other women’s wives in the masjid.

    Based on the more realistic second opinion I would say that the reality is according to local culture. If not having a barrier is more beneficial and there arises no fitnah as a result then we should follow the Sunnah of Rasoolillah (saws). This is the opinion of Dr. Ali Sulayman Ali who allows this practice at his masjid in Canton, MI.

    Wallahu a’lam

  16. Fatima says:

    Salaamu alaikum
    Lol you guys are debating the barrier.

    In Durban, South Africa, where I live, we aren’t even allowed entry into 99percent of the Masaajid.

    And if we are, it usually isn’t the Masjid per se, but a tiny, damp room, where it’s difficult to even hear the Imaam, let alone see him!

    The organisation I run is always faced with the issue you are discussing: to erect the barrier or not; and I’m not talking within the context of Salaah (hopefully we’ll get there some day); I’m referring to seminars, conferences etc, which we host.

    From a legal point of view, I have found Sh. Salman Al Awdah’s piece on this the most convincing.

    From a personal point of view, I prefer no barrier…the barrier for me definitely has the effect of making me feel ‘excluded,’ lowering my attention span, making me less conscious about my adab in terms of seeking knowledge, and making the speaker seem less accessible to me.

    However I must add: my brother and I travelled to another province with another brother and sister team once for an Islamic conference, in which there was no barrier; the brothers occupied one side of the room, the sisters, the other. Whenever we were together, the brother would keep asking me to enquire about specific sisters he had seen, whom he had found attractive, and it got me wondering if the absence of a barrier provided a distraction for the brothers. Obviously Salaah is a different scenario entirely.

    was salaam

  17. muslima says:

    AsalamuAlaikum,

    JazakAllahuKhairan for this post!

    While I completely identify with most of the points, I recognize that sisters will differ about the barrier issue based on personal preferences and it’s okay =)

    What I think is important is that anyone who wants to attend should be able to and should also be able to maximally benefit from the gathering and a visual connection with the speaker is really a huge part of that. Especially since we’re not just showing up for the “brownie points” but to inshaAllah learn, grow, and hopefully benefit from attending. While a physical separation does provide privacy for the sisters, it may also cause some sisters to become completely uninhibited and talk during the khutbah, distracting the other sisters who are trying to pay attention, and sadly this happens alot.

    Ive also come across the complacent “they(we) dont even have to go attitude” from many sisters, so I definitely feel this post brought up alot of issues that really need to be talked about in our respective communities.

  18. Mehreen says:

    “While a physical separation does provide privacy for the sisters, it may also cause some sisters to become completely uninhibited and talk during the khutbah, distracting the other sisters who are trying to pay attention, and sadly this happens alot.”

    Muslima: My husband (AbdelRahman) and I were speaking about EXACTLY what you said just a little while ago.

  19. Suhaib Webb says:

    Asalamu alaykum,

    Whether one agrees with the barrier or not, I would like to thank all of you for posting with responsibility and respect for each other. One of the goals of the site is to provide folks a stage where they can talk, feel comfortable expressing themselves and interact.

    This issue is one that is based on different legal interpretations and applications of certain texts. Therefore, it is important for us to realize that we should not get to over worked over this issue, but discuss it in a way that is better. The problem with these issues is when they become the benchmark by which the community is judged and held accountable. So instead of becoming a means of plurality and maturity, they become rulers by which every community member is measured. What needs to be pondered is, is it allowable to turn such issues, where the differences are acceptable, into means of strife and hardship in our community? Is it allowed to practice intolerance with other valid fiqhi opinions [wiping over the socks] to the extent that the followers of those opinions feel intimidated, unwelcome and forced to alter their normal practice?

    Siraaj: while I agree with the warmth of your intentions, I think you should teach these sockist folks by saying, “Would you guys pray behind Imam Ahmed?” It was, and is with conditions, the opinion of his school. [note sockist was used as a joke only and not to hurt or harm anyone :)]

    SDW

  20. Aischa says:

    Asalaamu alaikum,
    I have hated being in a stuffy closed room, with radio waves being picked up and broadcast with the imam’s khutbah, or no sound, or too much sound.
    The best solution, if possible (depends on the building), is to offer both public space and private space. There was a masjid somewhere near Boston that had a rope barrier between the men and women and then off the sides of the central hall were extra rooms that one could sit in with more privacy.
    We NEED jummah, as mentioned, we don’t often get much else in the way of opportunity to connect and revive our spirit. I do like to be able to see who is speaking and if it is a discussion , be able to interact.

    A “side room” would be great for anyone who might need to breastfeed, or take off their niqab for awhile, or do some contemplation without distraction. Men might also benefit from a quiet zone of their own.

    At the very least welcome the sisters to the back of the hall for any type of educational lecture or Q&A.

  21. AbdelRahman says:

    Sister Fatima, do you have any link to what Shayk Salman’s commentary on this issue is?

    While a physical separation does provide privacy for the sisters, it may also cause some sisters to become completely uninhibited and talk during the khutbah, distracting the other sisters who are trying to pay attention, and sadly this happens alot.

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, I do remember that my sisters are always mentioning how it’s difficult to hear the khutbah due to the loudness of the sisters. At my local masjid, the front of the woman’s side can see the Imam (they are above the brothers), but the back is completely isolated.

    It seems to me that there is a possible connection in being out of sight (out of mind, for some), and losing focus and even beginning conversations during the khutbah.

    AbdelRahman

  22. M says:

    Assalam alaikum. Thank you for your post on this interesting and controversial subject. It is good to know that brothers are thinking about this topic, because sometimes I feel that it is something dismissed as a trivial issue. A few of my thoughts are below…

    I grew up in a community in America often seen as “liberal” – we have a barrier in our prayer room, but it is a partial barrier, one that can be seen over. And rather than splitting the prayer room so that all the men pray at the front and all the women pray at the back, it splits the room so that men pray on one side of the room, and women pray on the other (so that in effect, rows of women and men would be standing side by side, if not for the partial barrier).

    I have visited several mosques in America and across the world, and I have always been turned off by those that relegate women to a demeaning status or worse, provide no place for women at all. I don’t blame women who prefer not to come to the mosque when what they are offered is a tiny room in the basement, the floor covered with empty rice burlap bags, and a small TV screen, precariously mounted on the wall, flickering on and off (note: this is an extreme example, but it was an American mosque). And I must commend the few women who do show up when they are clearly being discouraged to come at all.

    Like the original poster, I find the attitude of some brothers that the sisters don’t have to be there, destructive, and even counterintuitive. One of the greatest advantages of being a Muslim woman in America, I have always believed, is the opportunity to take part in the community that grows up around a mosque. Unlike my grandmothers, aunts, and cousins in India, for example, I have the chance to visit a mosque regularly, daily even, if I so choose, and learn from the imam there. My understanding in Islam is increased when I am able to meet with other Muslims in a halal environment and have discussions with them about our faith. I have found, through conversations with my relatives overseas, that the way we understand Islam can be very different. Whereas I am prone to asking after the reason behind things or exploring more about what Islam teaches, they are often concerned only that Islam teaches something and they must do it. I do not mean to suggest that one approach is better than another, but surely women should be given the option to choose which is right for them. I would also think that most brothers would want their Muslim sisters to have a chance to learn from the imam and other scholars, as they will ultimately have a large role in raising future Muslim children. And I think that this would be especially imperative in an MSA environment, when many are in the process of becoming and taking on responsibilities as adults, and considering their futures, with marriage and children included.

    I graduated from college only a few years ago, and I am currently in graduate school. My MSA in college, mashaAllah, was very active, and it also wrestled with issues of gender interaction, though not in the context of a barrier since we did not have a mosque space to call our own. The Juma’ah prayers and prayers at MSA events did not have a barrier, the rows of women simply prayed rows of men, with a gap in between. The MSA at my graduate school does the same. The local mosque here, which mostly students attend, has divided the mosque between the brothers and the sisters. Each has a separate entrance. Since I’m not a brother, I’ve never seen the brothers’ side, but at least the sisters’ side is adequately and comfortably furnished, the TV is mounted safely (this was a concern of mine – the last thing I need is to be doing sajdah and I have the TV fall on my head!), and the picture and sound comes in clearly. It’s not my first choice of a setup, considering my upbringing in a “liberal” community, but it is a setup that both welcomes and encourages female students to attend the prayers and sermons, and provides a safe haven for sisters who want a more conservative environment.

    I think such a balance can be struck in both MSAs and mosques, if both brothers and sisters carefully think about this issue. Ultimately, though, I feel that it is important that sisters feel welcome to pray and take part in the activities that an MSA or a mosque offers. It really is for the betterment of the entire community.

  23. Ali says:

    Assalamu Alaykum

    Subhanllah, a very recurring issue in MSAs, but not an issue worth splitting the community over.

    I believe this was mentioned before, but a lot of times in masajids and communities, the very issue of the barrier has become the difference between staying with the community and splitting. For some reason, people make this issue such a big deal, when really, there are more important issues plaguing the grand Muslim community.

    One thing we need to realize is that there is nothing wrong with putting chairs or a sheet in general (note that I say ‘in general’). This becomes a problem when it conflicts with the Muslim community on campus.

    What do I mean by this?

    Some Muslima may look at this huge white sheet as really, really, strict. Just the very sight of this huge barrier may make them feel as though Islam is a strict religion, the women are not wanted, so on and so forth. It may remind them of those days with Maulana saab and his stick. As a result, they may not want to come to MSA anymore because they may think that MSA is strict may not believe that MSA cares about the Muslima.

    If this is the case, if these are the vibes the big, white sheet is giving off, then this is a problem. A white sheet is nice. I personally wouldn’t mind a big white sheet. However, if it causes Muslima (and not just any Muslima. Muslima who are struggling with their deen) to leave this gathering where Allah (SWT) forgives all of your minor sins, if it causes a muslima to miss out on a salah that they may forget to pray later on, a salah that can get you so many rewards on the Day of Judgment, and a khutba that may remind them about the Day of Judgment and save them from the hell fire, then I don’t think it is worth putting up sheet for all of this, when you can just as easily put chairs.

    You have to look at the priorities of people. especially when you are in a leadership position. The shuura must look at the dynamics of their community and deal with it in accordance to the level of their Islam. In other words, the leadership has to take steps so that the Muslim community can truly become closer to Allah (SWT). If people feel unwelcome by seeing a white barrier, that’s not good. MSAs should propagate a sense of welcome, not a sense of you are not welcome.

    Those are my thoughts. Please forgive me if I have offended you. If I have said anything wrong, I ask Allah (SWT) to forgive me.

  24. SaqibSaab says:

    TV idea is cool, if doable.

    One masjid in Chicagoland, ISNS, has the women’s side behind a one-way mirror. It’s pretty neat.

  25. T.S. says:

    To build Imam Suhaib’s point about plurality and maturity, I think one thing I appreciate about the religious diversity within the American community is that in many cities, you can attend mosques embodying different practices of conservatism. The fact that Muslims could potentially free-flow attend mosque to mosque, without necessarily agreeing with the practices is something special.

    That pluralism and inshallah a tolerated pluralism is what makes the American Muslim experience special. America is a place where various strains of Islam and its practices come together in a way you don’t find in Muslim majority countries. Over there, its blanket homogeneity–which is a lot easier to learn than our more complex, sophisticated heterogeneity. I say we continue to learn, debate, and build, but recognize we can value and maintain our multi-textured mosque experiences.

  26. ... says:

    I for once, am completely against the idea of having a separate room with tv for sisters (no i am not a feminist nor am i a liberal Muslim- Alhamdulillah)

    I have been to Halaqas with that setting and i can assure that i came out having learning almost nothing- Why? Because the sisters were busy chit chatting, the kids were crying, the cell phones were ringing…It was more of a social event as oppose to a learning opportunity. I have stopped going to Halaqas with that setting as i believe they are waste of time for me..Why would i take 2-3 hours out of my busy schedule to go to a Halaqa where all i will learn is how to baby sit?????????

    Sisters have a tendency to talk too much and boy do they talk! Even in Al-Maghrib classes, if the room set-up is brothers in front and sisters in back, it becomes extremely difficult to focus..why? Because sisters think they have a license to keep talking, whispering, passing notes, sending SMS’s, giggling during the class…(why do they pay so much money just to come to class for chatting? Do these ‘students of knowledge’ know the etiquettes of being a student of knowledge? One of the primary is not to talk when the teacher is talking, its simple as that however such simple rule is just not so simple for MANY MANY MANY sisters)…However if the room is set up (side to side) then i always sit in first 2-3 rows as the front rows tend to be less noisy..Alhamdulillahi Rabbil Alameen that most of classes in our Qabeelah were set up side to side..

    I can care less about how the room is set up and where the barrier is as long as i am provided with an environment where i can see the teacher, where there is absolutely no noise, no disturbance during the class hour! An environment where i can absorb all the material without having to worry about anything else that is going on!! My question is, is that do-able in a TV-room? or with a wall-like barrier?

  27. I agree with what’s been said about the barrier being almost like a mental barrier to the khutbah. I’ve actually dosed off during a khutbah when I couldn’t see the khateeb (on more than one occasion, unfortunately!) When you can’t see the speaker, and you can only hear his voice, it starts to turn into background fuzz getting in the way of figuring out if that person in front of you is your friend, or just someone with the same hijab.

  28. Altamash says:

    Good post ARM…mash’Allah

  29. Personne says:

    Salam,

    I never thought of this issue in such a way before. It’s good that the “it’s-not -obligatory-for-them-anyways” mentality was brought as it certainly leads to problems of all sorts especially when it is applied to other areas. This negative mentality that leads to all sorts of inconveniences for the sisters. AbdelRahman, I definitely share your concern about this. I wouldn’t want our mothers and sisters being left isolated from certain activities that they may want to partake in just because some close-minded brother out there doesn’t feel the need to make an effort for them because he feels that it’s not obligatory for them.

    That said, the barrier issue is a very complicated one. It’s not so black-and-white as some other people have painted it as. The arguments on both sides are quite compelling. On one side, it may make sense to have a barrier to provide for a certain level of privacy and to provide for some sort of a “safety shield,” so as to protect the brothers and sisters from gazing at each other.

    At the same time though, it also makes sense to remove the barrier as it will provide for better communication between the khateeb and the sisters and it will do away with the problems of sisters feeling isolated.

    Every MSA out there is different. Some MSA’s have problems with too much intermingling between the genders while some MSA’s are better off in that regard. It’s kind of hard to decide what would be a better choice. Perhaps, each MSA’s should be examined on an individual basis? Or maybe not? I’m kind of confused. Perhaps, Shaykh Suhaib Webb can shed some scholarly light on this issue.

    Anyways though, thanks for bringing this topic up as it allows us to address certain problems that affect our community.

    Masalaama

    PS – The one-way mirror idea sounds pretty neat.

  30. Asim says:

    Guys its not necessarily about the barrier, its about the MENTALITY behind it.

    Sadly sometimes I see this mentality among the more ‘conservative’ brothers as well, who go to extremes to avoid any contact with sisters.

  31. Sis Hebheb says:

    Salaam Alikom,

    First, Ramadan Mubarak, May Allah guide us and accept from us this month of blessings, Ameen

    Second, ABSOLUTELY, WITH NO DOUBT! You are correct, not only does it take a chunk out of our esteam, but it has its own mental blockade to the actual message that the khutbah is, sisters start talking, getting distracted, distracing others, ect…. Ur 100% in the right move on that. I wish the women in the ummah could know that there is still hope in going for jummah. InshaAllah may Allah make it easy for you and may your message be heard louder then this moasjid you attened. Ameen

    Jazakullah khairun, Masalam,

    هبهب

  32. Asim says:

    On a side note I think masjids like Islamic Foundation (Villa Park) in Chicago have a sweet set up, Sisters get a bird’s eye view on a giant second floor balcony. at MCMC in central jersey, sisters have a dark tinted window from the back (I dont think its dark when looking from the back tho)

  33. AbdelRahman says:

    Assalamu Alaykum,

    Again, thanks for the awesome discussion. I feel like we’re really identifying issues that need to be discussed, and having Imam Suhaib as an outlet to a nationwide (worldwide, even) audience is alhamdulilah a big blessing. Everyone make du’aa for him and his family, their protection, and that he continue to help Muslims insha Allah.

  34. Cleopatra says:

    I think it’s imperative to have a direct interaction with the khateeb and how can do that if you can’t even see him? With all due respect, I know that the purpose of the separation is to guard chastity but I think we’re all grown ups and intelligent enough to understand that we’re participating in a religious congregation and it would behoove all to leave the perversity of the human mind outside.
    Comprehensive interaction is an extremely important part of learning. It’s not enough to just read books and commit to memory what’s being read and if this is the case, then you might as well just stay home.
    I say keep the barrier between the brothers and the sisters, because it is a religious gathering and not your secular lecture class, and do away with the barrier between the sisters and the khateeb.

  35. Cleopatra says:

    Also, I must agree with the author of the article that many times the barrier is an incorrect expression of a mentality. It is without doubt that we mix tradition/culture with Islam and forget that what’s traditional or cultural is not necessarily promoted by Islam. I know I’m deviating from the point here, but there are women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other areas that are suppressed vehemently. They’re not allowed to go to school or choose a career or walk down the street without a mahram. Islam doesn’t deny a woman her basic rights or treat her like a second class citizen. It is tradition and culture that are the real oppressors. So the pressure builds and builds and builds until it defies all laws of scientific reasoning and bursts, and then you have a rebellion!!
    My argument is that if you don’t educate the women of your society, you will not produce good civilians. If you don’t have good civilians, how will you produce good leaders to lead you?? These are things to think about.
    Unfortunately, the men that practice these suppressions are too arrogant to cogitate on these issues and ultimately, their pride is the cause of their demise.

  36. Siraaj: while I agree with the warmth of your intentions, I think you should teach these sockist folks by saying, “Would you guys pray behind Imam Ahmed?” It was, and is with conditions, the opinion of his school. [note sockist was used as a joke only and not to hurt or harm anyone :)]

    Y’know, I know it, and you know it, and you even brought it up during the Ramadan program you did at UIC, but the funny thing about people who take that opinion, their muqallid to their teachers and Siraaj (or anyone else on that MSA) is just a layperson. We don’t have the authority to influence them.

    Nor, for that matter, does anyone else outside of their madhab. Believe me, some of the teachers have passed fatwas against learning from AlMaghrib because of either isnaad issues or classroom set up issues (can’t learn from an academic classroom, must learn at the feet of some teacher in a broken masjid / classroom that even the amish would consider rustic). Most of these kids have sworn bay’ah and sworn off thinking as well, so engaging at that level, more than anything else, is counterproductive when you consider:

    1. The chances I have of convincing them
    2. The potential ensuing disruption of any semblance of unity and
    3. The greater issues ahead of us

    My hope is that if I can lay down the groundwork for cooperation and respect now, then that can serve as a foundation for greater work to be accomplished in concert when the time is needed, rather than having to overcome bitter feelings from minor ikhtilaaf.

    Siraaj

  37. ‘Salaam `alaikum

    I must say this article made my jaw drop – literally. Barak Allahu fik for writting this article. Its touching to know someone with the mindset you have for standing up for the sisters. It is difficult in some areas for sisters to even be heard – and this is something hard to come by. To have a sister be at the forefront of this issue when a brother (probably the one who stated that sisters arent even obligated to come) will most likely shut out a sisters complaints. This isnt just an issue of the barrier, its an issue on all scopes relating to sisters. Im not saying to sympathize with the sisters and “oh poor us” but its touching to read an article like this written by a brother who deeply cares for his sisters in Islam. It restores my faith in the Ummah that we can still function as a society that cares for each other Alhamdulilah.

    Just the other day I was at an event lead by Sh Suhaib Webb, and we had to ask the masjid board if we would be able to come downstairs. Half of them were against it, and half of them were for it. Alhamdulilah sisters moved downstairs (and there are other issue’s why sisters probably shouldn’t be downstairs along side the brothers, their sitting posture, some of them started to doze off.. ) But when I went upstairs, it was hard hearing, you couldn’t hear all the comments being made by the audience, and you miss out on what the jama’a is talking about while being isolated in a room with a camera. The T.V doesn’t capture everything (Even if half the sisters were pressed up against the glass window to see what was going on below) I’m sorry to say. So even that has conflicting views, I must say being upstairs was much more comfortable Alhamdulilah. Yet this is a minor issue compared to the overall support for sisters.

  38. Omar says:

    Is it not the case that the women at in the Prophets mosque could see the Prophet and he could see them and that they prayed with no barrier, but possibly with simply a gap?

    People from the ahadith you can tell that there was no barrier in place to seperate the men and the women.

    I do see barriers in western mosques, mainly due to space and allowing seperate entrances – so maybe the barrier came about due to architectural reasons more so than just theological. In the east, the mosques are large and open, allowing women to have a simple barrier if none at all.

    If you go to some of the major mosques, they don’t have a ‘women’s section’ but rather a space for women, without barriers.

    People may think this barrier is a non-issue and should not be dealt with, but in reality it is something from the sunnah (in the mosque at least) and is a sign to the women folk, that they need to engage and to be engaged with. We should not prevent the women from coming to the mosques – so provisions must be made – and this is set by Islam, so do not deny them.

    That is my opinion, correct me if I am wrong.

  39. d says:

    Asalaamu alaykum,
    I am a sister, in my opinion it is situations like the one you have spoken about above which give people like irshad manji a bigger voice.
    What I would be interested to know is, if a woman speaker came, would the brothers particularly the one who said “its not obligatory for them to come anyways,” be prepaired to go and sit behind the barrior?

    I thought talking with women from behind a physical screen only applied to the wives of the prophet piece and blessing of allah be upon him and his family and companions.

    I am aware that some places have a movable barrior which goes down the centre of the room instead of across, so the speaker can still see both sides.

    The fact that so many people are saying that without one they have experienced people trying to find spouses, for me just highlights a different problem that needs to be look at within islam. That being people want to marry, find their own spouses but don’t know how, and feel they have no opportunity to do so due to no mixing being allowed.

    I grew up not knowing about islam and was never really a Christian, but I have been to church for a number of things mainly weddings and such, I have always noticed the difference in the lack of family in Islamic talks. What I mean is if I am sitting in a totally different room and need something from my husband or my kids wanted him what could I do? Nothing, in church I could, or have some one just tap him on his shoulder for what ever urgent reason it might be. I am blind so would need my husband to find me afterward, If there was a parcial barrior he could just search for me, but when it is a full barrior or a totally different room, sisters do tend to do things like uncover or what ever and you get the sense that no brother for what ever reason is ever allowed to enter that place.

    I can’t remember who I heard say it now, but I heard a shaykh say something along the lines of why is it women are totally avoided in mosques and lectures etc, but outside you might see a girl from your university brothers, and just be like oh how are you what have you been up too etc, without giving it a second thought.

  40. justmuslim says:

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    How about following the example of our Prophet (pbuh), instead of coming up our own “better version of islamic morals” ?

  41. Lamya Arman says:

    I agree with you 100%. You use common sense and common decency and respect toward women to reach the conclusion that in fact, a barrier is unnecessary.

  42. hamayoun says:

    Salam

    This is my first comment on this site. Mashallah, I am really impressed by this site. The depth of knowledge, and the nice way people disagree with each other really stands out. May Allah bless all the contributors, Ameen.

    A few years ago I was in a mosque in South Florida (can’t remember where exactly). The Imam was an Arab, and 100% Salafi (don’t get me very wrong, very nice brother). He absoultely wanted to accept no way other than the sunnah. well, a sister in the mosque starts putting up a curtain, and he starts screaming “We will only have this sunnah in this mosque!” The point is, IMHO it’s more important to try to stick to the real undisputed sunnah, rather than simply assuming that the most conservative route is the sunnah.

    Then there was this other mosque in Mass., where the Amir was a subcontinental Tableeghi brother (another very nice brother) – and Tableeghis also try and go strictly by the sunnah. In this mosque, the ladies section was downstairs and totally isolated from the main hall. Well in one Juma khutba, he starts talking about how women shouldn’t come to the mosque at all. I had a long discussion about him with that. His proof was the hadith where Ayesha(RA) said that if the Prophet(SAW) had known about how things turned out, he (SAW) would not have permitted women to come to the mosque.

    And another Imam I talked with said that living in the USA, it is almost fard for women to come to Juma as it may be the only chance they get to pick up Islamic knowledge.

    BTW my personal take (with a wife and 3 daugthers) is that women should be encouraged to come to the mosque as much as they can, if only to feel a true Islamic atmosphere which rarely exists outside the mosque.

  43. Abdurahman says:

    Asalamualaikum wrt wb,

    Some thoughts come to mind:

    1.) Sisters should be encouraged to learn and gain beneficial knowledge. Some brothers attend a masjid several times a day, and sisters usually don’t have this luxury.

    2.) The Prophet (pbuh) taught, the best of lines for the brothers is the first, and the best for women is the last. That is, modesty is from the Sunnah.

    3.) The Prophet (pbuh) used to let the women leave first, then the men.

    4.) Even if a woman is not praying, she can benefit from the Khutbah.

    5.) If brothers and sisters are wearing proper hijab and clothes, and discipline is observed, fitna is reduced.

    Allahu ‘alam.

  44. MR says:

    If the khateeb can’t control his gaze, then he should not be a khateeb.

  45. I like MRs comment, thats comedy. :)

  46. Mahin F Islam says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    JazakAllaahu khair for bringing this up AbdelRahman.

    In all honesty, I never thought about this issue.(in regards to MSA Jumuah barriers) Obviously there is a problem in many of the masaajid where the sisters are thrown into the closet literally and we send the kids back in there as well. That issue has to be resolved. Shaykh Yaser Birjas believes that this the responsibility of the Imam to take initiative and make efforts to engage the sisters.

    With regards to Jumuah on MSA campus and the physical barrier, erecting a barrier is simply a Band-Aid over a bigger issue. In my MSA, which was known famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) to be one of the most strictly conservative MSAs in the country we never had a barrier for Jumuah or for meetings. However you would rarely see unnecessary intermingling between the genders either. If there is an atmosphere of haya’ then there is no need for a barrier. If there is a problem with lack of haya’ a barrier will only cause rebellion. The focus should be on building haya’, which is an element of building sound, upright character. Hence, I don’t agree with having a barrier.

    As for the khateeb, I can say from personal experience that you cannot see the sisters even if they are in the room because they are in the back. I mean it’s not physically possible to not lower your gaze unless the room is very small. Usually we would get about 50-60 people for Jumuah and about 15-20 sisters. They would line up against the back wall and the room was big enough where this was not even an issue.

    MR, I’m not sure I agree with your statement because every khateeb has their own struggles and flaws especially in MSA where alot of the khateebs are the students(assuming they at least can give khutbah according to the basic fiqh requirements). However, if you mean that the khateeb is ogling the sisters in the khutbah itself, yeah that cannot be tolerated.

    Finally AbdelRahman, just be careful when suggesting ‘change’ when it might split the MSA into barrier vs. non-barrier factions. I believe someone mentioned that it is not an issue worth splitting the MSA over. I know you have the unity of the Muslims at the front of your mind and you would always consider that but these small things can sometimes snowball. I assume such suggestions may have come from the sisters themselves and when that occurs, it should be resolved within the MSA board. I am also in agreement with Siraaj about posting this on a blog because it could have negative repurcussions in the MSA. However, the point itself is definitely valid. And Allaah Knows Best.

  47. LearningArabic says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Interesting Post!

    Since some mentioned that they feel the need to see the Khateeb, the following question came to mind:

    Does the command for lowering the gaze apply to the sisters in this situation or not?

    I don’t really know the answer to this question and I think a scholarly response would definitely help.

    Also, regarding the issue of the barrier I believe that it truly does depend on the situation. I’ve attended small classes and halaqas where many of the sisters actually requested the barrier themselves since they wore the niqaab and wanted some additional privacy. And I’ve been to classes like Al-Maghrib and Zaytuna Minara programs where they didn’t have a tangible barrier, but Alhamdulillah, the level of modesty was not compromised. In this situation, with the MSA, I think it is better to go without the barrier especially since it wasn’t used before.

    My advice to all of you is to respect both opinions since there is some legitimacy to both claims. The people who advocate the barrier often cite the example of how the Prophet’s wives would teach from behind the veil and how people were still able to receive Islamic knowledge and transmit hadith through this medium. Whether or not this example was specific to the Prophet’s wives is an issue of debate amongst the scholars, and hence the difference of opinion.

  48. Mahin F Islam says:

    On a side note…reading this brought to mind about how much I miss being in MSA!

  49. Mona says:

    assalumu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

    I was able to read most of the responses but not all of them, so I apologize if I repeat some points that have already been mentioned.

    I feel the need to comment on this post seeing as I go to the school that’s being discussed.

    First, I’d like to comment on some thing that has been said. A few people stated that this so-called “barrier” gives the sisters more privacy ie. to take off their hijabs. But that’s the thing, this barrier isn’t a full barrier. It covers less than half of the sister’s side. Not to mention, it’s fairly short. So when the brothers and sisters are standing, they can see each other clearly. The point I’m trying to make is that if they want a “barrier” put up, then it should be a full barrier, not partial because I see no point to the one we currently have.

    To state my opinion, I personally prefer no barrier. I’m the type of person that needs to look at the person when they’re talking because I feel like I pay more attention that way. It’d be safe to assume that most people feel the same way. I mean, if someone were talking to you and you weren’t looking at them, but rather at the floor or whatever, wouldn’t they stop talking and ask you whether or not you were listening? It’s like we automatically think that because a person isn’t looking at us while we’re talking it means that they aren’t listening and their attention is elsewhere.

    wAllahu a3lam. Allah (swt) knows best.

    InshAllah I was able to put my thoughts clearly into words.

    May Allah (swt) have mercy on us and forgive our sins and guide us to the straight path. And may He (swt) accept our fasting and our duas and our prayers. Ameen.

    was salamu alaikum

  50. Muslimah says:

    The barrier is not necessary according to the Sunnah so why bother?

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