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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  1. I REVEAL says:

    At the end of this, it somehow seems odd to me that an article of this caliber would be proposed/penned by someone who is not a scholar by any means (mind anyone who tries to refute that point, i know AR Murphy personally) & then commented by majority of individuals who also have no islamic authority/ijaaza to try and validate their own opinions (even-though i don’t know them personally, the absurdity/lack of research in their comments reveals their ignorance)

    All that I am saying is that the question of whether ‘an act needs to be implemented or discarded’ is the responsiblity of scholars expert in the particular fields of hadith, history & jurisprudence… And if the general mass of muslims is so concerned regarding a matter that they end up writing 250+ comments on a single article, than maybe they can re-prioritize their lives and spend 200+ months to study their deen under ‘practicing’ scholars (western & eastern); both males and females alike.

    • Haajar says:

      Remember that when the Prophet (saw) wanted to make a decision, he used to consult his Ashaba (companions). Now why would the Prophet (saw), the most perfect being to live, need the opinions of his ashaba? Because he didn’t want to make a decision they weren’t in favor of. He wanted to build a strong community who, gives opinions, and advice each other. You are stating that this matter should be decided by the Ulumas and Sheikhs? I believe that the people (brothers and sisters) should have a say in this matter. As for the people whom you state might not have the proper knowledge; it may be that they have more knowledge than you suppose. Do not judge them by how they word their thoughts or response to this subject.

      And mind you (everyone) during the prophet’s time, there was no physical barrier between the men or women. Let’s revive the Sunnah.

      J’zakallah Khairan.

      • M. E. H. says:

        The Sunnah is also to not pray Taraweeh in congregation. Is the correct way to undo the positive ijtihaads made by the centuries of Muslim scholars and rightly-guided? The Sunnah is actually to understand the Hadith: “The Ulema are the heirs of the Prophets” – this means, we should respect what they have recommended to us to protect the spirit of what Sayyidna Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wasalam brought.

        • Hedayah says:

          Actually, because of that, according to the Maliki school, it is preferable to not pray tarawih in congregation.

          And if by positive ijtihads you mean the ijtihad of the barrier, Ibn ‘Abbas(R) was against it. When the statement of our mother Aishah(R) reached him of her saying “If the Prophet had lived now and if he saw what we see of women today, he would have forbidden women to go to the mosque even as the Children of Israel forbade their women”, he(R) responded by saying that the Prophet(S) did not in fact see it and did not forbid it.

          In other words, she(R) was speculating as to what he would have done.

        • Hedayah says:

          sorry, excuse me: In other words, she(R) was speculating as to what he, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, would have done.

      • sheikh suh says:

        let me remind u dea about hazrat umer(r.a) he stopped women fa goin to mosque….
        as Prophet may peace be upon him said
        “Mere baad koi nabi hota to umer hota..”

        • Sundus says:

          Lol ‘sheikh’ Suh, you’ve got to be kidding right. Women were never stopped from going to mosque, IF it happened it was for certain once-off reason, doesn’t mean for the rest of eternity women can’t go to mosque. Get your facts straight. Islam is not a sexist and chauvinistic religion. That’s the beauty of it.

  2. Shamir says:

    Lets face it. Islam, as practiced by VAST majority of Muslims today is a “man-centered” religion. Men lead the prayer, they are most (a very BIG most!) of the scholars, teachers, speakers, writers, doctors, engineers, etc.

    In other words, most Muslims are disillusioned about their religion, imposing their imagined reality on God’s perfect reality. After all those most dear to God are the ones who are conscious of Him, not the ones of a certain gender!

    • questioning says:

      what’s wrong if men led the prayer and lead in other ways? this does not mean it is man-centred! i know that as a woman i play a fundamental role and in fact am at the CENTRE – of the home, the community, the family. but i am not interested in seeing our Ummah go down the beaten path of feminism that has brought so much havoc upon our lives in the west, our families, and our communities. Let’s not make the same mistakes. Islam has always been a religion and worldview that honors the unseen and honors the non-leader as much as the leader. you don’t need to be front and centre in Islam in order to be of value. and numerous hadiths point to this. so let us be careful to not be seduced by the western way of seeing power relations and get stuck in that rut.

  3. Hiba kharraz says:

    I Completely agree with this amazing article !!!

  4. Aqua Badr says:

    I agree totally….I have been to various mosque that push the women to a small corner in the back of the room with a curtain separating us from the men & the sheikh. Many times we are struggling to clarify amongst ourselves what was even said by whoever is giving the khutbah because the sound quality is horrific. It is as if we are being told in so many ways that “you should’ve stayed home where you belong.” Those are masjids that I now have abandoned. I have also been to masjids that have an open forum and the sisters and brothers are sat accordingly so that we are seperate but we will all reap the full benefits of hearing and seeing the message being delivered. These are masjids that I prefer to draw myself closer to. How to get all mosques on the same line of thinking will be quite the challenge but it is not impossible. I suggest we share this article with any mosque or islamic forum (be it online or in person). I want to thank Brother Abdel Murphy for so eloquently stating what most sisters could not say or were afraid to say because they feared being shunned and banned from the masjid altogether. Jazakallah khaiyr.

    • questioning says:

      you said: It is as if we are being told in so many ways that “you should’ve stayed home where you belong.”

      no one said that to you. that is your interpretation. fix the sound system and you will be able to hear. why do you HAVE to see and be seen? haven’t we had enough of being in the male gaze to appreciate some private space when it comes time for focusing on God?

      • ay says:

        to questioning
        you so right
        it is enough! we are always exposed to men in our education,college, working etc… also in praying… no!!!
        we as women most of us very happy with seperation,
        we are more comfortable with physical seperation
        now our moslims using western cliche toward the women…

        if there are some technical problem in the mosque for women side, like microphone or etc.. fix than one not fix islam according to technical problem
        bye the way if the muslim women want to see body language of khateeb while he is giving sermon they can do it with data show camera like video conference mode
        just lets only discuss the technically fixing female side of the masjid instead of fixing our deen

        • muslimah says:

          AGREE WITH ay and questioning….
          “if there are some technical problem in the mosque for women side, like microphone or etc.. fix than one not fix islam according to technical problem”.i too agree with the video conference idea…

  5. Ahmad says:

    Salam, this really seems like a non-issue. Most mosques I attend fro jumah usually struggle to cater for jumuah, with most of them offering 2 services. All available floors and rooms are used to seat as many as possible, including seating outside. This means that only a small proportion of the attendees can actually see the imam (those who came at least 30 mins early). As such, sitting on the second floor of the mosque, I do not feel disconnected as long as the speakers are functioning properly.
    As an aside at university it is often the female attendees who are more attentive, with a large proportion of male attendees thinking to themselves as soon as this khutba and prayer is over I am relieved of the duty and can go back to work etc

  6. Mujahed says:

    Topic is catchy, but obviously the content is addressing the western/US teenager mind. Youth is mostly vibrant, unsettling, and by the time it settles (15-20 years past puberty) – many MISTAKES youth make, are realized when the EYES/MIND really open – that’s why it is said – in Islam you really grow up when you are 40+ or past the HAZY phase of your life/youth. If only the youth FOCUS on Islamic teachings (Hadith/Quranic laws of leading our life) through these vibrant years – one is ensuring him/herself – the security from youthful-mistakes! But very few who are guarded/guided are distinct from a PLENTY OTHERS! May Allah(swt) protect the Muslim youth from youthful-mistakes, ameen!

  7. Haajar says:

    I agree! As we all know, in an Authentic hadeeth the Prophet (saw) said “Do not keep you wives or children from the masjid” Do not prevent them, do not say no! Even during the Fajr prayers there were women who would pray with the men and Prophet (saw) and there was no “They don’t have to come” . Let’s revive our sunnah. The women are the ones who need the knowledge more than the men because they have the most impact on their children. After all the men are the ones who must leave and make money, leaving the mothers to care, raise, and educate their children.

    • HOPE says:

      everybody needs knowledge equally. there isn’t a question of who needs it more.
      May Allah increase us all in Knowledge that is naafi’ (useful)

      • M. E. H. says:

        can you ensure that women and men will guard their gazes and women will not wear make-up and skinny jeans?

        • Pia says:

          Nobody can ensure that. But just because some people might do wrong things, nobody should forbid something for everybody.
          These things which are forbidden are clearly written in the Quran for everybody to read and follow that.
          The fact that the Quran forbids certain things means that everybody should be responsible what they do.
          Nobody should take the responsibility away from any person!

  8. Um Yusuf says:

    On a separate point, I think it is important to point out a personal perspective. The article may not be written by an esteemed scholar but the author evidently respects women and would like to see their contribution to society not masked. I really appreciate that sentiment and really hope that others appreciate it and echo it too. Women do not need to be hidden away in the knooks and crannies of society.

    • Modern Muslim woman says:

      we are not hidden away when men give us safe space where we can be ourselves without having to worry about their dominant gaze upon us.

  9. munah says:

    assalam aleikum, although i leave in Africa where i can issue of taking women as 3rd class in islam is falling behind slowly but its still present. in my opinion i think the barrier should be there between us and the men during lectures we cannot compare ourselves in ourtime with the khalifas during the prophets time because they were noble and a few of our men in our generation have reached the calibre of them. as a lady the same sititution befall us in our MSA and i stood ground for the barrier to be there it enhances modesty which has been emphasised in islam

  10. Julina says:

    Alhamdulillah, the article has articulated well something that I have personally felt about the requirement of reading body language,

    *especially in cases where the speaker is not a native speaker of my language and has a thick accent, or he is speaking in a language I am currently still learning.

    *similar meetings with khutbahs that require a power point presentation, which sisters can’t see through the wall.

    *sometimes sisters packed away in stuffy rooms with crackly whiney speakers tend to chat away with each other over the speaker drone, but if they are at least in the same room and can hear/see they will be quiet and actually listen/learn inshaAllah.

    Some suggestions for a barrier are, some kind of minimal net curtain pulled across and have the lights a little dimmer at the back than the front, so sisters can relax and have their privacy but may still see and hear clearly to the front.

  11. Shazia says:

    I really agree – of our ummah girls should be given more importance of letting them listen the khutba – why our muslim women should be kept behind?
    -atleast not this contemporary time, they should be given value to understand Islam – listen and learn from friday khutba Which are really useful – and men should take the women to masjid.Im from India and here most masjids are close for women. Even when i specially talk to the imam for the permission then he said its very difficult to manage women in the masjid due to men as they cant lower their gaze.Therefore its better for to women pray at home as its not compulsion. I would love to go and pray five times in masjid with my husband. May ALLAH find a way out for muslim women.
    Islam is one for everyone- whether we are in America- India -Pakistan – or any other country. We all will be standing infront of ALLAH – on the judgement day there will be no barrier of any country. We all will be judge of our deeds – men will be judge by their own and women by theirs. So lets pray to ALLAH for every muslim women in the world to get right Islamic knowlegde and guidance from ALLAH only. InshahALLAH it will change!

  12. questioning says:

    since when is the home such a bad place that you don’t want to pray there? i just don’t get this mentality of wanting to rush into other spaces and wanting to be with men in order to feel validated.

    • Zee says:

      As brother Murphy stated in this article many sisters do not get the opportunity the brothers do in talking to scholars and teachers etc. and that most of the time their “live” discourse with a respected speaker is at Jummah.

      Its not about being validated its about getting a more personal experience in learning the deen. Home is a great place to pray and we should all pray there often, but the masjid or anywhere jummah is being held is also a great place to pray. Its not rushing into a “space.”

      • Rahma says:

        then the issue should be setting up more learning opportunities for women including women teaching women. Christians are way ahead of us when it comes to women sharing women’s wisdom and spirituality with other women, and I think THAT is truly liberating – to see a woman drop science! awesome. that for me is way more empowering, if we are talking about women feeling empowered, welcome by Islam, and like authentic agents of this faith…than taking down a measly barrier. If there are still no women doing the preachin’, it doesn’t go as far as it needs to to make me feel like women’s scholarship and learning matter.

        • Nida says:

          Alhamdulillah endeavors like the one you mentioned are already being pursued.

  13. questioning says:

    y’all are like 30 yrs behind on your feminism. read up. the new feminism is all about women’s safe space, and honoring the stuff that the old feminism diminished in importance by making women feel that traditional women’s roles, spaces, and activities were not valuable because they were not like those of men; the new feminism has gone back to re-value all that is feminine and traditionally so, in order to give importance to what women do and how they do it, and to not make the fatal assumption that what men do and where they are at and what they get is the be-all end-all.
    Muslims are always 10 steps behind. by the time they get where the west was at 30 yrs ago, they gonna realize that it aint’ that great, just as the west and western women are saying today. they are rejecting the idea that waht is male is good and what is female is bad. taht we need to take over the patriarchy to be free. we don’t. that’s not where it’s at, this thing called freedom. and this other thing called happiness.
    seriously, there’s a lot of joy and good to be found in modesty-ensuring structures that deny the male gaze and give us a space where we don’t have to cater to men. Yes, fix the sound system. yes, make the space nice and clean. but after that, honestly, i don’t have a need to be out there on display in front of the guys.

    • American Muslim says:

      Assalamu alaykum questioning,
      Hilarious, but sadly, true.

      May Allah (SWT) give us all the ability to stand up for truth, and be of those who do not fear the blame of the blamers. Ameen.

    • Zee says:

      This article is not about feminism its about granting sisters a chance to learn the deen. Whats wrong with that? That should never be a problem. If someone is muslim let them do it to the best of their ability. Give them a chance to learn. Male or female.

      • M. E. H. says:

        how does a barrier stop them from learning their deen? that’s a huge claim to make. you need to back that up. I learnt my deen with a barrier. Thousands of Sahabah learnt one third of our fiqh from Sayyida Aisha radi Allahu anha, with a barrier between student and Teacher.

        • Kelly says:

          When nonverbal cues is 80% of communication, then women behind a wall aren’t learning as much as if there was not a barrier. When women are too demoralized due to feeling like second-class citizens or not feeling comfortable in the segregated space, and this causes them to not attend the mosque to learn, this means the barrier is causing them to learn less. There is a reason why the Prophet didn’t have walls in the masjid separating men & women, so we shouldn’t be so quick to force the wall on all women due to the preference of some.

  14. ayiesha murtaza says:

    am a Muslim female, am in 3rd year of alimiyah degree and do full hijab and also in my last year of Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. i dont see any of the backwardness you people talk about. also, i dont see how removing partition helps us women, only makes us conscious of how we are sitting and if we are being noticed by the other side. Those who say there was no partition in time of Prophet(saw), then laws of hijab came late (comes in Surah Ahzab) and after they came, then hijab rules were enacted obviously.Before that, they hadnt been revealed.

  15. Modern Muslim woman says:

    I don’t feel comfortable with or agree with this whole movement to end female-only spaces of worship and contemplation. I am a strong Muslim woman, I am not scared of men, but I also do not want to always be in their view and in their company. I actually like being in the company of just other sisters, at times, and also being able to worship in a place where no man might be checking me out/distracted by me/distracting to me. I personally value women-only spaces – it gives me a break from having to be modest in my appearance and actions, and lets me just let my hair down – in this case, not physically, but emotionally. I don’t like the idea of having men around me when I do something as personal as praying. I don’t mind having women around me because they are my sisters.
    I have to wonder what is motivating people to take down the barriers and have men and women in view of each other, when we are all there to catch a glimpse of God, not to be distracted by a handsome man – and there are many, and we sisters are human, you know – or a beautiful woman – come on, again, we are all human, and we are attracted to one another. Give us a break from this type of energy, and let us just be in a place where our thoughts can be on God and on developing sisterhood.

    • your sister says:

      Completely agree with you sister. I understand both sides, but I personally am much more comfortable with the barrier. People can bring up “This Shaykh said this” or “This Shaykh said that” and exhaust the topic so much when there are so many other issues we need to focus on as well. I’d ask any brothers to ask the sisters how they feel though, you may be enlightened.

  16. Modern Muslim woman says:

    I’d also like to know how you, Brother Murphy, reconcile your opinion with the views of the Prophetic Family: Imam Ali (as) is quoted to have said:

    Once we were sitting with Prophet Muhammad (saw) when he (saw) asked: “What is the best thing for a woman?” No one could answer his question. I approached Lady Fatimah Zahra (sa) and discussed the issue with her and she immediately claimed to know the answer. According to her, the answer was, “The best thing for a woman is that she is protected from the sight of strangers such that neither does she have to see them nor do they get to see her.”

    I returned to Prophet Muhammad (saw) and gave him the answer. He (saw) asked at once, “Who taught you this answer?” I told him that the answer had come from Lady Fatimah Zahra (sa). Prophet Muhammad (saw) was delighted and said: “Lady Fatimah Zahra (sa) is my flesh and blood.”

    I find it offensive that you think you are saving us, and you are a man after all. Allow us to say what we want…and not all of us want to sit with you men and see you. Some of us actually don’t mind listening to the Khutba and keepign our eyes not on the speaker but on Allah. So please, include our opinions and concerns before you speak for us.

    • American Muslim says:

      Assalamu alaykum Sr. Modern Muslim Woman,
      Honestly, more women like you should become influential ‘ulamaa…make no excuses for yourselves.

  17. Layla says:

    I do not wear the hijab and i currently do not practice all the aspects of Islam, and i normally have very “normal” interactions with men; however, i agree with the above comment. I do also value a prayer space that is women-only. I value the atmosphere that is so different and peaceful that can be achieved in such a space. I do believe it is one of the things that draws me to the mosque.

    • Gibran says:

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Ok but if you are committing sins, don’t tell any one about it, just regret it ask forgiveness from Allah and try to stop….remember the hadith about those who open up about sins….

  18. Modern Muslim woman says:

    I should clarify that strangers in the hadith in my comment actually should be translated as non-mahram men.

  19. Thank you for your article says:

    Assalam alaykum Brother AbdelRahman,
    thank you for caring about Sisters. I hope you will read our comments, as I thank you for sincerely asking: 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).
    I want to say that i disagree with your basic premise – the idea that one must see the speaker to get the whole message. If this were true, why do we listen to taped speeches, why do we listen to spoken word even? Why do we listen to lectures and other things, and get benefit? I think if we are honest, we can all admit that there is at least one good lecture we have heard in our lives, that was a voice recording of a live lecture, which we were able to take benefit from – perhaps even full benefit. The first Islamic revolution in the world, the Iranian Revolution, was possible due to the spreading of revolutionary ideas and spirit and theology through what? Through the use of taped recordings of taped recordings of taped recordings of Imam Khomeini’s talks, given in exile, in France. These recordings were spread and circulated throughout Iran and had such a huge impact that the population became followers of the lead of this Imam, and ready to launch a revolution, and they succeeded.
    Whether or not you agree with the results of this revolution is another topic, but my point is that the basic premise of your argument for taking down the barrier is not sound.
    I also want to add that while we may use scientific explanations about communication and what makes it effective, we should also add in the scientific studies of how visual stimulators can be distracting. And also about how men and women, when in each other’s presence, act differently than if they were in single-gender groups. There is scientific evidence to show this.
    And apart from all the scientific arguments, we should know that in the communication of spiritual knowledge and teaching, there are aspects that go far beyond and compensate for any problematics in the physical delivery. Indeed, there is a spiritual communication going on that should go from heart to heart…we should not limit communciation to physical aspects or means. We shoudl realize that Allah makes the khutba effective, regardless of whether the speaker’s body movements or facial expression can be seen. so, yes, physical aspects of communciation are important, but they are not the full picture.

  20. Thank you for your article says:

    you wrote: 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.

    actually, this is changing. Now there are female scholars and we all, especially the men who are concerned for the well-being of women, ought to check them out and support/promote them. I am a bit dissappointed that men who seem to care so much about sisters are not actually aware of sister scholars who are filling the gap and making traditional knowledge truly accessible to all women.

    I think it’s high time women started learnign from women scholars, and the men in our lives and communities supported and even promoted this….you mention that body language matters. well, other things matter to in teaching – including teaching by example. a man can never be an example of how to be a good wife, or how to be a good mother. but a woman teacher can. so please, let’s expand our horizons when it comes to Islamic learning.

  21. Kelly K says:

    I think it is wonderful that we all have different opinions. I think the problem lies when people want to impose their opinion on everyone. For those who want the wall, let them have the wall. For those who do not want the wall, let them have a section without a wall. Each perspective is valid and should not be minimized or attacked, and both should be respected and have the opportunity to be realized.

    • Nida says:

      This is why i love the mosque at my college where there is a curtain hanging from rods in the middle of the prayer area, allowing it to be used/not used if desired by the sisters praying there. Theres a sign hanging by it that says, ” curtain to be used at sisters’ discretion” It allows for the kind of flexibility you suggest.

  22. Looking for the truth says:

    Not every man and not every woman is as strong as you. there are some of us who feel the presence of the other all over ourselves, even in our bodies. Yes, that might sound gross to you, but you know what, it is our reality. When someone of the other gender is around me, i feel it…i start to act different, i wonder if eye contact might happen, i compose myself a certain way to look more appealing, and i can’t help it! it just happens…i can barely control it. I can DEAL with it at work and other places, but it is really annoying and frustrating when that is all i am doing when i am at the mosque – fighting my urge for my attention to be on the other gender and the crowd of them just yonder – visible to me adn me to them. When i leave the mosque after an event or prayer where there is no barrier, i leave feeling ilke i did not gegt what i was going there for – peace, getting filled up with eman, etc…i just feel like i’ve been dodging bullets the whole time – bullets of my own nafs, my own desires, whatever you want to call it.

  23. enough already eh says:

    sounds like this is just the cool trend of the day. everyone is jumping on this bandwagon to sound like they are so forward-thinking. does anyone realize that this whole idea came not from the Scholars or People close to Allah, but from progressive Muslims who made documentaries and wrote snarky article about this back in the 90s? That poison has reached us and we think that to be better, we need to expose our women. I know that the women of my family like to be as honored and unseen as possible – for them, being protected from the eyes of men is a sign of respect towards them. They have no need to be on display, to be available for consumption, to be harmed by stares or looks of strangers.

  24. MA says:

    I went to a masjid once where the prayer area for women was separate (very clean, with temperature control and good speakers)but they had a tv in the women’s area that would provide a live transmission of the khutbah. I thought it was a win-win. Women get their personal space for pryaer but they can also watch the khateeb go live and feel a sense of “connectedness”. Side note: I don’t believe the women praying in Makkah or Medina have barriers; just separate rows…

    • kiwigirl says:

      Actually in the prophets(pbuh) mosque in madinah, there are barriers! Proper ones, plus the women have a completely different entrance.
      As a niqabi sister I feel its much easier and comfortable for us to be behind a barrier…for me it means I can remove my niqab. And don’t we all want to be comfortable in the house of Allah?
      Also, about being able to see the khateeb in order to understand…..what about the thousands of people in makkah, madinah or even arafah on hajj? Do you think they are not enlightened by the sermon just because they cant see the imam?

      • Adam says:

        As-salaam-u-Alaykum sister

        I understand what you mean but some sisters feel it is not fair that they cannot see the Khateeb, whilst the men can, in the sense that some of these sisters are ‘visual learners’. It is said about 70% of communication is non-verbal. Therefore, whilst you mention the thousands of brothers and sisters who listen to the sermons in Makkah, Medinah or even Arafah, we must acknowledge that regardless if it is a man or woman, many will not be able to see the Khateeb. However, in the local masjid situation, the women are the ones who do not get to see. Nevertheless, can’t this be solved by having a TV connected to the women’s side..that way they can see the Khateeb and learn (as well as feel more relaxed and have a cup of tea)?

  25. M. E. H. says:

    If all the women of today would dress the way the Sahabiyas did, and everyone practiced lowering of the gaze, i would agree to have the separation between men and women taken down. But i wonder if there isn’t some wisdom in the fact that Khalifa Omar decided to put it up. Surely he had a good reason…we need to take a look at why he did that, as i think somenoe here mentioned. He knew a lot more than you and i, and had a lot more insight and foresight. He was interested in protecting people and making sure the spirit of the Message prevailed, not just the letter. If we don’t like his “bidaa” of putting up a barrier, simply on the grounds that it was not something that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wasalam did, then we should also get rid of Khalifa Omar’s other bidaa on the same grounds. That other bidaa, as we all know, is Taraweeh.

  26. M. E. H. says:

    I am also a little taken aback by people’s assumptions that the only way for women to learn is the khutba. There are so many places for women to learn now – online courses, women scholars (, and other fora. I also wonder how having up a separation prevents women from learning, benefitting, listening, or getting advice. If that really is the case, then it would mean that there should be a cap on numbers of people who should attend Juma at a specific location…because at a certain point, the line you are in, even if you are a man, is far away enough that you can’t see the Imam or his hand movements or facial expressions. At Hajj, we attended the Friday prayers. Most of us could not see the Imam, and i was right there amongst a bunch of men. At many masajid, whether you are male or female, you can’t see the Imam caus there are lots of people. So no barrier in these cases would mean i get to see the backs of a bunch of brothers. How helpful.

  27. Mary says:

    Have a listen to this other perspective. It wil give you another look at the topic. It is a khutba by Abdal Hakim Murad. Short, but very useful to better understand all the points of view. I encourage any sincere person who has an opinion or concern with this topic to listen to this:

  28. Conscience says:

    Good article to discuss. And again another issue where I think we miss the point. With my humble knowledge and understanding, to me it is not a question of barrier or the absence of one during Jummah Qutba. Islam taught us how to behave ourselves individually and collectively in all kinds of spaces, inside the Mosque, at Work, in the Market, at the mall you name it.

    I have seen marital issues arising as a result of two masjid employees a male and a female both married texting and flirting with one another. So barriers ALONE cannot shield us from common problems we see in Society. Rather we have to fear Allah (SWT) in all aspects of life inside the mosque, when we are alone, and elsewhere. Then maybe if we practice that, we will not need a physical barrier and we will have a spiritual barrier to shield our eyes from what is forbidden.

  29. Sister Amatullah says:


    As a fellow Muslim sister, I understand the brother’s argument in this article but I feel more comfortable with a barrier. But I agree that sisters should be more active in the Muslim community within limits of modesty.

  30. Caroline says:

    Thank you for writing this. As a Muslim convert, I have a VERY hard time with the segregation of men and women in our Muslim community. I know it is not a fair comparison, as it is done out of misguided respect, but I can’t help comparing our segregation to the old segregation of the American South. One of these days, I just might pull a “Rosa Parks” on our back-row prayer arrangement!

    • Mustafa says:

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Why don’t you bear it and focus on going to Jannah? Shaitan distracts us with little annoyances.

      • a.r says:

        I personally dont have an opinion on the barrier issue. wither, you ware for or against, thats a matter of opinion. BUT! i must say the womens condiiton in the mosques i have been to are not good!

        i was traveling with my family once, and we needed to do salah, so we found a mosque. the men in my family had no problem getting it done, but the females had a tough time! they had a 6 foot by 6 foot room! this is not a joke, the were forced to pray in a TINY room how are you suppose to fit even 10 sisters in the room to pray?

        are they not muslims? are they not humans? are they not worthy of worshiping Allah in comfort and ease like the brothers do? ofcourse not! the brothers section should be EQUAL to the sisters section. we are created EQUAL IN religion. some mosques have a nice big room with AC, windows. new carpet. big front door. nice place to do wudu…then you have the sisters side with 10 yearold carpet. a small side door which is broken half the time. no windows..ect. it dosent make sense.

        I am a man, and i feel the women of our religion arent respected as they should be. the prophet muhammad delt with women kindly an respectfully. he made sure they werent facing hardship. now adays the idea of a muslim women as the author said is throw her in the kitchen and have her pop out kids. is this what islam has taught us?

        i am american, and if we muslims practiced islam and treated our women like the Prophet(pbuh) ALL of the women in the USA would flock to islam in the hundreds! because no relgion honors and protects them like Islam does. but since we refuse to embrace them and treat them as second class citizens, you see the sterotype of “women opressors”, which is simply not true.

        sorry for the rant…but we muslims must face the reality of our situation. yes its true its not an obligation for women to go to the mosque, BUT you cannot forbid them from going. they have an equal right, to a islamic education.

    • abc says:

      why? what about women’s safe space? have you not heard of that? it’s all about priviliging women. they are all over university campuses. but when it comes to Islam, we assume it must have bad intentions of women-hatred behind it.
      i wonder whose kool aid we drank?

    • abc says:

      what’s to stop you from resenting also the fact that women can’t be the Imam of the juma prayer?

  31. Kelly says:

    Salaams, Mustafa – I am happy to see this isn’t an issue for you and that you focus on the big things. To many of us this isn’t a little annoyance- it is so major that it keeps some women from going to the mosque, from gaining peace at the mosque, and even from feeling like as a female that they have a place in Islam or that Islam is anti-woman. This can impact women having a place of Islamic learning (making them rely on less qualified places to learn) , building their Muslim support network (which means they may build their network with more non-Muslims who may not support their Islamic lifestyle). I know converts to Islam who occasionally attend church because they are desperate to feel like they are wanted, that they belong, and that they are respected. This issue, for some women, is so major that it does impact focusing on going to jannah.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Assalamu alaikum. I really appreciate and commend Brother AbdelRahman Murphy for speaking out in regards to this matter. I’ve read all the comments and I’ve noticed that everyone has personal preferences. Some women actually do like the barrier being put up and some do not. My own preference is to remove the physical barrier beause I find that it limits my ability to truly grasp and benefit from the khatib’s lecture. However, I do understand that some women prefer to be behind the barrier for privacy concerns and I think we all respect that. I have experienced being behind a barrier and not having a barrier. When it came to the private room with a speaker, women would talk amongst themselves and the video just wasn’t as interactive for me to pay attention. There were women who definitely could benefit from just a video mashaAllah. At my current masjid, we have no barrier however we do provide a women’s lounge that has a speaker for women who want more privacy.

    My point being that, we can make this better inshaAllah by having no barrier for the sisters who do not want it and provide a women’s lounge for women who do. As for the men who ask why women need to come to the masjid, please please try to see the insensitivity in that statement. For God’s sake please.

    • Gibran Mahmud says:

      wa alaykumusalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      I don’t see the sensitivity. It is better for them to pray at home.

      Also, if you want to see the imam so badly, lets install t.v’s in the sisters section so that the sisters can see the imam.

      In this fitnah filled world, the one place a young guy like me can find relief is in the Masjid. And now people are trying to take it away. What am I going to be left with>?

      • Kelly says:

        Gibran – Salaams.

        Sorry but it is not the women’s responsibility to control men’s gaze – it is the man’s responsibility. Nobody is trying to ‘take away’ your relief, just like nobody is taking away your responsibility. The mosque is the perfect place to learn how to control yourself in the presence of women, as there is a support network there to guide you. Where else should one learn?

        Last, a woman has the right to the masjid just like the man, and her access should not be limited unless it was done in the Prophet’s time, which it was not, so who are we to change the structure of the masjid? Society needs to stop removing women’s access, rights, and stop blaming women for men’s weaknesses. It is upon each of us to control ourselves, and not within our right to limit other people’s rights just because we have weaknesses.

        • Gibran Mahmud says:

          “Sorry but it is not the women’s responsibility to control men’s gaze – it is the man’s responsibility. ”
          I never denied that. But there is no denying a woman has responsibility to clothe herself properly and behave modestly.

          Nobody is trying to ‘take away’ your relief, just like nobody is taking away your responsibility.

          Women have a responsibility to dress and behave modestly.

          “The mosque is the perfect place to learn how to control yourself in the Tpresence of women,”

          Mosques were made so I can learn to control myself in the presence of women? So there is no safe place on the planet is there?

          “as there is a support network there to guide you. Where else should one learn?”
          What support network?…..

          “Last, a woman has the right to the masjid just like the man, and her access should not be limited unless it was done in the Prophet’s time, which it was not, so who are we to change the structure of the masjid? ”

          No one is talking about banning women from the masjid. Where did you get that from? The barrier is not an innovation. We were commanded in a hadith to follow the sunnah of the rightly guided caliphs. Omar RA is one of them. So the barrier is a good thing.

          If you want the barrier to go, then all women should start dressing and behaving the the Sahabiyat.

          Until then, you have no right to take this relief from me.

        • Kelly says:

          Gibran Mahmud > You can say the barrier is not an innovation. But it clearly IS an innovation, just one that has been accepted.

          I never said you were saying women were being banned from the masjid. I was making it clear that many women feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and challenged to follow along when behind a wall.

          You say “If you want the barrier to go, then all women should start dressing and behaving the the Sahabiyat.”. The Prophet never stuck all women behind a wall in the mosque, in markets, etc., even if a few of the women didn’t dress properly. Again, that’s beecause men have an obligation to divert their eyes. If men can’t control themselves, let them go into the basement for Jumu’ah away from others who may distract them. The prophet didn’t instruct us to handle this situation by sticking women behind a wall, and therefore women should not be forced behind a wall. The option is clearly fine, but it should be an option either way and for all.

          “Until then, you have no right to take this relief from me.” Actually, your relief is immediately gained by diverting your eyes. Just that simple. That’s the genius and beauty of Islam and the Prophet’s teachings.

        • Gibran Mahmud says:

          “Gibran Mahmud > You can say the barrier is not an innovation. But it clearly IS an innovation, just one that has been accepted.”

          No it isn’t, unless your willing to say we should disobey the Prophet sallahualayhiwasalam even though he commanded us to imitate those after him, Abu Bakr RA and Umar RA. Even though he commanded us to follow the way of the rightly guided caliphs after him.

          “I never said you were saying women were being banned from the masjid. I was making it clear that many women feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and challenged to follow along when behind a wall.”
          Others feel a sense of peace, being alone with their Master. The masjid is a place for our relationship with Allah aza wa jal.

          “You say “If you want the barrier to go, then all women should start dressing and behaving the the Sahabiyat.”. The Prophet never stuck all women behind a wall in the mosque, in markets, etc., even if a few of the women didn’t dress properly. Again, that’s beecause men have an obligation to divert their eyes. If men can’t control themselves, let them go into the basement for Jumu’ah away from others who may distract them. The prophet didn’t instruct us to handle this situation by sticking women behind a wall, and therefore women should not be forced behind a wall. The option is clearly fine, but it should be an option either way and for all.”

          To be honest, I find this offensive. I feel like I sound like some raging maniac who can’t control himself.

          The woman of today don’t dress a fraction of the modesty of the Sahaba. The two cannot be compared. SubhanAllah, if the companions could see how our brothers behaved and how our sisters dressed….

          Women aren’t being forced behind a wall. They don’t need to come to the masjid in the first place. As the hadith confirm, the further inside a women is in her house when praying, the better for her.

          ” Actually, your relief is immediately gained by diverting your eyes. Just that simple. That’s the genius and beauty of Islam and the Prophet’s teachings.”

          I’m sorry, but you clearly are not in my shoes and not in the shoes of other Muslim brothers who are not raging maniacs but normal human beings who live in an era where the Muslim women do not have a fraction of the dress modesty the Sahaba did. And where Muslim brothers weren’t raised to have the haya of the haya of the Sahaba. This is just a fact-ask any scholar how the Sahabiyat used to dress.

          Lowering the gaze helps keep chaste. It doesn’t provide full relief. I don’t see why I need to be tortured in the one place that was made for me to remember my Master.

  33. johnt says:

    Hey, speaking of save the sisters, what about calling for a color revolution or regime change in Saudi Arabia? Anyone can be a mouth piece, how about a call to action?

  34. n says:

    I think the article made a very valid point. We can get distracted very easily, actually looking at the lecturer we do understand more and pay more attention. Why can a religious man not give a lecture to a group of women without lowering his gaze?? I think there is a problem of some men who indulge themselves in looking at women. There is no point of claiming submission to Allah if we are not obeying Him and fighting our desires.
    As a sister i personally am used to gender segregation so a barrier is not a big deal. But men should remember women are equal to them i.e in responsibility of our souls. Most mosques should be helping and providing services to women to educate themselves inshaa’Allah.
    May Allah forgive all the believing men and women. Amin

    • abc says:

      what about women looking at men? that is also an issue. women’s sexuality is recognized in Islam and there is supposed to be a means to limit opportunities to provoke unnecessary feelings through looking at each other.

  35. Julina says:

    It may just be an issue of organisation.. many masjids in general are not very well organised Ahmad pointed out above offering only 2 salat service, let alone a comfortable and suitable sisters space.

  36. Iman says:

    Jazaka’Allah khairan! I agree with you because I am a visual learner, and being able to see the Imam makes all the difference in my understanding what’s being said!

  37. Dini Mariska says:

    Assalamu alaikum. Very inspirational article, May Allah SWT blesses you. Honestly speaking, I agreed on more building more “space” in mosque for sisters cause in my country, Indonesia, even at my work place, space for sisters to take prayers with jamaah and follow lectures after prayers (delivered from men jamaah) are so small and sometimes because of the reason, many sisters just leave the masjid right after taking prayers without hearing lectures or because of the small room, we have to take turns because many sister also wait for taking prayers after us. More flexible concept about making “space” in Masjid for sisters is really needed. May Allah SWT makes all of us easier in finding knowledge about Islam, aameen. Wassalamu alaikum. Sister from Indonesia.

  38. sofia n says:

    i feel so sorry for those women who do not feel ok or that they are respected unless they are in the same room as a man. it is so sad that many women still feel they need have their existence validated by the presence of men, and that if men are not around, their very being does not matter as much.
    you are there for God’s Message and to get His blessing, not to see or be seen or feel respected or make a political statement like rosa parks or anything else you think you need to do. God sees you right? now focus on seeing HIM!

  39. quran learning online says:

    O ye who believe! It is not lawful for you forcibly to inherit the women (of your deceased kinsmen), nor (that) ye should put constraint upon them that ye may take away a part of that which ye have given them, unless they be guilty of flagrant lewdness. But consort with them in kindness, for if ye hate them it may happen that ye hate a thing wherein Allah hath placed much good. (4.19)

  40. habiba says:

    All things that have value are kept in a secluded area.d fact dat a barier is put btwn men and women doesn’t mean dat women r less important.muslim sisters r princesses they r soo special that a place has been secluded for them.the most important thing is to get d message the imam is passing across.may Allah guide n protect us

  41. Bayyinah says:

    I do agree, and honestly I’ve experienced this, not being able to see the speaker and merely hear him is very frustrating , its like listening to the radio.
    And We don’t need to attend anyways??
    Oh pleeease!

  42. just an idea says:

    السﻻم عليكم…i have a suggession that may help solving this issue for both sides…. your side on removing the barrier so the sisters can see the imam’s body langues ….and the mangers side on keeping the barrier.
    So my suggesion is: KEEP THE BARRIER! ..infact..make it more like aprivet closed room for
    Sisters so they can feel more comfortable..but..stay with me its getting better..but a tv in it
    Thats coneccted to a camera thats facing the imam on the other the sisters can see the imam but.. he can only see the brother..:-).
    Please send me back if you reseved the message ..ireely want to know how things are going to turn up to be…سدد الله خطاكم وحفظكم من كل سوء :-)

    • julina says:

      wa laikum salaam, speaking from personal experience, a private closed room is the ^worst^ place, the sisters just gossip and natter and you can never hear a thing the speaker is saying.

      there is only ever about three or four sisters who crowd around the screen/speaker to actually try to painfully listen over the noise, the only time the bulk of the sisters behave themselves (they keep quiet-for fear of distrupting the speaker and audience and actually listen) is when they are in the main room a decent gap behind the brothers.

      the idea of a seperate room works in principal but unfortunatly if you put the sisters in their own room with a tv, just becomes a social gathering (this may be the only time they get together with their friends) with the tv going on in the back ground. you can’t imagine how annoying this is if you actually want to listen and take notes, i know and completely agree that we sisters need a secure and private space to get together, “let loose/ let their hair down”, but during a lecture/seeking knowledge is not the place or time for that.

  43. Adam says:

    As-salaam-u-alaykum brothers and sisters

    I do feel the sisters do get short-changed by some of the brothers regarding the issue of praying in masjids.

    However I do know there are some masjids that have adequate spaces for the sisters, whilst at the same time there are masjids that do not have such spaces.

    A sister in Islam has flexibility – she can pray at home or at the masjid. Mothers, especially, who have little children do not have to pray at the masjids – they can equally pray at home – which is why Friday Prayers are not too incumbent upon them as they are with the brothers. However certain cultural traditions have seeped into the Islamic culture, and as a result there have been certain brothers (and even sisters) who feel that a woman praying in a masjid is a haram thing to do! ..they make it feel like that! lol.

    If that is so then why do men and women do Hajj and Umrah together?

    Also there are many hadiths in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim regarding women praying in masjids.

    1. Sahih Muslim Book 004, Number 0890:
    Ibn ‘Umar reported: “Grant permission to women for going to the mosque in the night. His son who was called Waqid said: Then they would make mischief. He (the narrator) said: He thumped his (son’s) chest and said: I am narrating to you the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him), and you say: No!”

    2. Sahih Muslim Book 004, Number 0887:
    lbn Umar reported: I heard the Messeinger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: “When your women seek your permission for going to the mosque, you grant them (permission)”.

    3. Sahih Muslim Book 004, Number 0886:
    Ibn ‘Umar reported: ‘The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Do not prevent the maid-servants of Allah from going to the mosque.

    4. Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 12, Number 831:
    Narrated ‘Aisha: “Allah’s Apostle used to offer the Fajr prayer when it was still dark and the believing women used to return (after finishing their prayer) and nobody could recognize them owing to darkness, or they could not recognize one another.”

    5. Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 12, Number 824:
    Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: “The Prophet said, “If your women ask permission to go to the mosque at night, allow them.”

    6. Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 12, Number 832:
    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”.

    Fact is women were allowed to go to masjids and still are.

    Now the issue is whether or not the sister going to the masjid, on a regular basis, is so adamant in doing that, that it affects the family life – I mean if she has to drive there everytime with the kids in the back seat crying and moving about whilst the masjid is not nearby – therefore creating more hassle than calmness. So the women have options and more flexibility :)

    And if we are to discuss this physical barrier thing, why don’t we do an experiment – one masjid has an Imam do 2 separate (BUT THE SAME!) lectures to men and women without a physical barrier, and one with a physical barrier. Afterwards we can ask the women via questionnaire what hey learnt and who was more attentive in listening to the Imam. After all Islam is about learning for our own benefits.

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