baby steps, but steps nonetheless. it was nice to read this piece (via facebook) about turkey making mosques more women-friendly:
"This is about mosques being a space for women," declared Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul's deputy mufti, the city's second most powerful administrator of the Islamic faith. "When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion."
As part of the "Beautification of Mosques for Women" project, Erdemli sent 30 teams to visit all of Istanbul's mosques and report back on the facilities for women. What the teams found was shocking, she claimed. "Many of the mosques have no toilets for women, no place for women to wash before praying," Erdemli recounted. "Most of the places allocated for women were used as storage places, and those that weren't were usually filthy and freezing cold in winter."
Istanbul's mosques are now under strict instructions to clean up and provide equal facilities for both men and women by February 2012. But it's not only a push for cleanliness and improved sanitation that is underway. The way mosques are arranged is also being changed, according to Erdemli. "In most mosques, the women's area was divided by a curtain or a wall, and this is not fair," she elaborated. "They are sacred places and women have the right to take advantage of their spiritual feeling as well.
the thing is that originally, mosques were open to men and women alike, and there were no physical barriers at all. this idea of having curtains or walls separating the women is a more recent phenomenon - i don't know where it started or how it caught on, but it's against the spirit of the mosque.
mosques were social centres as much as they were places of worship. they were places where foreign delegations would visit and would stay, sometimes for months. they were places where physical contests such as wrestling or foot races were held. they were places of education, where lectures were given. the mosque was the hub of the community, and open to all people at all times.
it would actually be good to have a review of mosques in nz as well. they vary in the quality of space, but all bar one mosque does have space for women, and they have separate toilet and washing facilities for women as well. some have plenty of space as well as other rooms available for use, others have spaces that are just too cramped.
internationally, women's space in mosques tends to depend on geographic location. so in the indian subcontinent, women going to the mosque has traditionally been frowned on, and very few mosques will accommodate women. from what i hear, this is starting to change, particularly in the cities. malaysian and indonesian mosques, on the other hand, tend to all have women's spaces that are roomy and comfortable. and women from this part of the world are very used to being in the mosque.
the other thing about the very early mosques is that they were simple. the first one had a dirt floor and palm leaves for a roof. no fancy calligraphy, no expensive floor coverings or elaborate decorations. of course this reflected the state of the community, which was quite impoverished at the time, so couldn't afford more. but even so, i don't believe in pouring money into elaborate buildings, be they places of worship or something else. i think it's much more important to spend money on people - on ensuring that they are fed, clothed, housed and have opportunies for education and work.
i totally understand the desire for people to create beautiful places to aid in spiritual contemplation. i just disagree with it. the opportunity cost is too high, and in a world where people are dying of starvation and preventable diseases in such high numbers, i know i'd much rather have that money spent elsewhere, and let the spiritual reward of saving lives uplift us more than the aesthetic beauty of a building.
however, the turkish project is more than just beautification. it's about claiming women's spaces, and through that, their places in society. equality in the mosque will slowly lead to equality outside the mosque, so it's a good place to start.