Tuesday 13 December 2011

"beautification of mosques for women"

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.


Anonymous said...

Hello Stargazer,

I like reading your work. But you have stopped capitalizing words. I know it's a pain but it makes it hard to read. I saw you had a post cross posted to the Standard. And the content of you post was good, the presentation really diminished its impact. Keep up the good work, but using capitals will really help.

Maia said...

Anonymous - for someone keen to tell other people how to write your reading comprehension is lacking.

We don't allow anonymous comments here, please adopt a consistent handle.

stargazer said...

thanx maia, i agree.

anon: i really appreciate the compliment but most of your comment is off topic. i'll maybe do a post later about it so that anyone who want to have that discussion can do so.

Moz said...

stargazer, that's an interesting post. I find your posts a great source of information on the diversity within islam. And you've led me to read a couple of other muslim-feminist blogs which is great. The contrast with the monolithic presentation of "muslims" in much media is also thought-provoking.

("all muslims" is also claimed by many muslims, and it's a really common technique in general. "as a human, I speak for all humans when I say...")

(and yes, I am bothered by your no-caps writing, but I find value in your posts despite that. I'm sure you've at least mentioned why you do that before, but yes, a discussion you can link to might help other people who are bothered by it in the future).

stargazer said...

thanx moz for your comments.

i totally agree that "all muslims" is also claimed by many muslims. there are different reasons for this. there are those who seek unity across all muslims, so believe that there must only be "one islam", and that factionalism and division is destructive. the only problem is that there is never going to be agreement on what that "one islam" is going to look like. and also, seeking to deny a variety of interpretations leads to a rigidity that can't be flexible enough for varying contexts - cultural, social, geographical and time-based. one of the early scholars of islam who lived for many years in damascus then moved to baghdad was noted for the fact that he changed his ruling on a particular issue when he moved cities. he justified this on the basis that something that was appropriate for damascus wasn't appropriate for baghdad - the places were too different.

i think a lot of people have difficulty with plurality, regardless of religion, race, or culture. things are safer and easier to negotiate when people conform and follow the rules - whether they be based on "tradition" or more codified in law. variation leads to uncertainty, and a lot of people just don't like that.