An insider’s view of gender segregation in Islam

As a youth, I felt sorry for Muslim women because they were never treated as equals in matters of religion. While I’m sure many Muslim women who might be reading know exactly where they can tell me to stick my unwanted sympathy, I have to say it plainly: these represent the most complete victory for theocrats. Theirs is a state of oppression so ingrained that some Muslim women (but by no means all) hardly notice it. To this point, I clearly recall thinking to myself how relieved I was to not have been born a girl because that meant my life would be that much easier. I would not have to cover my head every time I left my house or even in my own home when a male family friend visited unexpectedly. Living as a Muslim, one has to be blind not to appreciate the obvious preference—however subtle—that is given to males.

The fact that I was made to stand in front of my own grandmother in our family’s communal prayer is painful as it is uncomfortable to remember. Despite being sick with cancer (and various other ailments about which she never complained), my grandmother had not in her old age missed a single prayer. In contrast, I was lazy in the prayer department and only prayed occasionally or when asked to join the family. That I, as a child, should stand in front of a more devoted elder felt uncomfortable and is a travesty to anyone who believes in gender equality.

I did not have any sisters and I often think how uncomfortable it would have been to watch them being gently nudged two or three steps behind the boys for the first time as the family prepared to offer prayers. In nearly every mosque in the world, men and women listen to the Friday sermon and pray in separate rooms (the logic being the sexes would too easily distract each other from absorbing the sermon). The thing that’s almost never brought up is that the area designated for women is almost never as beautified or well-maintained as the men’s. In many cases, it can be downright dingy and lack a view of the imam delivering the sermon all together. In such cases, a television or speaker is often used.

These are some of the ways in which Islam patronizes its women while filling its young boys with a false sense of importance and superiority from an early age. The indignity of the thing is subtle yet scandalous and every day I spend outside the mindset of Islam is a day I am grateful for.

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Special thanks to Andrew Hall who runs the Patheos blog Laughing in Disbelief!

01 - final cover for volume 2


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