ABU DHABI // The number of female worshippers attending congregational prayers in mosques during Ramadan has risen significantly, imams and religious authorities say. During the evening taraweeh service, when many Muslims gather for extended prayers during the holy month, some mosques are so full that women are being forced to pray in the street.
While this is a common occurrence with male worshippers, it is very rare for female prayer areas to overflow. Abdulhamid al Radwi, the deputy imam of the Sa'ad bin abi Waqas mosque on Delma Street, said every night both female praying areas had been overflowing. The mosque has added a carpeted area surrounded by fans outside the main praying room and set aside a special area in the men's section for women to pray.
"This mosque was renovated in 2005, and it became popular ever since because worshippers feel comfortable with the big space, air-conditioning and clean carpets," Mr al Radwi said. He believes women who enjoy praying at this mosque have spread the word, leading to the increased number this year. Others speculated the increase was because of the delay of the start of the new school year, which in many cases will be after the Eid holiday.
Fatima Saeed, wife of the imam at the Thani bin Murshid al Rumaithi mosque, said in previous years the number of worshippers varied from day to day, but this Ramadan the mosque was always full. "Probably this is due to the holidays. There are no schools so everybody has more time for worship," she said. Mohammed-Obaied al Mazrouei, the executive manager of Islamic Affairs at Awqaf, agreed that the increase was because families had more time for worship. "The women are free in the morning, they don't have to pick up or drop their children from school, and at night they don't have to help them study or do their homework, so they have time to go to the mosque," he said. "This also applies to teachers."
Layla, a 45-year-old Palestinian-Lebanese schoolteacher and a worshipper at the Sa'ad bin abi Waqas mosque, said: "It is a growing phenomenon between housewives, neighbours and young ladies to go to the mosque for taraweeh, because there are more people praying together at the mosque, and when you stay at home you might feel lazy." She said some women liked to hear the imam recite the Quran, because some imams recited the whole Quran throughout Ramadan.
"It used to get very busy during the last 10 days of Ramadan, whereas this year it is extremely busy from the beginning," she said. At the Sa'ad bin abi Waqas mosque, some women have also been forced to pray outside because of the crowds, but Layla said most women would not be put off by that. "We are used to having to deal with problems," she said. "For example, a few days ago the electricity got cut off during the second ruka'a of taraweeh, so we couldn't hear the imam any more. Then one of the ladies took the role of imam for the females."
No matter what the circumstances, she and her friends would continue to come to the mosque, she said. The deputy imam of Ghareeba bint Rahsed mosque in Bain al Jesrain area, who did not want to be named, said that last year women barely filled three lines at that mosque. This year, he said, the lines almost reached the end of the room. "This mosque used to be packed two years ago because the imam had a great voice," said Zabna Amer, 25. "However, last year when they changed the imam, very few women showed up here. But this year the numbers have increased again."
"Nowadays you won't find any mosque that has empty space, they're all packed," said Shereefa Azmi, a 43-year-old teacher from Egypt who goes to Fatima bint al Khattab mosque in Al Karama. "I've noticed there has been an increase in female worshippers everywhere. It's because more people have faith now and returned to Allah because of the increase recently in accidents, youths' deaths, disasters and spread of diseases and viruses. Therefore, everybody is repenting and worshipping Allah more than before."