Ask Ali: Why mosques have separate areas for women
Dear Ali: Why do mosques have separate areas for women and men? And does this mean that men and women can't pray together at home? AY, Dubai
Dear AY: Very good question. Let me explain first that it's totally fine in Islam for men and women to pray together in one area. This is proven by seeing our holy mosque in Mecca where Muslims from all over the world gather and conduct their prayers and rituals. Another point that many people don't know is that Muslim women are not obliged to pray at the mosque. This is nothing but a great example of how Islam shows respect and appreciation to women by making conducting a prayer much easier than for a man who is more obliged to conduct the prayer at a mosque. Some women are pregnant, others would be living far away without the ability to drive or walk alone to a mosque, elderly women have more things to take care of at home, and therefore again Islam takes all these factors into consideration. Also, we as Muslims go to the mosque for many reasons but mainly to conduct our prayers and it's more appreciated to attend the "Jama'ah" prayer which means the congregational prayer. When men and women are together in the Masjid then we should have first, men's lines behind the imam, then children and then women. This is the way Muslims used to pray behind the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him). He did not make or ask his companions to have a curtain or wall between the lines of men and women. And if you are wondering why women would be lined up behind men, that's nothing to do with showing less respect but actually respect to their being. Muslims pray with actions, such as bowing, as well as prostrating so you could imagine how men would react to a lady in front of them bowing and so on, hence the men in front, kids and then women.
So to clear any wrong thoughts about Islam, it's totally fine for men and women to pray in one place, but with the guidelines mentioned above, however, it's very important that Muslim women come to public gatherings wearing proper Islamic dress, for it is haram (forbidden) for a Muslim woman to attend a public gathering without a full Islamic dress. She must cover her hair and neck with a scarf, which should also go over her bosom. Her dress should be modest and loose enough not to reveal her body shape.
Due to many reasons of modesty and tradition, it became common to see segregated walls. So those who don't know about Islam might view this negatively. You would see mosques where they would have a small area being allocated for women to pray, which would be separated with some curtain or portable low rise wall and some bigger mosques would have a complete hall allocated for women. Please note that this is not really considered a separate place from the mosques but simply a partition, which has its own entrance and walk-in area for the worshippers to enter and they pray behind the same imam that conducts the prayers for all Muslims who attend the mosque.
As far as home, rest assured we all pray with our families and this is the tradition. I still remember how my beloved father, during our trips overseas, would call to the prayer and then we would all stand - him, me, then my sisters and mother - all behind my father, and pray.
Having your sisters, wife, aunts, grandmother and mother praying behind the male members of the family is totally embraced in Islam and appreciated. But again the members of the family and not strange women.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow //www.ask-ali.com">www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.
Updated: May 30, 2013 04:00 AM