Mosques that were supposed to knit Muslim society together have in fact become responsible for its very deterioration. Women used to go to the mosque freely during the time of the Prophet, but are now barred from wandering near its precincts. The very sight of a woman it seems, nullifies the ablution of a pious man, who feels he has a monopoly over religion. While he is being commanded to fast, pray and give charity, the religious duties of a woman include being respectful to her husband, never neglecting his desires, and protecting his honor. For that purpose, going to the mosque is the right of a Muslim man not of a Muslim woman. If a woman wishes to go the mosque, she is asking to be exempted from her religious duties at home, and that, a God-fearing man can never allow.

Muslim women can only imagine the spiritual awakening that Muslim men experience during Ramadan. Men come home from work and rush straight to the mosque for the night prayer after breaking their fast. Women are left behind to look after the children, and when women protest, their caring husbands iterate that the prayers of a woman are more acceptable at home. Those who do make it into the mosque are treated like herded prisoners surrounded by four walls and a speaker in the top-corner from where they can hear the Imam. Back in the day, when the Muslims were much less righteous, during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) himself, there was no cloth or wall separating the men from the women. The women used to stand behind the men, but they used to still occupy an open setting where they could easily see the Imam. The science of kinesics proves that more than 90% of the communication is via body language. How are the women, enclosed behind a wall, supposed to understand what a Khateeb is actually intending to say during the Friday prayer when they cannot even see his bodily gestures?

Muslim men are beyond doubt the privileged class today. When the West criticizes them for their oppression of women, they quote the much crammed four liberating roles of a Muslim woman that permit her to be given some rights i.e. that she is a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister. But wait till you hear the rest: she is respected as a mother because she will give birth to men who will carry the flag of Islam to new heights. Many proponents of female education amongst the Muslim masses actually do not want education for the liberation of the female mind, but because an enlightened female will educate her sons even before they go to school. She is respected as a wife because she completes half the religion of her husband and lets him concentrate on his religious duties while she cooks food for him and cleans the house. How ironic to have all these rights being granted to women in relation to a man. After all, there are many women who never enjoy the privilege of being a mother, and there are many others who never get to be a wife. No wonder such women feel suicidal because they have got nothing left to do with their lives. They are told by men that motherhood and wifehood are the only two avenues to paradise. But no such emphasis is ever laid upon the duties of a Muslim man as a father, a husband, a son and a brother.

The subjugation of women in even the elite Muslim societies can only stop if the former are granted their rights with respect to God and not with respect to a man. If it is important for Muslim men to pray, it is equally important for Muslim women. But men like to own the mosque and look down upon any woman who tries to make some space for herself. She is told to go home to pray; barely do they realize that she may be far away from her home and is not able find any other place to bow down before God without being stared at. But the fundamental purpose of a mosque throughout Islamic history was to serve as a community center not just a place for praying. Men and women together with their children were encouraged to come to the mosque, spend time with others, and yes socialize. The Eid prayers today are only a last remnant of the initial purpose of a mosque.

This attitude of the self-righteous Muslim man has also repelled other sections of the community. Not surprisingly, many people prefer going to a saint’s shrine than to a mosque. Families flock together to various shrines throughout the subcontinent to rejuvenate their spirituality. They feel more welcomed there than they could ever feel in a mosque. Even though the Deobandi Muslims would be infuriated to see their Barelvi counterparts mustering more followers than they are, they have only themselves to blame. Anything forced down the throat of a person is bound to be rejected by the heart. Muslim youth today feel completely alienated by the Imam for not addressing their modern-day problems. Because many Imams are not educated in the modern sciences, they only have the same outdated clichés to hurl at their audience hoping that they will automatically be the panacea for all distress. When a person discusses his predicament with the Imam, he is only told to have patience and is brushed aside. It is time that the mosques are made open for the entire community, instead of being reserved for a chosen few.

 The writer is a status quo critic by habit and a marketing scientist by profession.

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