Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mosque Rules: Please leave shoes and women at the door...thank you.

The intensity of my feelings have settled and I am now prepared to write about it…

The beautiful Grand Mosque has been up for quite some time, since August of 09. For the grand opening, Sam was one of the first on sight to perform the Jumuah (Friday) prayer (lucky him). I have been wanting to go see it since its opening and finally committed to go for a visit. Visiting hours are from 8AM until 11AM, as indicated on the sign propped out in the front. In the last couple of years my hobby to visit and photograph Mosques around the world has intensified, and I planed to add Salalah’s Grand Mosque to my scrapbook.

I load the offspring, snuggle my camera underneath the backseat, grab my to-go coffee mug and pop into the passengers seat. My adrenaline kicks in with the anticipation of walking into a vast open space decorated with elaborate details and intricate geometric shapes.

We make it to the Mosque at 8:57. Kids still in tow, Sam goes to the men’s section to inform the guard that we would like to come in for a tour. I watch them from the car window, Sams hand motions to our car, and then as the guard speaks, Sam places his hands on his waist. I can already tell that he is carrying bad news before he approaches the car. Our conversation goes something like this

Sam: “He said women aren’t allowed to visit the men’s section” (eyebrows raised)

Me: “What? Whatdoyoumean?”

Sam: “Women can’t go in there…”

Me: “Did he tell you why not?"

Sam: “No.."

Me: “Is anyone inside? Are people praying?…. Why can‘t I go in?”

Sam: “No, No, its completely empty, you just can’t go in, women aren‘t allowed in the men‘s section…."

Steam literally shooting out of my Darth Vader ensemble. I flip my burqa up, inhale unfiltered air, wipe the steam from my beneath my eyes, and say, (bottom lip quivering)

Me: “Are you freakin’ serious????! I can’t go in? (pause) cause’ I’m a woman??!”

Sam knows I’m on the verge of an explosion, so he interrupts before my fuse blows.

Sam: “Want me to take some photos for you, I can go in and take some shots for you…Ill do a good job this time?”

Me: “No!, I don’t want you to take photos for me!!, Why can’t I go in myself? Is he afraid I’ll seduce him? Does he think ill make the place dirty by being in there? So you’re saying I can’t go in JUST because I’m a woman???!! But I’m covered from head to toe, and I only want to take photos???! This is such BS man, such BS!"

Burqa gets flapped down again. I‘m so done with trying to figure out why.

Sam: “Why don’t you at least check out the women’s side and take some photos of the outside too. I’ll take photos of men‘s side…come on…” he pleads.

Me: No answer. Just more steam blowing out through the burqa.

I get out the car, slam the door, take the offspring out and head to the men’s section. I pull out my camera and start snapping as many shots as I can. I am deliberate in my movement and obviously taking photos of the guard who I’ve decided to take out my rage. At the moment I don’t care if he is just the messenger or not, maybe its his rule, maybe its not. I don’t know, don’t care. The more shots I take the calmer I get. The surrounding area is very beautiful and I am able to capture some really nice shots. My nerves settle and I make my way to the Women’s section of the Mosque. The sign clearly says “no children“, I open the door and usher the offspring into the Mosque, yes defiantly. I hold my breath, the door opens and the room is….disappointing, nothing grand at all. Its small. Very little décor and the carpet is unimpressive, almost tacky. I take photos anyway, mostly of the kids running around in this cool, soft floored playground. We leave the Mosque, sit on the steps and admire the outside. I give Sam my camera to take photos of the inside of the “forbidden zone". Twenty minutes later, we are back in the car, heading home. I take a look at the photos he’s taken, not bad at all. My head is swirling though, with all kinds of ideas.

I realize that my feelings aren’t just built on anger, but that I am hurt, disappointed and I feel discriminated against, yes discriminated against. Upon further reflection I see that the issue is so much more than not being able to enter and photograph the men’s section of the Mosque. It is this constant second-class citizen feeling that I get here, in Salalah. It takes on subtle forms, but the conscious, those who reflect, can clearly see through these subtleties. The Mosque was built for worship, I know, but anyone should be allowed in, to admire, ponder, maybe even supplicate, it was visiting hours for goodness sakes!. What should it matter whether you are male or female? To add insult to injury, the Mosque was EMPTY, not a man on sight (except the Indian care-takers and the oh so gracious guard). I am not a feminist, whatever that means. But I believe women should have equal opportunity as men. Separate but EQUAL is fine. I started thinking………. some more…

Every day, nearly without fail, Sam goes to our local Mosque to pray…FIVE TIMES. As soon as the adhan (call to prayer) goes off, he drops whatever he is doing, starts getting ready and poof he’s gone. I’m left, with the offspring, either cooking, cleaning, changing a diaper, wiping a nose, scrubbing crayon off the floor, writing a post… and before you know it, the prayer time has gone out. Guess who missed out on praying on time? MOI. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy and seriously grateful that Sam is able to pray at the Mosque, it’s a blessing no doubt to live in a place where you can do that so easily. But, what about me?? How great would it be if I could just, throw on my Abaya, walk outside, bump into a neighbor along the way, and get that 10 minute high of praying in congregation, that peace of mind that comes with connecting to the Creator. Why am I not given that opportunity? The women’s section of the mosques are locked, inaccessible. It seems society has conveniently created a world of solitude for women. We come out only at night, when the moon casts its light upon us, leaving us to look like mere shadows.

So we have been given permission to pass our time by shopping… at the few shops available; Thobe Alley, Abaya Street, Center Point and Max. Fine. I have thobes, I have Abayas, I have lingerie and I have my workout sweats. What's next?  I want to go to the Mosque and pray whenever my heart is inclined, can someone please remind me why I can't?.

41 comments:

  1. mother of a son from salalahMarch 30, 2010 at 2:23 AM

    As salam alaikum sis.
    I hear u and im raged too. I for sure will not be silent if i get told when im in salalah that i cant pray in masjid or my son cant come with me..ohh boy i feel my female hormones raging...yalla us women need to stand up and talk against this cultural crap.im soo tired of being told no no no cos ur a woman, now i jst do as i wish, people can thin as they darn well like..im covered, i fear Allah, i pray, i fast so who is anyone ibn adam to tell me no. Islam is easy and people are making lives hrd for women, every last thing is aybb, even when ur not in salalah u still get the salalah culture thrown on ur face..i took it for 2 yrs and now im retaliating, enjoying my life and watching my child grow, who will be raised as a muslim not a cultural freak that want to follow nafs ul naas.
    Sis, when i arrive and settle, feel free plz to come over, have tea/coffe with me and inshaAllah ur children also can enjoy the play room. Ahlan ukhti. We cna change things with our hands instead of waiting for people to get educated.
    May Allah reward u for ur niyyah to pray in masjid and multiply ur hassana for praying at home.Ameen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember when I came the first time in Muscat and I was not Muslim yet, I was allowed to go to the men's prayer room for a visit at the Grand Mosque
    Why don't you contact a religious authorithy and ask ?
    That would be interesting to publish

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post
    I am 100% with you. There is no reason to keep women away from mosques, they have the same opportunity as men.
    It is our (arabian) community customs that prevent women from appearing in public.
    (NICE PHOTO :))

    ReplyDelete
  4. ... Sleepless, I'm so sorry to hear this. What's more, I don't understand. I'm a Christian AND a woman and I've been in the Grand Mosque (in the mens section) in Salalah twice. I can only start to imagine how you must feel if society imposes these rules on you. I'm sure Allah has not intended to discriminate between the sexes.

    My small children have been in the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat. Although I must say that they were politely "kicked-out" the second time. They love to lear about other cultures & religions and I was explaining to them about Islam/ Allah/ The Quran.

    But, it seems as if Salalah is not treating women as equals at all. I mean, I've not seen many places in the world where women are as covered-up and confined to their house as here. When I go to the pool there are never any Muslim women swimming. Muslim men on the other hand are allowed to enjoy the cooling water. I meet intelligent Salalah women every day and even though they have studied most will not be allowed to work. Many aren't even allowed to leave their house without the company of a brother or father. The other day there was a small party for a friend of mine. One of her Muslim friends would have loved to come but she couldn't because her brother couldn't be bothered to take her....
    I feel so sad when I hear these stories of inequality between men and women and I can only hope for the women AND for the men (because they will really be much happier if their wife is considered equal) of Salalah that this will change soon.

    Hope I haven't offended anyone with my "western" views but I hope it can contribute to a better equilibrium between men and women.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Can it be that foreigners are allowed in as tourists? That seems odd. I am a non Muslim foreigner and have not been to the Salalah Mosque yet but I would like to see it. When I get back to town I will go and see it. If I get into the main part, then perhaps you can come in with me. That might be interesting. Are you up for it?

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is weird! you mean there are restrictions on women praying at mosques?? About the grand mosque, perhaps Sam can check with the mosque admin on that may be the 'guard' was just acting on his own. Otherwise why do they have visiting hours?. Well am sorry you could not fulfill your desire to check it out.
    Hey Sam take the sister to the holy mosques in Mecca and Madina that will surely put out the steam.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rania, you weren't allowed in because you look like a local. Take off the Burqa, speak without an Arabi accent, and see if that guard doesn't let you in. I'd put my last dollar on that! I have been in the Mosque myself, and I have taken 2 FEMALE friends with me, no problem.

    ReplyDelete
  8. OH God, now I have steam coming out of my nose too, seeping through my pink grill shades.

    I had the same thing exactly happen to me. I think they just allow tourists in and not women who wear the abaya and look local!!! ANIMALS!

    I've been dying to see the inside of the men's part because I hear it's quite beautiful. why is it that we're allowed to see the men's part in Muscat and not in Salalah? that's what visiting hours are for!

    This post is perfect. I've been postponing my post on racism against women but today I'm letting it all out!

    Yes Rania YES!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I sincerely appreciate the support by you. When you are actually a REAL victim of discrimination it really does hurt.

    When I visited the Grand Mosque in Muscat 2 years ago I was allowed in, to tour the men's section...go figure.

    I did wonder, after being rejected, if it would have made a difference if the guard didn't think I was local.

    I think I will have to conduct a little experiment. I'll ask a few of my friends to accompany me to the Grand Mosque and see if they allow us in, burqa will remain on, white power in effect! Nadia, are you down for the excursion? I'll let you wear your shades. Maybe I can get it all on camera =)

    I'll be so ridiculously pissed if white power works!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow! This all sounds exciting. Be sure to let us know how that went.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Very Strange – both are under the Diwan – both allow non-muslim men to visit (as I have) and in Muscat non-Muslim women can visit (often I am afraid to say not very respectfully dressed) .
    I wonder if it’s a local decision that could be being done without any authority.
    I wonder what would happen if one of the female Government Ministers visited with you !

    ReplyDelete
  12. Very Strange – both are under the Diwan – both allow non-muslim men to visit (as I have) and in Muscat non-Muslim women can visit (often I am afraid to say not very respectfully dressed) .
    I wonder if it’s a local decision that could be being done without any authority.
    I wonder what would happen if one of the female Government Ministers visited with you !

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm so sorry this happened to you, Rania! It's such a shame to hear that women are not only being denied entry to the Grand Mosque during VISITING HOURS, but are also being locked out of the women's section during prayer times. Allah calls on all Muslims to worship five times a day, not just men! This is an outrage. I wish I was still in Salalah so I could join your experimental excursion with Nadia. Believe me, I would give those guards an earful.

    Best wishes, keep writing, and stay strong.

    -Jordann (a former blogger from the Middle East)

    P.S.- You said you're not a feminist, but you long for equal rights for men and women. Is this not feminism? I hate how "feminist" has become a dirty word. Let's take it back!

    ReplyDelete
  14. If you believe in 'god' and that men have a closer connection to the God head then women according to the Christians Jews and Muslims. And i want to say. LIES LIES LIES.

    I am the universe. I am whole.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yeah, Rania. I was thinkin' the same thing.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Please can someone help me to find a name for a face covering commonly worn by ladies in Sohar,im Al batinah area?
    It seems to be made of thin metal or leather and covers a part of the forehead, the nose and sometimes, the mouth.

    I am fascinated by the variety of new cultures I am dicovering in this part of the world and curious about this tradition

    ReplyDelete
  17. Why do women always insist on changing tradition.The tradition of women not entering the mosques has been set for hundreds of years.It is the moslem religion and should be respected.I am a woman and if I wanted to go to pray, I would be respectful and go to the womans mmosque to pray.Why is there always someone who feel it is their right to changeprocedures that have gone on for centuries.It makes me ashamed of my own sex.So please just accept things as they are,and dont interfere!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. this is not a part of islam because there are several hadith that speak of women praying in the same congregation as men during the time of prophet Muhammad sallahu alayhi wasalam

      this is only CULTURE this is NOT ISLAM

      Delete
  18. As Salaam Alaykum Sister,

    Since I converted to Islam 2 years ago, it has been the most liberating experience of my life. Just recently had I felt humiliated before Allah. I visited a local Mosque for the first time, and the women's entrance was through the back past the garbage cans.

    Mosques could allow equal access to areas of prayer, at the very least Mosques could provide separate but equal facilities for prayer.

    Please do not stop your blog and do not get discouraged. I encourage you and other Sisters that feel slighted understand that we all are Allah's Servants. This is a matter of Civil Rights because Allah has granted us all right to His Word.

    I will now wear handcuffs during prayer to any Mosque that does not provide equal facilities to women and men. This is my way of showing that I am enslaved by the unjust laws of man but despite my bondage I come to praise my true Master Allah.

    Check out my blog if you would like to contact me, it is galagogo.blogspot.com I simply encourage women to have an honest conversation about God and Love regardless of their Faith. I also pass along ideas that others have shared of experiences that bring them closer to God and feel more love in their lives.

    I will leave you with two Surahs.

    Surah 62 is the sixth in the Madinah series. The Surah 1-11 tells us there is a need for mutual contact in the Community for worship. It tells us that the Word of Allah is for all despite race, color, creed, gender, or education.

    C.241 (62:1-11) "Allah's care for His creatures is universal. His Revelation is for all - ignorant and lowly as well as learned and high-placed- now and forever. None can arrogantly claim exclusive possession of Allah's gifts; if they do, search their hearts within, and will find them afraid of Death and Judgement. Men of Faith! On the Day of Assembly, when you hear the call, hasten earnestly to answer it: leave off business, and join in common worship and devotion. Then you may disperse about your ordinary business, but remember the Praise of Allah always: it is He alone that can provide for your every need, and His grifts are best."

    Surah 66 is often used to teach about marital affairs; however, it is much greater than that that lesson alone.

    C:245 (66:1-12) "The relations between the sexes are embittered by misunderstandings and conflicts that produce unhappiness and misery, personal and social, harmony and confidence are due between the sexes, not disgust or isolation, which may please some but cause injustice to others. Respect each other's confidence, and if you fail, repent and make amends. The good man seeks virtue for himself and his family. If Evil is yoked to Good, it must take the fruits of its own deeds; The worldly tie will profit naught; but Good should firmly make a stand and will be saved, for Allah doth care for all His true devoted Servants.

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