Saturday afternoon, Fatima Thompson and three other Muslim women decided to pray in the men’s section of a Washington, DC, mosque, according to an article in the Daily Beast.
The article says:
“A bearded, middle-aged man scolded one of the women. “Sister, go there!” he said, pointing to a back corner, dubbed the “penalty box” by one disgruntled woman. The seven-foot wooden barrier separated the men and women’s sections in a visual metaphor of gender apartheid. She ignored him.”
What ensued was a scene akin to the Rosa Parks bus incident in 1955. Mosque officials called the cops, who then awkwardly tiptoed into the men’s prayer area and asked the women to please follow mosque rules by moving over to their designated area. But the women continued to pray in the men’s section defiantly as more women joined them, and their numbers quadrupled. Here is a video of the scene:
What’s especially interesting about this incident is that these mosques are not legally allowed to segregate their members based on race– white women, black women, and middle eastern women can all pray right next to each other. But this rule does not apply to gender segregation, which continues to be strictly enforced in mosques across America, and Muslim women are becoming increasingly disgruntled about their “separate-and-unequal” status.
Asra Nomani, the author of the Daily Beast article, articulates the irony of the situation quite poignantly:
“As America sends thousands of soldiers overseas with a mission, in part, to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan, two D.C. cops were dispatched to a mosque just a mile from the White House to remove American Muslim women from the main prayer hall. Ironically, the weekend incident raises an important question about whether there truly is suffrage for Muslim women in America. It seems not.”
The irony of the situation is interesting, indeed, although I’m not sure what this situation has to do with women’s suffrage. Has the government failed to protect women’s rights in the same way that it protects racial rights with regard to private organizations? Is dictating anything about the seating rules in a mosque even within the bounds of the law?
While I respect these women for challenging the status quo, I think that it’s generally not a good idea to impose American belief systems onto primarily non-American religious groups, as France has tried to do with the Islamic scarf controversy. And further, while men and women are politically equal in the U.S., a man can be arrested for purposefully entering a woman’s bathroom, and vice versa. Is that so different from enforcing gender separation within the walls of a mosque, a private organization whose rules state that it must be so?
I fully support these women in their attempt to peacefully protest and reform the ways their church deals with gender, but I disagree with Ms. Nomani that it is the U.S. government’s responsibility to back them in that plight, or that the government’s failure to do so somehow implies a lack of suffrage for Muslim women in America.
What do you think?