A new generation of activists objects to people like me saying things. In their worldview, we’re supposed to toe the line and stay on message, never to deploy the introspective gaze which begs for change. But often it is necessary to challenge the status quo, to demand all those rights parochialism has withdrawn.
Take those mosques which have closed their doors to women without justification. Imagine the scenario: your wife has travelled to a town with a large Muslim population, with the intention of visiting dress shops unavailable in her locality. The time for prayer comes. Fortunately, she knows there to be multiple mosques all along the high street, into which she can discretely slip to fulfil her duties to her Lord.
Only, she hasn’t accounted for the attitudes of the men who run the mosques in this locality. But then, they have not anticipated an encounter with a woman who is not timid and quiescent, who instead insists on demanding her rights, who won’t suffer fools gladly. The two are now set on collision course. The congregational prayer has slipped past and time is running by, so she ventures towards the entrance of her nearest mosque.
But as she pushes through the heavy wooden doors, a man stands in her way. “No womans,” he barks at her. Where is the woman’s entrance then, she asks him. “No womans,” he says, “go home and pray.”
Many women have experienced this reality, unfortunately. Many of them, feeling cowed, retreat and venture back off to the shops to find a changing cubicle to pray in instead. But nobody messes with your wife. Not because she’s a raving feminist — although that may well be true — but because she knows her deen, and she knows exactly what her rights and responsibilities are, as set out by her Prophet, peace be upon him.
So it is that she says to the man standing in her way: “I’m out shopping. My home is twenty miles away, and it’s time to pray. Namaz is obligatory for both me and you. And I need to pray now before time runs out.”
But the man is unmovable. “You can’t come in. Go pray at home.”
This is the point at which even the most insistent woman might give in. But your wife is standing firm. “Well I’m coming in anyway,” she says, pushing past him. “My obligation is to Allah alone.”
Thus does she stand in the corner of a completely empty prayer hall, to perform her salah as mandated by the Lord of the universe. Despite the blunt confrontation at the entrance, she was absolutely right to stand firm and put her duties to God before all else.
If the mosque committee had some justification in restricting access at certain times, such as at midday on Fridays when the building is at capacity, or at the time of the congregational prayer when access to washing facilities might be a problem — though that sounds weak from an accessibility point of view — they had no justification in barring access when the mosque was completely empty.
Some men object to women making a fuss about such issues, but that’s only because they can’t see beyond the end of their nose. Just because you have decided by committee to impose restrictions on the lives of others, it doesn’t make it right. Some then respond: we built this mosque and therefore we will do what we like. But then their intentions are all wrong, for the purpose of a masjid is to prostrate before the Creator of all things.
As a Muslim, you are called to witness to the truth, and your duty is to God alone. You’re not called to communitarianism, to the defence of men regardless of how they behave. Clearly, if a community is being oppressed, then you stand with it. If a community is just and is doing what is right and good and virtuous, then you stand firm at its side. But if it falls short, if it is found depriving others of their rights, or found standing in the way of them fulfilling their obligations, then it should and must be criticised.
Criticism doesn’t connate disrespect. In truth, criticism is a positive force, for it drives us forwards. Our job, as travellers of the path, is to struggle to reveal, exhibit and tell the truth. Why else would our Book command us to be just and truthful even against ourselves?
O you who have believed, stand firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives, whether rich or poor…from Quran 4:135
We are called to speak the truth even if outwardly it appears against us. That may be hard to do, given that many a proof weighs against popular culture, but it is what it is. You’re not accountable to your community: your duty is to God alone, who orders you to be fair and just and true.
God will say: “This is the Day when the truthful will benefit from their truthfulness.” For them are gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, God being pleased with them, and they with Him. That is the great attainment.Quran 5:119
May our Lord makes us of the truthful, who speak up when it is time to speak up, regardless of the demands of community, family, friends — or even our own self-interested selves. May the One make us a people of truth.