The last time Nasreen Aboobaker attended communal prayers with other
Muslims was on the major holiday of Eid al-Fitr. The local mosque in
Fremont, Calif., had rented space in a nearby Hilton Hotel to accommodate
the crowd. As the men congregated in the spacious ballroom, Mrs. Aboobaker
said she and the other women were ushered into a small conference room and
told to follow along with the prayers piped in from the men’s space.
After the women waited about an hour for the prayers to begin, the door to
their room flew open and husbands arrived to take their wives home. “We did
not even know the prayer had ended,” said Mrs. Aboobaker, explaining that
the sound system had failed. “We were locked up like sheep and cows.”
Since that incident last November, Mrs. Aboobaker prays only at home,
shunning the segregated mosque. But she is not the only Muslim woman who is
beginning to bridle at the men’s club culture of many American mosques.
Gradually and with mixed success, a small number of Muslim women are
challenging the lack of inclusion of women in worship and communal life. In
Morgantown, W. Va.; Prince George’s County, Md., and the San Francisco Bay
Area, women have pushed to remove partitions or walls – or simply the rules
– that prevent women worshipers from seeing or hearing the imam.
Another group of women led by a social worker in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is
about to introduce a guide to making mosques more “sister friendly,”
proposing such measures as creating prayer space that does not exclude
women, allowing women access to lectures, bulletin boards and donation
boxes, and providing child care during mosque events.
Though they include college students and grandmothers, they represent a new
generation of Muslim women raised and educated in North America. They
include immigrants and the descendents of immigrants from the Middle East,
South Asia and elsewhere, as well as African-American and Anglo converts to
the faith. Some of the younger women in their 20’s and 30’s, and their male
supporters, identify themselves as “progressive Muslims” – a loose but
growing network of activists and writers linked by books, Web sites and