March 06, 2006

No, no, the men!

Going to the mosque to say a prayer these days far from serves the object of the act i.e. to experience some sort of calm or peace in the "House of God". In our grand mosque in Stockholm, inaugurated in June 2000, Muslims from all over the world gather to say their prayers, attend lectures or classes, and go to work.

The building is the work place for many Muslim organisations that work within different spheres such as Islamic Relief, NewMoon, Al Khawarizmi (Swedish Muslim Student Association) and many more.

As for the history of the building itself, it calls for a separate post for it is a fascinating story.

Back to finding peace whilst praying in the mosque. I had a meeting with various organisations for the sake of discussing the material that should be included in a book that will be published in Sweden at the end of this year God willing about Muslim Peace Culture. We met in the office area of the mosque and the call for Asr prayer came so we all took a break to pray.

Now praying in a mosque in itself is not supposed to be a complicated affair. In our mosque the women's prayer floor is above the men's. However it is designed so that one can look down from the women's area straight to the men's in order to both see and hear what is going on better.

So the Imam calls out the adhaan (call to prayer) and one of the women goes and stands at the very front of the women's prayer room in order to start a line there. Very smart I think to myself, for that will allow plenty of room for people to come in from behind and make new rows should the amount of people increase. So I stand next to her and a few more women follow our lead.

An older woman, 55+ speaking Arabic comes to me and exclaims:

Laa laa, el rijaal! meaning no, no, the men!

I was startled for I did not quite understand what the men had to do with anything and furthermore the time for prayer was there and we were all trying to start. So she continues and pulls people telling them to move backwards in the room to the middle of it. I am still lost, but since everyone started taking a step back, I did not wish to pray solo for that sort of defeats the idea of congregational prayer.

This however, was still not good enough for the lady in question and at the same time another lady started joining in with different requests. Apparently we were not starting the line from the right side of the room. So she started pulling at people yelling yameen yameen (right, right) to move to the right whilst the other lady still calls out el rijaal!

By now I am fed up at the hen house our prayer room had turned into, along with many more around me and we were now in three different rows, one starting from the left, one from the right and one at the very back. It looked absolutely ridiculous. The woman came back to us again and now this time she was even more passionate about the rijaal so I had to ask her what she was talking about:

Hajjeh, ma fahimtek ya3ni sho da'7let el rijaal? meaning "Hajjeh (term of respect for an older woman), I didn't understand you, where do the men fit into all of this ?"

And she replied, as if it were the most natural thing I should have understood myself:

Ehna laazim naqif waraa el rijaal meaning we have to stand behind the men.

Behind? huh? we are in a separate room? They are not even in the room? What do you mean behind?

For a Muslim man or woman, the only person that one absolutely must stand behind, is the Imam. No one can stand in front of the Imam whilst praying. And our prayer room for women is designed so that the first row of the women is just behind the Imam, yet side to side (though on a different level in the building) with the men.

This woman meant that we should not even be standing next to the men praying one floor below us and she managed to rearrange the whole room of women into something that looked like abstract art á la Picasso, not only disrupting the time of prayer when silence and order should be in place but ruining the rest of my prayer for all I could think about during the whole prayer was how to tell her off in Arabic. So much for '7ushoo.

The incident stayed with me, not so much for disrupting my prayer which of course was bad enough but I thought to myself, she has probably raised kids, and along with that promoting an idea of men and women unto them which is far from anything one could call female emancipation. Women like her take us back to the days when women wore corsets and fainted at the sight of a man who most likely would be the only hope for financial security.


Um Ibrahim said...

What an unfortunate incident. Old women have this unfailing characteristic of saying whatever is on their minds and insisting on it. But i haven't encountered such from them in the masjid in prayer time. I usually have the problem of my children taking my concentration and peace, so i no longer attend much. even at home it'a a struggle for some peace.

But next time this happens, you should just tune out any distractions, ignore it. Remember how the early Muslims would get harassed and abused while they were praying, yet they kept on praying and stayed patient. If they could tune out being beaten and yelled at then surely we can try to tune out our little distractions. InshaALlah.

jim said...

Well I don't know much about women and mosques but it sure doesn't help with women like that I mean there is already a prejudice against muslims and women in particular and if some women are willing to carry on the opressive legacy then it won't do much good to those who don't wish to do that.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Welcome um ibrahim! :)

I hear what you're saying, and usually one would turn a blind eye and deaf ear but it is very hard to do so when someone is yelling loudly "the men,the men", and pulling you physically to move you around as if you were a cart on wheels in a shopping mall.

Naturally the sahaba had it worse but all things are relative. Anyway I need to practice my tuning out skills, they are I confess, not refined enough for hysterical women in prayer rooms. :)

secretdubai said...

That's a tricky one. There's no point trying to reason with an older person who is deeply set in their ways and beliefs. And one doesn't want to offend an older lady, particularly in a place of prayer.

But on the other hand, it is important that these practices are discontinued. Misguided perceptions shouldn't pass on to the next generation.

A muslim friend me told me a story about the prophet Mohammed instructing a woman who had built a mosque (ie paid for its construction) to lead the prayers there herself. So he certainly didn't appear to support putting one gender symbolically in front of or behind the other, though perhaps it may be done in a mixed room for cultural reasons.

BuJ said...

interesting story.. obviously she pissed u off...
i think the 55+ wanted to be the imam actually..
it's nothing to do with al rijaal al rijaal !

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

It would have taken another hajjeh of her own age, but wiser and more knowledgable, to have controlled the situation.

The logic of women praying behind the men includes giving women more privacy whereby they can follow the imam's actions but the men can't look at them. This behind-the-'rijal' rule obviously wouldn't apply if you are on a different floor altogether!

One often runs into people who want things to be done 'my way' - not just in a mosque.

In fact, it was good idea to rush for the first row - extra hasanat in it!

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Did you say there is a movie on Imam Ghazali. I don't believe this! How, where? How may I see it?

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Farrukh, I did say that indeed. I never joke about Al Ghazali lol

here is the link you can watch the trailor there. Abdul Hakim Murad (aka Tim Winters, professor at Cambridge, plus Hamza Yusuf comment in the trailor). I have to get my hands on this movie for sure. What an inspiration.

The film was also shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival in California and has received great acclaim from critics.

Being the journalist that you are, I highly recommended subscribing to Q-news. You will find such valuable information there :)

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Buj, is that your expert opinion? lol :) and yes...I was vexed...but eventually calmed down. Sabr jameel.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

sceretdubai, indeed my biggest concern is to end such practices, the rest one can live with but no if it means that her rijaal rijaal legacy lives on through other blissfully unknowing beings.

I did concider speaking to the Imam and asking him to mention it at the friday sermon...hmmm... let's see how he takes it.

opinionatedinjerzee said...

this behavior is exactly why i get so turned off by my own religion.. stupid arabic women are the worst!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Hey there jerzee! Thanks for stopping by :)

Well I feel your pain, but thankfully not all Arab women are like that, most are sweet and wont scream Rijaal Rijaal! Unless they saw a really good catch they wanted for you lol
(just kidding everyone, don't go nuts on me now).

Elizabeth said...

Maybe you could have suggested the women vote? You could have told the older woman that she alone has no authority to make these decisions.

I personally don't believe age alone confers authority. Older people tend to have more knowledge, but that does not necessarily translate into better judgment.

secretdubai said...

Older people tend to have more knowledge, but that does not necessarily translate into better judgment.

I totally agree. On the other hand, one does feel constrained to act with greater respect for the more elderly in society, even if they are not literally our "betters".

There are plenty of extremely nasty old ladies around. In fact I expect very much to be one myself: apple-cheeked cookie-baking granny is certainly not for me ;)

TwinTopaz said...

"There are plenty of extremely nasty old ladies around. In fact I expect very much to be one myself.."

SD...i wish blushi can read this!


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Elizabeth: The air was not one of democracy at the time :) but I see what you mean. The problem is, when the time for prayer comes, people really just wanna stand in a line and start with no hassle so time for voting doesn't exactly come to mind. And besides everyone was sort of acting like sheep with a shepherd, go left go right.

Indeed age does not entail "being right" however for me personally I find it hard to talk to someone three times my age the same way I speak to a peer for example. Especially depending on cultural setting.

SD: you can be one of those apple-cheeked grannys that bake buns with toad extract and give it to unsuspecting kids! lol

BuJ said...

loool SD what ru saying? i hope your many so called fans do not read what u just wrote!! hilarious :)

Boo! said...

Hmm... I always look at the 'women behind the men' issue this way: its there so that men can concentrate on prayers and not the women!

That brings me to SD narration... a woman leading prayers would probably have to be in a seperate room than the men, innit? The men would be behind her if she's leading the prayer of course, but they can't be in the same room. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong pls.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Well boo, one can look at it in many ways. At the end of the day, in this case, even being in a seperate room alltogether, did not spare us from her "immence wisdom", and we were even so, forced to stand behind, symbolically, which really vexed me.

I am no expert, but in general it seems a woman leading prayer (which in itself is unheard of these days other than leading other women), would probably entail that she would have to be in say another room. Then again, I dont think there is a concensus in this issue regarding women's "allowance" to lead other men in prayer. If you recall the reactions after a woman led prayers in New York.

Ah well, that is another lengthy subject and imagine saying women should lead the prayer instead of el rijaal el rijaal! I think our Hajjeh would have a heartattck. lol

Umar said...

that's hilarious but sad at the same time.

my question:
what happens when the men's prayer hall below is full?

abd said...

as-salaam alaykum. one of those what-can-you-do situations... just a clarification to farrukh's earlier comment: if i'm not mistaken, the encouragement to pray in the first row(s) for extra hasanat is for men, not women. in fact, it's the reverse for women... (i.e., further back is better) and Allah knows best.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Umar I know :) one has to laugh in situations such as those, I did too, just not at the time she yelled el rijaal! lol

Well when the prayer room below is full, they pray in the entrance of of the mosque. In times of Ramadan and leylat-ul-qadr especially, the womens prayer room is packed and we pray in office areas of the mosque as well...every inch is utilized which in itself is, though the mess, a beautiful sight alhamdolillah :)

Welcome Abd! Well if the women have a totally seperate room to pray in, it would seem smart to stand in the front row in order to facilitate other people joining from behind without walking infront of praying people. And hopefully for being conciderate to other people's prayers, we would get loads of hasanaat.

MD said...

this is so sad and well, stupid too. it reminds me of the time i went for 3mrah this ramadan and how we werent allowed to pray anywhere in the 7aram. anywhere u go, those black figures just appear and start pushing u away. and worst, i cant fight in the 7aram so i'd shut my mouth.

once during the friday prayer, the 7aram got completely packed, so the crowd started moving outside (as usual), esp with the added ramadan crowd. so i put my prayer mat alongwith mom in front of a shop and this 18 yr old kiddo who was a POLICEMAN came and very rudely asked us to 'move' and i told him...tell me where exactly can i u see an empty spot for me in the 7aram. and he said...i dont care but u dont pray here. my mom told me to start praying coz then they wont be able to do anything. smart woman, i tell u. the policecrap walked away and within 10 minutes...that whole place around us was packed and there were ppl in the alleys and every corner of the place. so why was he moving us anyways?


dont look for faith in people. they always disappoint u. and i hate such women who think like that (as pointed in ur story)...they just ridicule islam and i wish that mentality was erased. the sad thing, we as muslim suffer from either extreme behaviour or...the real open-mindedness. both are not good.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Balance is key, ey MD?
I have to say I dread and anticipate going to Makkah for Hajj (perhaps in the opposite order). Since one is not to get angry during ones Hajj, and what with all the stories of the "police", well, it will be a challenge indeed, but I suppose that is part of it.