The masjid, better known in North America as the Islamic center, is the center of spiritual, social, educational, and, most recently, political activities of the American Muslim community. The masjid is also the place where Muslims of diverse cultural and ideological backgrounds meet and interact. The diversity of interpretations of Islamic sources and practices has created tensions, particularly in Islamic centers where the tendency is to impose strict interpretations about the appropriate place and role of Muslim women in the masjid and the community. An increasing number of young Muslim women complain of restrictive arrangements and practices, impeding their ability to fully participate in educational and social programs. Many masjids today restrict the main prayer hall to men and assign women to secluded quarters. Women are asking out loud: “Is this the place Islam assigns for us, or is it the imposition of cultural traditions?” Some have even gone to the other extreme of rejecting all traditions and discarding all limits.
For Believing Men and Women
The masjid is a place for spiritual growth and development for all Muslims, and should be equally accessible for both genders. The Qur’an has set the spiritual and moral equality of men and women in explicit and unequivocal terms:
Allah has prepared forgiveness and great rewards for the Muslim men and women; for the believing men and women; for the devout men and women; for the truthful men and women; for the men and women who are patient and constant; the men and women who humble themselves; for the men and women who give charity; for the men and women who fast, for the men and women who guard their chastity; and the men and women who are exceedingly mindful of Allah. (Al-Ahzab 33:35)
Both men and women, the Qur’an stresses, have a moral obligation to develop themselves spiritually and morally, and to fulfill their social responsibilities. The masjid is, and has always been, the center of moral and spiritual learning and growth.
Likewise, the masjid is a public place for discussing issues of public concern and to respond to challenges facing the community. The Qur’an is also clear on the equal responsibility of both men and women for developing the public good:
The believing men and women are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise. (Al-Tawbah 9:71)
Promoting public good and opposing evil are public duties equally required from men and women, and the masjid is the place where Muslim men and women can meet to plan community development and devise strategies for promoting public good.