June 5, 2018 | by Shafinaaz Hassim
Leave your Lust at the door; the praying soul has no gender
My heart bleeds. It’s 2018. We’ve turned the precinct of the mosque into a battlefield of ego when, in keeping with the sunnah it should be a place for communal worship and reflection, a space for constructive debate and learning. We should take our families into the masjid so that we can truly pray together to stay together. What a travesty that we leave our shoes at the door and take our enmity, our anger, our nafs inside.
I praise the dozen or so group of sisters who stood in prayer in their local mosque in Ormonde despite being threatened. It’s Ramadan and they wished to follow the taraweeh prayer. Why would any conscienable man verbally and physically threaten a woman for praying in a communal building? The visibly grumpy old man gave orders to have them locked outdoors on a freezing Winters night in Johannesburg, is just truly appalling. I’m told they call the mosque the Way to Jannah. What a surprise it will be when these souls one day find women also made it to Jannah. These Women of Waqf are raising an important issue with this ordeal, although this shouldn’t be an issue in 2018. And during Ramadan. Our mosques are community spaces, public places of bringing community together. I cannot state this enough. They should be upheld as places of safety, reflection and prayer for all. In the same way that we can enjoy a family outing to a movie or the mall to celebrate Eid, we must be able to visit these prayer spaces together with joy and reverence be it for eidgah or regular prayers.
What really makes me dizzy are the venomous comments threads all over social media some attacking the women who highlighted the abuse they were subjected to. Let me clearly state that victim shaming is not okay. It is complicit with perpetuating the treatment women receive in spaces that seek to maim and silence us. It shouldn’t happen in a place of prayer. These same Muslims who spew venom are among those who travel the world and locate mosques and prayer spaces accessible for all wherever they go.

To men I say, brothers leave your lust at the door if that’s the weak reason being cited for not making it possible for women to enter a mosque like the one in Ormonde. Did the brave Muslim women who rode horses into battle in the 6th and 7th century ever wonder or stop in case the sahabah thought they’d look too appealing on horseback? See how absurd the idea is? The whole purpose of prayer is engaging higher self in communion with the Beloved. Not just a physical ritual that allows your to claim you’re Muslim. If some of you don’t trust yourself to do that, rather avoid the mosque (and frankly all public spaces) and leave believing women their rightful choice to join the congregation unharmed by your gaze. South African Indian  Muslim society its time to wake out of our stupor of superiority. We will stand side by side in Arafat when we do our hajj. We will stand side by side on the day of qiyamah when called to account. The soul that longs for Closeness and Union with the Beloved has no gender. KINDLY leave your nafs at the door.

I’m also thinking back to the stabbing and murder of a man at a mosque in Ottawa in Durban last month. There are various claims for the reasons behind the attack. Let’s be clear that there can be no justification for murder in a masjid the likes of what we’re reading about. In South Africa our mosques have family names or are branded as deobandi, sufi, sunni, shia, this and that. When we pray in the grand mosques in Makkah and Madina do you turn to the pilgrim beside you and ask their ideological stance before deciding if you should continue to stand beside them? I might be mildly amused to read replies to this question.
Everyone has an opinion, sure. Even apparently woke journalists who usually call for all manner of good to prevail. But then they shy away from a simple solution to ensure SA Muslim families have equal and adequate access to prayer spaces. Many mosques around SA cater for women’s prayer spaces. Our malls, hospitals and airports have prayer spaces. It’s about time we break the trend of knee jerk reactions to someone standing up for something rightful that makes us uncomfortable. People will quickly quote the hadith on preference for women to pray at home. There is preference and there is choice. And choice must always win if we are to exist in an environment where we espouse the rights of all.
Salaah is one of the five essentials. It is the right of every Muslim to experience a safe and beautiful prayer in congregation if they so wish. The solution is simple. Every available Muslim prayer space or mosque should only be validated for prayer if it is freely and equally accessible to all who want to pray regardless of gender, race, class, or religion. A place of prayer. A space of safety. That’s the sunnah way. End of story.

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of 'Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective' (2007), 'Memoirs for Kimya' (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence 'SoPhia' (2012). Her work has been shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize and the prestigious K Sello Duiker Award 2013, and she has been awarded in Hay Festival's category of top 39 authors under the age of 40 in Africa during the London Book Fair 2014. She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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About Shafinaaz

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective (2007), Memoirs for Kimya (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence SoPhia (2012). She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

My Books

Nisa Qamar and the Master of Jinniaville (2016)

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Daughters are Diamonds

Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective
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The Garden of Love and Longing (2017)

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My Social Profiles
Photos on flickr
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