Posted on Jan 08, 2020
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Many masjids in the United States begin as humble places of worship. My local masjid opened in the living room area of a house of a Muslim business owner. Despite the size, the organization’s leadership made sure there was space available for women in the community to come, pray and attend Salatul Jummah (Friday congregational prayer).
Week after week varying numbers of women (as little as one and as high as five or six) sat listening to the khutbah (sermon) and offering prayer. It was a small but important part of guaranteeing access to Allah’s house to all of his worshippers as well as promoting the community’s growth.
Women attending Salaatul Jummah. Image source: Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Over the years the ranks of women and men attending the masjid increased, requiring more space. The masjid space expanded, taking over another room. However, space didn’t grow as fast as the congregation. I watched the rows of men spread back, closer and closer to the women’s area. At one point, there was not a free inch when people stood behind the imam.
Consequently, community members balked about space, and the masjid leadership threw around ideas about the best ways to accommodate worshippers. One thing suggested was that women not attend Jummah so the men could have access to their limited space. This is not the first time this suggestion has been made at a masjid nor will it be the last. The fact that anyone even considered alienating women from Allah’s house as a viable option serves as a sad commentary on the second-class status that the worship of Muslim women has in the minds of some Muslim men.
Attending Salatul Jummah is incumbent upon Muslim men, but it is available to Muslim women as well. The struggle of Muslim women for adequate devotional spaces and sub-standard or inconvenient conditions thrust upon us constantly plagues Muslim cultures. In the United States, an undercurrent message that acts of ibadah (worship) performed by Muslim women are not as valuable as those of men also adds to the problem. Communal worship by women performed at houses of worship is especially vulnerable to being dismissed, which is anti-ethical to Islamic teachings. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
Do not prevent your women from going to the mosque, even though their houses are better for them. (Reported by Abu Dawud in al-Sunan)
Allah’s house is for all of his worshippers. It’s a space to focus on generating a connection with the creator as well as develop one’s iman (faith), spiritual and emotional growth. Jummah is one of the best days to do that, and the congregational prayer holds a unique significance for all Muslims, regardless of gender.
Why is Ibadah on Jummah so Important?
Jummah correlates with “Friday” in English. The entire day contains facets of blessings and ways to acquire blessings. There are numerous ahadith (sayings) of the Prophet (saw) on the virtues of Jummah and worship throughout the day:
The best day on which the sun has risen is Friday; on it, Adam was created and on it...and the [last] hour (i.e. the Day of Resurrection) will take place on no day other than Friday. (Muslim)
Prayers have increased blessings on Jummah, and the Prophet encouraged worshippers to engage in more of it:
Among the best of your days is Friday. So, pray to Allah frequently on it to bless me, for such supplications of you will be presented to me. (Abu Dawud)
The Prophet describes the chance to have one’s name written down by angels:
When Friday comes, the angels sit at the doors of the mosque and record who comes to the Jumu`ah prayer. Then, when the imam comes out, the angels roll up their scrolls. (Bukhari)
He also mentioned the benefit of reading Quran on Jummah:
Whoever reads surat Al-Kahf on the night of Friday, will have a light that will stretch between him and the Ancient House (i.e., the Ka`bah). (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
Image source: Pixabay
This is Our Masjid Too
Alhamdulillah, there are so many amazing opportunities for mercy, forgiveness and blessings on Jummah, which makes the infusion of the rampant gender inequality from Muslim cultures into it a tragedy. Restricting access of Muslim women from the Jummah prayer should be unthinkable, and they should be inspired to participate in every aspect of the glorious day.
It seems like the absence of a mandate for women to attend Jummah serves as justification to restrict access to Allah’s house, a tragedy considering how many physical and social obstacles we may already have. Why make it harder? Productive Muslim cultural mindsets should encourage and support worship regardless of gender. It’s a blessing from Allah that women, unlike men, aren’t required to attend Jummah prayers due to many other medical reasons, obligations and responsibilities we have at times. But women aren’t restricted from attending. Far from it.
As female servants of Allah, Muslim women have full ownership of the Jummah prayers as they do Ramadan, Hajj and all ibadah that can bring us closer to our Lord and success in this life and the aakhirah (hereafter). We may avail ourselves of Allah’s mercy and not participate when we can’t, while secure in the expectation that the sacred space for us will be there when we can.
As for my own local masjid when some suggested commandeering women’s space? Fortunately, the leadership shot that idea down.