By Sanjay Kumar
At a time when patriarchy has seeped deep into the veins of Islam, Khadija Mariyam Foundation, a charitable trust, has come as a hope for many Muslim women across India. The foundation, which has been registered in Kozhikode, Calicut, aims to build the first-ever women-only mosque in India.
The project is still in its initial phase with a group of eighty dedicated volunteers. The trust aims to open multiple doors for cultural enrichment and educational development for women.
While women-only mosques are present in China, it’s for the first time that trust is venturing to build it in India. Historically, it is a common practice for women in Islam to offer their prayers in a mosque and visit it for intellectual enrichment. However, the time has not changed the way Muslim women offer prayers with dingy spaces in mosques only available to them.
Speaking on her experience in Indian mosques, the director of the Khadija-Mariyam Foundation, Huda Ahsan said, “The experience has not been the greatest. We are definitely tired of praying next to the toilets, of being put down by the local maulvi who ‘owns’ the mosque, of tiptoeing or feeling unwelcome, of the small, dingy, dangerous entrances, of being secondary, of being controlled for the benefit of the whole male sex, of adjusting in spaces that are solely and primarily built for the comfort of a man.”
Daphne Spain, an architectural historian, commenting on the subject said, “The spatial segregation of women has kept them from accessing knowledge that has allowed men to hold power.”
To debunk this dual politics that draws a contrast between believing men and women, a space like Khadija Mariyam Foundation’s mosque would provide the right impetus for women to grow intellectually.
Praying is an important purpose of the mosque, but it is not the only one. The mosque aims to provide a space for women to exercise their rights and break barriers of religion and caste with the provision of equitable facilities for all women.
Religious professions have remained male-dominated for a long time and have given limited space for women to grow spiritually. “I have a thousand reasons for building this women-only mosque and the biggest one is that it is time that we, the Muslim women and the women of our community, assert our space and take what is ours, fundamentally and spiritually,” said Ahsan, adding, “It is of utmost priority that we have a safe and secure space that addresses our issues and problems, and an all-men mosque or a general mosque does not do this. Even when they try to because they do not ask the opinion of a woman, nor have a justifiable number of women on the board and because of several other unfaltering reasons, they constantly fail to give us a just space.”
The mosque would provide an opportunity for women to lead prayers as an imam, pray together, meet for congregational prayers, deliver Khutba, hold discussions, learn and research together, engage in sports and be in a space where they can self-reflect in peace.
In February 2020, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board admitted before the Supreme Court of India that Islamic texts do not restrict women from entering and praying in mosques. However, there has been no effort from the Board’s side to create religious spaces for Muslim women.
Nuzhat Khan, a student of the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi said, “A women-only mosque would break the popular stereotype that Islam prohibits women to go and pray outside or particularly in a mosque. It would create a sense of belonging and togetherness for Muslim women, especially in such polarizing times. It would de-masculinize praying, giving Muslim women the same agency of their religion, as their male counterparts.”
Another Jamia student, Aliya Zainab, who has lived in Sharjah and Dubai for almost 11 years said it was disappointing to have mosques that had no proper facilities for women.
This project is a tribute to iconic women in Muslim religious history. Ahsan informs, “This project addresses those who love mosques, those who feel closer to their creator, those who want such an atmosphere, and tons of other reasons that don’t need or should be asked for an explanation. It is a basic right, and it has been since the time our beloved Prophet made it happen, peace upon him. Those who believe that it isn’t obligatory to go to the mosque are welcome to use the other facilities at the Khadija-Mariyam community center.”
Eman Siddiqui, a member of the foundation said, “Building a mosque is not just about the physical space for women but it entertains the thought for women to emerge separately. Praying is a time for self-reflection.”