National Dialogue Launched on Women in Canadian Mosques
By Muneeb Nasir
TORONTO, February 14, 2006 – A national Canadian organization is hoping to stimulate a dialogue in Muslim communities across Canada on how welcoming and inclusive of women their mosques are.
The Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) held the inaugural town-hall session in Toronto on Sunday Feb 12 to initiate the dialogue among Muslims.
The event included a screening of the Canadian documentary ‘Me and the Mosque’ and was followed by a spirited discussion among participants on how women are accepted in mosques.
“We are planning to run similar town-hall sessions in five other cities across the country,” said Abdussalam Nakua, spokesperson for MAC.
In her documentary ‘Me and the Mosque’, journalist and filmmaker, Zarqa Nawaz, asks why so many Muslim places of worship in Canada enforce the strict separation of men and women.
“The mosque was the most important part of my life when I was growing up, and now I don’t feel welcome,” Nawaz said.
The search for answers took her to mosques all over North America, and deep into the history and traditions of Islam.
“If we don’t start talking about this issue we can’t blame the media or anyone else,” Nawaz said.
According to Nawaz, an estimated two-thirds of the mosques in Canada require women to pray behind barriers, partitions or curtains.
In North America, a large number of converts are women, drawn to Islam because of its emphasis on social justice and spiritual equality between the sexes.
Yet many mosques force women to pray behind barriers away from the men, and some mosques do not even permit women inside.
The town hall, which was held on the campus of the University of Toronto, brought together 200 students, community activists and leaders to discuss the inclusiveness of their mosques.
Following the documentary screening the audience engaged in a lively discussion.
“It took a lot of courage for her to make this documentary,” said Aminah Assilmi, the director of the International Union of Muslim Women.
“If heaven is at my feet - how dare a man who came from my womb exclude me from my community,” Assilmi pleaded passionately.
Many of the participants thought the barrier enforced in mosques is symbolic of other issues such as the marginalization of women in the community.
“The barrier is a metaphor for community exclusion,” said one female participant. “We must acknowledge that injustice is taking place.”
The organizers also thought that there were underlying issues that need to be addressed and these can be best done in dialogue sessions.
“These forums are needed so that we can air our views in an open way as we think there are underpinning factors that go beyond the barrier,” said Abdussalam Nakua of MAC.
’Me and the Mosque’ was produced for the National Film Board of Canada and was aired nationally on the faith channel, Vision TV, last November.
The documentary features both whimsical animation and in-depth interviews with people on all sides of the issue.
Islamic scholars interviewed for the feature explain how early Muslim society was egalitarian with both sexes praying in the same space, and how women played prominent roles in the community.
In the documentary, Zarqa Nawaz speaks to men with traditional views on the separation of the sexes, and women yearning for an active role in their faith community.
She meets the architect of a new mosque in Surrey, British Columbia, interviews an American writer who fought publicly for the right to pray in the same hall with men at her mosque in West Virginia, and hosts an eye-opening panel discussion on the issue at a gathering in Gimli, Manitoba.
“Every woman who has the courage of her convictions has to get up and say no. You can ignore me as long as you want, but here I am to stay,” one female interviewed for the documentary tells Nawaz.
Muneeb Nasir is the editor of IQRA, an online magazine based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It aims to be a voice for progressive change. Copyright © 2004 IQRA magazine. All rights reserved. http://www.iqra.ca/