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Author: 
Razan Baker, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2006-09-11 03:00

JEDDAH, 11 September 2006 — Proposals to shift the women’s prayer area away from the Holy Kaaba and from out of the mataaf (circumambulation area) in the Grand Mosque to two alternative places in the massive prayer complex has faced stiff criticism from Muslim women across the globe.

In protest at the proposals, a petition has been posted at the www.petitiononline.com website, which has so far attracted over 1,000 signatures.

Behind the petition is Aisha Schwartz, 45, the founder and director of the Muslimah Writers Alliance in Washington DC. Schwartz says that the petition is directed at the authorities in the Kingdom.

Speaking to Arab News, Schwartz said: “It is an undeniable manifestation of Islamic belief and teaching that we are to uphold what is right and abhor that which is inherently wrong.”

The introduction to the petition states: “The religion of Islam was revealed for both men and women. Both sexes are equal when it comes to the performance of religious duties and in terms of rewards and punishments. The Prophet (peace be upon him) also instructed that women must not be banned from mosques.”

In reaction to the proposed measures, the Muslimah Writers Alliance has set up a group entitled the Grand Mosque Equal Access for Women Project, which is currently campaigning worldwide via the Internet (www.muslimahwritersalliance.com). The alliance hopes to lobby Saudi authorities with the aim of ensuring the proposals do not materialize.

Supporting MWA’s petition are Muslims from Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Dubai, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.

“The fact that the signatures on MWA’s Grand Mosque Equal Access for Women petition are, to date, representative of Muslim voices from 38 different countries and 28 states across North America, is demonstrative of the fact that the issue at hand must not be taken lightly,” said Schwartz.

Referring to the proposals, Schwartz expressed alarm that “a small, government-appointed group of men” could be allowed to make a decision affecting hundreds of thousands of Muslims without hearing what they have to say and think.

“They are not taking into consideration the truest of Islam’s teachings on equality and nondiscrimination in reaching their decisions. This leaves us with a critically serious problem; and complacency will never resolve it,” she said.

In addition to the international outcry, Saudi women are also up in arms against the suggestion. Suhaila Hammad, research director at the National Society for Human Rights, said: “Only the Qur’an, our Holy Book which has established everything that is right, can solve this matter.”

Hammad was referring to Verse 25 in Surah Al-Haj: “As to those who have rejected (Allah), and would keep back (men) from the Way of Allah, and from the Sacred Mosque, which We have made (open) to (all) men — equal is the dweller there and the visitor from the country — and any whose purposes therein is profanity or wrong-doing — them will We cause to taste of a most grievous punishment.”

Hammad added that out of three million pilgrims visiting the Holy Mosque in 1425 H, 46 percent were women.

“This means if they follow the holy book and aim at a sense of equality, 46 percent of the circumambulation area would be exclusively for women. But instead from the 18,000 square meter space, for every man there is 53.06 square cm and for each woman there is 17 square cm,” she said.

According to Hammad women’s prayer areas should be evenly spread throughout the prayer complex.

“That way women would be close to their husbands as they pray, and most importantly would have larger areas to pray like the men have,” she said.

Citing traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Hammad explained that in the time of the Prophet women would join men in prayer. “This is a clear indication that there was no border between men and women,” she concluded.

Many Saudi women have also joined their female counterparts in signing Schwartz’s petition. Lubna Ghalayini, 36, who works at a Saudi women’s empowerment organization, said: “If every woman were to deny herself the opportunity of forwarding her voice and signature to make a difference, then nothing would ever happen. But if we all participated and fought for what we believe is our right, then each voice would positively contribute in making a difference.”

Another petitioner is Muna Alyusuf, 46, who is an intercultural training manager. “This decision must be petitioned and vetoed against as it is just one of the many ways to hurt the image of Islam and it is an indirect way to restrict Muslim women’s right to practice their own faith,” she said.

Alyusuf added that the enactment of the proposals “would only serve to fuel more subtle discrimination against Muslim women. Muslim women and men all over the world must object to this decision.”

Sakinah Warid, 50, development coordinator at the Muslimah Writers Alliance, said she converted to Islam in July 2001. “There are many Muslim women out there who want the full experience of Haj. Why should we not be allowed this?”

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