“The campaign's goal is to realize the Prophetic model and calls upon all masajid [mosques] to ensure women are welcomed as an integral part of the masjid and encouraged to attend,” reads the statement prepared and endorsed by ISNA’s Task Force for Women-Friendly Masjids (a part of ISNA’s Masjid Development Committee), the Fiqh Council of North America and an initial list of 14 renown scholars.
#ISNA52Chicago aims to provide a platform for spiritual and intellectual conversations and discourse. The 2015 event will include a variety of renowned speakers, including over 80 women.
The campaign's official launch will take place on the opening night of the annual convention running from September 4-7.
The lack of inclusion of women in American mosques has led to growing calls for reform of the institution.
According to the a 2011 US Mosque Study titled, "Women and the American Mosque" published in 2013, approximately 63 percent of mosques surveyed scored “fair” or “poor” on a scale measuring friendliness toward female worshipers, with only 14 percent of mosques receiving an “excellent” rating.
The study also revealed that currently women comprise an average of only 18 percent of worshipers attending Friday prayer services, noting that this figure has not changed in the past decade.
Over the years, many Muslims have criticized the prayer space provided for women in mosques, but it was not until recently that the subject began to gain momentum in the narrative of the Muslim community.
Muslim Women and Men Speak Out
Catapulting the discussion forward, in 2013, Chicago blogger Hind Makki launched a blog titled "Side Entrance," inviting the global Muslim community to post photos from their local showcasing women's sacred spaces, in relation to men's spaces.
“We show the beautiful, the adequate and the pathetic,” reads the title on Makki's blog.
Her blog has been featured in the Huffington Post and her work has been lauded by other Muslim women as a much-needed initiative.
In further explaining the incentive behind her blog, Makki wrote, "There are many mosques around the world that boast incredible space for female congregants. Yet, in my experience, there are many more with inadequate or bad spaces for women. Still, other mosques bar women from entering altogether.
"The prayer experiences of many Muslim women are too often frustrating; mosques seem to be built to cater only to the male experience. Yet it is my optimistic belief that as more people see photos of the spaces women must pray in, and hear our stories, we will gain more male allies, who will collaborate with us to improve the situation."
Side Entrance blog contributor Ruwaida Gafoor stated, "I feel that many women in my community don’t attend the Jumuah salaah because we have been conditioned not to do so . Also the Masjid is designed in a way that deters women from attending."
While attempting to assuage critics, Makki doesn't hesitate in expressing appreciation for the beauty of mosques around the world, however, in a blog posttitled, "70 Insanely Beautiful Mosques Around the World," she reflects that it would be negligent to not validate the unfairness of women having to worry about the individual attitudes or entry conditions of each specific mosque before they enter.
Elaborating, she wrote: "Each time I see a particularly stunning mosque, I immediately wonder, “Is there a women’s prayer area? Do they keep it unlocked during prayer times? If I were ever blessed to visit this beautiful mosque, would there be an adequate place for me to pray?
"Not having to immediately think about these questions when seeing a mosque you ache to pray in, that is Muslim male privilege."
As set out in an interview published by Patheos, Makki's blog was not the first discussion about the inequalities of women's prayer spaces.
Previously, there have been other blogs and numerous articles articulating the different perspectives; opinion pieces, a Muslim Matters post titled, "The Penalty Box" written by Canadian filmmaker Zarqa Nawazand, who also produced a documentary on the subject.
Additionally, Asra Nomani created an “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in Mosques” in response to her own experience in American mosques.
But Makki’s idea to include and accept photo submissions fostered inclusion, heightening the narrative.
In exclusive comments to OnIslam.net, Dilshad D. Ali, managing editor of the Muslim Channel at Patheos.com stated, "Seeing our masajid becoming more inclusive of women and of other populations has been something I've yearned for. What I'd like masjid boards to know is that making our masajid more inclusive and friendly towards women creates a domino effect – it opens up the path to teach our masjid congregants – men and women – on how to be more family-friendly."
As the mother of a 15-year-old son with autism, Ali further stated that, "It helps special needs families feel more welcomed and included as well. When space for me is limited at our masjid, when divisions are enforced in ways that could be done way better, it makes it even harder for my husband and I to accommodate our family.
"I see a shift happening in perception and thinking, and I pray that it continues. Because the more our masjid boards and communities realize the importance of making our masjids inclusive to women in real and meaningful ways, the more they'll see how this is the gateway to so much more – to a fluid inclusivity for so many other communities and a real change in our thinking," she added.
In a Patheos blog post dated August 29, 2013, Muslimah Media Watch contributor,Shireen Ahmed, wrote: "In providing a platform through which Muslim women were afforded the opportunity to capture the environments under which they were subjected to for the purpose of worship, illustrated the challenges they face; giving voice to their concerns regarding mosque reform.
"Above all it, the Side Entrance campaign opened the door for the participation of women in the commentary on "Muslim Male Privilege", highlighting the need to include women in the greater discussion," she added.
Australian blogger, Alia Sarfraz blogged on August 21: "We need more open and engaging houses of worship where women and minorities are not second-class citizens in the masjid. This would set the tone for how women are treated at home by many Muslim men as well. The status quo is not what our Prophet (SAW) would have wanted. Nor should we want that. Reform will happen and is occurring through dialogue. Alhamdulillah."
"Islam gives equal status to men and women on a spiritual level as well as on the level of personhood. We are rewarded equally and punished equally for the same sins or good deeds. If there was any kind of diminished personal responsibility on the basis of gender, you'd see that reflected in the Quran, or the Hadiths, but it isn't," stated Karachi, Pakistan native and New York Times columnist Bina Shah in a February 2015 blog.
She added: "These are examples of how Muslim men can begin to undo their male privilege - by being flexible, by understanding that their individual cases must match the conditions set by the Quran, that these conditions do not translate to universal circumstances that can then be twisted and justified for anything less than the great spiritual benefit and mercy that God intended them to be.
"I do not believe that Islam set down rules that men could then use to their advantage, and torture women with for the rest of all eternity."
In the spirit of B. Deutsch's "The Male Privilege Checklist," blogger "Jamerican" (Shahidah), compiled a 16-point counter list - written from the perspective of a Muslim man - titled the "Muslim Male Privilege Checklist," in which she wrote: "As a Muslim man: I can set foot in any masjid I like. No one will stop me at the door and tell me that I am not allowed in the masjid.
"When I attend Jumah prayer I know that I will have full access to the main prayer hall. I can enter through the front door and I am not required to sit behind a partition, one-way mirror or placed in a separate room. Also, I can see and hear the Imam when he is giving the kutbah (sermon). I do not have to worry about a speaker or closed-circuit system malfunctioning thereby preventing me from hearing the kutbah or seeing the Imam."
"No Muslim-Man should feel that being a Muslim-male gives him the “privilege” to be a tyrant. And any/all those who advocate for this type of sadistic “privilege”, are people whom are guilty, in front of Allah, the Creator/Lord of the Universe," Muslim author, Gareth Bryant blogged.
Furthering the Campaign for Women-Friendly Mosques
The ISNA Task Force for Women-Friendly Masjids campaign for women friendly mosques, the will also be a call for “Women to have a prayer space in the main musalla (prayer hall) which is behind the lines of men but not behind a full barrier that disconnects women from the main musalla and prevents them from seeing the imam.”
ISNA's online statement further recommends that, “women actively participate in the decision-making process of the masjid, best realized by having women on the governing bodies of masajid.”
ISNA is the largest Muslim umbrella organization in North America.
Running from September 4-7 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, in Rosemont, Illinois, the theme of this year’s event is: “Stories of Resilience: Strengthening the American Muslim Narrative.”
ISNA's four-day annual convention dates back to 1963, when the first such event was organized by the predecessor to ISNA, the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada.
The ISNA convention continues to rise in popularity among Muslim community members, consistently drawing crowds of up to 40,000 annually.