This Open Letter is dedicated to all my sisters in Islam, and it is written with you in mind. However, my brothers are also welcome to read it too.
I am writing it because, even though I myself am a young man, and not a woman, I feel that our faith, as it is practiced and understood today, privileges men over women, and thus, me over you.
However, after much reflection, study of the Koran and historical Islamic figures, and readings of the works of lesser known, and for the most part, female Islamic scholars, I have come to see that this privilege has absolutely nothing to do with God, and everything to do with patriarchal readings, interpretations, and translations of our holy book that over time have become crystallized as an integral part of the faith and blindly accepted, without criticism, by the vast majority of Muslims today. Obviously, there is more to it than only this, and hopefully I will be able to shed some light on some of the other reasons further on in this letter.
I will now share with you my Islamic journey, from the moment I took my Shahada until now, when I find myself writing these words on a cold swedish winter day. Since the words are only written with you in mind, there are many things that I will omit from the letter and thus all my reasons for my belief in God and my conversion to Islam will not be included. I will only write about the main reasons.
It was June 27th, which so happened to be, the day before Ramadan. However, as I made my way towards the Masjid, I had no Idea that Ramadan was to start the next day. Once I was inside the Mosque, I was delighted to find that one had to take off their shoes before stepping in. It was my first time in a Mosque, and I found the atmosphere to be very peaceful, very calm, and very spiritual. This made me happy, and reassured me, because after all, I had come to this Masjid to take my Shahada.
However, everything changed for me in the blink of an eye when my friend that had taken me to the Mosque had to go upstairs to her prayer space, while I remained on the ground floor and went into my prayer space. This is when my delight, happiness, and reassurance turned into a giant question mark twice the size of the Mosque itself. Nevertheless, I found myself a spot to sit on on the floor, and I listened to the Khutbah of the Imam (It was a fiery sermon about how Ramadan was starting that very same night and how we needed to be ready for it). Afterwards, it was time for friday prayers. I had never prayed in congregation before, and it was a delightful experience. The feeling of brotherhood and togetherness at that moment was a feeling that I had never felt before, at least to that degree.
However, I could not help but feeling that something was off. During the prayer itself, I took a few quick looks up to the womens section, and I was shocked to see that their prayer space was literally five times smaller than ours, not to mention that there was a huge wooden barrier in front of it. I thought to myself, we are all believers, so why this immense separation?
Afterwards, someone took me to the Imam in the front of the prayer space, and that is when I took my Shahada. I repeated the words, in Arabic, after him, and while doing so I noticed that a huge crowd had gathered in front of me to witness this “life changing” event. People had taken out their phones, and were filming, while others simply had big smiles on their faces. However, this crowd consisted only of brothers, as of course, this was happening in the mens only prayer space. As this was going on, I thought to myself, “There are perhaps 100 women in the mosque right now, and none of them are witnessing my entrance into the fold of Islam”. This just felt awfully wrong to me. Once I was done, and was now, a Muslim, people started coming up to me, one by one, and congratulating me with hugs, handshakes, and tender affection for their new “brother in faith”. Of course, I was deeply moved, and touched, by all this affection, and I returned it, unequivocally. However, from that moment on, I knew that being a Muslim was going to be a one sided affair.
From the women, I received no hugs, handshakes, or affection. From the women, I didn’t even receive any looks, and of course I did not, because the women were upstairs in their small prayer space behind a giant wooden barrier. This might sound harsh to some of you, but in all honesty, at that moment, the women in the mosque did not even exist.
I spent the next few hours hanging out in the mosque, walking around and having conversations with the brothers. We talked about all sorts of things, from how to fast during Ramadan to how to pray, all the basics that I needed to know in order to live my life as a Muslim. It was nice, and to this day I carry them with me for having been so generous in taking the time to explain to me these things.
However, once again, I could not help but to notice that there was absolutely no interaction between the genders whatsoever taking place. Men were in their prayer space, women were in theirs, women had their entrance into the mosque (a side door), men had the main entrance, and the only place where you could find gender interaction was either at the reception desk for a quick question, or in the store, where you could buy a wide variety of Islamic items. Other than that, it was very clear : The first floor is for men, and the second floor is for women.
As I left the mosque, I carried with me perhaps the biggest feeling of bittersweetness that I had ever felt in my entire life. I knew in my heart that I had found God, and that I had found the purest path towards a relationship with God and his creation, but on the other hand, the relationship towards his creation had been a segregated affair. I had sat down on the soft mosque floor, barefoot and natural, and discussed Islam with the men, but not with the women. I had shared laughter, smiles, and genuine emotions of happiness and joy with the men, but not with the women. I had experienced a deep feeling of spirituality with the men, but not with the women. I had stood shoulder to shoulder with the men in neatly organized rows, and bowed down to god with them, but not with the women.
Why did I feel this way? Why did I find it so unjust that men had a much bigger spiritual space than the women? Why did It trouble me that I had said at least 100 Salaams to the men, but never had a chance to say it to even one woman? And why have I written all of the above?
Well, we can start with my mother, who raised me by herself, and is perhaps the definition of someone who submits to God, and no one else. My general feelings towards women start with her. However, my path towards Islam had been because of the admiration I had had for Muslim women.
My first introduction to Islam was when I was 15, through a Muslim girl that is and always will be the wisest and most spiritual person that I ever will meet. You talk about someone who had the light of God, well, she had it. My journey towards the faith began thanks to her grace.
From this time, until I was 23, so a period of about eight years, I got to know other Muslimahs, and they all had this deep sense of spirituality and dignity that always touched my heart and my soul. Whatever it was that they had, I wanted to have it too, as it seemed that they were living their lives on another level, a level where God was ever living, ever present. I saw them all as lights on the pathway to the Divine. They were my secret guides towards me finding myself.
The final person who forever placed God in my heart, however, was Malala. About a year ago, I found out about her and decided to watch her United Nations speech. Now, at the start of her speech, she uttered the three words that forever changed my life. The words were “Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem”. The entire world stopped in its tracks, and the silence following the words felt like the silence of an entire lifetime. I had no Idea what the words meant, but It felt as though my heart had been cut, except that I felt no pain. When she followed this up by saying “In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful”, then I knew, that at that moment, I had found Allah. The rest of her speech, a blistering and divinely inspired saga of social justice, equality for women, and peace for all of mankind, was all I needed to know. This was Islam! Submission to the creator, first and foremost, and compassion and concern for the well being of the creation.
It was almost as if she was a divine instrument, a true servant of Allah. I ran to the library to get a copy of the Koran, and the rest is history.
Later on, I looked up the true meaning of “Bismillah”, and I found this :
“Using these basic roots, the term bismillah might be translated as:
– By means of the very essence of God
– For the glory of our Creator
– With the light of the One
– With the guidance of The Divine
– As an instrument of the One
– In harmony with Divine Presence
The central idea here is that whatever we do, every step that we take, every breath that we breathe, is done for, because of, and through the essence of, the One who has created us.”
Can one find anything more beautiful than this? “As an instrument of the one”, this is Malala, on her quest for peace. “In harmony with Divine Presence”, this is how I had felt about all the Muslim women that I had met up until that point. “With the light of the one”, this is exactly what my first muslim friend had, she had the “light of the one”. Here are all these women, enshrined in the opening of every chapter of the Koran, except for one (Chapter 9). Here are all these women, enshrined at the beginning of every prayer that we as muslims have ever done, or ever will do. I cannot explain why I had felt this way about Muslimahs, but that is besides the point. Spirituality is not something to be explained, it is only something to be felt.
Which is why, you can now understand the deep sadness that followed my first visit to a mosque, and my first moments as a Muslim. My journey to Islam had been thanks, in large part, to Its women, but once my journey in Islam started, the women were nowhere to be found, and I found myself only being able to share Islam with the men, as my story above has shown you.
I was thrilled on my way to the mosque because I thought to myself “Finally, I can share my story with Muslim women and tell them how they have so inspired me to become Muslim, and I can get to know more about the secret of their deep faith and spirituality. Best of all, I can pray alongside them and they can witness the moment when I become their brother in faith.”
Well, sometimes, life has other plans in store for us. Lets just say that this other plan that took place at the mosque was deeply disappointing, saddening, and tough for me to deal with, while on the other hand it was still beautiful, so in a nutshell, the entire experience was, as I mentioned before, bittersweet.
On my way home, I carried with me a thousand questions, and deep Inside I knew that the separation of men and women and the prohibition of women from leadership roles (Being Imam, giving a friday sermon, etc) was not divinely sanctioned, but was due to rules, laws, and regulations, all made by men in positions of unquestioned authority. This is when I understood that man, in all his “glory”, had put himself between God and women. From that moment on, I decided that I would dedicate myself to studying the faith and understanding why we had gotten so far removed from the true egalitarian message of Islam.
In Islam, God is the only unquestionable authority, but even then, as the Koran says, we cannot follow God blindly. In Islam, we submit to Allah only, and no one else, not even our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Now, to continue with this letter, I will take you on a trip through mosque memory lane so that you can see my mosque experiences through my own eyes.
In Sweden, I have been to the major mosques of two of the country’s biggest cities, and the experiences have been almost 100% segregated. Much of the same in these two mosques, such as, I have access to the main entrance, I have a much bigger prayer space, I do not need to go up steps to reach my prayer space, I can only say Salam Aleikum to the guys, I can only hang out with the guys, I can only pray alongside the guys, I can only make Wudu alongside the guys, I can only sit next to the guys (during lectures etc), I can only eat with the guys (Yes, even the traditional Swedish “Fikas”, consisting of pastries, coffee, and tea, are split, one side of the room for guys, another side of the room for girls. These are usually offered after lectures), I can only be led in prayer by a guy, I can only hear a guy call the Adhan, I can only hear a guy recite the Koran, I can basically only discuss “Islam” with half of the believing community (once again, the guys), and it all truly really feels like a mens club.
Moving on, I have been in two other mosques in Sweden, where one of these was only for men. Women were not even allowed in this mosque. Speaking of a mens club, at least this mosque was honest enough to say it like it was. It was a mens club.
In France, during Ramadan 2014, I attended a Mosque In Toulon, a major city in the south of France, and had my Iftar meal there. This mosque had a partition, right down the middle, and so I shared my meal with, you guessed it, men, followed by prayers and moments of spiritual reflection.
During that same summer I travelled to India. I had a change of flights in Doha, Qatar, so I spent many hours in the Doha airport. This was my first time In a Muslim country as a Muslim and so I was very happy. Seeing the arabic language everywhere was wonderful. The airport even had two mosques, one for women, and one for men. I prayed in the company of guys and rested there. Once again, another guys club. To be fair, at least they also had a women’s club.
Now, upon arriving in India, I headed straight for the famed Jama Masjid In New Delhi. When I arrived at the Masjid, I was delighted to find that the entire mosque had no segregation or separation, and also that the space was huge. It was a giant outdoor courtyard, and oh, how beautiful it was. The ground was made of red sandstone, and it was so warm from the sun that they had placed carpets that one could walk on instead. Here, there was a pool for making Wudu in the middle of the courtyard, and men and women were purifying themselves alongside each other.
You can imagine how my heart felt at this point. It was a joyful experience for me to see that here, Islam was practiced in a different way. Now, when it was time to pray, the men prayed inside the mosque structure, in the front, and the women prayed on the sides behind us, with no barrier. But, once the fardh prayers were over, people started mixing again, and even the sisters were allowed into the main structure to pray where we had just recently prayed.
Here, they could pray their sunnah or nafl prayers. So it happened that at certain times I ended up praying sunnah or nafl prayers with women also praying theirs either in front of me, or beside me.
So although even though the fardh prayers were separate, and it was a man leading them, I still found this atmosphere to be much more liberating and free, and It brought me great joy and happiness. Not to mention that the Jama Masjid is perhaps the most beautiful piece of architecture I have ever seen, (Its right up there with the Taj Mahal), and that just being In India for the first time was a miracle within itself for me.
During the rest of my travels in India, all in Rajasthan, I was once again saddened to see that every other mosque that I visited only had male visitors, and that women were not allowed to visit them. This reminded me of another verse : “Children of Adam, take your pleasantness to every Mosque.” (7:31) (The term “Adam” is a Hebrew and not an Arabic word, and it means “of the soil” (from “Adamah”, the soil). The Koran uses it to refer to the human species and not to a male human being. Well, it was only half of the children taking their pleasantness to every mosque.
They all were beautiful though, and I remember, upon arriving in Jaisalmer, a town on the edges of the Thar desert, I found a beautiful mosque, in white and green, that was totally empty. So I prayed all the prayers that I had missed, due to my travel to Jaisalmer, all alone. This was a new type of mosque for me. No men, no women, just me and Allah 😉
This just about sums up every mosque that I have ever visited so far during my lifetime. I hope that seeing the mosque experience through my eyes, the eyes of a guy, perhaps gave you some new insight into the practice of our faith.
So, now that I shared with you my path towards Allah and Islam, I will now share with you why I believe that Islam as we generally practice it today, with its many limitations with regards towards you, my sisters, is not the Islam of our Holy Koran.
There are many things to talk about, but with this letter, I only wish to awaken your consciousness and put you on the path of questioning and critically engaging our shared sacred text (The Koran) and our extra Koranic sources (Tafsir, Hadith, Sunnah, Fiqh, Shariah etc). Hopefully, this will lead you to go out on your own and start your own research, In Sha Allah.
So, our faith makes it absolutely clear that me and you are equal in the sight of God, and that God created us from a single self. God only cares about our moral standards and our faith and this is the standard by which he will judge us, only this standard and nothing else.
It is in this single self that we originate, and we originated in this single self at the same time, at the same place, and in the same way. We used to be “undifferentiated humanity”, and we still are, except the only difference now is that we have different biological functions. Other than that, we are one and the same. We have the same capacity for understanding, for spirituality, for devotion to God. We have the same human nature, and we are both complete human beings, each lacking in nothing. God tells us in the Koran the he created us in “the best stature”, and “the best of moulds.” Our holy book goes beyond equality. It states that we are one. Just read the verses, and seek to truly understand them.
O [hu]mankind! [have taqwá for] Your [Rabb],
Who created you From a single Person [nafs],
Created, of like nature, [Its] mate, and from them twain Scattered (like seeds)
Countless men and women;—
[Show taqwá for] God, through Whom Ye demand your mutual (rights),
And [show taqwá for] the wombs(That bore you)
for God Ever watches over you. (4:1)
The story of creation and the origin of humankind is one of the most explicit of the Koran’s teachings. The fact that women and men originate in the same self and make one pair can be found throughout the Koran in different verses, such as :
It is god who has produced you from a single person (6:98)
God has made for you mates and companions of your own nature (16:72)
We created you from a single pair of male and female (49:13)
(God) created you (humans) from a single self (nafs). (39:7)
Another important and beautiful thing to note from this verse, is that God extends the concept “Taqwa” (God-Consciousness/Reverence) to the “wombs that bore you”. These are, in other words, mothers, and mothers are women, and women are you.
Therefore, how beautiful is it that God calls upon mankind to have “Taqwa” for our mothers, and so essentially, to have “Taqwa” for you? This does not mean that we should put you on the same level as God, since the Islamic concept of divine unity (Tawhid) rejects equating anything with God, but I believe that it means that God is recognising himself as the creator, and you as the pro-creator.
Moving forward, the word womb (rahim) has been derived from the same linguistic root as the word rahma which means mercy and which is God’s intrinsic quality. the root rhm has meanings of womb, kinship, relationship, loving-kindness, mercy, compassion, and nourishing-tenderness. “My Mercy encompasses all things” (7:156), are the words of the Qur’an. Also, every one of the Qurans Surahs (except one) open with “In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful”, and mercy is one of Gods divine attributes.
By using the words taqwá and rahma, the Qur’ān not only brings mothers into the same sphere of symbolic signification as that reserved for God, but, in so doing, it also privileges them over fathers, to whom it never extends the concept of taqwá. Clearly, taqwá for God and for mothers cannot be of the same nature; however, the fact that the Qur’ān extends it only to mothers shows that it privileges them in a way that it never privileges fathers.
Therefore, the relationship between God and yourself in the Qur’an shows that you should be respected, not only on a human level, but also on the highest spiritual level.
God did not tell Humankind to revere one of my body parts, no, he instead told us to revere the “wombs”, and it is you who has the womb, not me, nor any of us men. Oh, but by the way, you can’t be an Imam and lead me in prayer? Really?
Here are more verses :
Whoever works righteousness,
Man or woman, and has Faith,
Verily, to him will We give
A new Life, a life
That is good and pure, and We
Will bestow on such their reward
According to the best
Of their actions.
“I shall not lose
sight of the
any of you who labors
in My way, be it man or woman,
each of you is equal to the other (3:195)”
If any do deeds
be they male or female
And have faith,
They will enter Heaven,
And not the least injustice
Will be done to them.
For Muslim men and women,
For believing men and women,
For devout men and women,
For true men and women,
For men and women who are
Patient and constant, for men
And women who humble themselves,
For men and women who give
In Charity, for men and women
Who fast, for men and women who
Guard their chastity,
For men and women who
Engage much in God’s praise,
For them has God prepared
Forgiveness and great reward.
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13)
If you dig deep into your holy book, and reflect on its verses, then you will find that all the restrictions that are placed upon you with regards to spirituality are all man made traditions which are attributed to the Prophet (pbuh), and have nothing to do with your holy book.
I will now present to you some of the things that the Koran doesn’t say. God’s silence is a hidden mercy.
1. That you cannot be Imam.
2. That you cannot pray during your period.
3. That you cannot touch the Koran during your period.
4. That you cannot fast during your period.
5. That you cannot recite the Koran in front of men.
6. That you cannot give a khutbah (Friday sermon)
7. That you should have a smaller prayer area.
8. That you should be separated from men inside mosques.
9. That it is not obligatory for you to attend Friday prayers (It actually is)
10. That when a man and a woman are alone together, the devil is the 3rd person there.
11. That men and women cannot shake hands, hug, or interact inside mosques or elsewhere with people from outside their own families. (On the contrary, the Koran calls us friends, protectors, allies, and guides of one another. Since when do friends not interact?)
12. That you cannot partake in Hajj without a Mahram.
13. That you cannot marry someone from another faith.
None of these prohibitions that we take as unquestionable law, with regards to you, exist inside our holy book. So where do these laws come from? Reminds me of another verse : “Among them is a group who distort the Book with their tongues so that you think it is from the book when it is not from the book. They say, “it is from Allah”, but it is not from Allah. They tell a lie against Allah and they know it.” (3:78).
Its simple, they come from men who have no understanding of what it means to be a woman, and who over the years became so important in the minds of muslims that today, the Koran, the book that is completely fair and just towards you, is no longer the only holy book of Islam and books such as Sahih Bukhari, which are anti-women, are just as holy as the Koran. It is not just the Hadith that have become holy but also the Tafsir, some of which are hundreds of years old and have nothing to do with our present lives. Our God is a living God, and the Koran is meant for all times, so we have the right to interpret it for ourselves according to our own lives, so long as these interpretations do not cause injustice towards others. It is important to note that Allah calls himself the teacher of the Koran, and poses the question to us : “And We made the Qur’an easy to learn. Do any of you wish to learn?” (54:17)
Well yes, many of us wish to learn. How nice is it to know that the Koran is easy to learn, and that God is inviting us to learn it. As we can see, god does not say that “only men can interpret the Koran, or that the koran is easy to learn only for men, etc.” No, on the contrary, women have as much right to interpret and engage the sacred text. What does your life as a woman today have to do with the Tafsir of male scholars from hundreds of years ago? Sure, you can find good and informative things in the Tafsir, but the main point is that you should never confuse Tafsir with the actual Koran.
Some translated versions of the Koran have certain elements of tafsir implemented in the actual translation, so that you think that you are reading a certain verse of the Koran, but in fact this verse that you are reading is heavily biased and influenced by Tafsir. Arabic is a very fluid language and if you look at the different translations of the Koran in the english language, you will find that each translation differs slightly. One verse might say “revere your god” while another might say “fear you lord.” In the case of the very controversial verse, the verse 4:34, some of the male translators say that “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other”. One simply cannot accept this translation because 1. It is clearly a misogynistic interpretation of the word of Allah and 2. It goes against the Korans radical teachings about gender equality. Muslim women were fighting on the battlefield alongside men during the first Muslim battles. This whole strength thing is almost laughable. In any case, one can find non-macho translations of verse 4:34, and these are the ones that are more in tune with the overall Koranic spirit.
The Koran is inviting you to have a personal relationship with it, and to open your own heart to it. A man can never understand how it feels like to be a woman, so verses that have to do with how you should dress etc, should be interpreted by you and only you, not by men. You can define your own standards of modesty according to the Koran. You can define where you stand as woman according to the Koran. It is only between you and God. Only between you and Allah.
It is also important to note that Allah is beyond anything that we can imagine, and so that of course, Allah is not a male, and neither is he a female. He is the creator, way beyond such trivial things such as gender. Men are not the extension of Allah here on earth. Surah Ikhlaas explains very clearly that God is beyond anything and everything. Just let the infinite vastness of God sink into you, it is indeed most beautiful :
Say: [God] is God, The One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute;
[God] begetteth not, Nor is [God] begotten;
And there is none Like unto [God]. (Surah 112)
But lets take a look at the history of the Hadith shall we?
The history of Hadith is extremely faulty and suspect, to say the least.
All the hadith collections we have today, and which are regarded by the hadith scholars as authentic (sahih), were written two centuries after the death of the Prophet, for two centuries there was no authorised documentation of the hadith in accordance with the prohibition left by the Prophet. Out of the sahih collections we have today, the first to be written was that of Bukhari who was born in the year 194 after Hijra (870 AD). It is also important to note that the authors of the other six hadith collections, like Muslim and Abu Dawood, were all born after Bukhari.
The method used by these scholars to authenticate hadith was “isnad”, a chain of narration of the reports, from generation to generation. The isnad method emphasized verification of the character and memory of the narrator, rather than using the Quran or reasoning of the mind as guides. Can Chinese whispering be taken as solid evidence for any serious belief system?
So who concocted the narrations that violate human rights, contradict Quranic injunctions, violate reason, and slander the Prophet and his companions?
If we piece together the evidence, the hadith collections served the purpose of the corrupt Abbasid caliphs, the elite rich, and the priest class. The liberating and versatile Quran, meant for all times, had to be chained down with man-made dogmas to meet the needs of this evil trio. In those times when religion and state were one and the same, anyone who converted was akin to a traitor and harsh penalties had to be justified.
Harems needed to be stocked, so child marriage and sex slavery were promoted. To keep women in line, their rights had to be degraded and stoning was introduced from the Bible (how conspicuously rare is the male stoning victim in the Muslim world?).
I will give you an example of just how bad some Hadith are :
Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 28:
Narrated by Ibn Abbas, the Prophet said; “I looked at hell and the majority of its dwellers were women”.
In Bukhari Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301 it is explained that the majority of women end up in hell because they did not obey their husbands!
Really? How does this go together with the Koranic verses that I showed you above that make it absolutely clear that you will enter heaven if you believe in the one god, and do good deeds? How can you possibly believe this if you understand and know your Koran?
The great Pashtun Muslim leader, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, knew this, and this is why he would give speeches to Muslim women saying this :
“God makes no distinction between men and women. If one can surpass the other, it is only through good deeds and morals. If you study history, you will see that there were many scholars and poets amongst women. It is a grave mistake we have made in degrading women….
In the Holy Koran, you have an equal share with men.”
Well, that sounds like a guy who knew his Koran well enough to not buy into these degrading Hadith. We need more leaders like him. Abdul would also say “The Koran makes it absolutely clear that faith in one god, without a second, and good works, are enough to secure a man his salvation.” Simple. Rational. Logical.
Here is another one :
Abu Bakara said the Messenger of God said:
“Any community whose leader is a woman will never succeed”
Really? Thats funny, because last time I checked, the Koran not only has a female leader called the Queen of Sheba, but she is also the Koranic example for a positive leader, irrespective of Gender. Pharoah, a man, is the Koranic example for a negative leader. Who is Abu Bakara and who is he to speak such blasphemy in the name of God and the Prophet (pbuh)? I mean, seriously. He should have met Fatima Al-Fihri, the Muslim woman who opened the worlds first degree granting university in morocco in 859. Or perhaps, he should have simply read the Koran.
When we stop you, our sisters, from leadership roles within our own community, or stop you from obligatory worship seven days a month, or say that you cannot wear strong perfume because if a man smells it you are an adulteress, etc, (Funny, because perfume as we know it today was invented by two Muslims, Jabbir Ibn Hayyan and Al-Kindi), we are doing what god has warned us not to do, and that is, to ascribe false sayings to god.
But say not, for any false thing that your tongues may put forth, “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” so as to ascribe false things to God. For those who ascribe false things to God, will never prosper (16:116)
We are also following Idols (Scholars, Sheiks, Sahih Bukhari and company) that are the ones who have made these rulings that limit your spiritual life as women while our spiritual life as men has no limits.
They follow Idols who decree for them religious laws never authorised by God. If it were not for the predetermined decision, they would have been judged immediately. Indeed, the transgressors have incurred a painful retribution. (42:21)
And, we do this because we obey the majority of those on earth, that is to say, the opinion of the majority of Muslims relating to what is Haram for you. But what does the Koran say about this?
The words of your lord are complete in truth and justice. Nothing can change his words, he is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. And if you obey the majority of those on earth, they will lead you astray. That is because they follow conjecture, and that is because they only guess. (6:115-116)
These verses clearly apply to the Islam that is being practiced today. The Hadith sounds like an awful lot of guess work to me. What is not guess work, however, is our Holy Koran.
Here are some more verses :
“This Book has been sent down to you (Prophet) – let there be no anxiety in your heart about it – so that you may use it to give warning and to remind the believers (by telling them): ‘Follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord! Do not follow other masters beside Him. How seldom you take heed!’ ” (Qur’an 7:2)
“Do not follow other masters beside him. How seldom you take heed.” When we follow extra-Qur’anic sources that make things Haram or not compulsory for you, we follow other masters. Still, to this day, us Muslims are not taking heed.
“The Messenger’s duty is only to deliver the message: Allah knows what you reveal and what you conceal.” (Qur’an 5:99)
This verse speaks for itself.
When they are told : Follow what Allah has sent down to you, they say : ‘We are following what we found our fathers doing.’ What? Even if their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided? (2:170)
This is exactly what is happening today. We should be following what Allah has sent down, the Koran, but we are following hundreds of years of man made extra-Qur’anic material.
A Revelation from the lord of the Universe. Had Muhammad made up about us some false sayings, we would have grabbed him by the right and severed his aorta. And none of you could have held us off from him (69:43-37)
Interesting how Allah says that he would have killed Muhammad (pbuh) if he had made up some false sayings and attributed them to Allah. So, very, interesting!
What is also very important, is that you remember the original oath that the first Muslim women took with the Prophet :
Oh Prophet! If believing women come unto thee, taking oath of allegiance unto thee that they will ascribe nothing as partner unto Allah, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised between their hands and feet, nor disobey thee in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask Allah to forgive them (60:12)
This is a good verse to reflect on. Notice how it does not say “nor disobey thee” period, and how it rather says “nor disobey thee in what is right”. No mention of anything that the Hadith mention.
To be clear, there are some very beautiful Hadiths that are in perfect accordance with Koranic teachings, and these should not be discarded. Our prophet (pbuh) has uttered some beautiful words of wisdom that are pearls, as Rumi calls them. But the point is this : If you only followed the Koran in Haram/Halal matters, you would be freed from all these man made prohibitions. It is really that simple.
Yes, some will say that we need the Hadith when it comes to prayer, and that is totally fine. This is not a prohibition. This is just the basic act of prayer that we all must do as believers. I think that anyone can understand the difference between praying Dhuhr prayer and its four Rakaats, and the hadiths that make Haram for women things that God never made Haram for women.
Now, take a look back to the beginning of my letter. Why am I writing this to you? For many reasons. Because men have no right to infer gender segregation in mosques, and make it “their way, or the highway.” No one can tell me who I can or cannot speak to, and if i wish to go speak to a sister in a mosque, why does it have to be such a big deal, as if I am breaking some kind of divine command? I am actually only going to speak to a fellow believer. No man has the right to tell you who you can or cannot speak to, either. We are all independent people and the Koran states that every person is responsible for their own actions. Islam is radical in saying that it is only between the believer and God in all circumstances. But in so many mosques, it feels like there is a “Haram-Police.” There is a verse for these brothers in faith :
“The servants of the Beneficent (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility.” (25:63) Humility includes letting people be free in the holy mosques dedicated to the worship of Allah.
What they should have, is a more tolerant and open minded way of thinking, and feature a main prayer space where everyone is welcome to pray and interact together, regardless of gender. I did not convert to Islam to submit to the misogynistic rulings of men, I converted to Islam to submit to the liberating rulings of my creator.
I am writing because It is wrong that you are treated as second class in the majority of our mosques, but that you are made to feel that you are only there in the back to be protected from the stares and lusts of men. Muslim men are ordered by God to have respect for you, and to not see you as objects. If they can’t handle it, well then too bad for them. The solution is not to give you a smaller prayer space with large barriers, or to infer segregation, the solution is for Muslim men to understand that their Koran tells them to “Lower their gaze and guard their private parts”, Period! A true Muslim man should look upon you as a fellow human being first, as a fellow soul in the faith, not as a temptress to his “uncontrollable sexual desires.” The Koran does not say that the woman is a temptress, and it does not say that men have uncontrollable sexual desires. These are fabrications from our own minds. On the contrary, the Koran says : “God created for you helpmeets from amongst yourselves, that you may find Sukun in them, and God ordained between you love and mercy. Lo, herein are portents for folk who reflect” (30:21)
Sukun is usually seen as meaning love, but has a deeper meaning, and this meaning implies a profound intimacy ensuing from sexual gratification and mental peace. This Ayah shows that both men and women have sexual desires, and the right to fulfill them. What is shown here is that sexuality is not in opposition to spirituality, and that, on the contrary, it regards sexuality as a sign of “God’s love and mercy towards humanity.”
Another verse that pairs men and women is this one :
Women impure are for men impure,
and men impure are for women impure,
and women of purity, are for men of purity,
and men of purity, are for women of purity (24:26)
This verse clearly shows that both men and women can be sexually pure or impure, and that the Koran says that both believers should seek to stay pure, thereby not putting a premium only on female chastity and virginity. It is equally important for a man to stay chaste and pure before and during marriage, and so, this is another reason why men should really understand that God also expects this from them. Purity is the absence of adultery and fornication, on both sides. Once again, if men cannot control themselves, they either 1. Have not read their Koran or 2. They are living in the world of the flesh and not the world of the spirit, which is Islam. In any case, number 3. Its really not your problem, its actually only theirs.
Moving forward, do not listen to all the reasons that men give to justify the fact that you have a tiny prayer space, compared to our huge prayer space! A common justification is that it is not obligatory for you to attend friday prayer. Well, The Koran says that it is : O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. (62:9) Last time I checked, “O you who have believed” does not mean “Not obligatory for women.”
Lets say, for arguments sake, that is it not necessary for you to attend this prayer. It means that you get a tiny prayer area only because of one prayer in the week that you are not obligated to attend? And the men get a giant prayer space because they need all the room they can get so that as many men as possible can attend this prayer? So, what about all the other prayers during the week that are fardh for you? Thats 34 other prayers. You are being systematically barred from the mosques. In some mosques, you are not even allowed to go in. But me, the guy, oh, I can go into any mosque that I wish. Just because I am guy? Again, God does not favor me over you because I am a guy. But, oh yeah, back to the “human” and male dominated reality. The one that the Koran is warning us against. Oh, the irony.
“Have you considered the one who prevents our servant from praying? Have you considered whether he is truly guided or not? Or commands (people) to true righteousness?” (96:9-12)
Well, we had better start considering.
Who is more unjust than the one who prevents (people) from the mosques of Allah? (2:114)
Well, that is a good question.
How can our faith move forward without the full participation of its other half, you? How can our faith ever be truly complete without its other half, you? We need to hear how you feel, what your opinions are, how we can help you with everyday life, we need to be able to know you feel in order to be able to take care of you, and vice versa. This Koranic verse explains this “The believers, men and women, are Auliya’ of one another” (9:71). Auliya means (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors, guides). So, a true Muslim friendship between the genders should be based in a deep sense of spirituality, like a combination of sisterhood and brotherhood. Like I got your back, and you got mine. Like I would take a bullet for you, and you would take a bullet for me. Like, I love you for Allah’s sake, and you love me for Allahs sake. This is not the romantic love that we often see in movies and such, but a spiritual love that only exists within the hearts of believers. These are the kinds of relationships that could change the world, that could shake the planet to its core. When men and women finally realise that they are one, and they enter the world of the spirit, beyond the desires of the flesh. To me, the beauty of a sister in the faith reflects the beauty of the Divine. But how can such relationships develop if we cannot even interact with each other in our mosques? How can we be each others helpers, supporters, friends, protectors, and guides?
I am writing, because I find it so unfair and unjust that I cannot share Islam with you, and I find it unfair that you are not amongst the leaders of our Ummah. We need you to lead us in prayer, and we need you speak to us, give us beautiful sermons, and educate us about life. You will lead us to brighter and more peaceful horizons. I wish with all my heart that I could enter into a mosque, anytime, and anywhere, and see the brothers and the sisters just spending time together, getting to know one another, and being united as believers. I wish that I could then just simply sit down next to you, tell you “May peace be upon you”, and simply say “how are you, my sister?”
And then, when the Adhan would come, that it would be you, calling this Adhan, and that, when prayer is ready, I could stand shoulder to shoulder with you, listen to you recite the Fatiha, and bow down with you, exactly like this Koran verse says “O Mary, be obedient to your Lord, prostrate and bow (before your Lord) with those who bow (before Him)” (3:43) as one body, beyond gender, color, language, ethnicity, nationality, financial status, beyond all barriers, because our faith erases all barriers. There is only one barrier left, that our Koran erased 1436 years ago but that extra-Qur’anic material has put back up in such an emphatic way, and that is the barrier of gender.
My only wish, is to share Islam with you, in exactly the same way that I share it with my brothers. My only wish, is to be able to share moments of spirituality with the very same people who led me to Islam and to Allah, and that is you, the sisters, the ones who are in harmony with the Divine presence.
“Help one another in good and righteous works, and do not help one another in sin and aggression.” (5:2)
Now, I leave it up to you to search for yourselves, to be critical, to use your god given intellect, reason, and heart, and In Sha Allah, return to the Koran, which is the only place where we can find the word of our Lord and Creator, the most compassionate, and the most merciful, Allah.
We do not do the work, and we do not make the opportunities appear. Alone, we are powerless. Our Creator has given us life and has given us the ability to move and think and feel, yet we are totally dependent upon the Creator for the very essence of life itself.
Thus, this beautiful word bismillah is a magnificent reminder of our relationship to our Creator and our relationship to all of creation.
In one simple word bismillah expresses our wonder, awe and thankfulness while it also expresses our innermost prayer that we may have the blessing of another breath, another moment of life, and that we may walk on a path of truth and understanding.
To say bismillah is to humbly offer one’s self as a vehicle for the glory and majesty of The One.
So, my sisters, say Bismillah, and come and join us at the front of the mosque.
I leave you with this poem.
“Like the shade of the trees gently cover the soul of the earth,
Your shade gently covers all of our souls, for you shine with the light of God,
So long as you walk on the straight path, oh sisters, we will be right behind, following all the way to the gates of paradise”
From my heart to yours,
Your brother in faith