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WATCH: Women speak out after battle over prayer space at mosque

13 June, 07:12 AM

Chanté Schatz

A group of women have spoken out about their experience with exclusivity in a mosque in Johannesburg, after they were verbally abused for seeking a space to perform Salaah (prayer) during the month of Ramadan.

In a video that made rounds on social media, the women are called "morons" by an elderly man who was upset by their presence in a room adjacent to the men.

The Masjid Siratul Jannah Mosque in Johannesburg is one of various mosques that cater for women on their premises. However, their facilities were not fully functional, as it had been missing a speaker to allow women to hear the recital of the Qur’an on the night of the incident.

Tazkiyyah Amra, the woman who recorded the incident on her cellphone on Monday, June 4, told News24 that she had initially gone to the mosque the previous Friday, and prayed in the courtyard outside with other women.

"We were confronted by, I think it was four men that time, who didn't want us to pray there. They thought that we had no permission to be there. Subsequent to that, one of the women got pushed, so there was some form of assault," she said.

According to Amra, after the scuffle, the men were encouraged to provide a room for the women to pray that also had no speakers.

"That Monday when we went again, we went to the same room we were in the last time, but the doors were locked so we went back to the courtyard."

She explained that it was there that they saw the empty room to move into.


Amra had joined women from an organisation known as Women of Waqf (WOW) to perform iftar or "break fast" at the mosque.

According to one of its founders, Shameelah Khan, the female-run organisation aims to create a dialogue for Muslim women to discuss their roles in society.

"We aim to create a safe space for various women to share their stories and experiences and hold vital conversations with each other," she said.

Khan founded WOW with Noorjan Allie. The two started the NGO due to conversations they would have with various women regarding inclusivity in the Muslim community and decided to create a platform to host those conversations.

Allie believes a woman's space should be secured in the mosque, according to the texts of the Qur’an.

"If you look at the Qur'an, it stipulates where women and men should be in the mosque. A man should be in front, and then children, hermaphrodites and then women. It is the better space for women. So, this just proves that a woman has a space in the mosque," she said.

Despite the episodes of resistance faced by the women, some men from the mosque eventually provided them with a space where they could pray.

"We were later provided with a room, out of the cold, as well as a speaker, so we could hear the recital and finally be at peace with our prayers," said Khan.

MJC condemns verbal abuse

The Muslim Judicial Council has condemned the act of verbal abuse and exclusivity imposed on the women at the mosque.

"The Muslim Judicial Council (SA) is deeply disturbed at the degrading and vile statements expressed against our sisters-in-Islam, in Ormonde. It is indeed a travesty when women are verbally violated and silence reins from the male counterparts in our communities," it said in a statement.

"The debate regarding segregation within the Sharia laws is still something ongoing," said Mishka Daries, media and communications manager at the MJC.

Amra explained that access to mosques for women around the country varied and that, depending on the different schools of thought, the views on gender segregation may differ.

"Women should, however, be provided with a safe space in their respective mosques, without any form of verbal or physical abuse," she added.

Allie said she hoped to see change in some schools.

"Islam has bred complacency. I grew up in the mosque, I was able to converse with Imams in the mosque and I want that for my daughters. We need to change the mindsets of scholars in their respective schools, especially in Johannesburg.

"Other women need to know what a beautiful experience it is to pray in this sacred space," she said.

News24 attempted to make contact with the mosque in question and the elderly man in the video, but neither had responded by the time of publication.

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