Chista’s mother dragged her to visit a shrine, to pay respects to an “Islamic Saint” buried there. And then they got to the mosque…
I observed how the Male Prayer Hall was opulently decorated with grand chandeliers and exquisite furnishing. I observed how elaborately designed curtains were hung before the Mihrab and how the intricately decorated prayer rugs were generously spread around. Most importantly, I observed how ventilated the Hall was. Doors were unbolted. Window panels were unlatched. There was a beautiful blend of sunlight and chandelier light throughout the grand hall.
And then, there was a Female Prayer Room, a tiny shoebox all the way at the back. A dilapidated room that one could have easily mistaken it for a storeroom. Simple plain white lights and a few prayer rugs. Most importantly, I noticed how it was completely shut off from the rest of the world and enclosed by heavy curtains. It was so stuffy and stifling. The doors to all 4 walls were closed and women had to open the doors carefully so as to ensure that the outsiders can’t get a glimpse of the women inside.
Stark, isn’t it. The men get space and opulence and beauty and freedom of movement and fresh air and light. The women get a small stuffy hot closed-off functional box. Men get all the good things, women get no good things.
It’s strikingly overt. It’s a quite blunt and open insult and dismissal. “We get nice things and you get nasty. Shut up.”
Chista asked, pretend-innocently, if women could be Imams. She got the expected response, and they argued.
“Who says leadership positions are for men only?” I carried on, somewhat perplexed. “Women have become presidents. Women have conquered Mount Everest. Women have gone to space. Women have done a lot more than what they have been credited for.”
“So you think a woman should be able to lead the prayers? Do you know why men and women cannot pray side by side? It’s because of Hayaa. Islam teaches us shame and we women must protect our Awrah,” she retorted. She went on and on about how it is the duty of women to not cause Fitnah for the ‘poor men’.
“Islam teaches us shame”; what a beautiful thought.
I stared at her in disbelief. It is not our duty or responsibility of their sexual desires, or the lack of control of it, I screamed at her in my mind. But I did not dare say it might come off as being too controversial to her. Instead, I cut away our eye contact and looked away in fury.
“I am so sorry, Chista. I know it is very hard being a women. I have cried many days and nights for being born as a woman. It’s a sin, Chista. It is a sin.”
An even more beautiful thought – it’s a sin to be born female.