Thursday, August 23, 2012

Women's Place in the Mosque

Hadith reported in the Book of Muslim:

Umm Hisham who was the daughter of Haritha who was the son of Ne’man said the following: “I memorized sura Qaf from hearing it from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) because he used to recite it often during his khutbah on Fridays.”

Remember that there were no loud speakers in the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). How far from the minbar do you think women were in the mosque of  Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Madina. Umm Hisham memorized Sura Qaf (sura no. 50 which has 45 ayas ) by hearing it again and again because Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to recite it in his Friday khutbah. Perhaps 20 feet or maybe 30 feet away.
How does this compare with the place of women in the mosque you go to? Can the women see the khateeb? , or are they behind a wall or curtain, or maybe on a different floor of the building?

The way women were in the mosque of the Prophet (pbuh), they felt part of the Muslim community. Do women feel part of your community, or are they treated as outsiders and a nuisance for the men?

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived more than 1400 years ago. Women were welcome in his mosque and they were at a forward place in the mosque.

Other cultures have moved forward since that time in recognizing the contributions women can make to a community. They welcome women in their houses of worship and give them important positions in their affairs.

But Muslim society has gone the other way. Muslim women have less status in the mosques of today than 1400 years ago. This is because the affairs of mosques are decided by narrow minded men who got their religious education by rote-memorization and not by thinking.

An important step in Muslim reformation is to change this sad state of affairs. At the very least women should be in the main hall of the mosque. In a mosque which upholds the progressive spirit of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), women should be integrated into all its affairs. The roles assigned for different functions should not be based on discrimination by gender, but by learning and leadership qualities of the individual.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boredom in Prayer

Many people feel bored in prayer. In the mosque we see people yawning in salat and shifting from side to side. The majority are hurrying to complete the required number of rakat and leave.

One reason people feel bored is because their salat is according to a formula they have memorized which they repeat again and again. They have repeated it so many times that they don’t pay attention to the words they are saying. Salat is something to be done and “be done with”. Your heart is not in it and your mind wanders everywhere.

It is important to know that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not pray according to a fixed formula. He changed what he said in salat according to how he felt. This is very clear when we read about the Prophet’s prayer in books of Hadith.

To give a simple example, when people are in ruku, they say “subhana rabbi-al- azeem”. Many do not know what it means. Most of those who know the literal meaning have never thought about how it relates to their lives. This is what they were taught and this is what they say every time. In Hadith we find that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said different things at different times in ruku. You can count more than five different supplications and affirmations people heard him say in ruku. And this is a count of what people heard him say. We can guess that the Prophet spoke with spontaneity in his private prayer also.

Also, the Prophet recited verses from the Quran in his salat but when he was particularly moved by some aya he would stop the recitation, raise his hands and make dua, then he would resume his recitation, and later when he was so moved he would again raise his hands and make dua.

The main point to understand is that we are not following the Prophet’s example when we are doing salat by repeating a fixed formula again and again in an absent minded manner. His salat was spontaneous and inspiring to him. When was the last time you were inspired in your prayer?

We should know that boredom is a negative emotion. It creates a feeling of helplessness, and if continued leads to depression. You can see how bored people in your mosque are. They are apathetic and not able to do even simple things.

Everyone knows that prayer can help you if it comes from your heart. That is how the Prophet’s salat was. Prayer according to a fixed formula in which you are bored and distracted is very different, and it does not help.

Mindless Prayer

An important insight about prayer or salat, which is almost never discussed, is in Sura 107 Ayas 4–5:

There is calamity for those who are praying,
Who are unmindful in their prayer.

As everyone knows mindless prayer is very common. You are praying and your mind is somewhere else. This is because you don’t find  inspiration or purpose in salat.
Children are made to memorize the Arabic words, the correct pronunciation and the body postures, with frequent reminders that any departure from the prescribed routine makes the prayer  unacceptable to God. People are told that it may be better for them to know the meaning of the words, but it is not necessary; what matters is that you utter the words with correct Arabic pronunciation.
The important fact that your innermost thoughts and feelings are the real prayer is never discussed. There is no mention of creating a high purpose for your life, and prayer a means of achieving it.
With absence of meaning and purpose, people often find their attention wandering everywhere. They experience boredom, frustration and dejection. They also experience guilt for feeling like this. These are the emotions they convey to God in their prayers day after day and month after month.
How these attitudes produce calamity is discussed in the commentary on the above given ayas in chapter 13 of my book ‘The Quran and the Life of Excellence”.
Calamity that has resulted from unmindful prayer can be  seen everywhere. People in almost any mosque are divided into groups quarreling with each other, as are Muslims outside the mosque. Everyone says Muslims should be united by holding on to “the rope of Allah”, but the feelings of enmity in the hearts are so strong they cannot agree even on simple matters.
How many times did you meet a person who prays regularly and on meeting him you said to yourself: ”Vow, this is a wonderful person, a great role model, I want to be like him”?

I believe that a mosque should provide education about prayer not in the traditional method of memorization, but by holding discussions on how to create a positive purpose for your life. How can we contribute to the society around us? How can we learn to live life such that when we are gone, people will remember us as doers of good?  Salat is then a way of finding help to achieve such a purpose.  We should remind people of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teaching that an hour of thinking is better than a year of prayer.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


God, you are Light.

Let your Light be in the feelings in my heart, in the vision in my eyes, in the hearing in my ears, and in the speech from my tongue.

God, surround me with your Light from the left and from the right, from front and back, from above me and below me.

God, let your Light be in all the particles in my body, in my bones, and in my muscles, let it flow in my blood and penetrate my hair.

God, enlighten my soul with your Light, and increase your Light in me evermore.


Ibn Abbas is quoted in the Book of Bukhari that Bilal told him that once Prophet Muhammad  (pbuh) having prayed during the night fell asleep. When morning came, Bilal woke him for prayer and in his supplication the Prophet spoke thus.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Mosque Should Welcome Everyone Who Wants To Pray

Mosques are places designated for prayer and should welcome everyone who wants to pray irrespective of how they want to worship. Sura 2, Aya 114 says:

And who is more unjust than he who prevents people from the mosques of Allah so that His Name is celebrated there? --whose zeal is (in fact) to ruin them? It is not fitting that such people should themselves enter the mosques except in fear. For them there is nothing but disgrace in this world, and in the world to come, an exceeding torment

 We should recall that although the Quran repeatedly urges people to pray, it does not specify any particular format for prayer. This is because Allah hears all prayers, irrespective of the manner in which prayers are said, and hence places designated for prayer should welcome all worshippers irrespective of how they pray.
 Individual Muslims follow the rules for prayer prescribed in the madhahib (or schools of thought) of different scholars such as Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Malik, Imam Jafar Sadiq and others. The followers of each imam pray differently, and at somewhat different times. Furthermore, followers of different Prophets pray still differently. All of them should be made welcome to pray in a mosque, as long as they do not disturb other worshippers.

Of necessity, each mosque is managed by the followers of one school of thought and therefore their method of prayer is the announced mode of worship in that mosque. But, the aya (2:114) quoted above reminds us that we are on the wrong path if we prevent others from using our mosques.

At this time the wisdom taught in this aya is ignored in the majority of mosques around the world. And this indicates the deep distrust among Muslims for their fellow Muslims who follow different interpretations. This intolerance is often manifested in job discrimination, economic disruption, political conflict and sometimes in violence against those who are in minority. This pervasive prejudice is a major factor in the backwardness of Muslim culture  

A fundamental principle of Islam is that every religion based on the worship of God is to be respected, no matter how much one may disagree with their particular practices. A well known illustration of this principle is that when members of the Christian Najran tribe visited the Prophet (pbuh) in his mosque in Madina in the 10th hijri year, the Prophet (pbuh) invited them to perform their prayer service there. This is striking because the purpose of their visit was to argue with the Prophet (pbuh) about their belief in Trinity and Jesus as the son of God.

What does your prayer mean?

Over a period of four Fridays I did an informal polling of people who came to the mosque for prayer. The question I asked everyone was:” What did you say in salaat today, and do you know what it means?” Out of the twenty people I interviewed, twelve had no idea about the meaning of their salaat. Four could say the meaning of parts of Al Fateha but not completely. Two others remembered the meaning of Al Fateha but nothing else. Two people remembered the meaning of at least one sura they had recited in the prayer.
But none could say what the words signify for their life.
How can prayer help us if we don’t even know what we are saying in it?

I think a mosque should make arrangements so people can learn and understand what they say in salaat and why? They should have an opportunity to think about the meaning and its relevance so they can feel connected to the words of prayer.