Thursday, July 06, 2006
"We told people to show us one single evidence that Islam and our beloved prophet encouraged segregation. No one could."
"In May 2005, I walked into the Islamic Society of San Francisco’s mosque in this city’s dicey Tenderloin District and faced a symbol of the gender apartheid that defines most mosques in America: a wall separating the “sisters’ section” from the main sanctuary.
"It cut through the back end of the mosque’s vast loft space like a giant splinter, an eight-foot drywall reminder of the second-class status of women in the Muslim world....
" I took one look at the scene, shook my head and whispered to myself: 'No way.' I slipped around the wall into the largely empty main sanctuary, taking a seat on the carpet about 15 feet in front of the wall, about 10 feet away from the closest men.
"Immediately, a burly man strode toward me and stood over me, ordering me to go behind the wall. 'You are causing fitna!' he yelled, using a catch-all concept of chaos that puritanical Muslims employ to cast women as sexual temptresses and spiritual distractions to men in prayer.
"...I was reclaiming rights Muslim women enjoyed at the birth of Islam in the 7th century, rights that centuries of man-made traditions had eroded.
"To me, the formula for reform in the Muslim world is simple: Taking back mosques for women means taking back mosques from puritanical ideologues that preach intolerance and even violence.
"The ideology of Wahhabism, the puritanical brand of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, and its sister philosophy of Salafism put women behind walls....
"The opposition I faced in San Francisco was typical. But then, something remarkable happened: a Muslim man had my back. 'The president of the mosque says women can pray in front of the wall,' he said.
"My detractor backed off. Indeed, the then-president of the mosque, Souleiman Ghali, told me afterwards: 'I wish more women would come out from behind the wall.'
"Lo and behold, in a renovation of the mosque in the months afterwards, Mr. Ghali and the mosque’s other leaders tore down the wall, standing up to protests, even from women. This past January, Mr. Ghali sent me a digital photo of the wall, toppled, with the file name, 'The wall is gone.jpg.'
“'We faced tremendous opposition, petitions and threats,' he said. 'We stood our ground. Finally, we told people to show us one single evidence that Islam and our beloved prophet encouraged segregation. No one could.
"'They tried to compromise on half a wall. We refused. They wanted a separate room. We refused. They said they would go somewhere else and pray. We told them feel free to go wherever you want. They said the wall will make us feel good. We told them build one in your house, not in the house of Allah.'”