Islam's historic feminists have something to teach us this Ramadan

Islam's historic feminists have something to teach us this Ramadan
Comment: Women must be given the chance to shape their religious institutions, and Islam's historic feminist figures provide ample inspiration, writes Khadija Mahamud.
5 min read
15 Jun, 2018
'Women's influence is more important than ever within our communities' [Getty]
During the holy month of Ramadan, we are encouraged to think carefully and reflect on where we are, how we behave and how we can strive to be better.

It is a time of year that is important for all Muslims. Brothers and sisters alike see Ramadan as an opportunity to pray, and improve their ability to give back, both to their local community and further afield.

According to the Quran, it is obligatory for men to pray within their mosque while women are free to pray wherever they can.

Although there is not a requirement that we, as women, must attend the mosque five times a day, it is a special place for everyone. Praying in the mosque is not just about praying in a holy building; it is about being part of a community that fosters a strong sense of belonging.

Our community and identity are undoubtedly strengthened through the act of collective prayer: al-jama'ah. To pray together may be optional for women, but many of us find it the richest form of worship. The act of physically worshipping with others and sharing both the experience and the space reinforces the connection to our faith.

While men may not have thought too much about how space is shared inside the mosque, it is something that, as a woman, is hard to ignore.

When renovations inevitably take place, or the mosque is as full as we would expect during Ramadan, I, like many others, feel a twinge of frustration when our space is sacrificed for our brothers.

Whether we are expected to pray at home or we are given a small room in the back of the building, it feels unequal.

And sadly, praying outside of the mosque or in uncomfortable conditions can push women away from connecting with their religion on a deeper level. Being pushed outside our place of worship feels symbolic of the different reception Muslim women receive in comparison to our brothers, fathers, husbands and sons.

The young women within our communities need the support and encouragement of their faith just as young men do.

While traditional expectations might often ascribe a passive position to women, more can be done to ensure they are active within the mosque community. This can include simple things, such as holding fundraisers and events, and arranging talks for Muslim women by Muslim women, who excel in their fields.

Sometimes, in our quest for equality, it is valuable to look back on those who have set an example in the past. Using the modern medium of Instagram Stories this Ramadan, I'm showcasing the women who have inspired me to be the best Muslim and the best woman I can be.

I feel a twinge of frustration when our space is sacrificed for our brothers

All of us know women who are doing incredible things today. Muslim women are taking leading roles in fashion, educationpolitics and in many other fields.

But this isn't new.

My social media campaign '30 Days, 30 Women, 30 Stories' includes early female figures in Islamic scriptures, and some of the first feminists on record who inspire me every day.

Instagram Post

In telling these women's stories, I hope to encourage more of us to be brave enough to follow in their footsteps.

One of them is Fatima al-Fihri, a Muslim woman who established the first ever university in the ninth century, pioneering the first model of higher learning and inspiring future generations to invest in their education.

Another is Rufaida al-Islamia, the seventh century first female Muslim nurse and female surgeon in Islam who is evidence that Muslim women have been at the forefront of female empowerment for centuries.

Lastly, Sumayyah bint Khayyat - born in the sixth century -  was one of the first people, let alone women, to convert to Islam. Sumayyah is also known for being the first female Muslim martyr and one of the first seven people to accept Islam.

Facing persecution, she refused to abandon it her faith, despite coercion, torture and, ultimately, death. Sumayyah's life may have ended prematurely but her legacy, hundreds of years later, lives on.

Her story challenges the misconception that Muslim women have no choice in how they practice their religion. Today, she remains a symbol of strength, courage and bravery.

When we reflect on female empowerment and iconic figures throughout Islamic history, it reminds us of the power women today hold too; our influence is more important than ever within our communities.

With mosques at the centre of those communities all year round, not just during Ramadan, they must reflect the needs of the whole congregation.

Campaigns like #MosqueMeToo have raised vital awareness of the struggles Muslim women face, and we must act on the words of those who were brave enough to call for change. It's time to start paying attention to creating positive spaces for women, not just for prayer but also to feel a part of the community.

All young women face challenges through their teenage years; puberty, hormones, the beginnings of new relationships and their adult life.

Religion can be an incredible source of strength during this time of great change, and women of all ages must be given the chance to shape their religious institutions, as they did during the first years of Islam.

Khadija Mahamud is a social media professional, feminist, and content creator.

Follow her on twitter: @khadijamahamud

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.