It was with sadness that I read Rabia Chaudry's entry in Altmuslimah, dated Jan. 19. Rabia Chaudry, an internationally renowned lawyer, activist and author, had been in Istanbul, and she went to Eyüp Mosque for morning prayers. But her experience there led her to write the following mournful sentence: ‘Muslims face many challenges today, but there is nothing more soul crushing than to be oppressed by those who are our brothers in faith'
The long and short of it is that when Rabia went to the back of the main hall of the mosque behind the small railings that partitions off the women's section, a man came and shooed her and the other women away. This was done not once, but three times.
Eyüp Mosque is a very old mosque and one that has proved almost impossible to significantly renovate. As a result, one of the staircases there is in Rabia's apt words: "Narrow, cramped, steep and circular." She and the other women went up these stairs to pray.
What broke Rabia's heart was the sight of a number of "very elderly women who crawled up those awful stairs on their hands and knees. One of them dragged her cane with her," (http://www.altmuslimah.com/2016/01/10744/).
This sight not only brought her to tears, but also prompted her to share the photographs and insights on Facebook and on Altmuslimah. Below are some of the sentences that struck a chord (major and/or minor) with me:
"I can't remember the last time I wept, really wept. ... This really broke me. What has happened to our men? Where is the mercy and compassion of our Prophet (peace be upon him)? How many would send their elderly mothers up such stairs to sit away from ... from what? From prayer?
"Balconies and basements across the Muslim world are full of us, sisters, daughters, wives, and yes mothers. ... You send her crawling through back doors, hidden in basements and balconies like something obscene, crawling on hands and knees just to get to a place to sit and worship their God. ... In a religion where both God and the prophet repeatedly emphasize the status of mothers and women, where our history is full of the voices and stories of women teachers and leaders, we are truly at a low."
This sharing of a post described an incident that actually occurred; however, when one reads further into the piece, it becomes clear that Rabia is using this incident as a spring board to make a comment on the Muslim world as a whole; unfortunately, her criticism of how Muslim men in general treat Muslim women in the mosque led to a fury of comments specifically targeted at Turkey. Most made me sad, some made me angry. One that particularly stunned me was a comment that Turkey had become this way due to the "Islamist government" - i.e. that the AK Party somehow was driving women away from mosques where they had previously been welcome. The underlying theme is that a so-called Islamist party (The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is not an Islamist party, as I have so often argued. It is a party that puts conservative values from all sections of society to the fore) could only hate women. But on the other side of the coin were the Turkish trolls who told Rabia that she should never show her face in Turkey again.
I want to deal with both these reactions here. I will take the second first because I was personally and culturally offended by this. Rabia was only bringing to light a problem that she had witnessed. Her comments were made, I assume, in the spirit of trying to help alleviate the condition of women in mosques not only in Turkey, but also throughout the world. In fact, anyone who bothers to read just the quote above, not taking any effort to complete the article, will see that Rabia's target is not Turkey; rather it is the way the Muslim world treats women, specifically in the mosques, with a more general aspect being alluded to.
To respond to this with a national knee-jerk reaction is wrong. This is not a national matter, and nowhere does Rabia suggest that what happened that morning is a Turkish malaise. To tell her not to come back to Turkey is ridiculous. First of all, no random individual on Facebook has the right to speak for all of Turkey. I, as a random individual on Facebook, want such occurrences to be brought out and addressed. Only in this way can we ensure that they do not happen again. I appreciate Rabia's comments and take them in the spirit they were made. It would have been a much healthier reaction to invite Rabia back, to ask her to meet with the imam of the mosque and to discuss the situation. Or even to go and talk to the imam of the mosque without Rabia and make sure that such embarrassing treatment of women is not repeated.
As for the first comment, that such treatment of women in Turkey stems from this government, i.e. that this is a new phenomenon that is spreading throughout Turkey, that we poor Turkish Muslim women are condemned to the home, and driven away from the mosque. ... I was left speechless. I am sure that the person who wrote this comment has not spent much time in Turkey and probably very little time in the women's sections of mosques.
I have personally noticed a great difference from when I came to Turkey over 20 years ago. In the UK I would go to Friday prayers, but I was told this was out of the question when I moved to Turkey. In the 1990s, women were not welcome at Friday prayers. I soon learned that women were not welcome in mosques at all. It was not so much that we were turned away (sometimes we were). It was more that there were no places to make ablutions for women or the places set aside to pray were cramped and inhospitable. As my daughters grew, I learned from them that the mosques were improving. They and their friends made praying at different mosques a habit.
Now new mosques - for example, Şakirin Mosque, Marmara University's School of Theology Mosque, Ataşehir Mimar Sinan Mosque - make a special point of creating a spacious, spiritual place for women. The women's sections in these mosques are well designed, clean and inviting. There is ample room to make ablutions in a safe and hygienic setting. What led to this change? To find out, I spoke with Kadriye Avcı Erdemli, the former deputy mufti for Istanbul. Kadriye Erdemli had also read Rabia's post with great sadness. She confirmed my belief that things were better for women now than they had been in the past.
Ottoman mosques, like Süleymaniye or Blue Mosque, were built with wide balconies for women. However, over time these places became neglected and fell into disrepair. From the 1930s on, women were discouraged from going to mosques, and many of the women's sections became separated from the main part of the mosque, cutting women off from the experience of prayer. To quote Kadriye Erdemli: "In the Republican period, women still went to the mosques, but they no longer prayed in the mosque. They were sent to the basements or to separate rooms or behind screens." But in 2011 Kadriye Erdemli and the president of religious affairs at the time, Dr. Mehmet Görmez, rolled up their sleeves to change the condition for women in mosques.
Working from the hadith: "Do not prevent women from going to the mosque;" thus, the Beautification of Women's Sections in Mosques Project was introduced. Another project was the 3T project (identification, provision and follow-up), which set out to identify which mosques had women's sections in need of renovation; the needs of this section would be met, and the situation would be monitored to make sure that things did not go wrong again. For this project a team of 60 people, 30 men and 30 women, was set up. From this team, one male preacher and one female preacher would go and examine the women's prayer areas, taking photographs and identifying problems. They then would submit a report to the Istanbul mufti's office. The curtains that had separated the area, preventing women from feeling a part of the prayer, were taken down, and replaced with waist-high railings. That is, women were included in the mosque and encouraged to partake of the atmosphere.
Many of the Ottoman mosques were not built with ablution areas for women. As part of the 3T project, the construction of new areas was possible (for example, Süleymaniye Mosque had both toilets and an ablution area added). Kadriye Erdemli told me that Eyüp Mosque posed particular problems in that it is such an old mosque that it is basically impossible to make significant changes. The renovations that can be done to the mosque are few, and although they have tried to find solutions to the spiral stairs that Rabia used that morning, anything that is more functional has not yet been devised. (There is an alternative staircase at Eyüp Mosque, which is much wider and spacious, but it is detached from the main mosque building).
In addition to the 3T project, imams, preachers and muezzins, as well as members of the congregation were given seminars on the importance of encouraging women to be part of mosque culture.
After speaking with Kadriye Erdemli, I telephoned Hümeyra Doruk Keskin. Hümeyra is writing a thesis on the transformation of mosques over time. Her research included comparing old mosques with new mosques. Hümeyra told me that the physical conditions for women in mosques has improved, and the problems experienced have lessened. However, in society the habits of some people, due to incorrect information, have led to isolated problems. Hümeyra told me that when someone who is not accustomed to mosque culture experiences these problems, it creates a large obstacle, but women who go to the mosque on a regular and frequent basis find such experiences easier to tolerate. Of course, Hümeyra says, conditions should be better, and it should be easier for women to worship, but there is no terrifying, horrific general situation here.
I spoke to a number of people concerned with women's spaces in mosques. The general reaction confirms my thinking on this matter. First of all, the man who shooed the women up the stairs was most likely not the imam or any official working in the mosque. He was some random member of the congregation who overstepped the bounds.
The second matter here is a matter of culture. As a generalization, the elderly Turkish women I have met are very determined, strong characters (if you consider the recent past, it is no surprise that these women are incredibly resilient). The older they get, the more determined they become. The experts I spoke to confirmed my suspicions. Kadriye Erdemli told me how they often would tell the elderly women that they didn't need to climb the stairs, that a convenient and easily attainable space was available for them on the ground floor. But many of the women attending mosques, especially the elderly ones, are creatures of habit. They have their space, their own particular place to pray. (I have experienced the dark looks when I have inadvertently occupied their special place). The stairs do not deter them; it is part of their routine. Kadriye Erdemli said: "We do not force them to climb the stairs anymore; but in the same spirit we do not force them to stay downstairs. They are free to decide where to pray." It is possible that the elderly women who Rabia saw climbing (or crawling up) the stairs prefer to do so, as that is where they pray with their friends.
It is a great shame that some random member of the congregation chose to drive Rabia away from the main hall. But just as the old women will continue to climb the stairs because this is what they are used to, this is their routine; there will continue to be random men who overstep the mark.
Rabia's article has brought to light a serious problem. However, it is not a problem that Turkey is unaware of, and it is one that is taken seriously in this country. A careful reader of Rabia's article will soon realize that she is not targeting Turkey; she is working from her one isolated experience and extrapolating to a wider cultural reality. We should be thanking her and supporting her efforts to make the mosque experience of women throughout the world more positive. Turkey is not perfect in this matter, and anyone who brings their negative experiences to public attention should be thanked, not condemned. At the same time, the problem that Rabia experienced is not something that has been created in the last 14 years. Quite the contrary, the fact that this was newsworthy is due to the efforts made under this government to create safe spaces for women, in public and private life. The blame for there being so much ground to be covered in this area must be laid at the door of previous governments.
to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the
used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan
ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen