The Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) granted permission to Muslim women to attend the mosque and pray standing behind the rows of men. He even advised the Companions: "Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the mosque." And husbands were specifically told by him: "When your womenfolk ask you for permission to attend the mosque, do not prevent them."
Of course this permission to attend the mosques was on the condition that women strictly observed the various restrictions imposed upon them by the Shari'ah regarding dress, etc., and it is known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) considered it preferable for women to pray in their own homes rather than attend the mosques. This is borne out by the following incident.
Once the wife of Abu Hamid Sa'adi pleaded with the Prophet to be allowed to attend his mosque (the Prophet's Mosque in Madina) as she was very fond of offering prayers behind him. He told her,
"What you say is right, but it is better for you to offer prayer in a closed room than in a courtyard. Your prayer in a courtyard is better than on a verandah, and your offering prayer in the mosque of your own locality is better than your coming to our mosque for it." Thereafter she appointed a room for offering prayers and continued offering prayers there till her death, never even once going to the mosque.
There is a clear tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraging women to offer their prayers inside their houses: "The best mosques for women are the inner parts of their houses."
Since the Prophet had not forbidden women to attend the mosques, they continued to come to the mosques. But after his death it became increasingly clear that it was not in keeping with the dignity and honour of Muslim women to come to the mosques for prayers, especially at night, because men, being what they were, would tease them. Therefore the Khalif 'Umar told women not to come to the mosques, but to offer their prayers inside their own houses. The women of Madina resented this prohibition and complained to 'A'isha. But they received a fitting reply from her: "If the Prophet knew what 'Umar knows, he would not have granted you permission to go out (to the mosque)."
'A'isha also prevented women from going to the mosques. When she was told that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had permitted them to attend the mosques, she replied:
"Had the customs and manners which women have adopted since the Prophet's death been there in his lifetime, he too would have prevented them."
Now, what 'A'isha said by way of admonition was in the context of what happened immediately after the death of the Prophet. But what is happening today 1350 years after his death is much more serious in the context of modern fashions and manners. It would probably have shocked 'A'isha beyond measure and she would have reinforced her admonition. Be that as it may, the fact remains that our Prophet did grant permission to women to attend the mosques. In the modern world a new situation has arisen. There are many Muslims living in Western countries, and Western culture and fashions have affected women, even in the East. In addition, the economic tyranny of today has forced many women to work in factories and offices to earn their living. These developments have largely contributed to making many Muslims neglectful of their prayers. We Muslims have to find ways and means of encouraging Muslim women to be particular about their prayers. With due respect to what the khalif, 'Umar, and the Mother of the Believers, 'A'isha, said, it appears to this humble writer that such a way can be found by reverting to the original Prophetic tradition, that is to say, permitting Muslim women to attend the mosques to offer their prayers, subject to all the restrictions laid down by the Prophet (peace be upon him) about their dress etc.
People generally learn by example. Therefore the chances are that, if women started coming to the mosque for prayer, a social pressure would start building up that would make Muslim women feel the urge to come to the mosque to offer their prayers and give up their neglectful attitude. However, it goes without saying that proper arrangements would have to be made for Muslim women to attend the mosques. They must not be allowed to mingle with the men, and their rows must be kept separate from those of the men, preferably behind them, because this is what was approved by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
It is reported by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
"The best row for men is the first, and the worst for them is the last. The best row for women is the last, and the worst is the first." (Muslim)
It is well known that, in the time of the Prophet, women were permitted to attend the mosques subject to the condition that they satisfied the various restrictions imposed on them by the Shari'ah, such as the putting on of a jalbab (a large sheet used for covering the entire body), wearing simple and dignified clothes, not using any perfume, avoiding ostentatious display of ornament, etc. Therefore, if the suggestion of this writer is accepted, efforts will have to be made to persuade Muslim women who want to attend the mosques to start complying with the traditional restrictions on dress, etc. But what has been suggested above should in no way be taken to mean that all women should be required to attend the mosque and indeed those who feel that their houses are as good as the mosque should be encouraged to offer their prayers there.
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