Do women need separate prayer spaces?

I’m presently working with my employer to create a prayer space, initially for Ramadan but hopefully beyond.

Koutoubia Mosque

The question I found my self asking was whether it’s ok to share a prayer space between men and women. The answer surprised me.

My experience of UK mosques is that women pray in different prayer spaces from men.

However a recent visit to Morocco made me question this approach – is it required by faith or simply cultural?

Yes the new mosque in Casablanca separates men and women yet the old mosque in Marrakesh, the Koutoubia Mosque, doesn’t.

In this mosque women pray in the same space as the men albeit to one side and behind. There is no wall or curtain between.

This encouraged me to reflect and read with the following conclusions.

Firstly we are taught by the Quran to:

“… obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger…”

Quran Surah 4:59

So lets explore what the prophet did when praying in the presence of women.

Firstly he commanded us to:

“offer your prayers in the way you saw me offering my prayers”

Malik ibn Al-Huwairith

So how did he offer his prayers in the presence of women?

Anas ibn Maalik narrates how:

“…the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) stood, and the orphan and I stood behind him, and the old lady stood behind us, and the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) led us in praying two rak’ahs, then he left.”

Anas ibn Maalik

This teaches us that women can pray in the same space as men.

Al-Haafiz said in al-Fath:

“that women should stand behind the men’s rows, and a woman should form a row on her own if no other woman is present.”

Anas ibn Maalik. Al-Bukhaari (380) and Muslim (658)

But most pertinent to instruction is that there is no mention of any screen, curtain, wall or isolated prayer space.

The belief and practice of both of these is linked to culture and tradition only.

Lets challenge such limiting traditions and follow the Prophet and Quran more closely than cultural norms.

This fatwa is offered:

Women should be allowed to pray in the main musalla (prayer space) with men, praying behind the men with no barrier in-between men and women, as it was the practice of Prophet Muhammad.

Fiqh Council of North America 19 January 2022

Note: Praying behind is a mark of respect for women not subjugation – more on another occasion about this.

One thought on “Do women need separate prayer spaces?

  1. This is a very good post but I also want to mention an important point: we do not have the same level of taqwa as the Messenger sallahu alayhi wa salam or the sahaba. There are Hadith the about the women going to pray at the masjid they would “hug” tightly to the walls of the buildings when walking outside you could hear their clothes scraping along them because they did not want to cause fitna or attract any unwanted attention from the opposite sex. How many of us do that? Especially in western society, shaking hands, small talk, looking at people when talking to them is customary and seen as downright rude when you don’t. Even in some Muslim countries they have customs to shake hands with the opposite sex. When I refused they thought I was being extremely rude and not from the Islamic perspective that you don’t touch nonmahrams of the opposite sex.

    As a woman, being in different masjids with and without partitions: there is a more level of comfort for women knowing that a man will not be looking at them when they pray, even if the look is unintentional. I have been to masjids without partitions and the men greet the women, even fist bumping them during the khutbah, astaghfirullah. In other cases the men would sit facing the direction of the women when they finished praying. Some women breastfeed their babies at the masjid so a partition may make them feel comfortable as they won’t be exposed to nonmahrams. Some women take off their hijabs when not praying just to relax especially in the heat and humidity.

    I understand this is for work so women probably aren’t exposing their hair to relax or breastfeeding babies. I think it’s fine to not have partitions but if females want the option of a partition they should be offered for their comfort.

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