‘Side Entrance’ Speaks Up about a Topic that has been Silenced for Too Long

I remember when I first wanted to be a boy.

I was eight years old — and back then, my father would take me with him to attend Jummah at our small mosque. My brothers weren’t yet old enough to pay attention to the khutbah, so I relished the role of being the “chosen one,” picked to accompany my father on these special, weekly trips.

There was a sisters’ section, but a thick, drab curtain cordoned it off from the main prayer room. It was a small space that always smelled of the shoes filling the adjacent shoe room. I hated being in there. During the jummah prayers, so few sisters attended, that we could actually form a row at the back of the main prayer room, right in front of the curtain. I felt like I was actually a part of the prayer, and I would belt out “ameen” loudly with every brother there.

Prayer at the masjid was sweet, until the day sisters were relegated behind the dreaded curtain for good. And I found myself suddenly so aware of my status in the center — stuck now behind the curtain because I was a girl.

Since then, my experience going to different mosques across the Northeast has been tinged with feelings of annoyance and resentment, knowing that the true mosque experience of being in the grand main hall, surrounded by crisp, clear recitation and an open sense of community just wouldn’t be mine to taste.

I grew up thinking that this was what it would always be — until I heard of Hind Makki and the “Side Entrance” project.

Hind began the project in response to years of pent-up frustration about the true state of many women’s prayer spaces; a frustration that has helped fuel heightened community awareness and increased pressure for change amid respective Islamic centers.

The inspiration to begin it was personal: Throughout her teenage years, Hind found herself visiting different mosques in the area for Friday prayers with her father and sister. In many mosques, she found there was a subpar women’s section — or just no section at all. She would find herself and her sister standing in the parking lot, waiting for her father to finish, just because there was no place for them to pray. This experience, coupled with another in 2012, in which her friend was thrown out of praying in the brothers’ section because the conditions of the sisters’ section were just too awful to bear, pushed her to be proactive and speak out.

No more would the experiences of sisters at the mosque simply be unspoken and repressed.
With that, Hind began “Side Entrance,” and posted the photos and experiences of Muslim women who attended prayer spaces around the United States.

The response of sisters everywhere has been overwhelmingly positive. Finally. There was a space for us to share stories — experiences of being hurt because of the lack of a prayer space, or simple frustration because of the lacking facilities for women. There was a potential for change, for betterment, even just for simply venting.

Of course, with the positive reception many sisters and brothers had toward the project, there was a fair share of anger, too. Of the men who have contacted Hind about “Side Entrance,” a minority has voiced their disapproval, accusing her of airing dirty laundry or simply focusing her attention on issues they believed did not merit a second glimpse in the face of the wars and events occurring around the world. Yet Hind refuses to let the few negative reactions color her fight to bring awareness and change to the conditions of sisters’ prayer spaces around America.

She hopes next to put together a fund for the dispersal of resources to help mosques all over America fix their sisters’ sections. To do that, she needs to first put together a board to determine how to disperse said funds, an endeavor she needs the help of you and me for. So if the shared experience of women’s prayer spaces is something that speaks to you, or if you want to be a part of a good cause, step up. Step forth. Be a part of the force to bring positive change and understanding to different mosques around America. Make sure that the next generation of girls don’t feel that they shouldn’t be anyone but who they are now in order to gain the fullest from going to the mosque.