Women and children in prayer
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Stop Excluding Women and Children From Prayer Spaces

“You can’t pray here.” The directness of this statement, coupled with the silence of my fellow sisters, still haunts me. It was a sticky, southern summer afternoon. I had just finished running errands with my toddler and, on the drive home, decided to stop by the masjid to pray Asr in congregation. In good spirits, my little one clutched my hand as she happily bobbled her way inside the main musallah. In silence, we awaited the iqamah. The musallah wasn’t crowded — only a handful of men and women were present. As I gathered my daughter in my arms and found my place in the prayer line, a woman rushed over to meet me face-to-face, toe-to-toe. In a stern, unblinking manner, she announced, “You can’t pray here. Haram. Go upstairs to the women’s area, where you can pray alone with your daughter.”

I was dumbfounded. The woman’s brow furrowed, and she repeated her demand for me to leave the main musallah so that I might pray away from the other congregants, as my daughter was a “problem.” I was so caught off guard by her demeanor, that I froze — inadequately inarticulate. When I did not leave the prayer line, the woman proceeded to move closer to me, pushing me from my spot in between two other women.

My quiet toddler clung tighter to my arms, as the woman continued her march forward until I was entirely removed from the musallah. All the while, a group of women watched and stayed silent; turning their heads away to prepare for their salah. The mere sight of a young child in my arms branded me an unwanted nuisance that required removal from congregational salah.

Source: @muslimgirl via Instagram

Unfortunately, my experience is not unique nor is it a one-time ordeal. Far too many women with young children encounter this hostility upon entering their masajid. An unwanted, intolerable, obnoxious inconvenience. This is how many perceive and treat kids, the future of our ummah, in our most sacred spaces. Families who dare to bring their children to pray — whether it’s during our holiest month of Ramadan or our holiest day, Jummah — are routinely accosted and gripped about, both openly and in private.

With this attitude becoming more and more commonplace, especially in American Muslim culture, is it any wonder why we must sit through multiple khutbahs each year lamenting the lack of youth involvement at the masjid or their lackluster steadfastness in deen? Do you really expect the people who were being routinely turned away and shamed in their childhood to deeply love their masjid and to joyfully attend congregational prayers?

Our children are the bright lights leading us forward, not the obstacles blocking our paths. They are an amanah from Allah. We, as parents and as a larger community, are entrusted with their religious upbringing and with continuing the beautiful, blessed legacy of our Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and this deen.

It was narrated by Abu Qatadah: “We were sitting in the mosque when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came upon us carrying Umamah daughter of Abul’As ibn ar-Rabi’. Her mother was Zaynab daughter of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). She (Umamah) was a child and he (the Prophet) was carrying her on his shoulder.

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) led (the people) in prayer while she was on his shoulder. When he bowed he put her down and took her up when he got up. He kept on doing so until he finished his prayer,” (Sunan Abi Dawud 918).

Our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) not only welcomed children into the musallah, but allowed them to sit upon his shoulders during prayer. Umamah was not even his own child. The mercy, compassion, and love exhibited here is not an example that we should ignore.

It’s time to return to the prophetic way, to allow women and children full and equal access to prayer spaces and to the spiritual benefit of praying in the community.

In another authentic narration, “The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘When I stand for prayer, I intend to prolong it but on hearing the cries of a child, I cut it short, as I dislike troubling the child’s mother,”  (Sahih al-Bukhari 707). Imagine attending salah at a masjid that strove to embody the prophetic example, so much so that it shortened congregational prayers as a mercy to the mothers with young children. Instead, many of our establishments would prefer to make announcements chastising the mothers for daring to disturb the worship of others by allowing their baby or toddler to shed tears.

Women are often banished to tiny corners of the women’s musallah where it’s hard to hear the imam and where children are naturally enticed to play and release energy because they have been stuck in a tight corner, far removed from the encouraging solitude and solemnity of the other worshipers’ prayers. And, even with this separation, I have still witnessed sisters who complain about the children who are not even in the same room as them.

More talk on women and children in prayer spaces

Are We Discouraging Our Children From Attending the Masjid?

Women Can Go to the Mosque, Too

It’s time to return to the prophetic way, to allow women and children full and equal access to prayer spaces and to the spiritual benefit of praying in the community. Next time you roll your eyes at the toddler two rows away or the mother frantically rocking her inconsolable baby, make dua for them — for the future of our ummah, that they may cling to this deen and make a home for themselves inside our masajid. Ask Allah (s.w.t) to soften your heart towards them and to be a benefit, not a hindrance or harm, to them.

Let’s not leave our sacred spaces devoid of their laughter, joy, exuberance, and purity. Let their light seep through the prayer halls rightly guiding us towards the straight path — a road of endless mercy, kindness, compassion, love, purity, hope, and inquisitiveness. Do not destroy the foundations of your masjid by tearing out the essential supports which allow it to stand for generations.

Jessica Daqamsseh is a freelance writer, published poet and educator based in North Carolina.