Mosque spaces for women are slowly becoming ghost towns, and it’s time that we ask ourselves why.

A few years ago I came face to face with this very concern. It was prayer time and I was getting late. I had just left the University carrying five folders, two books, a bag over one shoulder and a half-eaten sandwich from lunchtime, all whilst struggling across the road to get to the local mosque.

I walked as fast as I could, without looking up, straight through the main doors of the mosque and into the designated area to remove my shoes before entering the spacious main hall. I bumped a few shoulders as I walked in, but I gave no attention, dreading the thought of looking up and loosing balance of all my books and folders.

Unfortunately, to my detriment and without knowing, I had just walked into the men’s-only space and what followed can only be described as an excruciatingly painful realisation.

I plucked up the courage to look around at the disapproving expressions, some men awkwardly looking away, some depreciatively looking directly at me, shaking their heads and some confused and disoriented at a female figure invading their space, slowly moving away from this alien being.

Luckily, in the face of complete mortification, a friendly voice offered to direct me towards the women’s prayer space. I followed as he led me back outside the large intricately designed doors, around the side of the building and then to the back of the building to find a small door labelled with a black marker pen, ‘Women’s Prayer Room’.

The first thing I noticed was the smell of dust and dampness in this dense and compact space. A few women were already praying, so I made my way in and slowly settled into a small space by the wall. Feeling disengaged due to the unpleasant surroundings, I completed my prayers quickly and then I left, promising myself I would never return to pray there again.

Despite the terrible experience, I was not surprised.

There have been countless times I have walked away from a beautiful mosque, questioning whether or not they accommodate women, if there would be space and would the proper facilities be available.

I admire the beauty of a mosque from the outside, its walls, towering minarets, and impressive domes and windows. I feel the greatest sense of awe and appreciation for the incomparable architectural features. Yet, like me, many of us also desire to experience a moment of spiritual reflection within the mosque itself.

However, more than often, women are deliberately excluded from the mosque, crammed into a tiny area or small room away from the main prayer area. This creates the greatest sense of disillusionment and the feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen in a mosque.

For Muslims, mosques are an essential part of life, providing a spiritually uplifting space for prayer, reflection and oneness with God. A mosque is a sacred place for all Muslims, whether male or female. Ideally, mosques should provide a safe space for the whole community.

They should also provide clean and adequate prayer spaces for females as well as males, with equal access to facilities. Female involvement in all aspects of the mosque is vital, including at leadership level. Unfortunately there is a growing patriarchal overtone which creates an invisible red tape, essentially leading to the exclusion of women from mosque spaces.

We can recognise the mosques which are inclusive, such as the Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Makkah, the first mosque in which Muslims prayed and the most spiritual and most sacred mosque for Muslims. Here, there are no barriers between men and women.

It is where millions undertake the annual holy pilgrimage of Hajj and many more thousands visit it throughout the year; men and women praying in the same space. However, we must also face the grim truth that far too many ignore the importance of equality and fail to provide adequate space and facilities for women in mosques.

Indeed there are etiquettes for both men and women when attending the mosque; these protocols are an indicator to the importance of both genders attending the mosque.

The participation of both men and women in mosques has been prominent throughout Islamic history. For example, women used to live in the mosque, maintain the mosque, participate in Friday prayers and would even hold activities in the mosque. Yet in contemporary society, women are turning away from mosques, not by choice, but due to a lack of facilities, space and an increasing sense of alienation.

The early mosque was a central hub for all areas of community life. It was a place for prayer as well as other activities, including a space for learning, for gathering and discussing community affairs, for families to meet and where celebrations could be held. Indisputably, the mosque was the centre of the community. To our own detriment, mosques no longer hold these qualities.

It is clear that there is a need to reform our mosques, focusing on better governance with equal representation for men and women at leadership level.

There should be proper facilities for women and a focus on the involvement of women in all aspects of the mosque, including the inclusivity of women within the main prayer hall.

We must also reform the gender stereotypes currently imposed on mosque life, and men must step forward as the facilitators of increasing participation for not only women and children, but to engage the disengaged youth, and to welcome all those who have ever felt alienated from the mosque space.

We must remove cultural barriers and move away from the narrow cultural interpretations of Islam which limit or hinder equal access to the mosque. The Qur’an itself indicates women’s complete access and participation within the mosque and as Muslims, we consider the Qur’an as the word of God.

It is in this precedence and authority, along with numerous examples throughout Islamic history which provides the greatest hope in the future of women’s participation in mosques.

Nabeelah Hafeez, Social Media Co-ordinator, Muslim Women's Council

For more information on the Muslim Women's Council, visit or