Australia: Muslim leader vows to end segregation in mosques

The Age
The Mufti of Australia wants men and women to worship together in mosques, it is reported.
Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam said he would end segregation of men and women in mosques, in response to Muslim women’s anger at "entrenched discrimination", The Age newspaper said.
He said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.

At most mosques in Australia, everyone prays in the same room in rows, with men at the front, then children, then women.

Sheikh Fehmi said segregated worship was introduced long ago, as a cultural change, not a religious one, and he would argue to end it. He said it was good to hear the complaints, and to try to find some solution to these concerns in an exclusive interview.

“My duty is to propose, to discuss and try to convince. I can’t guarantee the outcome.” Sheikh Fehmi said that in the time of Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago, women were not segregated.

In some mosques overseas, there are no physical barriers between men’s and women’s areas but in Australia almost every mosque have separate sections for men and women, the newspaper said.

Sydney lecturer Jamila Hussain on Thursday told a conference at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies here that women found facilities at some mosques "insulting" and that they were treated as second-class citizens. Jamila yesterday welcomed Sheikh Fehmi’s promise to try to end segregation.

“It’s an excellent start. But I’m a bit hesitant about when or whether it will happen — it will be a while,” she is quoted by The Age as saying.

Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Sherene Hassan told the newspaper Sheikh Fehmi’s plan was a fine initiative, and it was good to see imams being proactive. “It is in line with true Islamic teaching.” Several Muslim women spoke out about discrimination and disadvantage this week at the conference.

In particular, a report by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria highlighted problems with imams, claiming some were condoning domestic violence, rape in marriage, welfare fraud and exploitation of vulnerable women. Sheikh Fehmi, who is also secretary of the Victorian Board of Imams, acknowledged there were problems.

“Imams are human beings, and every human being is fallible. So, if one imam errs on a point we should not generalise and say all imams are the same,” he said.

Jamila, who studied Sydney mosques, said that in some, women had to pray in the yard under a blazing sun while men enjoyed the cool interior, or to pray in a kitchen between stoves and sinks, or to pray in a tent in full view of a pub across the road.

The chairwoman of the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council, Tasneem Chopra, said Sheikh Fehmi’s response made her optimistic that better outcomes could be negotiated.

22 November 2008

Source: The Age