Tag Archives: gender relations

Why must women pray behind men at the mosque?

Why must women pray behind men? Why is it that in Pakistan women have the worst place to pray when we need to pray in public and/or in the masjid? And also, why must men and women be separate in public? Isn’t that inconvenient? What is the wisdom behind all of this?

The wisdom in women praying behind men, which is the same as the wisdom in women wearing non-revealing clothes, is to take sexuality out of public interactions, so that people can get on with their lives and do what needs to be done without male-female sexual dynamics becoming a factor.

Men are designed to find women far more physically interesting than women are designed to find men. What this means is that having the women in front of the men at the mosque will cause more distraction, on the whole, than having the men in front of the women. Since the goal is to focus on God at the mosque, the logical thing to do is to not have the women in men’s sight. Since women do not find men particularly physically interesting, in general it doesn’t do any harm to have the men within the women’s sight.

Some will say it is men’s duty not to look at women lustfully, women shouldn’t have to dress a certain way or sit in a certain place just so that men wouldn’t be distracted by them. Islam deals with the issue on both ends, it asks both sexes not to look at one another lustfully, and it asks women to dress modestly so that if men do look, they do not see much to look at

At the mosque, it adds an extra degree of conscientiousness to have the women pray behind the men, to make lustful glances even less likely, so that proper respect for God is shown at His house.

We are all God’s servants and it behooves us to organize our public spaces in the way that is most likely to please Him. If having the women pray behind the men is more conducive to proper respect for God, and less distracting on the whole, than having the men pray behind the women, then it logically follows that it is best for the women to pray behind the men. The goal is not some power play or show of authority by the men, the goal is to show God proper respect, with both sexes being His lowly servants wanting to please Him.

As for why men and women can’t pray mixed like at church services, it is again because it adds an unnecessary gender dynamic to the act of praying at the mosque, which is unnecessary and not something God wants to be present in His house. Most of us are capable of praying alongside the opposite sex without any issue. But it is better not to mix, and since we want to please God, we do what is better. Amish Christians do the same, with the men and women sitting separately at church.

About separation in other public places, the point again is for public interactions to be civilized and free from lust. Islam has no issue with men and women interacting in public, it only wants to give the best shape to these interactions by removing potentially harmful dynamics. Each Islamic culture has its own way of trying to achieve this. Some cultures take the separation of men and women too far, and others have sensible policies that do not lead to inconvenience. Much of it is cultural tradition, there are no rules regarding separation of men and women in public in the Quran, for example.

I am sorry to hear that women do not have good places to pray in public in Pakistan. This could be a carryover from the past, where women venturing outside was far less common than now, so that there wasn’t much demand for better accommodations for women. Hopefully this will get better with time. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, the malls have large and well-maintained spaces for women to pray.

Feelings, censorship and gender in science: Is it unfair to say that women backbite more than men?

This is a follow-up discussion in regards to what I wrote in Dealing with a porn addiction.

Brother I understand that you answered that question as best you could, no one should be shaming you because you are offering advice that you could have easily ignored. However I would just say that to just mention how women may backbite was insensitive and unnecessary. Imagine all the stigma us sisters face on a daily basis, everyday we have certain brothers telling us what we should and should not be doing whilst they engage in haram activities. (1)

So imagine when someone asks you about porn addiction that has nothing to do with women backbiting, and even then we are bought into it, I’m sure as an understanding brother you can see. Tomorrow if someone has a problem yet I say “Don’t worry it’s less of a sin as millions of Muslims especially men, don’t grow their beards to the proper length, you are no worse than them”, look how insensitive that seems. I hope I have not offended you brother, it is our duty to guide with kindness and openess

Thank you for your kindly phrased message. I understand what you are saying, and I’m sure you are right when you say you have suffered unjust criticism.

I have never considered women a class, like feminists imagine, separate from men. I consider them humans, my equals, and hold them to the same standards. I don’t walk on eggshells when I discuss men’s problems, and I will not start walking on eggshells when discussing women’s problem’s.

I consider you my equal, and that means we both should be free to speak our minds. You shouldn’t be silenced if you have a truth to speak just because it may hurt some men’s feelings, and I shouldn’t be silenced if I have a truth to speak just because it may hurt some women’s feelings.

It is certainly good manners to not bring up negative facts about someone in ordinary daily interactions. You do not call an overweight person fat even if it is true.

But if I’m trying to solve a technical problem, I expect people to put their feelings aside, to sit down like adults and to discuss the problem rationally, and that is what I was doing in my answer.

If I’m doing a scientific study on finding ways to reduce backbiting among women, would you call it insensitive? I’m sure many would, that it is somehow oppressive and unjust to focus on females, that if I discover a method that works well in preventing females from backbiting, I should shove it under the carpet in case some woman’s feelings is hurt, even if it will do them good in the long-term.

We cannot have progress if we are not allowed to speak our minds freely, if we have random no-go zones where we are not allowed to analyse things in case it hurts this group’s feelings, or that group’s, or that group’s. That’s censorship and regression, that’s not progress.

It is like saying I should not talk about the unhealthy effects of being obese because it will hurt obese people’s feelings. Should we just throw out all obesity-related research in case some obese person comes across it and has their feelings hurt?

I was helping put a mostly-male problem into perspective using a mostly-female problem, as an intellectual exercise. I consider women equals, not superiors and not inferiors, but equals, humans to be treated with the same standards, not to be treated like children, but treated equally, like I would treat any man, and I certainly never worry about hurting men’s feelings when I bring up facts that reflect negatively on them.

If men are unjustly criticizing you, I fully support your right to fire back at them and put them in their place. I defend your right to speak your mind. And I defend my right to speak my mind. We are not enemies, and we are not different species. We are both humans, and we can treat each other as such.

We do not achieve equality by enforcing double-standards where a male speaker is not allowed to say certain things in case it hurts women’s feelings. We achieve equality when no one thinks about their own sexual parts but can consider the problem and its solution rationally, like adults. The speaker says men have a problem with ignoring their wives? Fine, I will try to be a better husband. The speaker says that women have a problem with ignoring their husbands? Instead of getting offended that a person of the opposite sex is pointing out a fault, women can choose to benefit from it, “Fine, I will try to be a better wife.”

This is equality, where I am not forced to treat you like a “woman”, but like a human, and where I do not patronize and belittle you by censoring my speech in case it hurts your fragile feelings, but where I can treat you like I treat any man, expecting you to be intelligent and confident enough to accept it and roll with it.

These are my standards when it comes to public speech. In private one-to-one interactions, it is good manners to hide people’s faults, to not criticize, and to make them feel good about themselves. But in public, for example if I’m doing a scientific paper studying women’s psychology, I will not sugarcoat my findings just because it may hurt women’s feelings, in this case telling the truth takes precedence over being nice.

And as a nice person, I will never mock an obese person by calling them fat, and I will not let others do it if I can stop them. But I will happily continue researching the eugenics of obesity (how genes affect obesity, and how obesity affects future genes) like I currently do no matter how many obese people are offended by it.

In the same way, I will continue to be frank and straightforward when writing about women, since in my research writing, truth always takes precedence over being nice. But when dealing with women in my personal life, I will always be as kind, gracious and uncritical as is required by good manners, civility and Islam.

A reply from a reader

I feel you were wrong in saying that women do more backbiting. Not saying it is in itself true or false ( I really dont think they are any reliable studies) but I think it was completely unnecessary to say it the way you did. You could have said simply that many Muslim backbite it would have been enough. No need to drag women into it. Im not attacking you or anything just saying there might have been a better way to go at it.

If I were a woman and jokingly mentioned that fact, I don’t think anyone would be bothered. The only reason that it is “wrong” is that a male said it. And if I had mentioned a fact that reflected negatively on men, not women, I don’t think anyone would be bothered.

I have never bought into the Western nonsense of treating women like children to be pampered to. I like to treat them like my equals, which means that I speak my mind without bothering what type of sexual organs my listeners have. I consider you all the same, we are all humans.

So no, I don’t think I did anything wrong. Having a porn-watching problem is a mainly male problem, and having a backbiting problem is a mainly female problem. I have heard many women agree with both of these facts. Mentioning both problems together is a very useful intellectual exercise to help put the problem of porn-watching into context.

If I had mentioned a positive fact about women, you wouldn’t be upset. You are thinking like a politician, “he said something negative about my interest group without belonging to said group, which makes it automatically wrong.”

What you really want to enforce is that all men should be able to talk about women, as long as they stick to mentioning positive facts, as long as they maintain a parallel-reality of cotton candy and fluffy bunnies where no woman’s feelings can ever get hurt.

I prefer to speak my mind freely, and I prefer to treat women like adults. I never worry about hurting men’s feelings in my research writing / answers, and I will not start worrying about hurting women’s feelings.

If you disagree with this, that’s your right. I, however, will continue to be as I am, focusing on serving God, and having my allegiance only to truth. If people’s feelings get hurt when I mention a fact like how unhealthy obesity is or how Indians can never compete with the Chinese in innovation, at least not for the next 500 years or so, I’m sorry. I will never mock someone or say any truth that may hurt their feelings in private interactions. But on my blog, where I want to teach and guide people, I will speak the truth, and I will not self-censor my speech like a politician.

If this is unacceptable for you, if you’d like me to hire someone to review everything I say in case it may be considered discriminatory to one of a dozen interest groups, then you are in the wrong place. I have always been a free-speech and anti-Political Correctness activist.

You are right that I didn’t have to bring women into the discussion. It was a perfectly voluntary act on my part.

My mother and sister have a sense of humor and the last thing they would do would be to get upset over what I wrote. I think they have got things right. I treat all women like them, intelligent and confident in their femininity. And if I ever say something stupid or unjust, they will not let me get away with it but will correct my mistake, the way a man would do.

Of course, I won’t go around speaking negative things about women saying that they have to deal with it. That’s like calling overweight people fat, it is rude even if it is true. As I said, in private interactions, I do what good manners, civility and Islam require of me. And in my research writing or answers, I write frankly without bothering who gets offended.

I encourage you to open your heart, to see how an innocently made remark done in good faith and with the intention of helping someone should not be criticized just because a person of the wrong sex said it. Stop thinking like a Western politician and more like a fair-minded Muslim with a sense of humor.

You could say that context matters, that in that particular context it was wrong for me to mention women since I have many female followers whose feelings could get hurt. I disagree. It is my personality to be frank in my writing and to treat women the way I treat men, considering them really my equals instead of patronizing them by treating them like a protected minority.