Mosques, Muslim Youth, and Gender Segregation

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

The other day, I was at a local mosque, where some young Muslim men (mainly in their 20s) were having a conversation with the imam, who himself is around 30. The conversation turned to gender segregation, and one of the young men started talking about how our mosques aren’t inclusive enough to women, and part of the problem is that we have strict gender segregation. He also mentioned that the Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not have a barrier between where the men prayed and where the women prayed.

The imam responded by saying yes, that’s correct, but the character of the men and women of the Sahabah was also much better than the character of men and women today. As an example, he revealed that this past Ramadan, a guy and girl were busted having an interaction in the storage room of the mosque while everyone else was breaking their fast.

The young man said that for these people, barriers won’t stop them. They’ll find a way to do what they want to do no matter what. But the imam said that at least people should respect the sanctity of the masjid. They might be pursuing illicit contact outside, but when they come to the masjid they should dress appropriately and not interact much with the opposite gender.

This conversation was emblematic about the challenged facing mosques in modern times. They want to be welcoming to everyone, especially the youth, but they don’t want to compromise on morals and allow flirting or physical contact between guys and girls to take place. The youth, on the other hand, don’t really think what they’re doing is wrong, and even if they do they have a “repent later”/”God is forgiving” attitude to the whole thing.

The main issue, in my estimation, is the lack of tawheed in modern society. Young people are bombarded with all sorts of different beliefs, ideas, cultures, etc which are ultimately telling them how to live their life. And in such an environment, Islam is reduced from a way of life to an identity, which merely complements their identity as a young person in America in the 21st century. What’s lacking is the understanding that yes, “Muslim” is an identity, but Islam is also a belief & action system which is here to supersede all other belief & action systems, because Islam was revealed to humanity by the Creator of the worlds whereas all other systems are products of a particular time & place.

Once they understand that, they’ll know that if Islam says one thing and culture says another, Islam wins out.

Looking at these issues today, I’m reminded of Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry. A similar problem was happening in the 1920s and 1930s in the Muslim-majority world. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed, and new ideologies such as secular nationalism, liberalism, communism, and even fascism were making inroads into the Muslim world. Iqbal talked about how these were new “idols,” which needed to be smashed and God’s word (“la ilaha ill Allah”) needed to be made the highest. Here is a sample of his poetry, very loosely translated into English, via this website:

An Abraham by the age is sought to break the idols of this Hall:
The avowal of God’s Oneness can make all these idols headlong fall.

A bargain you have struck for goods of life, a step, that smacks conceit,
All save the call “No god but He,” is merely fraught with fraud and deceit.

The worldly wealth and riches too, ties of blood and friends a dream
The idols wrought by doubts untrue, all save God’s Oneness empty seem…

Many idols are still concealed in their sleeves by the Faithful Fold,
I am ordained by Almighty Allah to raise the call and be much bold.

It’s something to think about. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Salaam,

Yousuf

8 August 2017

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