By Cigdem Bugdayci
“Why shouldn’t women come to the Friday prayer? Why shouldn’t women benefit from the light of God?” asked Ayfer Aynali, a housewife, after attending Friday prayer in the women’s section at Yeni Valide Mosque in Istanbul.
According to Islamic law (fiqh), Friday prayer at the mosque is a religious duty only for men, while women are not required to attend. However, many people are beginning to remind of the era of the Prophet Muhammad, during which women used to attend Friday prayer.
“If the Quran is read well and carefully, it is understood that the term ‘believers’ includes all of us, both men and women,” says Aynali, adding that she does not accept the mainstream idea that Friday prayer is a gift only to men.
The preacher of the Uskudar district of Istanbul, Omer Faruk Senturk, argues that it is more a traditional belief than a Quranic verse that women should not go to the mosque.
“Friday prayer is a way for religious nourishment. When women do not attend it, their access to religious knowledge is fundamentally blocked,” he said. Instead, he proposes that families come together to the Friday prayer as they could listen to the sermon and learn about Islam together.
Gender equality at mosques is also increasingly supported by the department of religious affairs. “We do not want to exclude women from the mosques,” Yusuf Dogan, the head of the Mosque Services Office, told SETimes.
Dogan indicated that Friday prayer is not only a religious service, but also a time when the community of Muslim believers come together to experience oneness with God and learn the Quranic verses and the hadiths.
“The sermon given at the Friday prayer instructs the believers how to live ethically. Therefore we find it important that women come too,” he said.
Although the vast majority of mosques have a space for women, on Fridays, when the mosques are crowded with worshipers, little space is left. However, with increasing demand from women, the department of religious affairs began carrying out a project to increase space for women in mosques this year.
The department sent a questionnaire to mosques to document the condition of facilities available to women — such as sections reserved for women and the availability of toilets and places for ablution.
The preliminary results of the questionnaire for Istanbul’s 2,979 mosques states that 92.3% of the mosques have a place for women, while 43.4% of them do not reserve a place for women during the Friday prayer, and only 7.1% said that women attend Friday prayer.
Still, in anticipation that women like Fatma Ipekci, a student, will want to attend Friday prayer, the department is preparing to improve mosque facilities for women.
“I understand that men occupy women’s places on Fridays because it is a religious duty for them, not for us. There is no need to be a feminist,” Ipekci said, adding that she nonetheless comes to the mosque every Friday and enjoys listening to the sermon.