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Muslim Feminists Pray With Men

July 30, 2010

Thank God for feisty women. 

Now these Muslim feminists have had enough. Hoping to reform Islam by making it more women-friendly, Ms. Thompson—an American convert to Islam—has organized several “pray-ins” at mosques in the D.C. area. These include the Islamic Center of Washington and the Dar Al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., a mosque attended by several of the 9/11 hijackers and the Fort Hood mass killer Maj. Nidal Hasan. Ms. Thompson’s next pray-in target is a mosque in Washington.

Like the civil rights activists of the 1960s, whose “sit-ins” were part of a movement that ended racial segregation, Ms. Thompson hopes her peaceful pray-ins will help initiate a movement that ends overt sexism in Islam, despite the conventional wisdom that regards Islam and feminism as anathema. Her efforts come at a time when, as of a 2001 study, 66% of American mosques segregate men from women during prayer, an increase of 14% from 1994.

During the pray-ins, Ms. Nomani, Ms. Thompson, and several other women walk through the front door of the mosque—many require women to enter through a side or back door—and into the main hall. They then seat themselves behind the rows of men to pray.

The Muslim men get rattled. Ms. Nomani remembers one bearded man who “furrow[ed] his brows and scream[ed]… ‘Sisters go over there!'”—indicating the dreaded penalty box. Ms. Nomani humorously refers to him as the mosque’s “bouncer.” At one pray-in, the women didn’t budge when they were asked to move, and the service began with them praying with the men.

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