By Bian Elkhatib
Not long ago, women weren’t allowed to pray in some Chicago-area mosques.
Hind Makki is working to change that.
The 36-year-old blogger of Orland Park recounts a time in the mid ’90s when she went to a mosque on Devon Avenue with her father and her sister. She and her sister were denied entrance.
“One of the elderly gentleman there told my dad, ‘No women, no girls.’
“My dad was like, ‘where are they going to pray?’ He’s like, ‘they can stay in the car, no girls.’”
She said the mosque on Devon now allows women and “having said that, I’ve never had negative experiences as an adult.”
Even though things have advanced significantly in Chicago mosques, Makki keeps working to change them even further.
Her blog, Side Entrance, is a crowd-sourced collection of images and text from mosques around the world that “showcases photos and stories of women and girls’ experiences in mosques.”
Makki started the project in 2012 after going to a mosque in the Chicago-area and finding an inadequate prayer space for women.
“It was about 20 feet long and about six feet wide. It was crazy — I snapped a picture, and I posted it on my Facebook wall.”
She said her Muslim women friends weren’t surprised. But it was the reaction of Muslim men that inspired her to start the blog.
“A lot of my male friends were shocked (at the difference in spaces) because mosques are gender-segregated, mainly, in Muslim communities and a lot of men just do not know where women prayed and what that looked like.”
Makki said she thought the blog would focus on U.S. mosques until she received photos and experiences from around the world. Side Entrance has shown women’s prayer spaces in mosques in places from China to Kosovo to Senegal.
Her blog showcases the bad side of women’s spaces in mosques, and the good.
One post, submitted by Fatima Siwaju, says, “I love visiting mosques in different countries. I especially loved the inclusiveness of the mosques in Senegal.”
Another recent post, submitted by Eman Aly, is a photo of a Muslim women’s prayer space at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The picture depicts a part of a room that is closed off because of a cloth barrier. The post says, ““How the heck did this happen and UIC MWA (Muslim Women’s Association) how the heck are you guys okay with this?”
Aly graduated from UIC in 2001 and said she thinks the barrier was added about eight years ago.
She originally saw the picture on Facebook and decided to repost it.
“If I was there (at the prayer space), I probably would have kicked that thing (cloth barrier) down,” Aly said.
Although Makki believes mosques in the U.S. still have a way to go, her blog, combined with fortuitous timing, has already inspired change.
“Academics, activists, feminists have always brought up this issue.
“It just happened that between 2012 and 2014, mainstream Muslim leadership in the U.S. was ready to listen, was open to dialogue.”
Makki said Muslim leaders became concerned about unmosqueing — when a person leaves a mosque community but remains a practicing Muslim.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) — an umbrella organization of primarily Sunni organizations in the U.S. — invited Makki to join a committee, “making women’s inclusion a priority in mosques,” Makki said.
The committee worked with Islamic legal scholars to come up with a statement about women in the mosque.
The statement focused on three issues: There should be no mosque in America where women are banned, mosques should aim to have men and women pray in the same space without a barrier (if women want to have a barrier then each mosque can figure that out), and every mosque should allow women to run for leadership positions.
For Makki, Side Entrance is about more than space. “The main point (of Side Entrance) for me is that the spaces that women occupy in a mosque is actually reflective of the values that the community believes that they add,” Makki said.
“Where women are afforded or accorded great spaces or equal space or even the same space as men, oftentimes it follows that women are engaged in the governance of the board.”