Some will blame me for this. Many will believe I overreacted. However, a curtain was put up in my mosque’s community area last night, and I never felt so alone. [Note: As I write this, I have been informed that the curtain will be taken down.]
It was the shabbiest thing I had ever seen. Attending off and on the breaking of the fast dinners (iftaar) at my local mosque for the last 6 years, never had a partition been put up in the community room. It wasn’t set up for one. But a stack of chairs at one end, a clothes rack in the middle and ceran wrap hung from a beam were the holding structures of a curtain/sheet partition installed last night in my mosque.
Partitions are an unfortunate part of many islamic prayer spaces and I have been compelled to accept or choose to remove myself from them. I always did so with a certain resigned melancholy – accepting that the space had a history before me that I should respect. However, yesterday, facing a new partition, I was shocked by just how lonely I truly felt.
The community room already has a low ceiling and is located in the basement where there are no windows. The partition blocked much of the lights to the women’s side. Many of the women who showed up last night were accompanied by their husband and children. When the partition came up, only one parent could keep an eye on the children. As is often the case in society, that role defaulted to the women, overcrowding our section already 1/4 of the men’s.
My first instinct was to ask whose idea the partition had been, half guessing and half accusing mysoginistic men… to my surprise and horror, it had been proposed by a fellow sister, who thought that a partition would safeguard her from oggling men.
I was deeply insulted, for myself, for my brothers as well as for my sisters of the mosque. We all have been fasting from food and water for 18+hrs. When the time to break the fast arrives, few of us could even think of looking away from our plates, let alone accross the room to fellow believers in full religious garb. I was insulted that this assault on my free and open space had come from one of my own – a white, French, female convert. I felt deeply betrayed that my fellow sisters were allowing the partition to come up. I felt saddened that my fellow brothers did not feel it respectable to object from being separated from their wives and children… on father’s day.
I could not sit still and yet I could not find the strength to protest. I was hungry, I was angry, I was tired and I wanted spiritual refuge from the influx of emotion. When the space became over-crowded, before food had even been served, I left the mosque: still hungry, still angry and still in need of spiritual refuge. I had no food ready to break fast and chose, instead, to pick up fast food along my drive home.
I broke the fast with an unhealthy, and un-halal, cheeseburger, alone, in my apartment, watching Netflix. I felt so immensely alone. I have no Muslim family with whom I can break the fast. I don’t know well any of my Muslim neighbours. My friends thought I was otherwise engaged at the masjid. And I… was still hungry, angry, tired and in want of spiritual refuge.
So I cried.
And I threw into the world my want for the partition to be removed: a post on Facebook, a private message to the mosque’s imam, an email to the mosque’s board. I rebuked the idea of protesting the barrier by sitting on it’s other side. I detested staying quiet in the face of what I saw as a pure injustice against all in attendance (and probably a breach of the fire safety code). I was incredibly saddened that I no longer felt comfortable in my place of worship.
So I cried some more.
I could not pray last night. I could not read the Qu’ran. I could not talk on the phone with loved ones who wished to remind me that I am not alone. I felt alone. All I could relate to last night, was the all-encompassing sadness that surrounded me. Not outrage, or anger, or offense… sadness.
I can’t explain the sadness: the feeling that I would not be heard in the ocean of voices of my local mosque because I have no Muslim parents, siblings, children or husband. Because I am an army of one against a wave of many. Because being a progressive, a feminist, an LGBTQ-ally and a Muslim woman situates me as a minority. Because I was weak and could not reach for the divine fire that God has instilled in my soul. Last night, I was resigned. A quiet, sad, resignation… and it made me cry.
I have now learnt that I was not the only one to request the partition be removed. Besides fire wardens, it would seem many community members wished to have the space remain communal only segregated by “our own good judgement”. I know it should console me. I know it should satisfy me that I was not alone… but I cannot forget this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I never felt so alone.