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Sunday, July 05, 2020

When lockdown Eid broke a long-held taboo in Muslim homes

The Covid-19 pandemic has beautifully dispelled the taboo, the myth, the common practice ⁠— that women do not and cannot pray with men.

Written by Saba Rahman | Updated: May 26, 2020 9:34:35 pm
eid namaz, eid namaz women, eid women prayers, women at mosques india, women entry mosques india, coronavirus mosque shut, eid celebrations coronavirus, islam women mosque A young girl offers Eid al-Fitr prayers during the ongoing lockdown in Nepal. (Reuters)

The night before Eid, there was a quick, instructional discussion at my sister’s household in Delhi on the manner the Eid prayer or namaz is offered. It is a bit tricky, a little different from your regular namaz. One can make mistakes, she and her teenage daughter were told by her husband.

With the pandemic forcing closure of mosques, this year’s Eid namaz had to be offered indoors across the world. Eid namaz is offered in a jamaat or congregation and that could be constituted this time in many households only when the women of the house would also participate. At my sister’s place, her husband had announced that she, their daughter and I had to join him.

On Monday morning, as we knelt on our prayer rugs, it was for the first time the man and the women in that house had offered namaz together. For my niece and I, it was also our first ever Eid namaz; the sister recalled she had been to a mosque on two Eids, both times in Delhi.

Between us and the man of the house leading the prayer stood my seven-year-old daughter and her six-year-old twin male cousins. As I saw them following our motions, I felt we were passing on a ritual that will hopefully turn into a tradition in our households.

While growing up in Ranchi, we never saw women going to the mosque, either on Eid or otherwise. Our mother never went to one, nor did we. On Eid mornings, while menfolk would go to Eidgah, women and girls would be home, most of them busy in the kitchen. And very often, they would give the namaz, and by that the religious aspect of the festival, a miss. There were no talks around this omission, no complaint, nobody questioned the traditionally and culturally assigned roles to the women that became more rigorous during such festivals.

And then an ugly pandemic came knocking and beautifully dispelled the taboo, the myth, the common practice — that women do not and cannot pray with men, that they do not and cannot lead a namaz, or for that matter, the mosque isn’t their place to be.

A doctor friend told me that it was for the first time she and her two daughters offered Eid namaz with their father, and that she had no idea how it was done. She says she would have loved to lead the namaz as her “feisty” daughters were insistent that she should. “Maybe, I will be the imam (one who leads prayers) in the next jamaat prayers.”

A journalist friend said she led the prayer at her house with her husband and other family members forming the jamaat as she was the only one who was confident, while the husband was reluctant out of a fear of blundering.

One household said they held a prayer on Zoom app with their family members, including women, scattered in different parts of the world, who could not make it home owing to the pandemic.

Author Ziya us Salam, who in his book, Women in Masjid: A Quest for Justice, makes a case for women’s entry in mosques, said his mother offered her first Eid namaz at the age of 75. He said his wife and daughters had been going to the mosque for their Eid prayers for several years now, and sometimes also for Friday prayers.

Salam said there are 200 verses of the Quran asking the believers to establish prayers; not one of them bars women from going to mosques.

Women attend prayers when they go to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, families head to mosques together. In the UK, Europe and the US, it is a common practice for women to go to mosques. It is only in the Indian subcontinent they are denied their sacred space. There is also a petition in the Supreme Court seeking permission for entry of women to mosques.

Amid the pandemic, as these barriers of patriarchy and fundamentalism were being smashed in our household spaces for the generations old and young, men and women, to learn a lesson for the lifetime, it indeed felt we were living in unprecedented times. It indeed was an unprecedented Eid for women in India.

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