What does the Quran say about women and mosques?

By : Dr.Jasser Auda

 

There are dozens of Quranic verses related to mosques, all of which urge all believers who seek guidance, light and knowledge, males and females alike, to frequent mosques. The following are a few examples:

“Say, O Muhammad, ‘My Lord has ordered justice and that you all maintain yourselves in worship of Him at every mosque, and invoke Him, sincere to Him in religion.’” (7:29)

“O children of Adam, take your adornment at every mosque.” (7:31)

“The mosques of Allah are populated merely by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and establish prayers and give charity and fear nothing except Allah, for it is expected that those are of the rightly guided.” (9:18)

“And the mosques are for Allah, so do not invoke with Allah anyone.” (72:18)

In addition, there are many verses in which Allah is specifically mentioning the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, referring to it as the “House of Allah” and the “Sacred House,” and inviting all, men and women, to visit. Allah also mentioned by name the sacred mosque in Jerusalem, The Farthest Mosque. The following are a few examples:

“Behold! We gave to Abraham the site of the Sacred House, saying: ‘Associate nothing in worship with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves therein in prayer.’” (22:26)

“Glory to Allah Who did take His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque.” (17:1)

“Allah made the Kaba, the Sacred House, an asylum of security for people [al-nas], as also the Sacred Months.” (5:97) 

“Indeed, the first House of worship established for people [al-nas] was that at Mecca - blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” (3:96)

It is interesting to note that most of the English translators of these verses mentioned above, wrongly translate the Arabic words referring to the dwellers and visitors of the mosque to the English words “men” or “mankind.” Take for example verse 3:96 mentioned above, which refers to the visitors of the mosque with the Arabic word “al-nas.” This word means “the people” in every conventional and colloquial sense of the Arabic language. However, “al-nas” is rendered “men” or “mankind” by every major translator of the Quran, including: Muhammad Asad, Sahih International, Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Shakir, Muhammad Sarwar, and Mohsin Khan. I am aware of one exception, Arberry, who translated “al-nas” in 3:96 as “the people.” It is interesting that in verse 5:97 mentioned above, even Arberry translated “al-nas” to “men.” This shows how the translators/interpreters of the Quran are influenced by their pre-assumptions and biases when it comes to the issue of women in the mosque.

However, there are two verses that urged believers to attend the mosque in which the word “rijal” was used to refer to mosque attendees:

“Such light is in mosques which Allah has ordered to be raised and that His name be mentioned therein; exalting Him within them in the morning and the evenings. [Are] persons [rijal] whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah and performance of prayer and giving of charity.” (24:36–37) 

“A mosque founded on righteousness from the first day is more worthy for you to stand in. Within it are persons [rijal] who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves.” (9:108)

Some exegetes misunderstood the Arabic word “rijal” (which I translated above as “persons” in these two verses), and interpreted it to mean “men”, to the exclusion of women. It is to be noted that every English translation of the Quran I am aware of translated this word as “men” except for Muhammad Sarwar who chose the word “people”. The commonly used wrong interpretation/translation had a negative impact on the collective perception of Muslims, who thought that there was no room for women in the mosque, according to the Quran. 

The famous exegete Ibn Kathir (d. 774H/1373CE), for instance, commented on the word “rijal” in the verse quoted above from Surat Al-Nur, by saying:

“As for women, their praying at home is better for them … But it is permissible for them to attend the congregational prayer offered by men, on condition that she does not harm any man by manifesting adornments or wearing perfume.” 

It is true that the word “rijal” in colloquial Arabic is used for males rather than females. However, in high Arabic, which is the language of the Quran, the word implies both males and females. This is evident in a number of verses in the Quran itself. For instance, Allah says, “and on its elevations are rijal who recognise all by their mark” (7:48), and “Among the believers are rijal true to what they promised Allah.” (33:23)

In these two verses, and others, the word “rijal” is clearly referring to both males and females, and no scholar has ever disputed that. 

In addition, linguistically speaking, when the Quranic address is specific to males only, the word “rijal” is coupled with the word “nisaa” within the same sentence. In this case only, rijal means men and nisaa means women. An example is verse 48:25: “And if not for believing men (rijal) and believing women (nisaa) whom you did not know…” It is not possible to understand the Quran correctly without a good command of the Arabic language, and the best reference for the Arabic language is the Quran itself, which should override the colloquial usages of Arabic terms.  

In addition to the Quranic evidence, Arabic-Arabic dictionaries unanimously agree that women could correctly be addressed by the word ‘rijal‘. For instance, among the usages mentioned in Mukhtar As-Sihah, a classic Arabic-Arabic dictionary under the entry “R J L (the root of the word rijal in Arabic)” is the following: 

Niswatun rijal (here, the word rijal is used as an adjective for females) … and a woman can be called rajulah (singular female form of rijal) … It is also reported that Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was known to be a rajulah in terms of her opinions.

In Lisan Al-Arab, another classic Arabic-Arabic dictionary, it is stated that: “In a reported conversation between Abu Zayd al-Killabi and his wife, the two “rijal” fiercely argued, referring to him and his wife.”

Finally, the Quran clearly forbids preventing people from frequenting the mosques, with Allah’s saying, 

“And who are more unjust than those who prevent people from mentioning the name of Allah in His mosques and strive toward their destruction. It is not for them to enter them except in fear. For them in this world is disgrace, and they will have in the Hereafter a great punishment.” (2:114).

However, today, half of the “people”, i.e. women, are being prevented from mentioning the name of Allah in many of His mosques. The following chapters deal with other sides of the issue.