In New Delhi, a woman's place is in the mosque

Mosques in New Delhi are gradually changing their rules to allow women to gather in the mosques for prayer. 

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Most mosques in Delhi won’t let women inside. But some spaces are opening up, in unexpected places.

In Dawat Nagar, deep in south Delhi, about two dozen women gathered for a Friday prayer service. They listened to the sermon while cordoned off from the men by sheets in the mosque at the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind headquarters. At another mosque in south Delhi run by the Ahle Hadees movement, women also have a place to pray.

Both groups profess moderate orientations, though they can be conservative in their interpretations of women’s affairs. 

Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University who describes herself as an Islamic feminist, says significant work remains in making women’s entry into mosques socially acceptable in South Asia. Ms. Aslam Fehmi says women don’t need just a space for prayer; she envisions the mosque becoming a community center, where women can organize around their social and political concerns.

Muslim women in other parts of India have fought for worship space, including joining Friday services unannounced and taking religious leaders to court. However, some Muslim women don’t agree with such tactics, preferring to work with amenable clerics to slowly change minds. 

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