What Are Muslim Women's Rights?

At a major Muslim convention, Asra Nomani addresses the crowd about gender equality in Islam.

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I gave evidence of the rights denied in mosques throughout America and laid out the Islamic arguments that had empowered me to take action in my mosque in Morgantown. "It is time for our communities to embody the essential principles of equity, tolerance, and inclusion within Islam," I said. "And it is incumbent upon each of us as Muslims to stand up for those principles."

I told them what I had come to realize in the two years since January 2001 when the Dalai Lama had set me on my path toward Mecca. Terrorists transformed our world into a more dangerous place when they attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Before we knew it, a minority of Islamic fundamentalists who preached hatred of the West were defining Islam in the world. Alas, moderates, including myself, have been a "silent majority," remaining largely quiet. A combination of fear, shame, and apathy has contributed to a culture of silence among even those of us who are discontented with the status quo in Muslim society. Moderate Muslims have a great responsibility to define Islam and their communities in the world. For me, this effort started at home when I walked up to the front door of my mosque for the first time on the eve of Ramadan 2003. It is time, I said, for us to reclaim the rights Islam granted to women in the seventh century. Toward that end, I humbly introduced my poster with the Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in Mosques.

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The rights are simple: the right to enter a mosque; the right to use the main door; the right to have visual and auditory access to the musalla (the main sanctuary); the right to pray in the main sanctuary without being separated by a barrier; the right to address any and all members of the congregation; the right to hold leadership positions, including positions on the board of directors; the right to be greeted and addressed cordially; and the right to receive respectful treatment and to be exempt from gossip and slander.

After reading the rights, I told the audience, "Ultimately, it is incumbent upon Islamic organizations, community leaders, academics, and mosques to respond to this call for improved rights for women in mosques by endorsing and promoting a campaign, modeling it after their very successful educational and legal campaigns to protect the civil liberties of Muslim men and women in other areas. To do so would honor not only Muslim women but also Islam. The journey is never complete, and a long road remains in front of us, but we have as inspiration a time in the seventh century when a new day lay ahead of a caravan trader who had as much to fear as we do today but nonetheless transcended his doubts and fears to create an ummah to which we all belong today. Allow us all to rise to our highest potential."

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