The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women pray in public
- Shut out of crowded mosque, group offers namaaz at madarsa

Cuttack, Nov. 24: A clutch of Muslim women offered Friday prayers at a madarsa yesterday after they were crowded out of a mosque they had set their sights on.

Over 50 women landed up at the Mir Kamalpatna Masjid at Manglabag in the afternoon to participate in the public ritual in which only men usually take part. But the small mosque was so chock-full of males that they had to move out.

Not to be defeated in their mission, the activists of the Orissa Muslim Women’s Welfare Organisation lined up in the compound of the adjoining madarsa and offered namaaz in full glare of the public.

What came as a surprise for the women, aged between 18 and 40, was that there was no opposition either from the men who had come to pray or from the clergy.

“Since we were not stopped from entering the mosque to offer namaaz, we decided to do so in the madarsa compound,” said 39-year-old Farhat Amin, the organisation’s spokesperson who took the lead in the matter.

Although Muslim women are not barred from praying in public, the practice is generally discouraged in India. In big mosques, there are separate enclosures for women but they are seldom used.

In Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest places for Muslims, it is not unusual to find women offering namaaz in mosques. But they are segregated from the men and enter through separate enclosures.

In a sense, therefore, what the Orissa women did yesterday was significant. It might also have been a first as there are no reports of such a thing having been attempted earlier.

Farhat, however, rued that her team could not pray at the mosque. “The Friday namaaz is different from that on other days. It is also the day for sermons, so it will give women the opportunity to learn about their rights and not be misguided by imams who may be dogmatic,” she said.

There might have been no noise yesterday at the sight of women breaching a traditionally male bastion, but the clergy today said they had been shocked.

H.N. Alam Misbahi, the imam of the masjid, said: “I was surprised when I saw the women at the entrance, but there was no need to oppose them as the mosque was already filled to capacity.

“Since the question of women offering namaaz in mosques has been raised here for the first time, the issue needs to be taken up by the clergy.”

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