Why Can’t My Wife and I Pray Together?

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S2: So I’m just getting to Friday prayers at the mosque in New York where I live, a walk right through the front door. Say hello to the brothers selling candy bars, kick off my shoes and sit in the main prayer space as close to the pulpit as possible and read through a bit of the good on using an app on my phone until the event. The call to prayer.

S3: Then the sermon starts. But for my wife Meeta, she’d rather just drop me off and go home. Because for her, the experience is really different. Women use the side entrance and when they take their places behind the men, they usually have to listen to the sermon through speakers. So it’s understandable that many women like my wife just don’t bother anymore. And that doesn’t seem fair. As a person has been calling himself a Muslim feminist for years, I’m getting more and more uncomfortable with sitting in the front row knowing that media can’t.

S4: And I’m beginning to feel like it’s finally time to do something about it.

S5: Hello and welcome to MAN UP, I’m your host aiming to smile. And on this show, we crack questions big and small about manhood. This week I ask any man and my wife if I’m really as powerless here as I feel.

S3: As a kid, I went to one of those Islamic schools in Jersey where you learn to memorize chunks of the good on and take classes like Islamic studies in Arabic. Next to social studies and English. Maybe you’ve heard of them called madrassas. That’s just Arabic for schools. So we just called it school. Teachers taught us the officially correct way to be a Muslim. Well, now that I’m 30, I’m meeting all different kinds of Muslims from all different backgrounds. And none of us can seem to agree on anything. Not even holidays. I didn’t even know that was possible. But one thing that 99 percent of us do seem to agree on is that when we congregate to pray. Women have a separate prayer space. But usually those prayer spaces for women seem like an afterthought.

S6: The men’s section is like basically what I guess the designers were thinking. This is where the worshipers shall worship. And then the women’s section, it’s like, oh, here’s the extra space that we that we can, you know, just have the undesirables stay on design with all the children.

S7: There may or may not be like a working sound system that may or may not be like a scream that we can see the EMEM from. The better spaces are the ones that are shared. We’re like, yeah, women are still in the back, but we are in the same room together. So at least we can see the person leaving the prayer. We can see the person giving the Friday hotbar. Otherwise, I’ve been in ADX, I’ve been in basements. I’ve been in places that don’t have AC, that don’t have heating. And again, the children are all there. And it makes me feel like the men’s prayer and worship is the only thing that matters and that we’re just there to be a day care.

S8: Yeah. Do you ever that one time we went to a mosque together? And yeah, we walked in. Then there was this person kind of. I don’t even know if your security or anything or had any kind of affiliation. He put his hands up and he was like, hey, what are you doing here? Your interest is on the side. And he escorted you to the. I don’t know if he escorted you, but he directed you to the other door. And it happened so sudden and it happened so quick. And after that happened, I remember what like taking off my shoes, making would do really quick and going upstairs and, you know, getting in the row so I can pray with all the other worshippers and glancing to the back of the room where the women were. And it was dark. There was no lights on. It was a shadow. I was looking for you so I can, like, make sure you’re safe, but I couldn’t find you. And I sat down and was trying to focus on my prayer. But all I could think about was how crappy that must be to just be put in the back of the room with no lights on.

S7: Meanwhile, I’m watching you from the shadows and they kind of you know, I couldn’t focus on my prayer, to be honest.

S8: I wanted to be someone who can focus on his prayer, someone who can feel like they’re in conversation with God. Right. But all I can think about is the experience of the women worshipers. So the question I have for you is, do you think of me any lesser for continuing to go to some of these bases?

S7: I would think of you lesser if you were perpetuating the problem by, you know, continuing the status quo, fighting for the segregation of men and women. And and, you know, some men really take it serious, like they want to put up like curtains and dividers in spaces where, you know, it is one big room or woman in the back, like someone really care about that.

S6: And that is what I think low of because really, what are you fighting for here?

S9: But. No, I don’t think less serve you. I expect that you would use your privilege. And however you can.

S10: To help Aronoff, I can’t I just feel so powerless in these spaces, like things have been happening like this for thousands of years, you know, like it’s a traditional space.

S11: It’s not like it’s been like this for thousands of years. I mean, there’s precedence for women leaving prayer.

S6: I was actually just reading about today. Yeah. Yeah. And it mentioned spiritual survivor’s amazing love. Fatima. Ben Taub. Bethell. But that day and she was a Shefa and a 44 and a mufti. So she. Yeah. She like people would ask her like legal questions and they would ask her religious questions and theology and she would lead them in prayer as well.

S12: So it’s not, you know, unheard of. There’s also a Hadith where the prophet. And I’m asked a female companion to lead her on my prayer. So I think we’ve become more and more detached from the spirit of congregational worship.

S13: So there is precedence. I didn’t know that. And if other Muslim practices can vary, why can’t this one. So the mosque I go to is typical and how they separate the genders. But there are other prayer spaces that do it a little differently. For example, there’s this one in New York City that puts men and women side by side, not one in front of the other.

S14: I mean, if you come to our Islamic center, New York University, we definitely have space that’s reflective of the needs of both men and women in the community. And I think that’s a product of a lot of different things. Inclusive of the fact that we have women who are in very prominent leadership roles.

S3: This is a man headed Latif. In 2005, he became the very first Muslim chaplain at NYU. Ever since then, his space has grown into this incredible come as you are type sanctuary. He’s now the executive director and he doesn’t just lead prayers there. He regularly hosts panels and events that get young Muslims to think more critically about how religion intersects with Breece politics and gender.

S14: My wife and I have gone to some spaces where the men’s entrance to the mosque. It’s very vibrant. You know, decorated, illuminated. And when we’ve tried to find where women go in from, it’s literally like this back kind of alleyway with no lighting. There’s bags of garbage like all around, like the door. We’ve been to places when she was pregnant with one of our kids. And, you know, the women’s area is on a stairwell that goes up three flights and she’ll come to me after me like nobody ever thought, like a pregnant woman would be in this mosque. Yeah, because she’s got one of our kids in her hand taking the child up and downstairs. Use the restroom, let alone, as you know, a very pregnant woman having to go the restroom quite often. And so there’s an absence of like thoughtfulness, is there? And I don’t go to those mosques anymore. Whereas you can go also like all over the world and find spaces that are just remarkable in terms of how they connected a very deep level. I just took a group of about sixty five people to Jerusalem. But when you go to the mosque, which is one of the mosques that our tradition explicitly cites as a place to make pilgrimage to. Right. So the Prophet Muhammad tells people to go to Mecca, to go to his mosque in Medina. But to also go to Mestre, the Luxor in Jerusalem. And when you go to Mashallah, Luxor. Men and women are sitting next to each other in the main part of the prayer hall after the prayer is done. You know, women are going all the way to the front of a mosque where the mom leads from, and they’re taking photographs and pictures from the pulpit. And there’s an interaction that’s rooted in a sense of, you know, discourse that isn’t what you find in other places. And they’re doing it with. In my opinion, a real embrace of what Islam is a religion calls for.

S15: If I really talk to my mom about this and I have, she kind of justifies it in a way. She’s like, well, you want to protect the women from the male gaze. Look, she comes up with all of these different reasons as to why institutions exist in that way. And I wonder because I’ve prayed at the NYU space many times and I think I went for one of those like Evening Hollick as during Ramadan. And it was one of those overflow spaces. And it was really beautiful because it’s the first time I’ve ever prayed in a congregation where there was men on the right side and women on the left side instead of in front of each other. I wonder what it takes to produce a space like this. Is it that women have to be in leadership roles or at some point in your journey as a Muslim? Did you learn and figured this out on yourself?

S16: The challenge is not in adopting like a mindset like that, but to be able to understand. We quite often take what we experienced to then define what text says. Islam is a very inward out religion that says you can, at the end of the day, pray the way someone prays or dress the way someone dresses. But you can’t believe something just because somebody else believes it. That has to come from within you, right? I would say the challenge in saying that your mother has to be wrong for you to be right just adds continuity to that perspective. That what Islam says is that she can be right and you can be right without either one of you having to be wrong.

S15: It sounds like within the framework of Islam, there are like absolute truths like tohe like the believe belief in the oneness of God. But there are there’s like a spectrum of ranges of belief within these practices that allow for for two Muslims to disagree with each other, but also still be right.

S16: The diversity is necessary because Islam is for people in all backgrounds. Right.

S15: Just to be like totally candid here. One of the reasons why I’m always tripped up when it comes to this relationship between my feminist ideology and my Islamic ideology, I think maybe come from the idea that I’m always in pursuit of the true Islam. Like, for example, when I’m doing the will do, which is like the cleansing ritual you do before you pray. I’m always thinking back to to my mother, teaching me, well, if your elbows don’t get wet, it doesn’t count and that your whole prayer is null and void. So with that in mind, I guess that’s always been my approach to Islam. I’m always thinking, well, what’s the correct way? What have I not learned yet?

S16: Spiritually, you need time, maturation to and where and how. There’s a value to mechanics, but the mechanics are meant to be a means of spiritual increase, and the do’s and don’ts and rights and wrongs are fitting into a broader framework of getting somebody to a place of both inward and outward excellence, so to speak. And so yeah, like washing your arms is a part of it, but it’s not the only part. And where and how, like most Muslims are literally just like stuck in the bathroom because all they talk about is wudu. I had a guy that came to see me who wanted to become Muslim and he had been coming our center a lot. And so this guy had a coworker who is Muslim that was giving him insight on religion a lot. And now, six months into our meeting each other for the first time, he’s sitting and he’s quite distressed. And I said, you know, what’s going on? And he said, this religion makes a lot of sense. But I don’t get why if I become Muslim, I can’t have my dogs anymore. And I said, well, what do you mean? And he said, you know, people told me that dogs are haram in Islam religiously impermissible and said know. There’s some people who say that the saliva of a dog is considered impure. And if that saliva gets on your clothing, all you have to do is wash it off. Now, this guy is in a place where he’s only taking when people give to him mechanics again. And that’s like where people get stuck.

S17: So my crisis of faith came when I was about to being engaged. And everything that I’d heard about what a Muslim marriage constitutes. Up until that point was pretty negative. Right. There’s supposed to be like this strong patriarchal figure who’s overprotective, who is very careful about how his wife looks and behaves. So the first thing I did was I skipped ahead to sort of the the set, which is like the chapter of women that kind of goes through all like the legal matters of inheritance. And in a little bit of like how men should behave around their wives and what their wives responsibilities are back to them. And, you know, for the most part, all. This is cool. This is fair. There’s a lot in there about respect and love and trust and things to do if there’s some kind of dispute. Here are some options, but this is one particular verse that shook me up. And this is where the crisis of faith happened, where it was. Well, if you sense disobedience from your wife, the first thing you should do is you should try and correct it with your words. And then if that doesn’t work, leave her alone, abstain from sexual intimacy. And the third thing in the word they used was Dotabuff, which I guess like. True. Usually is translated into like hit. And then that like that tripped me up. I was like, I would never dream in a million years of ever being that man, ever. I’ve never seen my dad do it. I’ve never seen any of the men in my community do it. I don’t I. This doesn’t make sense to me that why this is like the voice of God. And then I found that there was like there on the Internet. There’s shifts from all over the world to say, well, no, but in this case means leave or leave entirely or divorce. And there are other parts of the good on where Dotabuff translated as like a veil or I calf the cave to. There is a lot of us used to describe like a cloak that covered the cave, and a part of me felt guilty, like maybe I was changing the religion to accommodate my own beliefs in my own personal beliefs. I wonder what you make of that. I. Is it OK for Muslims who want to be feminists who come in and say, well, that verse doesn’t mean that it actually means this? Like, what do you think of it?

S14: There’s a verse that says, well, look, I’ve got not any of them that, you know, all of the children of Adam are given dignity and they’re elevated. I was 18 the first time I met somebody who was a survivor of domestic violence.

S18: And to think out now what we’re saying when we say that you believe in a God that would advocate and allow for something like that.

S19: And to me, in my initial like journey on trying to understand this, I said, even if I don’t know what this means, I know that there is no way that it means that that that’s something that can be allowed is just not possible. Right. A lot of my journey with religion was about finding a sense of ownership to it. And it took me a long time to get to a place where I realized that so much of my appeal personally for religion was around identity and not necessarily conviction and values. But the challenge comes in highlighting this issue, but then not seeing also where you might be a part of the remedy in ensuring that it doesn’t take place anymore. So if some idiot who has no idea what it means to be a man thinks it’s OK for him to strike a woman or a child or anybody, that still doesn’t give me a justification for not doing what I can do to build like a shelter, you know, to ensure that there’s a fund to set up to help women break out of these houses that are anything other than homes. And that deepening of understanding of what religion really causes you to becomes important.

S16: But I want to be able to see things and experience things with a sense of courage that says I don’t have to wait for somebody else.

S20: I can utilize my platforms, my skills, my credentials, talk to people who are like minded and go build out things that I have a certain passion for. And you see a lot more people doing that these days.

S21: We’re going to take a quick break. But first here at Man Up. We still need your help in figuring out what we’re talking about next. We’re looking for folks who wouldn’t mind coming on this show to explain how they, too, are a work in progress. Or maybe someone you know could use some help. No subject is too big or too small either way. Give us a call at 8 or 5 6 2 6 8 7 0 7. That’s 8 0 5 men up 0 7. Or you can always e-mail us at man up at slate.com. Stick around.

S15: So let’s talk a little bit about where we should be getting our ideas from. Because when I went straight to the put on and assumed that I could learn what it takes to be the right kind of Muslim man, I kind of was. I ended up running into a lot of doubts.

S18: You know, I think.

S19: One of the things that we found just organically, unfortunately, in the work that I’ve been blessed to do for a while, there wasn’t a week that passed in the last 15, 16 years where I haven’t had at least one, if not upwards of dozens of women reach out who have men in their lives who have no idea what it means to be a man. And realities quite vividly detailed of being survivors of physical abuse, emotional, spiritual, sexual violence and assault. And so what we sought to do is mobilize primarily around creating a women’s initiative initially and then laid the foundation for what was a young men’s initiative. But add elements of kind of practical implementation to it. So this past from a gone for example, we had a campaign to raise both awareness and funds what would become an emergency confidential shelter for women and children. And over the years where we’ve talked about masculinity, manhood, solidarity, allies, ship values, ethics, et cetera, as well as experience of physical abuse, you know, a few members of our community come and said we want to move forward on building out these services for survivors. And we saw something really remarkable where I thought it would take us about a year to raise seven hundred thousand dollars to acquire and renovate a space. We raised a million dollars in 10 days from over 9000 donors to me. And that’s just a lot of people giving a dollar. Ten thousand fifty dollars. Yeah, you know, it was men and women. And so within the framework of kind of a masculinity project, which is still like in a nascent stage, you know, drawing on text that describes what is like Muslim. You know, what does Muslim experience say about being a man, so to speak? You know, what do like prophetic tradition, the quota on, you know, what exists like within the broader genres of like religious and spiritual literature. And there’s so much that’s there that draws on elements of like nobility, etiquette, real responsibility, good character, ethics, and the things that you’re saying, like how do you honestly just treat everybody at the end of the day inclusive of women of all backgrounds. And it’s hard because you have tough conversations around the way. Right. You know, and people, again, engage religion with this framework of fear and intimidation. I was in Texas and I was doing a program for a community. And one of the sessions they had was broken up by gender. And so I talked to the group of like a couple of hundred just about abuse and domestic violence. And I broke them up into groups of 10. And I read to them a letter that a young woman had written to me about her boyfriend, grabbing her and throwing her against a wall and had a safety guard not intervene. She didn’t know what would have happened. So I said to them, if this young woman came to you for help, how would you help her? What would you do? And as we started to debrief and come back, the first like three groups, the initial thing that they each said to me was we’d first like try to understand what she did that hadn’t react like that.

S16: And then at that point, I stopped. Come on. It’s just like not the frame. But then I had them say, why do you think that’s your reaction to this?

S22: And they made themselves very vulnerable. And they said, nobody ever talks to us about these things. No one talks to us about what it means to be a man, what it means to really, like honor the rights of like people in creation. But they needed a space to express that, then allowed for them to like begin to think about what they were thinking about and to themselves deconstruct ideas that made no sense. And then to say like, oh, my God, like we’re a part of the problem.

S23: Ayman Latif is helping me see that my feelings of powerlessness here might be misplaced. There’s plenty of room in our faith to define manhood or relationships with women and the kind of equal religious spaces that we want me to shouldn’t have to pray in some kind of dungeon part of the mosque. And it’s okay for her and me to say that and to seek something different if we want to. There are already a lot of Muslim Americans out there who are doing the same thing, trading places where women don’t have to feel secondary.

S11: In fact, Mehta found when recently when I was in California, I did all of my Friday prayers at the Women’s Mosque of America. So there literally it was for us that Tipo was a woman and the leader of the prayer was a woman. All the participants identified as women. So it was like freedom. We can like dress and the wide range of color and styles that we want to dress when we can actually speak. We can ask questions to the divine like feel spiritually nourished. And I really feel like that was the first time I felt like I wasn’t getting everything out of a Friday prayer that I should be getting.

S24: And I honestly think that’s kind of the reason why I haven’t been going as much here, because I kind of already know it’s not for me. Like it like it was before.

S11: But I don’t think there’s anything really to do.

S24: But to be open to change and to speak up when it’s appropriate.

S23: I mean, they do have a suggestion box.

S25: Well, I think I’m in a right down to know I’m a dollar bill, so they pay.

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