Women’s Prayer Area in Haram Might Be Shifted
JEDDAH, 26 August 2006 — The proposal to shift the prayer place of women within the circumambulation area (mataf) to two places inside the Grand Mosque, away from the Holy Kaaba, has drawn mixed reactions from both Saudis and expatriates. Some said the move was discriminatory while others said it would reduce overcrowding in mataf and facilitate tawaf (circumambulation).
Opponents of the proposal urged authorities to provide women wider areas inside the mataf instead of denying them the right to pray close to the Kaaba. According to the proposal made by a committee set up by the Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, women will be given two wider prayer areas on the ground floor, in the northern part of the mosque overlooking the Kaaba; the first between Al-Fatah and Al-Nadwa gates and the second between Al-Madinah and Al-Hudaibiya gates.
“These two places are ideal for women worshippers and provide wider space for them,” an informed source at the presidency said. “The present area provided for women in the mataf covers 630 square meters but the new places offer them double the area,” he added. Suhaila Hammad, a member of the National Society for Human Rights and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, opposed the move, saying it would deny women the right to pray inside the mataf.
“In Islam, women have equal rights like men in terms of worship and devotion to God,” she said narrating a verse from the Holy Qur’an. “When we make a decision on this matter, we should also take into consideration the feeling of the thousands of Muslim women who come here from different parts of the world for Haj and Umrah. We should not deny them the right to pray inside the mataf,” she told Arab News.
Suhaila called upon authorities to allocate at least three more areas inside the mataf for women to pray and meditate comfortably.
Hatoon Al-Fassi, a Saudi writer and historian, expressed her confidence that the presidency would not accept the proposal that goes against the message and spirit of Islam that treats both men and women equally.
“I strongly reject this proposal and request the authorities not to implement it,” she said in comments published yesterday. Such a move has never taken place in the history of Islam, she added.
Hassan Misfar of the International Fiqh Academy called upon the mosque authorities to allocate special areas for women to perform tawaf. He said he feared that Western media would use the new proposal in support of their allegation that the Kingdom’s regulations discriminate against women.
“The move is unfair,” said Safiya Ali, an expatriate dawa activist, commenting on the proposal. She feared that once the present area for women in the mataf was shifted they would not get a chance to stay and pray closer to the Holy Kaaba. Safiya wanted wider prayer areas for women in the mataf with greater privacy.
Osama Al-Bar, dean of King Fahd Institute for Haj & Umrah Research, supported the plan, saying it would solve the problem of overcrowding in the mataf area, especially during peak Haj and Umrah seasons. “We have to take into consideration that the mataf has a limited area and is very difficult to expand it further,” he said.
Many other Saudis favored the move saying it was necessary to create more space for circumambulation around the Kaaba for the growing number of pilgrims.