Mixing the Sexes in Australian Mosques

The argument over Muslim women’s rights continues to boil in the Australian media.

The fact that the argument has been made public Down Under is significant, because there is an all but complete conspiracy of silence in Europe and North America about the same issues. The non-Australian Western media continue to overlook the subjugation of women under Islam, preferring to ignore the elephant in the Multicultural room.

First we had Muslim women claiming that Islam was the prime guarantor of women’s rights. Then we had an article about domestic violence, rape, and polygamy among Muslims in Australia. And now we have a prominent Australian imam advocating the mixing of the sexes in Australia’s mosques.

Raising such suggestions would invite ostracism (or worse) in Saudi Arabia or Hamtramck. But in Australia the matter is being openly discussed. According to The Age:

Cleric Vows to End Segregation in Mosques

Australia’s most senior Muslim wants men and women to pray together.

Australia’s most senior Muslim has said he will end segregation of men and women in mosques, in a bold response to Islamic women’s anger at entrenched discrimination.

The Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams’ Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.

Sheikh Fehmi said segregated worship had been introduced long ago, as a cultural change, not a religious one, and he would argue to end it.

“It is good to hear the complaints of the sisters, and to try to find some solution to their concerns,” he told The Age in an exclusive interview.

“My duty is to propose, to discuss and try to convince. I can’t guarantee the outcome.”

This is the understatement of the year. The sheikh will face entrenched resistance to his radical ideas, not just in Australia, but in the traditional centers of Islamic jurisprudence abroad.
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Sheikh Fehmi said that in the time of the Prophet Mohammed 1400 years ago, women were not segregated.

Regardless of any historical truth about egalitarian customs, what he advocates is simply not done. Not in Islam, anyway. Not even in the 21st century.

His announcement is likely to attract international attention and may spark fierce debate among highly conservative mosque communities within Australia.

In some mosques overseas, there are no physical barriers between men’s and women’s areas but in Australia almost every mosque separates men’s and women’s sections.

Sydney lecturer Jamila Hussain this week told a conference at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies that women found facilities at some mosques “insulting” and that they were treated as second-class citizens.

But according to the Koran and the hadith, they are second-class citizens. They are required to obey their fathers, their brothers, and their husbands. Their legal testimony carries half the weight of a man’s.

Last night, Ms Hussain welcomed Sheikh Fehmi’s promise to try to end segregation.

“It’s an excellent start. But I’m a bit hesitant about when or whether it will happen – it will be a while.”

She said many men would oppose such a move and, sadly, some women too. Imams didn’t necessarily have much say.

Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Sherene Hassan said it was a fine initiative, and it was good to see imams being proactive. She said it was in line with true Islamic teaching.

Sheikh Isse Musse, imam of Werribee mosque, agreed that at the start of Islam men and women had prayed together, “but it’s not allowed that a man stands to the right of a woman or to the left of a woman”.

At his mosque, all pray in the same room, with men in rows at the front, then children in rows, then women. But he did not think this was palatable to many Muslims, especially as many new mosques gave better facilities to women in their own areas.


Ms Hussain said this week that provisions for women and children in mosques lagged far behind men’s. In most mosques, men entered the prayer room through large front doors, but women usually had to enter a small door at the rear, often competing with traffic while leading small children.

Their space was always considerably inferior to the men’s, and was sometimes entirely blocked off so that they could not see or hear the service.

Ms Hussain, who studied Sydney mosques, said that in some, women had to pray in the yard under a blazing sun while men enjoyed the cool interior, or to pray in a kitchen between stoves and sinks, or to pray in a tent in full view of a pub over the road.

From an Islamic perspective, this is a subversive discussion. Islamic doctrine cannot withstand egalitarian arguments if they are taken to their logical conclusion.

I’ll be interested to see follow-up reports from Victoria in a year or two.

Hat tip: Nilk.

6 thoughts on “Mixing the Sexes in Australian Mosques

  1. One quote from Fehmi from the interview I posted above:

    “do I agree that bin Laden is responsible or not, I do not know. “

    Fehmi is saying here that he doubts the official 911 conclusion.

  2. Erich,

    That quote was way too long for a comment. Either do smaller excerpts, or leave a link to the article, or to a post at your blog.


    Erich said…

    The Imam in question, Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, has said and done things that make him a suspect “moderate”.

    From some notes I made after a litle research a couple of years ago on Fehmi:

    Fehmi Naji el-Imam of Melbourne (as of 2005 he was, apparently, general secretary of the Board of Imams of Victoria) is one such about which one doesn’t know if he’s sincere, or just ultra-clever, when for example he says he didn’t know that jihad camps run by the extremist Indonesian political movement, Ahlus Sunnah wal Jammah, which is associated with terrorist group Laskar Jihad, were using his mosque (Preston Mosque) for recruitment and organization — with Muslims from all parts of Australia, having Algerian, Somali, Lebanese, Palestinian and Philippine backgrounds being part of these jihad camps.

    “Sheikh Fehmi said while mosque patrons ran many summer camps for children and adults, he was not aware of mosque patrons or members organising military camps.”

    “But Sheikh Fehmi said the existence of such camps, or the presence of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jammah could not be ruled out as the mosque had between 500 and 1000 members.”

    Plausible deniability? Taqiyya? How are we Infidels supposed to know? Do a little “research on Google” then entrust our lives and the lives of our children to someone who seems to pass Google muster?

    A round-table colloquium and interview with Fehmi.

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