Less than half of Muslim women report a positive experience within the Muslim community, report finds

A Muslim woman at a mosque
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According to a new report, only 45% of Muslim women reported having an overall positive experience within their community. A Muslim Woman’s Faith Experience is a joint effort by Muslim Census and the Ta Collective. The report examines Muslim women’s accessibility within physical religious spaces like mosques. But it also tells us about their spiritual well-being and relationship with faith.

Prior to this report, limited research existed that explored the challenges Muslim women face in navigating their faith in the UK. However, research has been undertaken to determine women’s accessibility to religious spaces. For instance, the latest statistics (2017) found that there are approximately 1,795 mosques across the UK. Of these, 28% do not offer space for women. In most cases, when mosques do offer space, women are met with restricted access and substandard conditions.

Inaccessibility of mosques impacts spirituality

The report finds that 61% of Muslim women believe that:

the limited access to Masjids [prayer spaces for Muslims] that they experience has a negative impact on their spirituality and their relationship with faith.

Shahida Rahman, trustee of Cambridge Central Mosque, notes how male allies must step up to improve the spiritual well-being of Muslim women. She told the Canary:

It needs to start from within our own communities. And with a lot of mosques being male-dominated, as you know, it is very, very difficult. But the doors do need to be opened for sisters who want to be in these leadership roles.

Rahman, who is in a mosque leadership role herself, adds that male leaders are generally reluctant to bring in new faces:

Read on...

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Most of the mosques are run by men, where the committee have been in their roles for many years, it’s very difficult for them to sort of move aside and say, ‘Okay, let’s bring on new people or, women even’.

It’s not only leadership at the grassroots level that’s proving difficult; sometimes access to the physical space proves to be an obstacle too.

Being denied entry to mosques

The report added that 20% of Muslim women in the UK have been denied entry to a masjid. In fact, almost a third of them have been denied on the basis that “there was no dedicated space for women or that it was better for women to pray at home”. Other reasons for refusing entry include Muslim women being inappropriately dressed. 

In some cases, denying entry means Muslim women had no choice but to pray in unsafe spaces.

One respondent noted that:

The males go to the masjid and we are forced to pray in changing rooms, car parks etc. It becomes so that Salah is a box to check off – there is no ease, no Khushoo [sense of tranquillity or focus], no community.

As a result, Muslim women are turning to alternative sources for spiritual connection and guidance.

The report found that 39% of Muslim women solely use online sources to seek Islamic knowledge and advice. Rahman sees benefits in these digital services, but she notes that human interaction is crucial:

We are seeing more and more services for women online. So that’s very positive. But having said that women do need to have that face-to-face interaction with other sisters in their community. When we went into lockdown, we all felt sort of isolated. There wasn’t much human interaction, so I think there are two sides to that.

Feeling disconnected from wider Muslim community 

Only 32% of Muslim women felt connected to the wider Muslim community due to their needs being unmet. The report goes further to say “the conflation of religious teachings and cultural practices” results in a disconnect within the Muslim community. For instance, even when they did seek guidance through religious networks, it was difficult to discuss gender-sensitive topics.

Aasifa Usmani, programme manager for the Faith and Communities Team at Standing Together, notes that mosques should be inclusive of women’s issues:

Women need to be made a priority and there is a lot of work to be done around that. And obviously, this is not an isolated incident just with Muslim women, this cuts across all faith institutions and how women feel excluded, and othered as well.

Rahman believes that whilst every community is run a different way, culture can sometimes take precedence in mosques:

I’m not surprised as a lot of this is related to cultural issues.

The British Muslim Civil Society report, released in January 2023, made the recommendation that:

more generally, mosques should not function, as they do in many cases, solely as spaces of prayer for men for a few minutes every few hours.

The need for change

Usmani notes how religious spaces must provide more than one service such as prayer to instill community values:

Spaces have tranquility, to connect to God, and spiritual needs. I’m glad the report mentioned importance of spirituality, because not every census captures that. It also goes to show that in our so-called secular society, actually, there are lots of women of faith

The report’s findings were based on a survey of 1,200 Muslim women in the UK, alongside four focus groups with a total of 24 participants.

Rahman agrees with the idea that mosques need to be more than a place just for prayer:

It’s a place for social gatherings for sisters, a place of learning and a place or feeling where they can get away really from home and just be able to connect.

It’s evident that Muslim women have been experiencing issues at the masjid for decades. More often than not, mosques are gendered spaces and women’s use is conditional upon the availability of space. As such, limited access to these spaces negatively impacts Muslim women’s spiritual connection. Only through male allyship and opening up doors for Muslim women in leadership positions can we collectively raise the bar.

Follow Ta Collective, formerly My Mosque Story, to hear more about the experiences of Muslim women in UK mosques.

Featured image via Giuseppe Milo – Flickr, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. Isn’t it Islamophobic to reveal the deep, systemic problems caused by faith within the Muslim so-called community? It seems, on the Left at least, that such problems cannot be discussed or else the loyalty of one religious group to the Left might vanish. One part of a solution must surely be to lift the lid on the delusionary nonsense that any supernaturalist faith is, whether that is believing that Mohammed somehow split the moon, Jesus walked on water or Moses parted the Red Sea. Delusions can never be the source of a good society.

      1. the problems outlined aren’t caused by faith they’re caused by sexist men who don’t practice their faith properly. it’s not islamophobic for Muslim women themselves to point that out. calling other people delusional is pretty offensive though

      2. It is absolutely Islamophobic to belittle and make fun of Islamophobia, as if it doesn’t exist, whereas along with anti-black racism it is the dominant form of hate in this country; from Government to Mass media to ‘delusional’ comments on independent media. And why is it that atheists are the most extreme literalists, as if they’ve never heard of metaphor, parable and religious rhetoric?

    2. @Canary please change this headline to refer to mosque participation as it’s pretty misleading otherwise, there are lots of Muslim community activities not covered by the research that are very inclusive and women-led

    3. UK Law is there to protect them. We do not have traditional Shariah here. UK Muslim women are perfectly free in the UK to organise their own Masjid in local areas, no matter where in the World they came from, or were born here. And if some “men” object, because their masculinity is barely skin deep, then secular civil society – incl the police for serious offences – are there… if hardly perfectly for the community as well. :'(

      Why wait for the menfolk, who are comfortable with their privileges?

      Aisha would have shouted at you all to DO IT!!! <3

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