08 Mar Season 2. Episode 3: Hind Makki: Inclusion and Dignity in the Mosque
The Founder of Side Entrance, a website documenting women’s spaces in mosques, explains why she believes they should continue to be at the heart of Muslim community life, and why a paradigm of inclusion will elevate not only women’s experiences, but men’s too.
Hind Makki is an interfaith educator who holds a degree in International Relations from Brown University. She develops and delivers trainings on civic integration through interfaith action, anti-racism education and youth empowerment. She travels throughout the United States and Western Europe, working with diverse communities, leading workshops for civic leaders, interfaith activists and university students. She is currently a Religious Advisor to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program. Read more about Hind Makki by clicking here.
Related content discussed in this episode:
The following transcript has been edited for fluency.
Season 2. Episode 3: Hind Makki, Inclusion and Dignity in the Mosque
[SHOW MELODY FADES IN]
[00:00:00] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Hello, Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to Season Two of the Hurma Project Podcast, a program in which we seek to close the gap between our Islamic values, and our Muslim community realities. I am Dr. Ingrid Mattson, founder of the Hurma Project, which I direct with my friend and partner Mihad Fahmy, a human rights lawyer and workplace investigator, and a lecture at Huron University College, where I am also Chair of Islamic Studies.
Hurma is an Islamic legal term signifying the divinely granted inviolability of the human person from abuse, assault and exploitation. In this podcast, we speak with experts from a variety of fields about how to prevent and respond to violations against all those who are present in Muslim spaces.
Today, we’re speaking with sister Hind Makki about our community mosques and how to make them physical and spiritual spaces that, in her words, elevate ourselves as a community, and elevate ourselves as individuals with a relationship with Allah. Hind Makki is an interfaith and anti-racism educator who holds a degree in international relations from Brown University. She is the founder and curator of Side Entrance (Side Entrance tumblr.com) and award-winning website documenting women’s prayer experiences in mosques. And she has served on the Islamic Society of North America’s Mosque Inclusion Task Force. Hind is an advisor to the Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces Project, an initiative of the Institute for Social Policy Understanding (Reimagining Muslim Spaces | ISPU) and she consults with mosque communities on gender, economic, and convert diversity. Hind is an alumna and advisor to the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, and she serves on the consultative circle to the National Interfaith Organization, Shoulder to Shoulder. In 2021 Hind began a new position as Director of Recruitment and Communications at the American Islamic College in Chicago.
[SHOW MELODY FADES OUT]
[00:02:34] Mihad Fahmy: So Hind, I want to start off by asking you to tell us about what led you to launch the photo blog project called Side Entrance in 2012, that’s gotten a lot of attention since, and I’m wondering if you can kind of just take us back to that time and tell us what really was the motivation for you to get that project started.
[00:02:58] Hind Makki: Sure. There’s almost two genesis stories for the launching of that. I think, one is a general experience that most Muslim women and girls have experienced, feeling exclusion from mosques throughout their lives especially in the Western world. And so I’ve always – I’ve often – had that, ever since I was first excluded from, or felt like that I was not welcome in mosques as a teenager when I when I ventured outside of my own mosque that I grew up attending, that was pretty inclusive of women and pretty welcoming of women. So that was one experience and that’s kind of like a general catalyst.
But the more specific catalyst was that I was in downtown Chicago in 2012, and I had to pray asr, and I dipped into a mosque, which is a pretty major mosque in the city, and I went in there to pray. At that time in 2012 – it has changed now – but at that time, women prayed, outside of jum’a and taraweeh prayers, women prayed in a very small hall. I thought it was a bit ridiculous. After I prayed asr, I took a picture of it. I snapped it. I laid down actually to guesstimate how long it was. And I’m a little over five feet tall. And so I guesstimated that the space that women prayed in was six feet wide and roughly 20 feet long. So you can imagine that’s not really a space conducive for like jama’a prayer really. It’s just a place for somebody to dip in and pray and leave.
So anyway, I took a picture of this space and I posted it on my Facebook wall and I got very interesting reactions. One reaction was of course women saying, oh, I know where you are, so I hear you’re downtown. Other women started to have a conversation about the subpar spaces that women prayed in. And then the other reaction that I received was from men. My male friends who are shocked. They were just stunned that I was even at a masjid. And I remember saying to them, not only am I in a masjid, I’m in a masjid that you know, I’m sure that you know, because you’re from Chicago and I’m sure that you’ve prayed there. And that’s when I understood that Muslim men, as it says in the Qur’an, are in fact our allies in this work but many of them just don’t know about the separate and unequal spaces that women pray in because most mosques are segregated and men don’t seem to actually see the spaces.
And so I thought, okay, what would it look like to start a conversation that was based on user-generated photos? Ideally sharing pictures of the women’s prayer space and the men’s prayer space in the same masjidand post it online. And I was in a lot of ways sometimes I didn’t want to necessarily name-and-shame a masjid. I wanted to just name and clarify the problem that we have. And so many of the photos are actually, they don’t state the name of the mosque, they maybe, they’ll just say generally where it is, because the point isn’t to shame mosques. The point was to highlight the problem in order to change it, to change and solve the situation.
[00:06:55] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: But, you know what’s funny Hind is that, when. in my experience, very often when we’re discussing so-called women’s issues in the Muslim community, men will often say, well, I have sisters, I have a mother, I have a wife, and they’ll say that as a way of providing evidence that they must somehow know what women’s experiences are and care about women’s experiences. So how can it be that they’re, I mean the men in our community, yes they may be segregated in their masajid, but what does it say that they could be so ignorant about women’s experiences in the masajid if they all do have women in their family?
[00:07:51] Hind Makki: Yeah. That’s a very good point. And also it makes me wonder when they use that argument, how genuine, how sincere they feel that they are. Because I think that they do feel like they’re being sincere, but it’s not based often in reality. It reminds me actually of story that I read. I think actually, I think I heard it in a lecture of a Pakistani Mufti who generally who would maybe identify as being conservative, small ‘c’ conservative or traditional. And he is retelling the story, he’s recounting an experience that he had with his family to a bunch of Pakistanis living in the UK. So he’s based in Pakistan or actually now I’m wondering if he might be in India. In any case it’s a South Asian locale. And so I believe he was in India, and he and his wife were traveling, and he had previously issued a fatwa saying that women should pray at home. And so he and his wife were traveling, they needed to make fajr prayer, and they enter a mosque and the guards – the guardian there refused to let his wife enter. And he actually cited the fatwa that this mufti had offered and the mufti is retelling the story to our brothers in London. And he saying, I had no idea when I was writing this fatwa that it would- like how it would practically affect women. Right? And so I think that Muslim men often, they might be sincere in feeling solidarity with women, but if they don’t have the physical solidarity, they don’t have the physical empathy of seeing and feeling how it is to be excluded from a place of prayer, from our sacred space, I think is really hard for them, from their places of privilege to really identify why it is that the exclusion of women is so harmful to the faith and to the spirituality of women.
[00:10:15] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: That’s such an interesting anecdote because I’m just picturing this mufti sitting in his office, writing this fatwah and wondering if at any point, he opened the door and called out to his wife or to his daughters: what has your experience been in the mosques? And the reason I’m saying that is it really brings up the issue of what information is needed. What facts are needed in order to be able to understand an issue from a religious perspective, from a fiqh perspective. I mean, he had people in his own household who were women. Did he even- not only forget about reaching out to women in the community or having a town hall, but did he ever talk to them specifically or any woman as he was writing his fatwa? Did he feel that he needed that information?
[00:11:25] Hind Makki: That’s such a great point. It leads me also to the point of when we’re having online debates about representation so-called ‘manels,’ right? All male panels. When people-people often, who don’t think or who think that having racial and gender representation on Muslim panels is tokenism, I think that they’re not taking this into account. That people, based out of our gender experiences, or racial experiences, or physical abilities, we have different experiences with the same phenomenon. Right? And so it behooves anyone who is making policy, certainly in mosques, anyone who is writing legal opinions or scholarly opinions to expand their circle of consultation, certainly. But it also, it behooves these spaces to include people with diverse experiences and people with diverse backgrounds. For me personally, I’m not pushing for diverse inclusion and panels, for example, or in mosque boards, just for the sake of diversity. I’m doing it because people literally have very different experiences. And if we are trying to create it, Islamic institutions that serve everyone in the community, well, then you need everyone’s voices there. And at the very minimum the men who are making these decisions should certainly have a very diverse group of people that they’re consulting with regularly
[00:13:04] Mihad Fahmy: Hind, do you think that there’s ever a point where including a woman on a board or a committee or panels does become tokenism? We have similar conversations when it comes to including racialized voices in newspaper columns or workplaces. Do we run the risk of simply checking off a box and saying, okay, now, we now have a woman on this panel? We have a woman on the mosque. We’re done.
[00:13:39] Hind Makki: [laughs softly] I have certainly seen in particular mosque boards where there is one woman who was on the board and she’s maybe related to somebody who’s on the board or who was on the board previously. And so you can see that practically speaking, she is a token. It’s a way of still having the male authorities on the board. And also that her experiences as a woman, or maybe she’s a mother or whatever else of her gendered experiences are subsumed to the needs or the desires of the male who put her in that position. I have seen that in boards, but I also think that it’s still important to have women be seen in positions of leadership in Muslim spaces.
I grew up attending a mosque where there were women on the board in the ‘90s and the 2000s. And they were able to move some things. And I had thought that it was very normal and it wasn’t until that I grew older than I thought, wait a minute, maybe their positions weren’t necessarily positions of power. But it’s still true that everyone in the mosque saw that there were more than one woman on the board. And that means something. And it was something that it became a tradition and it became something accepted, you know, decades later that women are always on the board. So I think that there certainly is a chance that a women or racialized persons are tokenized on a board or in a body of leadership. But I still think that even if they are tokenized, there’s an importance to having them there. There is some meaning in that symbolism, and I think that it can offer an avenue of a real change in the future.
[00:15:56] Mihad Fahmy: And there are other situations I would add to that where women are on the board, but the arenas in which decisions are made and real conversations are had are not around the board table. And so women are not included, so they may sit around the board table, but when it comes down to key decisions, those may be made at, here in Canada, at Tim Horton’s in the middle of the night, or at a hockey arena, or whatever the case may be, or in somebody’s living room and the women are not present.
[00:16:29] Hind Makki: True. And I’ve worked in a mosque before and I’ve consulted with mosques and I’ve been in spaces where there are women in positions of leadership, but they so often maybe felt like they didn’t have power in that position of leadership or because culturally they come from countries where they would rather share their opinion through writing or quietly rather than speaking out in meetings. And so I’ve certainly been in those spaces. And I think that, what that tells us is that there needs to be a system of accountability. So it’s not enough to have women be elected or racialized people or young people be elected to these positions of leadership. But there needs to also be a system of accountability within the board and also among the congregation, where the board and the leadership is actually responsible, is accountable to the people that are serving. And I think that we need to really develop that in our masajid across north America.
[00:17:41] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: What does that look like? What does accountability look like?
[00:17:44] Hind Makki: It’s hard to say, but I think at the bare minimum that there should be a loop of feedback. That everyone who attends the mosque regularly knows how to get in touch with the board. That the board feels that there are consequences if they don’t actually implement what the community wants. So that’s going to be a challenge in some mosques that have a culture where the board or the Imam is essentially dictating how the mosque culture is created. It’s also a problem sometimes when the board feels hamstrung by particular donors from within the community. So I think that there needs to be accountability in terms of who’s donating. What is that money essentially buying? Is it buying a parking lot, or is it buying influence on the board? And there needs to be consequences if there is a pattern of abuse of power. And that’s a challenge in my experience in terms of having free and fair elections in mosque boards. It’s a challenge, but I think that there needs to be ultimately a very engaged congregation, engaged and feeling that they have a say in their mosque, which I don’t actually think that we’re there yet.
[00:19:14] Mihad Fahmy: Hind, I came across recently, I think it was last month, the Fiqh Council of North America issued three fatwas, all in relation to women’s participation in the masjid. I believe the first one was attending the masjid in general, the second one, where they pray, whether it be in a separate place or in the same area as the men, and the third is their engagement in decision-making. And as you were just talking about to me, they struck me as really basic issues of access. It seemed obvious to me. And I was actually surprised that the council had issued these. Can you just talk to us about your view on those in this first with respect to the necessity of issuing these basic statements?
[00:20:08] Hind Makki: [laughs softly] Yes. So as I understand it, they have been working on the statement, for a number of years, actually since 2014 or 2015. And I think that they finalized actually- I don’t know if this is the final form of the fatwa. But I think that they finalized the statement recently this summer and finally uploaded it. And it is in a lot of ways, very basic. It is in a lot of ways just upholding what we know to be true and in Quran and in the Sunnah of the Prophet sallalahu ‘alayhe wa sallam, and also upholding what we know to be true in the United States and Canada. And that is the role of women and girls in society in general here in North America. But at the same time, I think it’s still important to have this in writing. I mean, I read people’s responses to the fact what some people saying, this is literally a revolutionary; other people saying why do we need this? This is not a problem in our mosques. Other people saying the mosques won’t even won’t listen to this, so who cares? And I think all of these are valid comments. I personally would have loved to see it go much, much, much further. I know that we have a real problem in our mosques now during the COVID pandemic, where a lot of mosques have used the social distancing of the physical distancing guidelines to completely reduce or ban women from attending the reopened masajid.
And I think that there was an opportunity lost, if I may be bold to say, for the Fiqh Council to clearly state, yeah there’s no reason, there’s never a reason to ban women from attending a masjid, including in times of a pandemic. I wish that they would have gone further because from what I understand, they started writing this many years ago and things have evolved. The culture has evolved. And I think that people have been talking about the idea of perhaps writing fatwas much more strongly about having women pray where they used to pray in the time of the Prophet sallalahu ‘alayhe wa sallam. Having women have complete and full access to the masjid. I was a little, to me reading it as a lay person, I felt like there still is a lot of goodwill that I would have to rely on a masjid to let me enter and pray where I wish to pray. Right? And so I really wished that they would have moved further, but I also know that there’s some communities for which this is actually a radical statement, which it’s a bit tiring for me to feel like I always have to go back and say to people, no, no, like we do have the right to be here. At least now we have the statement from the the Fiqh Council.
[00:23:30] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Assalamu alaykum Hurma Project podcast listeners, we’re taking a little break here to remind you the transcripts of the podcast are available on our website, where you will also find research articles, resources for support and other information. And please check out our Instagram feed, where you will find more resources as well as advice and techniques for self care and grounding when you feel overwhelmed or unsettled. Now back to our conversation with Hind Makki.
[00:24:08] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Hind, one of the things that I think is very compelling about the Side Entrance Project, which you began in 2012 I believe, is just the power of space to shape our environment, to shape our mood, to shape our opportunities. Can you talk about the power of space and the effect of space on how we feel spiritually – on our sense of self as spiritual beings?
[00:24:43] Hind Makki: Yes. Thank you for that question. I think this is one of the reasons why I wanted to make sure that the site was very visual. Because I wanted whoever is seeing these pictures to actually feel the way a person feels in the space. And so some of my, I don’t know if they’re called favorite pictures, but some of the most salient pictures for me are the ones where women are saying, oh, I’m at the front row and then the picture that they have is of a divider. So they have like a grayed office wall in front of them. Or there’s a photo of, actually I think this was one that I took, I’m in a mosque, and it’s a mezzanine floor with a glass balcony and then there’s Arabic calligraphy of a “Allah” and “Mohammad” sallalahu ‘alayhe wa sallam, but the Arabic calligraphy is looking out. So the women who are seeing the picture, you literally feel like you’re completely an afterthought in this space. Right? And so when you feel that way, how do you feel about yourself, your role and your position in the religion? How do you feel about your position in relation to Allah?
This is outside of course the way people with physical disabilities and other disabilities feel in masajid. I mean, it’s countless mosques that you see the women’s space is very difficult to reach physically, if you rely on a wheelchair or a crutch or something like that. And you’re literally unable to enter it even the subpar space. So again, how does that make you feel? If you’re a person who wants to be feels connected to Allah, but you’re not allowed access, you don’t have any access to Allah’s house on Earth.
The other aspect of it is some of the pictures are actually very, very disheartening. Probably there are a couple of pictures that I would just will always remember. One is the masjid in New York where there’s literally mold growing up the walls in the women’s section. There’s like a vacuum cleaner and discarded items and mold. So it’s physically a space that is very unhealthy for anyone to be in. So it’s almost like, okay, do you think that women and girls and children who are going to be praying in that space are trash? Right? And then the other photo that really knocked the wind out of me is of a masjid in London, in England, where the women’s prayer space is actually underneath the janazah area. When I saw that picture, actually the woman who sent it to me, she’s not British, she was another European Muslim visiting. She didn’t want to name the masjid but she just said, this is, it’s like, you see the picture, you see the bars of the stairwell to go down and there’s a sign that says, the janazah room and then the sister’s prayer area below. I don’t even know, is that even a clean place for people to pray it, do your prayers even matter there? But it just visually speaking, you see a space and it’s not even a trash can, it’s not even mold, it’s literally underneath the morgue. Right?
And it lifts up, or it highlights to me the fact, the really just discouraging fact, that a lot of men think that women, that Islam is really not for us, or that our role in Islam is to make their lives better, and like we’re secondary characters in our own faith and it’s a very discouraging and I see it. For me, I’m never going to leave the faith and I’m always going to try to fight for space and access and just entrance into masajid. But I see a lot of younger people who just walk away. And I don’t blame them. I really do not blame them. So I would walk away. I would never pray in a space where I’m told I have to pray below a morgue.
[00:29:29] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: Subhan Allah. And when you say they walk away from the mosque, do they also walk away from the community of Muslim?
[00:29:38] Hind Makki: I think so. I mean, I actually, I don’t know if I would say yes to that because I see these young people in particular, in digital communities. And so people are finding community online. A lot of people are doing this, especially now with the pandemic. But even before the pandemic struck, a lot of people who felt isolated or marginalized in a mainstream Muslim spaces find themselves in community with each other online. I think there’s some really beautiful aspects to that, but there’s also some dangers and that is, where are you getting your education about the faith? How are you able to- who are you learning from? Like, right? Like in our tradition, we have traditions of students learning directly from teachers who learn from their teachers, will learn from their teachers. And there’s essentially a system of accountability in terms of the curriculum, if you will. But if you’re online and you have access only to things in English or in other European languages, and you don’t have access to people who are trained rigorously in the faith, and then you’re asking very important questions, very deep, critical questions about the existence, about your own existence in your relationship to Allah, who’s there to answer these questions, right. Or help you, maybe, find answers, or find some clarity to these questions. So there’s beauty in that sisterhood and brotherhood that’s online that oftentimes they can’t find in mainstream Muslim spaces, but there’s also a lot of danger I feel in those very same spaces, because there’s not a lot of structure. There’s not a lot of accountability in the material or the education that people are accessing.
[00:31:34] Mihad Fahmy: Is the site still live? Are you still receiving photos?
[00:31:39] Hind Makki: The site is still live. I don’t receive as many photos. That’s probably on me because I’ve been meaning to actually migrated off of tumblr. So it’s been on tumblr, which is a user-generated crowdsourced kind of space. And I’ve been meaning to remove it from there and actually create a new website fully that has different, maybe newer additions, such as a map specifically maybe starting from the United States and Canada, but a map of masajid where people can just kind of click on a city. Say you’re traveling to New York or something and you want to know where’s a masjid that’s women friendly, that’s disability friendly and to click on that. And I would also want it to have like other resources available for people. And so I haven’t been soliciting those photos as much, but I still do – people still tag me on photos.
And I also want to say that there’s essentially been an evolution in the conversation. So in 2012, and you know, in those early years, people were just sharing the pictures and videos and stories and saying this happened like bear witness to what is happening. And now what you see across Europe, really across the world, I think in the Western world that I’m working with people in the UK, in Germany, and other countries, that are saying, well, you know, it’s not enough to just talk about the problem. Let’s try to create some solutions. And part of it is of course working within the structures that exist, working within the masajid, working within fiqh councils, working within these spaces to change things organically. Because I think change has to be- there has to be buy-in from the community as well as the leadership. And if you don’t have both, groups buying into the change, it’s not going to happen. You can’t force change from top down. So the conversation has somewhat migrated and evolved. But I still think that there’s a space in the online world for a site like Side Entrance but it might just look different in the next five years.
[00:34:21] Mihad Fahmy: It’s really interesting. The way that that initiative has then led to a larger conversation. Around systems and accountability and how to create more welcoming and safe spaces, Muslims spaces for women and their children, and those with disabilities.
Hind Makki: I think it’s one of the catalysts. It’s not the only catalyst.
Mihad Fahmy: Right.
[00:34:46] Hind Makki: People of course have been working on this issue for many, many years. But I think what kind of made side entrance go viral was just the timing of when I launched it. And that was when people were using social media spaces to push for change on the ground. And you saw this like with black lives matter movement, for example, in the US. And so I think it was just the timing of people having a visual conversation and then pushing it. Pushing it through in mainstream Muslim spaces to have this conversation.
[00:35:27] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: So Hind, what do you think about women’s mosques and women’s only spaces as a solution to the problem of women’s exclusion or marginalization in the community masjid.
[00:35:44] Hind Makki: So I have to preface this question or my answer with the fact that I actually attended an all girls Islamic high school. And we were at that time housed in the masjid, which was not an all women’s masjid, of course. But that meant that we had essentially the run of the space during the day. And we prayed dhur and asr, and sometimes maghrib in the main hall, actually in the musalla without a barrier at that time. So I was a teenager praying in the main hall during the school days, but then on Fridays or for taraweeh prayers, we prayed in the basement. But what that meant was that in the same place I learned about Harriet Tubman and Amelia Earhart, I learned about, Sayyidah Khadija and Sayyidah A’isha, and learned Quran, and really internalized the fact that I have ownership as a woman of my faith. All of my teachers were women and all of the students were girls. And there was a real bond and sisterhood that is developed that I think you can’t really recreate that in mixed gender spaces, right? There’s a sweetness in my experience of learning faith in that single gender environment. And perhaps it was because we were teenagers and there’s a particularity there.
Having said that I really – I understand the impetus and I understand the beauty in single gender sacred spaces. And I actually participate in some of those in terms of dhikr and other religious experiences or rituals. But I think that masajid/mosques are for the entire community. And we as a Muslim community, and as people are charged with forbidding the evil and enjoining the good, we have a responsibility to build mosques that are inclusive and serve everyone. And I actually don’t think that creating women-only mosques, it might not be the…. some people say that’s not… the feeling of exclusion in mainstream masajid, it is not why they’re creating these women-only mosques. But I think that for a lot of people who attend them, that’s a reason, right? Like they feel empowered to hear from women’s scholars, they feel empowered to pray with other women. But our mosques cannot be places that bleed women and girls because they’re not welcoming to them. And I think it makes sense, sometimes, to have maybe affinity groups in the masjid, maybe for women-only lectures or women-only Qur’an circles, something like that. But we need to create mosques that serve everyone.
And actually, there’s a masjid here in suburban Chicago that has like a girls’ – teenage girls’ youth program. And I think they meet like every other week or once a month and they have a qiyam al-layl. So they spend the entire night in the mosque and their entire youth program is actually held in the musalla, and the women who are leading it are near the mimbar. They’re sitting in a circle where the men pray and this mosque actually women pray in the musalla without a barrier in the first floor. And then there’s also a mezzanine upstairs. If people want to – if women want to pray up there. But those girls, those teenagers, are going to have the same feeling inshallah of ownership of that space, and all that symbolizes as they grow older. And so when they go to college and see an MSA that tries to shut them out inshaAllah, they’ll be able to push back on that and say, no, like, we don’t need to create our own space as women. If we want to, we can, but that shouldn’t be the norm. The norm should be that the mosque is for everyone.
[00:40:06] Mihad Fahmy: Do you see it as in some ways kind of letting communities off the hook, because the hard work is really building those institutions and spaces for everybody. And if women create their own spaces, then you know…
Hind Makki: Yeah.
Mihad Fahmy: … that isn’t as pressing?
[00:40:25] Hind Makki: Yeah. I mean in some ways it does let them off the hook and the other ways that also deprives them of leadership. It deprives them of leadership, of donations, of volunteers. It deprives them of future congregants. And a lot of these women they’re not just by themselves, their male relatives, some of them maybe also feel, wait a minute, I don’t want to be at a mosque or where my wife or my daughter doesn’t want to attend. Like, why should we attend two separate mosques? Let’s create our own mosque or let’s maybe not even go to a mosque and just pray in the park or create a community with other Muslims outside of the masjid. Which obviously happens everywhere.
It’s really strange for me. I talk all the time with women who are tired of fighting to go to the masjid. And I also talk with men who might term themselves as hashtag Muslim male allies who say very candidly: I wouldn’t go to juma’a if it wasn’t fard, because I’m not getting anything out of it. And so on the one hand, you have people who are trying their hardest to just enter the space and be part of it. And you have others who are saying the space is not actually providing spiritual nurturing for me, I’m only going because I feel like I have to. And I think that there has to be a way to solve both of those problems together. Right?
Women are not fighting to go to a mosque so they can sit and listen to a detached khutbah about nothing that will help them in their life or enrich their spiritual journey. Right? Both men and women, everyone who enters a mosque, I think are looking for that community, that love, that space of true connection with one another through our relationship with Allah, right. Even people who share negative stories about their experiences and mosques, and even myself, obviously have a ton of negative experiences, for every negative experience, you also have a really beautiful experience, traveling, for example, you’re out of your country or in a different city and you go to a masjid or you meet a Muslim, and then there’s a connection with that person just because both of you say la ilaha illa Allah right.
And that intangible connection is, I think what people are looking for, what people are craving in our masajid. That relationship that we have with each other, it’s not just to feel good, but it’s also to feel like there’s a meaning in our life. And there’s meaning in our relationships with one another in relation to Allah. I think that’s the best of what masajid can do, especially in countries where Muslims are in a minority. And in a lot of developed countries, capitalism has run amok and there’s very little spirituality in our day-to-day life. For a lot of people, you’re just kind of running after a paycheck or you’re feeling like a robot to try to get every check, every task, off your to-do list every night. And I think that in the best of times, the masjid can create that respite from the world and create a true bond among believers and seekers. But we have to get there and we can’t get there if people are not listening to one another, if people’s experiences are being thrown away and they’re being labeled as an -ism or an -ist and saying, oh, you’re just trying to cause trouble. Or people on the other hand, saying, oh, well, these mosques are just never going to change and so we just need to tear them down. No. Let’s work with the community that we have and let’s build a space that – a physical space and a spiritual space – that allows us to be our best human selves in the sight of Allah.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson: That’s really beautifully said Hind.
[00:45:04] Mihad Fahmy: Hind, I know pre-COVID you did a ton of traveling across North America, as well as visited European Muslim communities. You mentioned Germany and the UK, and you’ve talked to them about these kinds of issues and about creating for their own communities, safe and inclusive spaces for women. What are some concrete takeaways that you hope to leave with them when you visit these communities, knowing that you are not there in the longterm? So you’re there for a short period of time, spend a little bit of time with them; what is your hope that they take from some of these visits that you have?
[00:45:51] Hind Makki: Yeah, thank you for that question. It’s also a question that I often ask myself, and I try as much as possible to remain in touch with people and to continue having relationships with people online after I visit. But obviously it’s very difficult to do that. So generally when I travel abroad and talk about my work, I’ll talk about Side Entrance, but I also will talk about the study that ISPU commissioned, Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces and I’ll talk about really our methodology around that study. Tt was sort of a mixed research methodology where we had qualitative and quantitative interviews, where we would ask mosque goers to submit anonymous surveys about what they liked about their masjid, what let them return to a masjid. So we want it to uplift and highlight, essentially, the positive things that a mosque does. And then we also did in-person interviews with mosque-goers and leaders about, again also, what they liked about, but also what they felt were some of the challenges. And then I share the results of that study.
And the reason I do that is because I wanted to share this methodology: this idea of asking for feedback, like this idea of, thinking about how do we actually create small ‘d’ democratic norms within our mosques, so that anyone who is a regular mosque goer feels like they have the right to share their perspective and it’s being listened to and it’s being implemented if it makes sense for the masjid. And essentially the takeaways that they want people to have isn’t: oh look at what’s happening in America, it’s so great or it’s so terrible, but to hear the stories that are happening in the U.S. and see what makes sense for them to implement in their own masajid.
One of the things that is often very different in European countries is that, I think in the US and Canada, we somewhat take for granted, which is that we have two of the most diverse Muslim communities – racially diverse Muslim communities in the world. And so our mosques, maybe not every single masjid, reflects that diversity, but the broader national Muslim communities in the US and Canada are racially diverse. And you would be a fool not to acknowledge that. And that racial and cultural diversity manifests itself in the way that mosques are being run. And so I think this is something that in a lot of European countries, where you have a supermajority among the Muslims from one particular ethnic group or another, depending on the country, they’re very interested in that. They’re very intrigued by racially diverse Muslim community and what that means, especially younger people who are maybe third, fourth generation and are integrating more than their parents and their grandparents with each other. And they’re thinking, okay, well, what does it mean to create a mosque that is thoroughly British, thoroughly German or thoroughly Dutch? Well, it can’t be the way mosques were run in Pakistan, Turkey or Morocco. They have to be re-imagined and in that reimagination, they are re-imagined as racially, ethnically diverse spaces. Right?
And so that’s essentially, like, what I want people to take away. It’s not this sense of American mosques are doing everything great, because there certainly are not, and that you need to follow it. But I think at ISPU, where I’m an educator and was an advisor to the study Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces, I think that we had a really good methodology in soliciting information.
And then of course, some of our recommendations, which, some of them are general that I think can be generally implemented wherever you are in the world. For example, a welcoming committee, like trained volunteers at every masjid with your name on a sticker saying, assalamu alaykum my name is Hind, how can I help you? And that you’re there at prayer times, and you’re able as a volunteer group to know who’s new and who’s not, and make them feel welcome. And there’s some that are more specific to each masjid, to each specific congregation. I think that methodology is what I always wish for people to take away from.
[00:50:46] Dr. Ingrid Mattson: I have found this a really moving conversation. So this conversation with you is going to be one of a series for the Hurma Project, where we look at people who have expertise in different areas with the goal of preventing harm and of honoring the sacred inviolability of each person ub our Muslim spaces. So is there anything else you would like to, to add to the conversation?
[00:51:18] Hind Makki: Thank you so much for the invitation to, to speak with you and your listeners. I would only, not only, but I would also add this, that I love the work that Hurma Project is doing. And love might be a difficult word to choose here. It’s not like I’m happy that there’s a need for the Hurma Project, but I’m very appreciative of the fact that people and that you in particular and then the staff are stepping up to provide this really sacred support. And I mean, ultimately when I do any work around inclusion of women or marginalized people in masajid, there is, in my mind, and my heart anyway, this understanding that those spaces will be safe for people, right. Like what’s the point of wanting access to a space where you’re then, then you’re not safe. And so I think the work is actually, it goes hand in hand. There is no fight for access to a space that’s unsafe. And then there is no fight to create safe space and accountability and then protection if the masjid is not fulfilling its basic duty of opening itself to everyone who enters. And so I just on a practical note, I often will share in my trainings, in my presentation, I include Hurma Project as a resource to people. I include you and your work as a resource that I have that I built on, Dr. Mattson as well as other organizations, like muhsen.org and HEART Women and Girls. And so for me, even if I’m giving a presentation or a talk and I’m focusing more on the space or I’m focusing more on how mosques can be more inclusive. This to me, your work, Hurma Projects work is as part of that, for sure. And so I’m really honored actually that you maybe agree with that. And that’s why you invited me to speak with your audience.
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[00:53.48] Mihad Fahmy: Oftentimes Muslim men don’t see the prayer spaces that are designated for women in our mosques and centers. They may hear about them from their sisters, their wives, their mothers, and their daughters, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Hind Makki’s photo project, Side Entrance, provided such a picture, creating a window into the experiences of women in prayer spaces around the world. Navigating such spaces is only one of the many unique experiences of Muslim women that need to be integrated at all levels of community decision-making, programming and governance. But having women sit on boards and committees and assume positions of community leadership is not enough. Without systems in place that push back against the culture of real decisions being made by defacto male leadership, women will continue to be tokenized on our boards and decision-making bodies.
One of the consequences of such tokenization is the emergence of women’s only mosques and Muslim spaces. There is no doubt that there is great value in women’s and girls only programming, including handing the masjid over to women and girls for evenings and days of worship and learning. But our mosques are meant to be places for communities, for women and men, for families and children. To connect with one another and to connect with our Creator. As our communities continue to build physical spaces to learn and worship together, let’s take this opportunity to reimagine how they can be places of connection, growth, and safety. This starts by taking stock and listening to women and men of all ages, abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities, seeking to understand what allows them to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of spiritual and personal safety. Systemic and sustainable change cannot happen top down or in the absence of broad community consultation.
In the next episode of the Hurma Project Podcast, we speak with Imam Mohammed Majid and sister Magda Elkadi Saleh about protecting children in Muslim spaces. We discuss how Islamic institutions can best protect children from exploitation and abuse, why parents are sometimes uncomfortable with measures put in place for the safety of their own children, and how to empower children to make disclosures of abuse when they occur.
We want to thank you for listening to this episode and learning along with us. If you’d like to help us reach a broader audience, there are a few very simple things we would ask you to do: subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast platform, leave us a rating or review and tell someone in your life about the Hurma Project Podcast. We would like to thank our funders Pillars Fund and the Waraich Family Foundation, as well as the El-Hibri Foundation for supporting the work of the Hurma Project. This episode was produced by Kyle Fulton with additional assistance provided by Maram Albakri. We look forward to continuing our conversation with each of you. Until then, assalamu alaykum.
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 This conversation was recorded in September 2020.