Muslim communities in America often discuss/whine/complain about wanting to have a seat at the table and yet their own tables lack diversity. Three groups often missing from discussions are women, youth and African Americans. Sometimes they’re invited but they’re rarely truly welcomed.
Let me tell you why I don’t think the mosque has a place for me. This is one of many experiences.
At a recent focus group/strategy meeting at a mosque I was one of 3 women in a group of 30. During the course of the meeting an individual, (let’s call him Uncle X), told the facilitator to sit down and he would write down the issues on the whiteboard that were being raised by the youth instead. Except Uncle X didn’t write down anything and said “I can’t facilitate and write at the same time.” Fair enough, I offered to write down the points as they were being stated because walking and chewing gum at the same time is something most women can do.
One of the young people was raising several issues and this self-appointed facilitator told him to stop because we were running behind schedule. I said “Let him finish his points” as the youth had exactly raised the issue that the older generation does not listen to their concerns. Uncle X then turns to me, pats me on my arm and tell me “I don’t need you to speak, I need you to write things down.” No, I didn’t punch him but I definitely stepped back because I don’t need a random stranger at a mosque touching me.
By now, half the room was yelling at Uncle X to let the youth speak because this is WHY the meeting was happening in the first place. I resumed writing and we all proceeded to ignore Uncle X and he sat back down at his seat. At the completion of the exercise, as I am returning to my seat, he says to me “Sister, I did not mean to overwhelm you.”
No, I did not punch him at this stage either. What I was thinking was “You’re not overwhelming, you’re merely a chauvinist and how dare you touch me.” What I said was simply “You didn’t overwhelm me. Believe me, I was definitely not overwhelmed by you.”
This casual misogyny and chauvinism, the condescending attitude and assumption that a woman’s view is only valid if the men in the room agree with her is why professional women like me don’t feel that mosques are worth investing our time.