As a Muslim woman, I still have a hard time coming to terms with minimal female participation in Mosques (religious temples). In Pakistan where I spent my early childhood years, women hardly attended the mosque. It was the norm so no one questioned. When I moved to the States in my teen years, I was surprised and inspired to see my Christian, Jewish and Hindu female friends so heavily involved in their churches, synagogues and temples. I turned to encourage the same atmosphere in our mosques only to discover the bitter truth. It wasn’t that women were uninterested, it was because they were not encouraged or inspired. Take our mosques, for example. The praying room for men encompasses three-fourths of the area of the mosque. Women are squeezed in the back of the facility within the remaining one-fourth along with screaming children, stinking restrooms and heated kitchen facilities. How do you expect women to participate when mosques are not even designed to welcome them in the first place? Muslim men have debated and pushed back on the idea of female leadership in mosques. “Women can’t lead the jamaat (the prayer)”, “women can’t pray in the same room as men” (mind you, in the House of God i.e. Mecca, we all pray together and there is no such segregation). Besides, I have yet to find a verse in the Quran which supports their sexist judgments but why is it that Muslim men in mosques are so afraid of their female counterparts. Excuse me but women don’t wake up every day conspiring on how to outsmart their male counterparts. We just want to do our best, and you will realize that when we are given the independence to do so, we only flourish and complement you!
So here’s cheers to Zeynep Fadillioglu, a pioneer in her space, the first female to design a mosque proving that Muslim women too can add value to the sacred grounds. Her Sakirin mosque brings an element of modernism to Istanbul’s religious grounds.
Of course, she had to consult Islamic authorities throughout the construction of the spectacular building, but regardless of religion, every worship space shares a common quality: “Serenity,” she says, “I think when you step inside a mosque, like any other religious building, you leave everything to do with the outside world, outside the door.”
Fittingly, one of the most thoughtfully conceived features is the position and design of the women’s prayer area. Islamic tradition requires this space to be behind the men’s, and it is often smaller. Yet Fadillioglu’s design for this section is in one of the most striking areas in the dome, perched on the upper level, flooded with light. “But I also decided to make the balcony level one of the most beautiful areas, with the chandelier crystal droplets just in front, and where you can see the mihrab [an alcove pointing towards Mecca] from the best angle,” she explains.