Odd Girl Out
Racial Inclusion in Sacred Spaces
Essay by: Yahsmin Mayaan binti BoBo
This is my confession: I have a deeply estranged relationship with the Muslim community. Rather than finding a safe haven, I often feel excluded, judged or downright bored when I attend a weekly sermon or special event. Yet and still, I desperately want to visit the masjid to meditate, offer prayers and supplications and even socialize with other Believers. I do acknowledge my need for community and my thirst for kinship. This is human nature but it is specifically my nature, as a convert.
Being segregated from men at the masjid is old news to me. In my twenty years of being Muslim, I have seen a plethora of dynamics and arrangements. I’ve been witness to close knit folks interacting comfortably with the opposite sex. And I’ve observed the absolute silence between the sexes
and even a lack of acknowledgement for the women and girls present. I am not too hung up on this. As weird as it may seem, every community does things differently and I have little interest in changing that.
What bothers me most isn’t the seclusion of one gender with the other- it’s the unwelcome feeling I get when visiting an Arab masjid. It’s one thing to put up a partition; it’s entirely different to ignore visitors. No tasleem offered. No warm embrace among the faithful. Not for me at least. I live within a five minute drive from a local mosque. I seldom attend services because the women are, quite frankly, cold, abrasive or rude. In a place of worship whose language is Arabic, I am not acknowledged simply because I do not share their mother tongue. The last time I was there, an elder scolded me after I made prayer. My arms were apparently positioned wrong while in prostration. She did not look me in the eye, didn’t in
troduce herself or give salaam. She only felt it necessary to check me on my movements.
Interactions like these may be further complicated because although I am dressed appropriately for any religious space, I am not donning all black attire. If my abaya has color, or my khimar is printed- I am invisible to them. For me, this is sexism. For sure, this is racism. Sadly, the competence in that particular community is painfully strained. Conversation about bigotry and discrimination simply doesn’t take form. Coincidentally, this mosque is in a Black community yet, its attendees have no interaction with the actual people who live there. Save for liquor sales, of course.
I have given up on the notion that women and men must share a room for congregational prayers. I have also abandoned the possibility that female elders at that mosque will ever acknowledge me. My hope is given to a younger generation of women living a bi
cultural existence, who are enrolled in public schools, engaged in social media and do not fear their neighbors. I am counting on their inclusion. And, I am praying their influence reaches family members stubborn in their ways and rigid in their worldview. Because let’s face…our world is much bigger than the Arab microcosm. Our religion is truly global and transcends the ethnic constructs we so often lock ourselves into.
Here’s another confession: I am okay with entering from the side of a sacred space. As unpopular as that may come off, I’ve made my peace with it. But I am admittedly and emphatically not okay with being treated subhuman because my language is not Arabic and my garb doesn’t mimic theirs. I am not posing or playing dress up. I denounce any supremacist ideology whether it’s anchored to dogma or ancestry. If we acknowledge that we are created in tribes and pairs, when will our treatment of “other
s” catch up with this? Highly evolved communities aspire for Oneness. Refined individuals aspire to Oneness. It’s time we interrogate our (social) evolution, as a people, and confront the (spiritual) devolution of the spaces we named communal.
Yahsmin Mayaan Binti BoBo is a storyteller of sorts. Her work began in print journalism with an emphasis on art, culture and society. Most of her published pieces are magnified through the lens of hip hop culture. Yahsmin’s writings have been translated in three languages as editorial, profiles and interviews. In hiatus from journalism, she’s now telling her own story and intends to publish an anthology very soon.