The Broken Barrier

I walked into the gym where Taraweeh prayers are held every night and stopped dead in my tracks.

The tarp barrier that normally hung from the ceiling, dividing the men at the front from the women behind them, wasn’t down. In fact, it was way up, as far up as it could be tucked into the ceiling.

Give it time, I thought to myself. Look, there’s a few uncles walking towards the switch. Oh wait, there’s the community centre manager...she’s fiddling with the switch and nothing’s happening...no...it can’t be! 

And then I heard the magic words.

“It’s not working, I’m sorry”

I stifled a smile and set up my prayer rug as some aunties appeared incredibly uncomfortable without their beloved parda (Urdu for “curtain” or barrier in this case). Some aunties turned their hijabs into face veils so the early arriving pre-pubescent boys and older uncles wouldn’t get a glance of their face and fall into sin (sarcasm). Some aunties turned their backs towards the men, so that they were now sitting “back to back” with them. Some aunties giggled at the broken parda, as if they were playing peek-a-boo with their new husband in a Bollywood wedding movie scene. Some aunties refused to accept that there would be no barrier. So they tried to stand up large woven mats, which “unfortunately” kept collapsing on them. Too bad.

Then the Imam made the announcement that the switch was not working and we would have to be OK with no barrier tonight. The funniest part was his comment about some sisters' prayers being answered. Yes, that would be me. I can’t stand a barrier of any type in a prayer setting, and especially not a giant plastic blue one dangling in front of me each night. So yes, my prayers had been answered. I was going to relish in this moment since ping pong tables were mentioned as the alternate barrier option if the wretched parda wasn’t fixed by tomorrow.

Apparently, not everyone felt the same as I did. I was shocked at how so many of the women were reacting. Were they lusting so much over the bounty of Muslim moons dressed in white and beige that they had to turn their backs to the men’s backs? It’s not like the men could see us women anyway, we were behind them! I was also shocked that many women decided not to perform the short prayer one does when entering a community prayer space or mosque. They remained seated, as if any movement could “lure” or disturb the men. But I stood up and completed my prayer. Being in the front row, I thought I’d set the example that parda or not, the show must go on.

I then wondered how these women function in every day society, mingling with non-Muslim men and such. In the workplace, grocery store, banks, etc. Then I remembered the double standard many Muslims have...that interacting with non-Muslims of the opposite gender is OK, it’s the Muslim opposite-gendered mingling thing that is frowned upon. No wonder our community is so socially awkward around one another. It’s not rocket science people. Lower your gaze and do what you came to do...pray!

The parda wasn’t the only thing that was broken. There were technical difficulties all night, resulting in firecracker static during prayers. Long pauses were taken to try and fix this, but to no avail. More hijabs turned into face veils as a method of “protection”. One auntie grabbed her Quran and started reciting fervently, as if to ward off any barrier and technology jinn that may have creeped into our prayer space. But that’s life isn’t it? Things don’t always go as planned, so we improvise.

So as I walked out of prayer, writing a Tweet about the broken barrier and cherishing a photo that proves this historical occasion, I thought to myself that it was a pretty good night. I got into my car and saw another car pull into the incredibly tight spot next to me. He saw that I was in my car, I could tell from my peripheral vision. He opened his door, hitting my car with it, and quickly turned to walk away.

No way buddy, I thought.

I got out of my car and loudly stated “Excuse me, you hit my car with your door!”

“Oh, I did? I’m sorry, it was a mistake”

“Well next time, be more careful!”

He’s lucky he didn’t use the word “sister” with me, or else I would have unleashed my full fury upon him. The broken parda had given me more energy than I thought a broken parda could give, and greater confidence too. I finally felt a part of the greater congregation, having a line of vision to the Imam as he gave his nightly brief sermon. I could also see him perform the Adhan (call to prayer). These may seem like little things, but they’re a big deal, since women are often secluded from these aspects of worship. Perhaps the barrier, since it’s a cultural thing in mosques and not religious (there were no barriers in the mosques at the time of Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him), is used a means of cutting women off from the greater Muslim community. We can be present, but we can’t actively participate and give feedback. We can pray, but we can’t have a direct line of vision to anything at the front.

But not tonight, I thought. Tonight was different. And if it’s a sense of how things could and should be, then it’s definitely worth fighting for.

Comments

  1. Oh my beautiful little bird, unfurl your wings and fly high
    When you soar above, send down a breeze for me to drift away with you

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