'Side Entrance' Project Helps Muslim Women Push For Better Prayer Spaces In American Mosques

Following Islamic custom, many Muslim women and men pray separately. This means men get front and center spots in beautiful mosques across much of the U.S., while women often have to pray in side rooms, never even getting to see the inside of the mosque. Sometimes this isn't a problem, like at the Islamic Society of Orange County, where women pray in a loft with an outdoor patio and a view of the mosque's colorful dome. But, at other mosques, some women are forced to enter through a side door and squeeze into moldy storerooms. With public attention growing around the issue, American Muslim women have begun rallying for change at their mosques, NPR reports.

Momentum started to pick up when a 34-year-old Chicago woman named Hind Makki started taking pictures of women's prayer spaces in some Chicago mosques and posting them on Facebook. The photos went viral, and Makki started her online project Side Entrance, where people from across the globe submit photos of women's prayer spaces. The photos show a range of prayer spaces. There are huge, ornate Turkish mosques where men and women pray together. There are cozy rooms with long white curtains and thick colorful rugs. And then there are tiny corners in windowless rooms separated by room dividers.

In response to a critic of her blog, Makki writes, "It’s not really about how much money a community has - it’s about the value community leaders think is added if women and girls are integrated into the mosque’s religious activities." Not only are the photos super interesting, they've also stirred up a lot of feelings. "I got a lot of response, and one of the most interesting type of responses I got was from men who had no clue," Makki told NPR.

"It’s not really about how much money a community has — it’s about the value community leaders think is added if women and girls are integrated into the mosque’s religious activities."

Edina Lekovic, who works for the Muslim Public Affairs Council and sits on a regional Islamic advisory board in Southern California, told NPR that Muslim women have long been told to just go along with things. "There was to some degree pushback around this, like, 'We're dealing with enough challenges right now,' that you know, 'Wait your turn' was kind of the attitude," Lekovic said. "Today more and more women are saying, 'Now is the time.'"

The issue is getting attention across the country through projects like Makki's. The Islamic Society of North America is asking mosques to recruit more women to sit on their boards, and one of their recent conferences centred on improving women's prayer spaces. It seems like now really is the time.