• Woman praying inside a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. (Getty Images )
The right of every girl to feel as equal as to any boy to the grand entrance in life is a right worth fighting for.
By
Sarah Malik

17 Apr 2019 - 4:10 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2019 - 4:39 PM

A woman's right to equality in worship is getting putting to the test in India again with a Muslim woman petitioning the Indian Supreme Court after being denied entry to a mosque.

The challenge comes after Yasmeen Peerzade and her husband Zuber were told that women were not permitted to offer prayers in a mosque in Pune in Southern India, according to Reuters.

The pair are now using a precedent set in a September judgement to challenge the practice. In last year's judgement, the court lifted a ban on the entry of women of menstrual age at a male-only Hindu temple in southern India, agreeing the practice violated the women's right to worship.

Last year, images of Indian women in a multi-million strong chain with arms raised in protest at the male-only temple made headlines worldwide.

India, one of the world's most religiously pluralistic societies, is not free from sectarian and religious tension. Its dual role as a secular state home to the world's largest religious minority populations forms an important test case on how to navigate contesting religious freedoms and gender equality in the modern era.

The push from women activists using the secular law to challenge patriarchal norms within their traditions, one that also offers recognition of the legal framework of religious bodies, creates an important opportunity for dialogue on the evolution of religious interpretation and male authority.  

“There is no mention of any gender segregation in Quran and Hadith,” the couple’s lawyer, advocate Ashutosh Dubey, said according to The Hindustan Times

The couple reportedly also cite a practice of men and women praying together in the early days of Islam and also during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in their case.

“The most sacred mosques in the world embrace both men and women,” the couple reportedly said in the petition.

"The Hadith is a broad guide to Islamic law...such practices are not only repugnant to the basic dignity of a woman as an individual but is also violative of the fundamental rights.” 

The case is something that will be closely followed by Muslim feminists and in many ways a litmus test for the struggle of Muslim women worldwide to reclaim mosque space. 

In Islam there is no ban on the entry of women in mosques and Muslim women are not barred from offering prayers in the mosques. In practice, however, many women are barred from mosques via custom, or are forced into separate cramped and second-rate entrances and enclosures in the name of modesty.

Some argue the fact that it is not compulsory for women to pray at the mosque during Friday congregational prayers to justify the lack of equal access and facilities for female worshippers. 

It's an inequality that resonates with me as a young girl in the mosque. I remember furtively ducking into narrow back rooms and cramped women's quarters in so many Sydney mosques. To me it felt like being relegated to the broken run-down servants' quarters, and it shaped much of my confused and fraught relationship with institutional religion.

I remember having a bird's eye view of the men's section, and looking with longing at the chandeliers, plush carpet and grand entrances for the men through the mesh screens that separated the genders.

Somewhere the situation internalised for me my less-than status to the boys, romping happily and carelessly below. 

It's something no girl should ever have to feel. Even if a tenth of women show up as men on Friday, the right of every girl to feel as equal as any boy to the grand entrance in life is a right worth fighting for. 

Sarah Malik is a Sydney-based writer and is deputy editor at SBS Life. Follow her on Twitter @sarahbmalik