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Muslim Women Protest Policies At Islamic Center Of Washington

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Fatima Thompson led a protest against women having to pray in an area other than the main prayer hall in a Northwest D.C. mosque.
Kavitha Cardoza
Fatima Thompson led a protest against women having to pray in an area other than the main prayer hall in a Northwest D.C. mosque.

By Kavitha Cardoza

Some women who protested at the Islamic Center of Washington, wanting to be able to worship in the main prayer hall with their male counterparts, were asked to leave by the police. But they say their struggle will continue.

Carpets with intricate designs cover the floors of the main prayer hall and turquoise tiles line the walls. But the source of contention is a small room created with seven foot high wooden walls. Jannah B'int Hannah describes how she feels in there where she cannot see the imam, or leader of the mosque, speak.

"Boxed in, stifling, suffocating and totally a second class citizen," says Hannah.

Over the weekend, Hannah and approximately 20 other women prayed in the main hall, but D.C. police were called. They asked them to leave or be arrested.

Syed Burmi, the imam of Islamic Society of Western Maryland, says the physical separation helps maintain women's privacy and modesty as well as keeps the focus on prayer.

"If I stand next to a lady or a woman stands next to me, maybe the focus will change and no longer be on God the Almighty. So that's why we put the partition," says Burmi.

In two out of every three American mosques, women of separate prayer spaces around the country.

Asra Nomani is a leading Islamic feminist who led a similar protest in West Virginia.

"We have this generation of American muslim women who are saying look you want us to go to Harvard, to rise to the highest level of Wall Street firms and you want us to sit where in the mosque?," says Nomani.

Women activists say they will continue to try to pray in the main hall until this policy changes.

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