“Pray in the most private part of your room…”

March 17, 2016

14doaudSUB-superJumbo“‘Prayer in the most private part of your home is better than prayer in the more public part of your home’, Umm Humayd said ‘My husband prevents me from going to the mosque’, by saying this the insight of the beloved, peace and blessings to him, is driven to understand, -Ok so your domestic situation is dealing with a very small-minded man, so you must be under a lot of continual emotional strain and nagging from this person -because trust me it’s not just about the mosque or what I can and cannot do, correct? So for you Umm Humayd try to move as far as possible from the public domain of the house and hide when you pray because you need to replenish a lot more than other ordinary women.”
-Shaykh Abduallah Adhami, Family and Society, Part 24 -Sakeenah.org

When I first heard Shaykh Abduallah Adhami’s commentary on this Hadith, I cried -how did a hadith so filled with mercy become a hadith used as a tool for oppression, belittlement and exclusion? We all, as Muslims love the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings to him, anything he says, if we believe he said it (rigorously authenticated hadith), is pure gold. No believer hears a quote from the prophet, peace and blessings to him, and says ‘that’s nice, but I think…’. We may question its authenticity but if it’s proven to us that the prophet, peace and blessings to him, did in fact say something we humble ourselves to its words, even the ones that makes us feel really uncomfortable or contradict the prophet we know and love, we silently accept all while our heart races with confusion.

Without Shaykh Abdullah Adhami’s insightful commentary the hadith is the following: It was narrated that Umm Humayd the wife of Abu Humayd al-Saa’idi came to the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I like to pray with you.” He said, “I know that you like to pray with me, but your prayer in your room is better for you than your prayer in your courtyard and your prayer in your courtyard is better for you than your praying in your house, and your prayer in your house is better for you than your prayer in the mosque of your people, and your prayer in the mosque of your people is better for you than your prayer in my mosque.” So she issued orders that a prayer-place be prepared for her in the furthest and darkest part of her house, and she used to pray there until she met Allah (i.e., died).”

Some time ago this hadith left me feeling uneasy, but I followed anyway -afterall it is ‘saheeh’ so the prophet did most likely say it, peace and blessing to him, but I didn’t get it. If the best prayer of a woman is best in the house, Why is it that in a narration where a woman asked about the dirt that would get on the bottom of her dress when going to the masjid to pray he addressed the concern of filth only and didn’t simply tell her not to bother coming, praying at home is better for you anyway? Why allow women to pray at the Mosque ever if it would be better for them to pray at home? And isn’t it strange that the prophet, peace and blessings to him, would go so far as to say the prayer for women is best in the room of her house (i.e. the most enclosed space)? I kept these questions to myself.

This hadith is often recited in the context of telling women to essentially ‘know our place’, if we are allowed the basement floor of a Masjid, we ought to be grateful after all -the best place for a woman to pray is at home. If there is no women’s space or we are completely guarded from entering any given Masjid, well why are we there anyway? The best place for a woman to pray is in her home -no, excuse me, in her room in her home. And yet the essence of the hadith, as commentated on by Shaykh Abdullah Adhami, is not a prohibition or a discouragement of women going to the Masjid, it is a permission and a mercy to women who find themselves, like Umm Humayd, desiring to go to the Masjid but in a circumstance where going would be far more harmful than praying at home.

And why the insistence on room of her home and not just her home? Here also we find a mercy, as commentated on by Shaykh Abdullah Adhami, this is a women under enormous stress from her husband’s watchful eye -it isn’t just about the Mousque as the Shaykh alludes to, this is a stressful environment. And in this we find another opening of mercy, not harshness, this isn’t an encouragement from the prophet, peace and blessings to him, to stay out of sight, out of mind, as all too many cultures ask of women, this is spiritual advice on replenishing one’s self in a stressful environment. For 5- 10 minutes take some time to reconnect and reorient, put the stressful husband -or a number of other stressful environments that any woman can have, out of mind and just pray.

Women aren’t required to go to the Masjid for any prayer we are also not required to stay at home to pray, we have the right to choose our prayer environment and in the prophet’s time we see women doing just that. This hadith was a hard pill to swallow, between my first time hearing it and subsequently hearing it used as a weapon against women and our presence in the Mosque many, many times, in hearing Shaykh Abdullah Adhami’s commentary my heart was finally put to rest concerning this Hadith. I don’t know how Islam became an “anti- women” religion when the prophet peace and blessings to him was sent as a light and mercy to the world. When he gave women rights, facilitated their education, gave them respect and dignity, loved and honored them, us. Somehow his words and his path became synonymous with an anti- women sentiment. This isn’t the doing of the west or the media, this is the doing of Muslims and far too much of our leadership that believe women are inferior, want women out of the public eye and will jump on any hadith that outwardly seems to back their inward state.

Artwork credit: Eiko Ojala

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