Adejoh Idoko Momoh
One of my first experiences with Islam was in my mother’s reading room; as she busied herself in the corner reading and chanting verses from her Koran, I picked up a bright purple and yellow book. Its title startled me:
‘Islam forbids the free mixing of men and women’
I remember fondly then I wanted nothing to do with a religion that would seek to forbid my association with my mother and sisters: the only females I had come to see as role models at the time.
It was not until 2007 when I travelled to the Islamic holy land, visited the holy shrine and stood at the foot of al-Hajar al-Aswad or the black stone in my ritualistic dress that I realized this doctrine is tradition at best. Adopted by a few, practiced overtime and has come to be accepted as right.
First off, there is no separation of sexes in the holy Ka’abah: I walked with and took instructions from my mother as we performed the tawaf - the circular walk around the Ka’abah, we were together during prayers and several other men and women prayed alongside each other. This was particularly refreshing for me, in some way, it made me more interested in the religion, in learning its tenets.
I began to wonder, the Ka’abah and the rituals surrounding it are relics of Islam in its purest form as observed by the Holy Prophet (SAW), if there was any need to separate sexes in Islam wouldn’t it be obvious in this holy mosque? Would efforts not have been made to build a female section behind the male section in the Ka’abah?
My mum had constantly told us that her aim was to read the Koran wholly from cover to cover inside the holy Ka’abah before we had to return to Nigeria, so when hunger began to whirl in my brother and I, she suggested we have lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken close to the mosque. I grumbled a bit, wanting to eat some home cooked food but that trip to KFC would eventually provoke some curiosity in me, make me interested in the religion and its truths.
Inside the restaurant, there was a partition with bright red labels that read ‘Men’ and another that read ‘Women’- I sighed to myself and muttered ‘the separation of sexes Nigerian mosques are so familiar for finally shows up here’. A giggle would later escape my lips as we sat to eat.
My brother would ask why I laughed and in dismissing his questioning, I would simply nod and say I just remembered something funny. In reality, I thought of the irony and hypocrisy inherent, it is okay for men and women to mix when they prayed and it is not okay for men and women to mix while they eat?
Adejoh Momoh (firstname.lastname@example.org) can be followed on twitter @adejoh