Muslim Women Protest Policies At Islamic Center

7-foot-high wall separates women, men

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    FALLS CHURCH, VA - NOVEMBER 09: The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center is shown November 9, 2009 in Falls Church, Virginia. Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal M. Hasan attended the Washington, DC area mosque in 2001 and federal investigators are reported to be examining any links between Hasan and a former imam at the mosque who U.S. authorities say has become a supporter and leading promoter of al-Qaeda since leaving the United States. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

    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 7-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," Hannah said.

    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, said 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," Burmi said.

    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?," Nomani said.

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

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