If the sisters of most communities were surveyed, we would probably hear a lot of unhappiness from them. Of course, not every sister is unhappy with the "mosque/center situation", but when I see problems in my own community center and speak with other sisters on an international level, the problems coincide.
Here are a few suggestions to try and make our Islamic centers more "sister-friendly".
Allah created both men and women with certain qualities and human natures. In our communities, both men and women are considered members and are active in program attendance or regular activities. When programs are planned out and organized – topics of discussion, seating arrangements, or speakers – it is important to have the point of view and suggestions of both genders.
Have those who are in charge of our centers ever surveyed the community? Do they have any sisters on the board of directors, or executive committees? If not, how is that fair representation – if the sisters have suggestions and want to be involved, how are they to do so? To back this up, usually some centers create an "all-sisters" committee. Sorry to burst the happy bubble but having an all-sisters committee can only mean one thing in a lot of cases: drama. Women have generally not been created to be in positions of leadership, so when there's a whole committee of sisters, the greed for and desire to be "president" is inexplicable. Just as women are nurturers and helpers in the home, they can be helpers on a board or committee, give great suggestions and represent the community's women. Besides which, having both genders on a committee means that there won't be complaints of one gender's committee being overpowered by the other.
Having childcare services during programs, supplications, and prayers would do a big favor in allowing sisters to take part in these blessed rituals of our religion. It is also a great way to offer help and jobs to those in the community who may need it. Hiring a babysitter would allow mothers who are usually watching their sleeping children – or the running children – to take part in the activities they sometimes need to skip out on.
Many centers have a lounge area on the property – the usual basketball court or soccer field. Sometimes these are found at the front of the building, which usually becomes the men's entrance. Children and adults can be found hanging out around the lounge area on their own time. But the young girls who may want to spend time at the center as well have nothing to do but run around inside the building since there are no leisure facilities for them. Having an equal amount of space and facilities for both genders is very important in all fairness.
If we believe that our centers are in place for educating our communities and cities about Islam, have we ever considered the keys and research of how to educate? A kinesthetic learner is one who needs to be actively involved – for instance in reciting supplications together. The learner who is auditory only needs to hear the supplication. Last is the learner who is visual and likes to see the words of the supplication – perhaps in a book or on a screen. Are we involving the different learners in our centers by arranging for their needs to be met? We need to do this for both the men and women in our centers.
Just another thought: usually we find that the men's area of a center is at least double the size of the women's section – why is that?
Sisters & Q&A Sessions
Many times at the end of the program there is a question and answer session, or private sessions with scholars that only brothers are able to take advantage of. It is important that sisters get the same amount of time and available advantage with scholars too. There are many issues that sisters have to deal with when it comes to jurisprudence, child-raising, and Hijab issues – it is just as important for women to get the chance to ask their questions.
Many times in meetings or programs, men are easily able to get a hand of the microphone so that they may ask a question. On the other hand, sisters have to figure out how to explain their questions in writing, and then cross their fingers that some kid who is young enough will come by and agree to take the index card to the moderator. What a hassle! If a microphone is being passed around, it is easiest to have two microphones on each side for brothers and sisters, and those who have questions can form a line behind their respective microphone. Those who can explain better through talking can verbally ask the question and get the answer, and those who are more comfortable writing can do that as well.
Of course, having a sisters-only Q&A session once in a while is an important program as well.