In many strains of Islam, as with Judaism, women are required to pray in women-only parts of the mosque. I can't speak for Islam, but I know that when this happens in other faiths it's often because for a man to look on a woman while praying invalidates the prayer. (Essentially because the presence of a sex-object draws the mind away from God. I have problems with that line of thought, to be sure, but I also can understand it. I also can understand how women's absence from the mosque historically was perhaps unavoidable, given it was their job to watch the children so getting away for an hour of "adult time" several times a day was impractical. Those two factors combined led to a sort of "separate but equal" approach to religion, where (as with the Jim Crow South) the separate was anything but.
In Turkey they're trying to change that. Seating will still be segregated, but there won't be walls or curtains separating the women off, and mosques are being required to offer equal facilities (bathroom, clean space, chairs, etc.) There's also a move in Turkey's theology circles to show why this move is a return to Islam's "roots." They're working quite hard to make this not seem like a revolution against "true" Islam. And they're right, of course. But it's a case that we here in the supposedly "liberal" West (not that Turkey is some backward country!) can't really get: that the tension is not religion vs. progress, but a certain reactionary strand of thought manifesting itself through religion vs. progress. Put it another way: a good many of us would stand against Anne Rice when she famously said last summer:
In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
The difference - and I say this with all due respect to Mrs. Rice and others who have faced her dilemma with grace and courage - is that we refuse to allow the bigots determine what Christianity is. Yes, we refuse to be anti-gay, anti-science, and all the rest - but we do it in the name of our chosen religion, not by rejecting the religion wholesale. There is room for both approaches, I think. I'm not condemning people who have stopped calling themselves Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus...) but rather saying I see a role for people willing to stand up and say "What you've seen people say about my religion? That's not the only way to practice it. Or even the correct way, full stop."
Which is what made me so happy about this article. Take a look at this beat near the end:
All are not happy with this gender revolution. "I hope all these increasing efforts are not aimed at removing the obstacles for a woman to come out of her home, and first go out to the mosque, and then to find a job; all by finding legitimacy within [the Islamic] religion," grumbled leading Islamic columnist Ali Bulac on December 3 in the Zaman newspaper.
The column provoked a storm of reaction. The outcry, interestingly, was louder coming from practicing Islamic women than from secular feminists. In her December 6 column for the daily Yeni Safak, Islamic columnist Ozlem Albayrak termed Bulac's attitude a form of "persecution against women."
Way to go, women of Turkey! Keep up the good fight; it's worth it.
As an aside: the foul dwimmer_laik gave me an early Christmas gift when she signed up for a LJ account. She's I believe the last of my regular commenters to formally get an account (there were several holdouts who all signed up in the last few weeks). One of the main reasons I posted at DW was because I could allow unsigned comments there without the constant spam. But I think this will allow me to come back to LJ, with the proviso that to leave a comment you need an account. If that doesn't work for anyone let me know.