This is how I got introduced to the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. Stunned by the beauty of the otherworldly architecture and concentrating on all the problems the pandemic is bringing on its way I had not even thought about the unusual covering that women need to assimilate to in Islamic facilities. So, while my uncle was able to take off his shoes as normal and continue with his walk-through, I had to use my hood to cover my head.
I am a female human being after all.
Since I have Turkish parents, I was familiar with this procedure, but I have to admit that I forgot about it due to rare visits to a mosque over time. Being reminded of the unfair and socially accepted discrimination upset me right away. However, this did not discourage me from continuing my short visit to the breath-taking mosque.
Stepping on the soft and warm carpet with gold and red ornaments, seeing the gigantic dome adorned with coloured glass that was bathing the room in blue, purple and green sunlight, admiring the multitude of colossal pillars that hold the whole shape in place, teleported me into a different world and made me forget about the rebellious I held a few seconds ago.
My uncle who went to school in Istanbul and worked here for a long time told me about the history, the building itself and the religious traditions, of course. He pointed his finger to the big area in front of us and explained: “Here is where the men listen to the Imam who leads the prayer.” Then he turned around and held his hand towards the little surface behind the main dom: “Women can join the prayer there”.
Not long after that, my uncle’s housekeeper and I went out to the weekly Turkish food bazaar. We talked a lot, and I was grateful for the different world perspective that I got to experience. We discussed religion and gender roles at some point, and she told me how she thinks that men are created as hunters. She elaborated that God wants to protect women because he knows their nature and that them covering up is necessary to be safe. Being protected first by the father and then by the husband is vital here to stay safe from the predators in the world. She continued, that men must be that way in order to beget and protect children. It would be evolutionary explainable.
Maybe I’m writing all of this down to share my frustration. To be clear though, I don’t think that this is going to change anything about the situation.
We have a few problems here: Many people believe what they were told without questioning this perception of life for a second because anything other would destruct their world view. This would take away the illusion of safety and would result in a faith crisis. Very uncomfortable.
But we are dealing with another very tremendous problem: Many people, many men, in particular, don’t agree with this segregating behaviour. Numerous Muslim men I have talked to think that the current Islamic authorities are perpetuating a status quo rooted in older centuries beliefs and are symbolising a closed-minded excluding version of Islam. This is their opinion. And they still go to the mosque, because that’s what you do, and join the prayer.
Women a part of the pretty background. Because to change something, men would have to leave their normal routines. Leave their privileged status, to show solidarity with the female sex that seems to be part of a second class in a religion that intended nothing but unconditional love in its origins. Again, very uncomfortable.
Change is happening when enough people are so troubled by the status quo that the discomfort of transformation is worth taking the risk for.
That is why I am not hopeful for the pictured situation in Turkey and Islam in general. Too many people in power are portraying false imagery of comfort and safety in order to keep the everyday person in their place.
This is just one example of the consequences of unquestioned belief.
Ask questions. Make your own research. Be willing to be uncomfortable.
In the end, having an opinion is not enough.
Image credit: Aysun Bora and Pexels Photos by Nate Hovee