Saudi Arabia: Cover Your Face Woman!

Arab News
Raid Qusti from Arab News writes, "Something odd is going on in the Grand Mosque in Makkah these days."
And even though I had heard about this from other people over the years, I am glad that I read something about it in the local press.
A few days ago, the writer of Al-Watan newspaper’s editorial column mentioned his experience while performing Umrah in Makkah last week. He mentioned, among other observations, two strange things: One is how the employees working in the Grand Mosque insist on separating men and women at the gates. Two, the people working in the Grand Mosque telling female pilgrims, “cover your face, woman!” while they circulate the Kaaba, or while they are inside the Grand Mosque in general.

I really do not know where these employees working in the Grand Mosque get their ideology from. Is it a new revelation that the Islamic world has failed to notice in the past 1,400 years? Have Muslims from the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the caliphs after him until now missed out on something we do not know about?

As soon as I finished reading the editorial of the paper, I picked up the phone and called my brother-in-law who performed Umrah in Makkah last week.

“Is it true?” I asked him. “I am afraid it is. When my family and I went to perform Umrah and as we approached one of the gates, the man standing there stopped me. “Women enter from the other door,” he said. When I told him that this procedure would break up the family and how I could meet them again and where, he replied: “Go. There is nothing I can do for you.”

I later found out that this procedure has nothing to do with searching handbags at the entrance. And it has everything to do with an ideology these people believe and reinforce to separate men and women.

The Grand Mosque ever since Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) laid the first stones building the Kaaba some 3,000 years ago, has always been a place of worship for both sexes — male and female.

Since the beginning of time, and before the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), pilgrims have crossed the deserts, valleys, and borders to make pilgrimage to Makkah. Worshippers — men and women alike — circulated the Kaaba asking forgiveness from the Lord.

If separation of men and women occurred at the entrances of the Grand Mosque for the betterment of the Islamic nation, wouldn’t the Prophet or his companions have brought this matter up?

I may not know much, but Islamic history does not lie. No one is to be found in the books on the life of the Prophet or his companions saying that the separation of the sexes in the Grand Mosque was an issue. So where did this weird ideology come from? And on what basis are these people applying this procedure?

I do not know what I would do if I were with my family and we were to be separated at the entrance of the Grand Mosque. Would I tell my wife that I would call her to determine a meeting point inside? (Provided that the mobile network is working). Would I raise my hand for her to see me in the crowds of hundreds of thousands of people? Or perhaps I would raise my sandal in the air so she could see it among the dozens of other people doing the same to get noticed by their family members.

Families are broken up at the gates of the Grand Mosque, and we tell the world: This is the merciful religion that has been bestowed on mankind 1,400 years ago to get them out from darkness to light.

The other matter the editorial mentioned was the voices in the tawaf of the Haram employees asking female pilgrims to cover their faces.

I saw this on television just yesterday when I was watching a live transmission of Maghreb prayers from the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The camera froze on a certain spot in the tawaf. There was a woman in white with her face uncovered circulating the Kaaba. She was near a bearded man wearing a special suit who frowned at her and uttered some words. I saw her hold the white cloth near her neck. She was about to do something, but she let it go and continued on. I instantly knew what the man had uttered. He had told her to cover her face.

The question I would like to bring up to officials of the Grand Mosque Affairs is: How many employees working in the Haram are graduates of Fiqh or Islamic studies from one of our universities?

Let’s say, for example, that 50 percent of them were — and that would be exaggerating. Haven’t these people studied that Muslims all over the world follow different schools of thoughts?

Haven’t they heard of Imam Shafie, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Imam Malik (may Allah bless them)?

Did they not learn that one of the conditions for a Muslim woman to perform Umrah or Haj is that she not cover her face, and that if she did so she would have to give compensation? This draws me to either one of the two conclusions: Either some of these employees working in the Grand Mosque are ignorant of Fiqh, which is a destructive thing. Or that these people are following their own ideology and mindset and enforcing it on Muslims which is just as destructive, especially in the Grand Mosque in Makkah, of all places.

I hope that the officials in the Haram look into this matter. The last thing the Islamic world needs is ignorant or radical people in the Grand Mosque.

Originally published on 10 November 2004 in Arab News