Women Boosted by New Mosque

The first mosque in Afghanistan to make provision for female worshippers is taking shape in central Kabul.

Women Boosted by New Mosque

The first mosque in Afghanistan to make provision for female worshippers is taking shape in central Kabul.

Kabul’s newest and biggest mosque, which is currently under construction, is breaking new ground in Afghan culture by including a special section where women can pray.


Most women in Afghanistan have never prayed in a mosque, as there has been no provision made for them.


However, in other Muslim countries, there are designated areas in most mosques where women can worship, sometimes separated from the main section by a curtain or wall. The segregation is intended to keep men from being distracted by the sight of women bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves during prayer.


“Why doesn’t our country have any mosques for women, despite its claims to be the strongest Islamic state in the world?” complained Zakia, a 36-year-old telecommunications industry worker.


Her colleague Sona spoke for many when she told IWPR that she feels uncomfortable praying in front of her male colleagues. Instead, she waits for them to leave for their mid-afternoon visit to the mosque so that she can worship in private.


Now the two women are watching with excitement as the third storey – which will house the women’s section - of the central Kabul mosque is completed.


The new building, to be named after its late donor, Haji Abdur-Rahman, will boast 57-metre-high minarets, and will even loom over the 18-storey Telecommunications Ministry building.


Around 10,000 worshippers will be able to pray at once when the building is completed in around 15 months. Females will have a separate entrance and their own section for ablutions, as well as having the third floor to themselves for prayers. And eight of the 24 toilet rooms will be for women.


The mosque, designed by a Pakistan-based Afghan architect, will be unique to the region, said construction head Engineer Rahim Gul. Its roof will have 29 domes, the largest 20 metres in diameter. The exterior walls and its floors, inside and out, will be of white marble from Pakistan, while the interior walls and pillars will be covered with wood imported from America.


Its 3.5 million US dollar cost is being met entirely by the Haji Abdur-Rahman family, owners of Kabul’s Bridgestone Tyres franchise, who fled to Pakistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979.


Abdur-Rahman died in November 2002, having seen the foundations laid, but his 32-year-old son, Engineer Shoib, has been making regular trips to Kabul to supervise construction ever since it began in 2000.


The symbolism of what is probably the first mosque in Afghanistan to allow women looms large in the post-Taleban era, but Shoib speaks of the decision with understated simplicity. “It was my father who wanted us to build a separate section for women,” he said.


“He had seen many mosques in foreign countries which made such provision, such as the Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. So the whole family consented to include it.”


The mosque, near a major park, is being constructed on land that, ironically, was granted to the family by the Taleban regime, responsible for banning women from the workplace during its five-year reign.


Nothing in Islamic law prohibits women from praying in a mosque. But in Afghanistan’s conservative culture - even after the fall of the student militia - many husbands still forbid their wives from leaving the house without permission.


Officials in the Haj Ministry acknowledge that, by keeping women out of its 9,100 registered mosques, Afghanistan stands alone in the Islamic world. “Even in Mecca and Medina, and in all other Muslim countries, there is provision for women,” admitted Malawi Mowlawi Kiramatullah Sidiq, head of the mosques department.


Danish Karokhel is a local editor and staff reporter for IWPR.


Pakistan, Afghanistan
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