HUDSON — A Hudson Muslim woman is calling on city Islamic leaders to be more inclusive after she said Muslim women were excluded from Sunday’s groundbreaking ceremony of the Hudson Islamic Center.
Over 200 people celebrated the new center to be built at 35 N. Third St. after nearly 20 years since the organization was founded. The new $1.5 million a community center will consist of a library, separate prayer rooms for men and women and classrooms to be constructed at the site, according to the center’s website.
Hudson Islamic Center Executive Committee members invited 150 male center members to the ceremony, said Hudson Islamic Center president Mohammed Hannan. About 50 members of Hudson’s Islamic Center were in attendance Sunday, but none were Muslim women.
The flier promoting the event was addressed to “Brothers and Sisters,” but male members of the Islamic Center told their female counterparts not to attend the event because of a lack of space, center member Jabin Ahmed said.
Ahmed wrote a post about the issue on social media Sunday, which received dozens of reactions and comments.
“The board did not think it was necessary or important to include more than half of the Muslim community, which consists of women and young girls,” Ahmed said. “During the planning process of this gathering, it was announced that the men in our community cannot accommodate for the women… The men were explicitly told that women are not a part of this gathering.”
No female Muslim worshippers attended Sunday’s ceremony because it’s Islamic tradition for women to worship in a separate space, and the center couldn’t accommodate that, center volunteer Shershah Mizan said after the ceremony.
“We don’t have enough room in here for a separate room,” Mizan said.
In recent years, spaces for women have been constructed in mosques so men and women are separated during religious observances, according to the Oxford Islamic Studies website.
Ahmed contacted Hannan before the groundbreaking to discuss the issue, but her phone calls and voicemails were not returned, she said.
The ceremony had limited seating, so women and children were asked not to attend, Hannan said Monday.
“There is no discrimination allowed in our mosque or religious ceremonies,” he said. “People, men and women, can worship together.”
Several non-Islamic female community members were invited and attended, including 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga and 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann.
Mussmann was not aware Muslim women had been excluded from the event until after it was underway, she said.
“I was under the assumption that this was a public event,” Mussmann said. “I was taken aback to find women of the community, particularly women of the Islamic Center community, were excluded from the event.
“As a humanist and a feminist, I certainly don’t condone discriminating against women,” she added. “Women should be included. Women should have been invited.”
Garriga reached out to the Islamic Center’s leadership Sunday to arrange a meeting with Ahmed, Garriga said.
Garriga was unsure if she would have attended the ceremony if she knew Islamic women were excluded, she said.
“I am not 100 percent educated with the Muslim faith and how they conduct their practices,” Garriga said. “But, being that these concerns are being brought to their [the Islamic Center’s Executive Committee] attention, maybe this is an opportunity for the men to include the women during these important events because they are a part of it, but, I respect their religion and whatever they decide.
“Hopefully, their decision is to accommodate all people in their religion — men and women.”
This is not the first time women have been excluded from events at the center, said Ahmed, who is also co-founder and president of the nonprofit Hudson Muslim Youth.
The center is supposed to be a space for everyone regardless of faith, age, gender or nationality, Ahmed said, but it has become a place predominately for Bangladeshi-American men ages 40 and older.
Half of the center’s members are women and they regularly contribute financially to the center, Ahmed said, but they remain to be excluded from serving on the center’s executive committee and have not been allowed to host events at the center.
Ahmed is concerned exclusion will continue when the new center is complete.
“Our faith encourages women in leadership and says women are an essential part of society,” Ahmed said. “When men don’t include women members, they are going against our faith.”
There is no restrictive worship in the mosque, Hannan said.
“Any man or woman can come to they can serve on the [executive] committee,” Hannan said.
A gathering is planned for men, women, children and families in May for the month of Ramadan, Hannan said.
“It explicitly says women are equal to men in the Quran,” Ahmed said. “Our faith allows and empowers women to be involved.”
Ahmed had not heard from Islamic Center leaders about the meeting Garriga requested as of Monday afternoon, but is looking forward to having an open dialogue, she said.
As part of her goals for the meeting, Ahmed said she wants to see women in leadership positions at the mosque, to add more women members to the center’s executive committee, to change the structure of the leadership so different ethnic groups are represented and to add younger people to the board and the committee.
Ahmed is speaking for many Muslim women in the community who are afraid to, she said.
“I ask my fellow community members to question, ask and demand that Muslim women be at the forefront of this establishment,” Ahmed said. “I ask that the women who were invited, who were respected and seen as equal, speak for the women who were not seen at all.”
Reporter Dan Zuckerman contributed to this story.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.