The Nation of Islam and Women in the Mosque

by David Kenneth

There is a popular conception of the Nation of Islam as a male-dominated organization. Most of the media coverage of the religion focuses on prominent Muslim men, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan. Muslim women who do receive a degree of fanfare, such as Betty Shabazz, do so largely based on the notoriety of their husbands. The expectations and experiences of women who join a local mosque go beyond this general one-dimensional portrayal. Female mosque members receive Muslim Girl Training, undergo and conduct body searches, educate children in schools and sit in gender-specific areas of the mosque.

Muslim Girl Training

Women who join a mosque undergo Muslim Girl Training (MGT) as an introduction into the faith. MGT teaches women and girls the expectations they must meet to remain members of the mosque. Muslim women learn proper etiquette for attending events at the mosque. MGT students learn, for example, that during religious services they are to refrain from speaking to friends. A quick smile of recognition is all a properly indoctrinated Muslim woman should present during these occasions. Women also receive instruction on speech, dress and hygiene. The Nation of Islam believes women, especially in their domestic roles, are the foundation of society and thus the MGT has been a central component of the group since its origination in the 1930s.

Body Searches

When entering the mosque, all people are subject to a body search by security. Women both undergo and conduct these searches. The Nation of Islam searches women to relieve them of any items prohibited by the group. Because Muslims should not smoke, security takes all tobacco products. Because Muslim women should demonstrate modesty, makeup is another prohibited item. Women also comprise the security details. The MGT serves as the corollary to the all-male Fruit of Islam (FOI), seen most often standing guard over prominent Muslim speakers. Women in the MGT search other women entering the mosque and confiscate contraband when necessary.

Muslim Schools

One of the most important jobs for women in the Nation of Islam is serving as educators in Muslim schools. This reality challenges the assumption that women do not play important roles in the daily operations of the mosque. Women are the primary managers of the Muslim schools attached to the mosque. The school directors are often women, as are many of the teachers.

Seating During Services

To discourage fraternizing between men and women, the Nation of Islam segregates the genders during services. Mosques may sit men in the front with women to the rear. Another prominent pattern is for mosques to form two parallel rows of seats, one for each group. Mosques usually station the FOI, the all-male security force, next to the women’s section, purportedly to protect the virtue of Muslim women.

About the Author

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.

Photo Credits

  • Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images