Muslim Census: A Muslim Woman’s Faith Experience

“I have experienced a great deal of sexual harassment from men in mosque and dawah spaces and have been victim blamed consistently when I spoke about it.”

“I have experienced a great deal of sexual harassment from men in mosque and dawah spaces and have been victim blamed consistently when I spoke about it.”

Anecdotally reported experiences of Muslim women lead many to conclude that Muslim women are not afforded the same consideration as Muslim men in their access to religious resources and support spaces from Masjids to community centres and people of knowledge.

Little to no data exists to understand the scope and extent of such exclusion and lack of consideration or the impact that this has on the faith experience of Muslim women in the UK.

Muslim Census has conducted a study to explore the experience of Muslim women and their relationship with faith, the Muslim community and Masjids. This study is a combination of 4 focus groups with a total of 24 participants and a survey of 1200 Muslim women in the UK, representative of age, location, and ethnicity. The study provided comprehensive insight into the experiences of Muslim women and explores several areas – from spirituality to sources of guidance to accessing religious spaces and Masjids.

Experiences in the Community

The findings revealed that only 45% of Muslim women reported having an overall positive experience within their community. The likelihood of reporting a positive experience varies slightly with age – only 43% of Muslim women between 18-34 are likely to report a positive experience in contrast with 55% of Muslim women over the age of 45. This variation across age groups highlights the need for greater consideration towards enhancing the experiences of Muslim women, especially for a younger demographic who have different challenges, needs and expectations than the generations before them. For instance, the variation could perhaps be a result of lifestyle differences between young and older Muslim women. Variations which may include increased employment and education rates, increased travel outside of local regions and the prominence of social media culture among younger Muslim women.

The experiences of Muslim women remain fairly consistent across location demographics and across various ethnic backgrounds though Muslim women with Indian heritage reported the highest overall positive experience – 48% – in contrast to Muslim women from the Black community who reported the lowest – 41%. It’s worth noting that in no instance did over 50% report a positive experience.

Having a positive experience within the community is closely linked to how and where people are able to obtain information and guidance pertaining to matters of faith. The increase in digital methods to access information has naturally improved accessibility for communities that do not have local sources to find guidance. Furthermore, it has transformed the understanding of what an individual perceives as their source of a community from whom they seek knowledge and advice.

While more than half – 52% – of Muslim women in the UK reported using a combination of both online and in-person routes to seek guidance, 39% of Muslim women reported that they only rely on online sources. Muslim women aged 18-34 and those from the Black Muslim community were most likely to report relying on only online sources. Contrastingly, only 9% use in-person methods exclusively to obtain Islamic advice. However, those who only used in-person methods demonstrated greater satisfaction rates with the advice and knowledge available to them in comparison to those who sought online guidance alone – 58% compared to 31%.

Overall, the most common source Muslim women rely on for guidance and support in faith matters is their family and friends. Though this wider familial and friendship support network is crucial, it is perhaps worrying that only 15% of Muslim women in the UK reported Masjids or a trusted Islamic scholar as their main source of Islamic advice and knowledge. Masjids and scholars should occupy a communal position within the wider Muslim community, accessible for all those seeking guidance – it is concerning that an overwhelming majority of Muslim women in the UK do not have this experience.

Only 44% of Muslim women indicated that they were satisfied with the overall guidance they have access to. This sits at 37% for women aged 25-34 but increases to 56% for Muslim women aged 45+ once again indicating that the changing circumstances that younger Muslim women find themselves in perhaps necessitate a new response from community and religious spaces.

Amongst those who noted that they were satisfied with their sources of guidance, many indicated that direct access to an Imam or a female scholar and access to female-only community spaces were critical to their satisfaction.

Access to Mosques

In spite of the role of a Masjid as a centre for communal and spiritual life, 25% of Muslim women rarely visit the Masjid whilst a further 17% never visit the Masjid. Similarly, only a quarter of Muslim women in the UK have a Masjid local to them that provides facilities for women.The lack of access may partially be explained by the distribution of Muslim communities across the UK. For example, women are more likely to have a Masjid available to them in London compared to those outside of London. Additionally, it is worth noting that COVID-19 caused the suspension of some Masid services which may impact this data.

Of those who have access to Masjids and have visited them, only 42% indicated that the quality of the space and services provided for women were good. 22% of Muslim women noted that despite attending the Masjid, they feel uncomfortable in doing so with 51% citing poor quality services, 47% citing unequal consideration in comparison to men and a further 38% citing judgement regarding their appearance and perceived levels of modesty.

However, the issue of accessibility is exacerbated by the fact that, in some cases, locally available Masjids do not cater for women at all. The provision of dedicated female spaces within Masjids is a crucial component when assessing accessibility as male and female areas of worship are typically segregated within Masjids in accordance with religious teachings.

Whilst it is true that the majority of Masjids in the UK offer facilities for women in some form, the lack of complete coverage across Masjids in the UK contributes significantly to our finding that 20% of Muslim women in the UK have at some point been denied entry to a Masjid. Almost a third of our respondents who were denied entry to a mosque reported being told that there was no dedicated space for women or that it was better for women to pray at home. In other cases, women were told that they could not use Masjid facilities because they were not appropriately dressed. Almost a fifth of women who had been denied entry noted that despite the presence of a female prayer space in a mosque, they were turned away due to the space being blocked off or in use by men.

Crucially, the impact of being denied entry to a Masjid is not solely spiritual; it can also lead to circumstances of physical unsafety and discomfort. As prayer is a religious obligation that Muslims must fulfil at specific times during the day, many women have been put in difficult situations after being denied entry to a Mosque and have had to resort to fulfilling these obligations in uncomfortable or unsafe alternative spaces. Respondents noted having to pray in car parks, street corners and changing rooms – a problem also explicitly identified in our focus groups – after being turned away from Masjids. The passages below highlight some of the experiences and feelings of Muslim women after being denied entry to a mosque.

The Relationship Between Islam and the Community

Overall, 70% of Muslim women in the UK feel some level of positive connectedness to Islam, with a small proportion, 7%, feeling disconnected with their faith. These findings are consistent across various demographics although the availability of Masjids with facilities for women heavily impacts how connected Muslim women are. However, and quite worryingly, where Muslim women reported not having a Masjid locally available to them, 48% felt disconnected from their faith highlighting the substantial contribution of a local Masjid with appropriate facilities for women in nurturing their relationship with Islam.

While a majority of Muslim women felt connected to Islam, only 32% felt connected to the wider Muslim community indicating the failings of the community to accommodate the needs of Muslim women. Such a gap between feelings of connectedness to Islam versus Muslim communities alludes to a disconnect within those communities and their ability to nurture the faith of Muslim women. From the perspective of some Muslim women, the issue appears to be that Muslim communities fall short of the ideals of Islam as they understand them. This is highlighted by 2 in 5 Muslim women reporting that they did not feel that the Muslim community was representative of the teachings and values of Islam. Respondents identified several themes that created a feeling of disconnect within the community – these included a lack of compassion and sensitivity when addressing Muslim women, the conflation of religious teachings and cultural practices and a lack of knowledge or a misunderstanding of the duties owed to women.

Though many commented on having limited access to quality Islamic education and female teaching, the lack of a wider relationship with the community has profound implications for more severe, albeit less frequent circumstances. The experiences of Muslim women highlight the failure of the community and religious spaces to address marital breakdown, domestic violence and substance abuse, amongst others, in a way that accommodates the perspectives and needs of Muslim women.

For a full breakdown, please visit Muslim Census.