On February 1st, this photograph was posted on Twitter with the caption:

“In Tahrir Square in Cairo, men and women pray together just like at the Haram in Makkah, gender boundaries have been transcended and the only thing that matters is that they are Egyptians who want freedom!”

To see Muslim women and men praying next to each other in an Egyptian public square is worthy of noting. We wonder what it suggests about bigger changes afoot in Egypt? We reached out to commentators Melody Moezzi and Mona Eltahawy via Twitter for some context and perspective.

Moezzi replied: “In the time of the Prophet, men and women prayed side by side. Today in Mecca, men and women pray side by side. This should be good enough for the rest of the world then — to end segregation in mosques and in prayer. That’s what the comment is getting at.”

Eltahaway reached out to her broad sphere of followers on Twitter. One of Eltahaway’s Twitter followers added (with a smiley emoticon appended to the end: “The segregation angle comes into play only when you are inside a mosque. Believe it or not, Islam is a flexible religion.”

What do you see in the photograph that might add to our understanding? Do you have other insights that might train our eyes to see differently? Are there details to which we should pay greater attention, which, in turn, would add to its meaning and significance?

(photo: S. Habib/Twitpic)

Share Your Reflection



In the US, a flag on the ground is bad. Here it is a prayer cloth, sacred and revered.

I greatly appreciate you pointing this out. Thank you.

That's such a useful insight. Seems like a good reminder of the importance of context -- the same/similar meaning or value can be expressed so differently in different cultures/contexts.

The image says this to me: Before God, we are all one. And in His presence, we put down our symbols, let evaporate the differences we have created that we've allowed to divide us, restore to ourselves the dignity of being human and working and praying and hoping for the common good.

The image illustrates well the meaning behind that cry, "We are all Egyptian".

First, I want to emphasize my solidarity with all people that wish for justice to reign in our day and age, regardless of their backgrounds. I need to take issue with the assertion that men and women prayed side-by-side during the lifetime of Allaah's Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him). This is patently false! As is well know by scholars of Islam, men and women DID pray in the same room, however, women prayed behind the men. The only place that men and women prayed side-by-side during his lifetime would have been when they were present at the Ka'bah in Makkah. The reason for this arrangement when praying could very well have been logistical. In such cramped and uncontrolled quarters, it may simply be to difficult to organize the lines for prayer according to the standard motif. Frankly, there's been a very anti-religious tenor in some of the comments coming from the square, and that worries me. I accept that we may all not agree, but if groups of us are ACTIVELY opposed to others or their philosophies that is problematic. Especially when Islam clearly plays such a major role in society there in Egypt (as this picture attests to). I pray that Allaah guides us all to what's closest to achieving His Pleasure; and that I can one day bring my son to meet his family there in Cairo.

I think its lovely that there are women in the front row. Men and women pray together in Mecca and if its good enough for Mecca, then it should be good enough enywhere else in the world. I look at the photo and see a group of Muslims who are praying with a real presence and as a real community - all equal before God.