Several Arab women visitors to the Prophet's Mosque here have alleged that they have been racially discriminated against by Saudi women guards.
They claimed that they were being forced to vacate their places for Saudi women and were not allowed to stay more than a few minutes in Al-Rawdah Al-Sharif [the spot between the dais and the room of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)].
Local daily Al-Bilad this week quoted a number of Arab women visitors as saying that it was unfair to designate special places for Saudi and Gulf women inside the mosque.
They said sitting in the mosque should be done on a first-come, first-served basis without any consideration for race or nationality.
Zainab Abdul Fadeel, an Egyptian pilgrim, said she and her other compatriots ululated when they first set foot on Al-Rawdah as a sign of joy.
She said: “The Saudi woman supervisor strongly reprimanded us and told us that this was not a wedding palace.
“We were only expressing joy. In my country when you are happy you make trills of joy. We meant no harm.”
Abdul Fadeel was angry that the Saudi woman supervisor did not guide them quietly or advise them politely.
“The supervisor was harsh and callous with us because we were foreigners,” she said.
She added that they were all evicted and ushered out to the extension in the western side of the mosque after only performing two rakats (complete cycle of any given prayer) at the Rawdah.
Abdul Fadeel said women pilgrims were classified according to their countries.
"Every group of women visitors from the same nationality were put together," she said, questioning why the Saudi and Gulf women were kept together while the other women were grouped according to their countries.
She said it was better to leave all the women visitors to freely mix with other visitors.
"We are all Muslims. There is no reason for this racial discrimination," she said.
Huda Bint Ismael, a Moroccan woman from the city of Fez, said she was hurt when she heard a supervisor saying that all Saudi women should go to one side while all foreign women should go another side.
"I was shocked by this flagrant disparity. Is the mosque not for all Muslims?" she questioned.
Bint Ismael said she should not be forced to leave Al-Rawdah after a short time, especially as she was coming from a distant place once in her lifetime.
"With their bad treatment, these supervisors are killing the spirituality we came looking for at the Prophet's Mosque," she said.
Salma Abu Qrait, from Algeria, said she was surprised to see security men at the women's section closely scrutinizing their faces. "Many of us quickly covered our faces," she said.
Abu Qrait said women supervisors should replace the men in these areas.
She also objected to the grouping of the women visitors according to their nationalities. "This does not happen in the Grand Mosque in Makkah," she said.
Khadijah Abdul Hameed, a Turk, asked why Saudi men were allowed to mix with male visitors from other countries while women are only grouped with their compatriots.
"What is the problem if I prayed between two women, one from Indonesia and another from Nigeria?" she questioned.
Zahida Ammar, from Palestine, said she was an old lady and was visiting the Prophet's Mosque for the first time in her life.
She said: “I wished so much that I had spent more time in Al-Rawdah to pray and recite the Holy Qur'an.
“This simple dream was not realized because the Saudi women supervisors kicked me out only after a short stay there.”
Ammar said she waited for an hour at the gate to be allowed entry into the Prophet's Mosque but was allowed to stay only for five minutes in Al-Rawdah before being asked to leave.
"I pleaded with the Saudi woman supervisor to give me time to offer two more rakats at Al-Rawdah but she refused and asked me to leave immediately," she said.
Sheikh Abdul Wahid Al-Hattab, director of information and public relations at the Presidency of the Affairs of the Prophet's Mosque, said the women visitors had to be evicted quickly from Al-Rawdah to give other women an opportunity to pray.
He said the Prophet's room and Al-Rawdah is open three times daily for women during Ramadan: after Fajr, Dhuhr and taraweeh prayers.
"These visitation times will be cut down to two only in the last 10 days of Ramadan: after Dhuhr and Asr prayers," he said.
Al-Hattab said there was no racial discrimination or social disparity and grouping women according to their nationalities was done to facilitate smoother movement.
He said: “We are organizing the entry of women to the mosque to avoid stampedes.
“It is a lot easy to make them enter according to their country or nationality.”
Hattab said the supervisors would be able to address women visitors in their own language if they are grouped according to nationality.
“It is true that the Saudi and GCC women are grouped together.
“This is just like grouping pilgrims who are on Haj.
“It is practical and will not result in any problems between the visitors.”
Hattab denied Saudi or GCC women visitors received any preferential treatment.
“We treat the Saudi visitors exactly like other visitors. This is why we group them together.”
Hattab denied supervisors treated the visitors harshly.
He said they receive intensive training courses on etiquette organized in collaboration with Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah and King Saud University in Riyadh.
Hattab said it was not Islamic to ululate inside the Prophet's Mosque.
"The place has its sanctity, which has to be respected," he said.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.SHOW MORE