It has always been a truism that womenfolk in our border regions excel in fasting, but are occasionally not so regular in their prayers. Sometimes, they are so busy in their homes that it becomes difficult for them to attend to their five daily prayers. Added to this, they have difficulty keeping their clothes in a fit state for prayer, what with the little infants that they have to attend to. So they make up with extra fasting, the ground that they lag behind on with regard to prayer.
Now some women are showing that they give due importance to prayer, along with fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. And they are also proving their attachment and love for learning the Book of Allah, with which Ramadan has such a close affinity (Al-Quran, 2:185.)
These women are showing their love of worship and Quranic study in the beautiful mosque named after Najmuddin Akhundzada. Akhundzada Sahib was a great saint of our border regions. Hailing originally from Ghazni, he was a disciple of the Swat Saidu Baba. They say that when he returned from Swat to Nangarhar, he lived some time among the Hazarbuz tribe. Due to the kindness of the Hazarbuz towards him, he prayed for them, that Allah should bless them with great bounty, in this world and the next.
One of the leading businessmen of Afghanistan, Najeeb Zarrab, hails from the Hazarbuz tribe. Najeeb Zarrab is sure he owes the wealth with which he has been blessed to the mercy of Allah, bestowed following the prayer of Najmuddin Akhundzada. That is why he has taken it upon himself to make the mosque of Najmuddin Akhundzada, situated some ten kilometers to the south-east of Jalalabad, among the most beautiful in the region.
Not only has he made a huge mosque for men, but also alongside it there is a smaller mosque, especially for women. It is to this mosque that womenfolk are coming in large numbers this Ramadan, not only to take part in nightly Tarawih prayers, but also to listen to and attend daily lectures about the meaning of the Quran. These lectures are being given by a famous Sheikh-ul-Hadith of the Eastern Zone – Maulana Said Hakim Qamari. Alongside Tarawih prayer – a night-time commemoration of the revelation and glory of the Holy Quran – daytime Quran study tours have over the last few decades become a feature of Ramadan in our border regions.
One of the people attending Quranic lectures, and also offering night-prayers in the Najmuddin Akhundzada mosque, is sixty-year old Mohammad Yasin: “While men are coming from far-off,” he explains, “from Noristan, Kunhar, Laghman – even from Peshawar – most of the womenfolk who come are from nearby villages.” The Akhundzada Mosque is unique in this respect. It is the only mosque in the region that hosts women, for both prayers and for Quran study during the holy month of Ramadan.
Like other people living in the border regions, Jalalabad folk have always been conservative with regard to women coming to the mosque. They have felt it better for women to pray at home. But the facilities that have been put on for women to pray in the Akhundzada Sahib mosque are such that, even for the famously conservative people of Jalalabad, there can be no suggestion of any impropriety. The local people have welcomed this development with open arms.
In fact, as 21-year-old Javed explained, women have been offering Ramadan prayers in their own mosque, adjacent to the main Akhundzada Sahib mosque, for the last ten years. From year to year, their number has grown. It is now estimated that something in the region of 120-150 women are attending daily Quran lectures, and night-time Tarawih prayers, in the mosque complex of Najmuddin Akhundzada.
Just as the work and preaching of Najmuddin Akhundzada was a catalyst for strengthening Islam – and Islamic learning – in the Eastern Zone, perhaps the initiative taken in the mosque of Najmuddin Akhundzada will start a new trend of putting on facilities for women to pray in mosques. On the road between Jalalabad and Kabul, in the town of Soribi, travellers may have noticed a mosque reserved for women – masjid-e-zanana. With growing facilities to pray in mosques, the day may not be far off when women excel in prayer, as well as in fasting.