Mosque’s men only prayer canceled amid exclusion complaints

BOSTON (AP) — A Boston-area mosque says its planned service on one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar was canceled at the eleventh hour after the host hotel received complaints about the men-only gathering.

The Masjid Al Rahma said in a statement on its Facebook page Thursday that it would not be hosting its planned Eid al-Adha prayer Friday morning at the Comfort Inn in Revere, Massachusetts — or any more Friday prayers there going forward.

Mosque officials maintained that an anonymous caller had complained to the hotel numerous times. Crystal Keshawarz, a Los Angeles, California, community organizer, says she was among several women who called.

Fabiola Sandoval, an events manager at the facility, confirmed the hotel canceled Friday’s event and all future ones at the site, but said the company wasn’t commenting further.

Mosque officials, who did not respond to requests for comment, said on Facebook earlier this week that they were restricting admission to men only because the venue was too small to accommodate women and children.

Reaction on social media was strongly opposed to the move.

Commenters on the mosque’s Facebook page argued the policy ran counter to the spirit of the holy day, which marks the end of hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as well as commemorating the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in the Jewish and Christian tradition) to sacrifice his son as God had commanded.

They argued that Eid al-Adha is a day of religious observance for the entire Muslim community, not just men. Many questioned why the mosque hadn’t simply made the event open to first arrivals or secured another venue.

“We are all worshippers and deserve a place to observe the blessed day of Eid,” Paulette Haddi, a resident of nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts, said in a Facebook post.

Malika MacDonald, a Boston-based director at the nonprofit Islamic Circle of North America Relief, said many mosques hold services in parks, parking lots or other outdoor venues to accommodate large crowds.

The debate is emblematic of the broader problem of “inferior arrangements” for women in Islamic prayer spaces that can sometimes include cramped quarters and separate entrances, said Zahra Khan, an MIT-educated aerospace engineer in Pasadena, California.

Mosque organizers, on their Facebook page, dismissed the criticism as “negativity” from people trying to divide their community. They said they were giving members fair notice so they can plan to attend other nearby services, if needed.