Zanani Masjid in Aurangabad: An inspiration to Muslim women to reclaim their space in mosques

Women learning Quranic lessons at Zanani Masjid in Aurangabad. | Picture by arrangement

Zanani Masjid was built 350 years ago in the Mughal period. Many Muslim girls and women gather at Zanani Masjid to study the Quran and Hadees.

Kamran Shaikh |

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AURANGABAD — There was a time when Muslim women in India not only prayed in mosques but also got them built. Many mosques in medieval India were built by royal women. The wives of the Mughal Emperors played an important role and supervised the construction of mosques, madrasas, and sarais in many parts of India. Historians say that they also adorned the mosques on special occasions such as Eid.

In medieval India, several mosques are said to have been frequented by women from royal families or noble families. Historical evidence does not support the prohibition of women entering mosques.

The Muslim Personal Law Board has also acknowledged that Islam allows women to join congregational prayers. Yet most mosques in India do not accommodate women. An exception is Aurangabad which has three mosques where women offer prayers and also learn recitation of the Quran along with other Quranic courses.

One such Masjid is the Zanani Masjid which was built 350 years ago in the Mughal period by Aurangzeb. Many Muslim girls and women gather at Zanani Masjid to study the Quran and Hadees. These courses are offered for free and taught by qualified women Qaaris.

Zanani masjid in Aurangabad. | Picture by arrangement

Girls studying in a nearby government college used to offer namaz in this dilapidated mosque in the afternoons. Gradually other women in the vicinity began gathering in a park near the mosque for prayers. And recite the Quran after their morning walk.

When people objected, these women started visiting the Zanani masjid.

They assessed that they would need around Rs. 20,000/- to get the mosque repaired. They approached a builder for the same but he did it without taking money from them. This was in the year 2012.

In 2013, Afsari Begum, a senior citizen who lived close by joined the group of women to teach and took the initiative to mobilise funds for the mosque. Soon, the small masjid was repaired, electricity and water connection were also given after which it was ready for full-fledged classes. A bore well was dug with support from a generous donor who also connected pipelines so there was flowing water.

What had begun with ten women soon increased to close to 40 women showing an interest in learning to read the Quran with tajweed, learn the Hadith and memorise them.

“These classes are going on for the last 7-8 years and very recently we have also built toilets and places for ablutions. Every morning I and two other alimas teach the women for two hours. And we are happy we have our masjid now” Afsari Begum, popularly known as Afsari Baji, told The first batch is for the women and then the second batch is for adolescent girls who are taught the basics of namaz, good mannerisms and Islam.

Most of the women who come here regularly are above 30 years and belong to BPL (Below Poverty Line) families.

The presence of Zanani Masjid and its activities has inspired other Muslim management schools and masjids to provide Arabic education in Aurangabad city to promote Islamic values.

The women students at this mosque appear for the tajweed exam at the Darul Qirat Kalimiya, a seminary in Aurangabad.

On passing this exam, they are awarded certificates that qualify them to become a qaari and teach others. These certificates are beneficial for women who are looking for an alternate source of livelihood.

“About five of them are currently teaching at various institutes,” said Afsari Baji.

Two women apart from Afsari Begum, who have passed the tajweed exams, are Shakeela Begum and Nilofer. “I have been teaching here for the last five years and after finishing classes here, I go to another institute to teach. and teach the children there. I do not take any fee because I am doing it for Allah,” said Begum.

Rizwana, 32, one of the women who learn Qirat at this mosque said, “Earlier I did not know the right way to perform namaz or even read Arabic. I am grateful to my ustada for helping me to walk on the right path of Islam”.

While many of the girls here have studied up to 10th or Intermediate there is also one lecturer from the Dr Zakir Hussain Junior college named Nasira who comes on weekends to learn to read the Quran with tajweed. 

In addition to the Zanani Masjid in Aurangabad, there are a few other mosques like Totiki Masjid and Mohammadiya Masjid in this historical city that allow women to pray and study Islam as there is a space allotted for women. However, the zanani masjid is the only one that is exclusively for women.