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Woman Leads Friday Prayer in Danish Mosque

CAIRO – Following the suit of their sisters in the US and UK, Danish Muslim women held the first woman-led Friday prayer this week in Copenhagen, a move declared to challenge the so-called “patriarchal structures within religious institutions.”

“We’re still in a process of learning. We’re on a journey and we’ve only taken the first step,” Sherin Khankan, one of the mosque two imams, told The Guardian on Friday.

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The Mariam mosque opened informally in February, and it took six months of further preparation before the first Friday prayers could be held.

Khankan and Saliha Marie Fetteh, the mosque’s two imams, shared the Friday prayer in Mariam mosque in Copenhagen which was attended by more than 60 women.

Khankan sang the adhan and made an opening speech, and Fetteh delivered the khutbah, or sermon, on the theme of “women and Islam in a modern world”.

One of the mosque’s main objectives, said Khankan, was “to challenge patriarchal structures within religious institutions. Islam has been male-dominated, women are still not equal in Catholicism and Judaism, and were only ordained in the Protestant faith [in Denmark] in 1948.”

“It is possible to change patriarchal structures but it’s a long journey and we have met opposition. But we decided not to focus on the opposition and instead speak about all the people who support us. We’ve had very positive reactions to the mosque – from Pakistan, Iran, Europe, Turkey, Arab countries,” Khankan said.

She insisted there was “no valid religious criticism of us – we are on safe theological ground”.

She added that she has encountered some resistance from relatives and friends to her plans to open the mosque and become an imam.

“Not from my parents – they have been so supportive. My father is a feminist icon. I wouldn’t now be talking about female imams without my father, who always told me I could do anything,” she said.

Female imams have existed in China since the 19th century, and in South Africa since 1995.

Last year, the first ladies-only Women’s Mosque of America in Los Angeles, Calif., opened to divide the opinions of American Muslim women.

The new mosque raised controversy on the validity of conducting a women-only Jumu`ah prayer, being a female imam and the feasibility of the fruits for which the idea was initiated.

Plans for a female-run mosque in Bradford are progressing, although prayers will be led by a male imam.

“This movement in Denmark is part of a greater worldwide movement,” said Khankan, who visited Bradford in May and is planning an international conference on female imams next year.

“I hope we can inspire women in other countries, and we hope to be inspired by them.”