Relegated to the basement…and barred from the front door, some Muslim women have had enough of male domination at the mosque and are setting up their own.
COPENHAGEN – Muslim women have been expanding their new mosques across Europe and the US, in a protest against the so-called male domination at the mosque and giving Muslim women a voice.
“It is possible to change a narrative that has been patriarchal for centuries,” Sherin Khankan, founder of Europe’s first women’s mosque, told Reuters.
Khankan opened Scandinavia’s first female-led mosque in Copenhagen in 2016 with the support of Femimam, a group of female Muslim spiritual leaders in Denmark.
Over the past two years, women have been leading prayers, delivering sermons and running Copenhagen’s Mariam Mosque.
“We can do that by promoting and disseminating new narratives, with a focus on gender equality. It’s not a reform. We’re going back to the essence of Islam,” she said, draping a red floral shawl across her shoulder.
Though the mosque is open to men and women, Friday Jum`ah prayer is attended by Muslim women who fill the tiny prayer room.
The Mariam mosque opened after 15 years in the making, joining a handful of female-friendly mosques, including two in Los Angeles, another in the German city of Berlin – which welcomes men and women to Friday prayers – and a new build slated for the northern English city of Bradford, where there are plans to build Britain’s first women-led mosque by 2020.
“Where do women congregate to talk about issues in society? You need a dedicated space where women can convene and talk to people who can help them, and we simply do not have those spaces anywhere,” director of Britain’s Muslim Women’s Council Bana Gora, who is spearheading the Bradford project, said in a telephone interview.
“It’s about women claiming their space in a mosque – there’s nothing wrong with that. I can see this catapulting across different faiths as well over time,” said Gora.
Khankan said the presence of fellow women in a mosque, as well as access to female spiritual leaders, meant women might feel comfortable seeking help for sensitive issues like inter-faith marriage or domestic violence.
Denmark’s recent face-veil ban has added more pressure on 200 or so Muslim women who don a niqab, she added.
The justice ministry said the ban would focus on women forced by their families to wear veils. “If a woman is isolated and forced to wear a burqa or the niqab, by criminalizing it, you will isolate her even more, because she might not be able to go out,” said Khankan, who also runs a domestic violence support group, Exit Circle.
“It’s important to fight for any women’s right to wear the hijab or not, to wear the niqab or not – if it’s her own choice and her own free will,” she said.
In the US, the Muslim Women’s Alliance is campaigning for women to be given space and made welcome at mosques.
The alliance aims “to empower Muslim women by helping them become leaders, make positive impacts in their communities and enhance their own lives”
Khankan said she hopes to see a new generation of female Islamic scholars and worship leaders, or ‘imam’ – a title normally given to men, which Khankan has proudly claimed.
“We are faced with patriarchal structures which we have normalized for decades. As long as they are alive and they are not challenged, we have a problem,” said Khankan.
“We have to state that women are the future of Islam. We have to make it possible for women to have the same possibilities as men,” she added.