Women Mosque Opens in California

CALIFORNIA – Berkeley’s first and United States’ second Muslim women mosque opened Friday in Berkeley, in an event attended by community members from a variety of spiritual and religious backgrounds.

“Our goal is to remove false hierarchies and supposed superiorities that separate us all from one another — Sunni over Shia, born Muslim over convert, white over Black, yellow over brown, straight over queer, man over woman and rich over poor,” Rabi’a Keeble, founder of the mosque, during the mosque’s opening ceremony, The Daily Californian reported on Sunday, April 16.

“Our intention is to focus on the social justice principles that underpin our faith, that unite all of us together in a spirit of learning.”

Establishing Qal’bu Maryam, the first women-led mosque in Northern California, Keeble said she wanted a space for absolute academic freedom where women could have candid discussions without fear of shame or censorship.

Located at 2441 Le Conte Ave. in North Berkeley, the mosque took approximately six months to open. It was originally located at the City of Refuge Church in Oakland before moving to its current location at Starr King, a Unitarian Universalist school.

Keeble said she was contacted by Dr. Gabriella Lettini, the dean of faculty at Starr King, and was invited to use the Fireside Room on the Graduate Theological Union campus of the school.

“It is an honor for Starr King School for the Ministry, and very much in keeping with our Unitarian Universalist values of openness and inclusion,” said the Rev. Rosemary McNatt, president of Starr King, during the mosque’s opening ceremony.

“I am grateful that you have placed your trust in us in holding this sacred space for women and for anyone who wishes an open way to pray and to worship.”

Mixed Prayer

According to the mosque’s administration, there will be no segregation by gender at the mosque, and prayers may be led by men or women.

“Now more than ever, it’s essential that we embrace all faiths and all backgrounds,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the ceremony.

“I’m very honored to be here at the opening of the first women’s mosque in Northern California. … Congratulations — of course it’s in Berkeley.”

Berkeley and Oakland residents attended the opening, including a representative of Assembly member Tony Thurmond, feminist historian Max Dashu and Soraya Deen, founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement.

“It’s very historic what they’ve done here,” Dashu said.

“There’s this move to reinterpret Islam from a woman’s perspective. … Going back to the root and seeing what the actual tradition is without … all the really encrusted doctrines that put males always as the expert, always as the point of reference and to see what the female experience and the female interpretation would look like.”

The new mosque ignited criticism from some Muslim religious leaders.

Mohammad Sarodi, former chairman of the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara, California, said he would not attend prayers led by women.

“If women are leading prayers for women, fine. But if they are leading prayers for men, then that is not something I have been raised with,” Sarodi, 70, told Reuters.

“I have never heard from the scholars that this is acceptable. Women are certainly not inferior, but this is not how it’s done.”

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

In 2015, 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.

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