Patriarchal Islam has a challenger.
Scandinavia’s first women-only mosque has opened in Denmark, and is looking to challenge the patriarchal structure of Islam. Although the mosque will be open to both women and men, all imams, or ‘imama’, will be women, and Friday night prayers will be female-only.
On an administrative level, the mosque will have two female imams and a 12-member board, which will include two men.
Muslim campaigner and imama, Sherin Khankhan, was the catalyst behind the ‘Mariam mosque’, and says it can be considered a “feminist project.”
“I have never felt comfortable in the existing mosques,” Khankhan stated.
“The big new mosques are beautiful, but I’ve always had the feeling of being a stranger…[Mosques are] male-dominated and patriarchal places, where a man is at the speaking platform, a man leads prayer, a man is in focus and dominant. That’s why we have created a mosque on a female premise.”
Khankhan is hoping the project will ease tension between traditional and more modern practices of Islam. She insists it is not a disruptive measure, and believes Muslims the world over should be able to pay respect to more than one culture at the same time, without betraying one or the other.
“Many imams in this country belong to the traditional school, which does not account for the culture we live in,” she stated.
“Instead, they help to construct contradictions between being a practicing Muslim and a young person in Denmark. But you can love several cultures and influences at once.”
Although a female-led mosque may come as something of a surprise, considering the world’s largely patriarchal adherence to Islam, and the religion’s sometimes inhumane treatment of women, the Scandinavian initiative is not an isolated project. A woman-only mosque opened in Amsterdam in 2005, and in Los Angeles in 2015. Similarly, another has been proposed in Bradford, in the UK. In addition, China is said to be one of the first countries to appoint woman-imams. The country’s tradition of all-female mosques, or ‘nüsi’, dates back to the 19th century.
“Having women as leading figures in Muslim communities and mosques should not be seen as something new or surprising,” states committee member at the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, Latifa Akay, who rejects sexist interpretations of Islam that sideline women, sometimes literally, in traditional mosque structures.
“Instead, it should be seen as a rediscovery and elevation of strong Islamic traditions of gender justice and equality.”
The introduction of female mosques is encouraging, not just for the reformation of Islam itself, but for the world’s perception of the Islamic faith. In order to coexist with the modern world, Islam, along with other world religions, needs to prove it is growing and changing with the current cultural climate. Rejecting the patriarchal structure of any religion by including women at the forefront is a giant step towards this.