Is the UK ready for its first women-only mosque?
By Nabila Pathan | Special to Al Arabiya News
In the UK, plans to build the first women-only mosque in Bradford, one of the most densely Muslim populated regions in the country, have been announced this month by the Bradford Muslim Women's Council.
The all-female mosque project, also referred to as the Bradford Mosque Project, will begin with a month-long consultation. It's announcement was made on the first day of the Daughters of Eve conference, focusing on bringing women from across the country to discuss issues that include Sharia Law and the portrayal of Muslims in the media.
With approximately 1500 mosques in the UK, the debate around female inclusion in mosque spaces has been a growing one. This inspired the Muslim Women’s Council to spend the last year looking at facilities in the city's existing mosques.
Since making the announcement for the first ever women only mosque project in the UK, Bana Gora, chief executive of the council who has been inundated with media interest. In one of Gora’s rare media interviews for the Telegraph & Argus, she explains: "The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women, and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK.
"Over the last year we have carried out a detailed audit of local mosques and found that the services offered by mosques were not always adequate for women.
"Rather than just complain, we decided to do something about it.
"We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months."
An online campaign group called Open my Mosque, which uses social media, asks members of the public about their mosque experiences - "the good, the bad, the ugly."
Speaking to Al Arabiya News, the campaign organizers said: "Mosques should be a space for all and there shouldn't be gender exclusion whether that's women or even men. It's sad that this had to happen but we were all expecting it. The state of mosques in the UK for the past 30 years, have provided a challenge for female inclusion - whether that's through inadequate space provisions, or in their participation in the governance of the mosque community structure and more often than not, it's a just a hostile experience for them.
"If this project succeeds, it will provide a good practice guide of how mosques should be providing space for women - a sort of prototype of what mosques should be doing."
Earlier this year, the first all-women mosque in the U.S. opened in Los Angeles. The Women’s Mosque of America provides monthly women-led Friday prayer for women and children under age 12.
M. Hasna Maznavi who is the founder of the first female mosque in U.S., was motivated to counter the cultural practices that marginalize women. In an interview for the Independent, she explains:
“I just wanted to have a safe space where women could come and get inspired and hear from the khatib.”
Hundreds of women visited the mosque from all over the U.S. to lend their support to the initiative. The inaugural Friday prayer service was led by Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, in the female mosque which is housed in a century-old multifaith worship space which was originally built as a synagogue.
There are almost 2.8 million Muslims in the UK, while changes to include more women in mosque committees and board structures have been changing, for many attendees who have been campaigning to improve provisions for women in mosques, the progress has been slow. For many, the female only mosque represents another pressure point towards a cultural change in how mosques welcome both men and women.
Nabila Pathan, 13/05/2015