Last Friday, Los Angeles became the only city in the country with a woman-only mosque. The Women’s Mosque, housed in an old multi-faith worship space, is intended to give a space for women to worship and reconnect with their faith.
Why all-female? Because though many mosques have become more welcome to women, sometimes female worshippers are segregated from the main community into basements or balconies or smaller spaces.
“I posted a picture on Facebook of one women’s room for prayer in a Chicago mosque I visited, which was only 8 feet by 20 feet,” activist and blogger Hind Makki told ABC News. “While many girls commented, ‘Yup, that’s typical,’ a lot of my guy friends were so surprised and wanted to help change this.”
To spark the change, Sana Mattalib, an attorney, and writer M. Hasna Maznavi co-founded the LA-based mosque to provide more opportunities for Muslim women who wanted their own place to worship. “The stories my mother taught me from the Quran were all about equality,” she told Al-Jazeera. “I reconnected with the Quran and realized what was there and wasn’t there in terms of empowering women. “Before I die, I wanted to help the real Islam be lived in society. I had been looking for a way to do that.”
The space has a female imam, or leader, and monthly female-only jummahs, or prayer sessions. But they’ve also been criticized by the wider Muslim community for isolating women rather than integrating them.
“I oppose a female-only mosque for the same reasons I oppose a male-only mosque,” Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles office on the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Huffington Post. “As we learn from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), mosques are meant to be a space where all segments of the Muslim community and even the larger community — men and women, young and old, rich and poor, immigrant and indigenous, Muslims and others, etc. — can equally benefit from and feel welcome.”
Mattalib and Maznavi argue that the Women’s Mosque is meant to be merely a complementary space, not one that shuts out men. And their educational programs are open to both genders.
“Our mosque has a healthy, great relationship with men,” Maznavi added in an interview with ABC News. “Many are supportive of our idea that we want women to first become empowered and comfortable in our safe space so that they can go back and transform their own communities and local mosques.”
“I want to garner the untapped potential of Muslim women not only for the Muslim community, but to empower all women of the world,” she continued. “God does not change the condition of people until people change themselves.”