Do we need a ‘females-only’ mosque?

Published: February 8, 2015

Muslim women kneel for the prayer service at the Women's Mosque of America in downtown Los Angeles, California January 30, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

January 30, 2015, was a defining day for Muslim women in the United States. Close to 150 women gathered at the Interfaith Pico-Union Project, in Los Angeles, at a mosque to offer their Friday prayers. However, that wasn’t the unique aspect. What was unique was that while there are many mosques in the US which accommodate women, this particular mosque was built just for them.

For the first time in the US, we were introduced to the idea of a females-only mosque, which is managed and administered by women alone.

After the prayers were offered, the women gathered around the khateeba (one who delivers sermons) who was willing to answer their questions regarding this revolutionary step. This idea of starting a females-only mosque was Hasna Maznavi’s brainchild and she was supported by her friend Sana Muttalib to make her dream a reality.

Sana Muttalib, Co-President, and M. Hasna Maznavi, Founder and Co-President of the Women’s Mosque of America prepare for prayer service in downtown Los Angeles, Jan. 30, 2015. Photo: Reuters

In the US, like in most other countries, mainstream mosques have segregated areas for women where they can come and pray behind a male imam. This area is usually smaller than the one for men and often not many women feel comfortable going to such mosques alone, with so many other men around them. This mosque would work as a haven for those women who wish to freely pray along with their fellow female Muslims.

Muslim women from all over the world are welcoming this idea with open arms on social media. While many are terming this step as liberating for Muslims everywhere, I believe that this mosque represents women empowerment.

Our religion has given women a very high status – as family members and as individuals; thus, there is no restriction on women when it comes to setting up their own worship places. I see this step as a progressive one – one which showed the world that Muslim women are taking matters in their own hands now.

Ideally, I would have liked for men and women to share their place of worship, since they are equal creations of God. However, seeing how 90% of our mosques are for males only and even those which accommodate women are administrated by men, I feel that this step is a prominent success for women around the globe.

This can inspire other women, in other countries, to initiate similar ventures and create a place where they are able to pray and mingle freely, and with comfort.

Muslim women arrive for the prayer service at the Women’s Mosque of America in downtown Los Angeles, California January 30, 2015. Photo: Reuters

It is not necessary for women to pray in a mosque according to the teachings of Islam, true. They can pray at home too. So I am sure that many would question the need of this mosque. I was raised in Pakistan, where women usually don’t accompany men to the mosque for prayers, except maybe for Taraweeh during Ramazan. Thus I understand the grounds for such arguments.

However, ever since I have moved to the US with my husband and kids, and since I have started accompanying them to the mosque regularly here, I have realised that a lot of good can come to individuals if they attend prayers in a mosque. Also, it has helped me understand that, like everything else in life, it helps a lot if you perform prayers with fellow female friends; the mosque no longer remains just a place of worship – it also becomes a centre for socialising with other people. Praying like this has increased my support system in the US and spending time with other women in a mosque has been liberating.

Personally, I would like to go and pray with all my family members – male or female – for Eid namaz and to socialise after prayers. But that cannot happen for now. Even if I go with my male family members, there will always be segregation, which would prevent us from socialising. Perhaps in the future we might be able to move towards a system where such an idea can possibly be conceived, on a larger scale, everywhere. No one expected to see a females-only mosque come about, so I am optimistic for newer progressive outcomes.

While I am still sceptical about the finer details of this new mosque, I believe that it is a step in the right direction nonetheless and should be adopted by others as well.

Almas Akhtar

Almas Akhtar

The writer is a blogger, author, an ardent cricket fan, a movie buff, and an avid traveler. Her latest novella “The Fearful Lion” won an honourable mention at the 2018 New York Book Festival.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.