Scandinavia’s first women-led mosque has just opened its doors in Denmark. It hopes to challenge Islam’s “patriarchal structures.”
The mosque in Copenhagen will be open to both men and women. However, the imams in the mosque will all be women. A similar all-women-led mosque has been proposed in Bradford in the UK.
“Having women as leading figures in Muslim communities and mosques should not be seen as something new or surprising,” Latifa Akay, a committee member at the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, told Quartz. Instead, it should be seen as “a rediscovery and elevation of strong Islamic traditions of gender justice and equality.”
The Inclusive Moque Initiative, founded in London in 2012, emphasizes an intersectional approach to inclusion that seeks to involve all marginalized communities including women. Akay points to Islamic feminist and reformist readings of Islam, which reveal how common Islamic laws have been influenced by subjective ideologies and cultural factors. A 40-volume biographical dictionary of female scholars in Islam, published in 2007, traces women’s crucial contributions to Islamic teachings back 1,400 years. Akay says that gender equality is at the heart of these teachings, which the Copenhagen mosque will use as its foundation.
Asma Bhol, a female imam (or imama) based in London, welcomes the Danish mosque. “It’s always nice to see other people taking this on,” she said.
She told Quartz it was after she “made a conscious effort to understand Islam” that she began her journey to become an imama and address “the large communities being excluded.” She dismisses the myth that it takes several decades to become an imam, adding that the word simply means “leader” in Arabic.
“You have to connect in a way that is pure and disconnected from the world, so it’s just you and Allah,” she said. You then build on that connection to be able to lead people and give advice.
Akay rejects the sexist interpretations of Islam that sideline women—sometimes even literally—in traditional mosque structures. Women are often relegated to small rooms that can be cramped and hard to access. Projects such as Side Entrance and the Inclusive Mosque Initiative have been keen to challenge these practices.
Bhol wants to make mosques more inclusive for LGBT and disabled people too. Since she started leading sermons and prayers, she says she’s not only been able to inspire Muslims with her inclusive message, but other faith communities too.