- Deseret News - Saturday, May 16, 2015

During a typical Friday prayer at mosques around the world, men and women file into their place of worship together.

But once inside, they separate: The men go into the main room with the imam, and women are either placed behind the men with a divider between the two genders, or in separate rooms with speakers.

Now, some Muslim women are taking that separation a step further with the establishment of women-only mosques.

Earlier this month, the Muslim Women’s Council (MWC) of Bradford, U.K., announced the opening of the country’s first women-only mosque.

In its press release, the MWC said Muslim places of worship are in need of reform and revitalization.

“Muslim women have been marginalized for many decades by mosques in the U.K., which are male-dominated, patriarchal spaces,” according to the release.

“It is for this reason that (MWC) aims to ensure that Muslim women have the space to discuss issues … in an environment that is open to everyone.”

The need to create a space for Muslim women has not only been felt in Bradford. Earlier this year, the U.S. saw its first women-only mosque open in Los Angeles.

The Women’s Mosque of America was founded by Hasna Maznavi and Sana Muttalib, who told Al Jazeera America they were inspired by their egalitarian values of their faith.

“The stories my mother taught me from the Qur’an were all about equality,” Muttalib said. “When I grew up and realized that isn’t always the reality that plays out in society, I was shocked.”

A 2011 study done by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that two-thirds of mosques in America use dividers to separate women and men during prayer. In addition, 63 percent of mosques scored “fair” or “poor” in ranking a women-friendly atmosphere.

Abdullah Hasan, imam at the Holborn Mosque in London, told The Washington Post that the creation of women-only mosques is “a wake-up call to men.”

“Some (males) have no idea about what’s going on in the outside world,” he said. “They’re completely out of touch, politically and culturally. And let’s face it. This is not just a Muslim problem. It has taken such a long time for the Church of England to accept women as priests and bishops. So women have had a tough time of it. I completely understand why women in Bradford want their own mosque.”

As much as the women-unfriendly mosques in the U.S. may have triggered the inspiration to create a women-only mosque in L.A., the founders were determined to create it from a blank slate, envisioning their ideal mosque, said Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

“The intent of the mosque was to compliment other spaces,” Ms. Lekovic said. “That if the women’s mosque is doing things right, then we are empowering women to know the Qur’an, to have the leadership skills and the confidence to be able to serve the women’s mosque (and) their co-ed mosque.”

As male-dominated as some mosques may be, Ms. Lekovic said she sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“That’s part of what’s exciting about living now — as crazy as it is, there’s a transfer taking place and it’s generational,” she said. “What’s happening in (the millennial) generation has taken away power from traditional gatekeepers. Those traditional structures and barriers are not the same.”

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