America’s first all-women mosque began holding services in Los Angeles with much support from Muslim women around the nation.
History has just been made for Islam in the United States as the interfaith Pico-Union Project in downtown Los Angeles hosted the first ever all-women mosque prayer session last Friday. Before the service, men were asked to leave the hall, and some of them said they didn’t mind. While female-only mosques are said to exist in China, Chile, and India, Muslim leaders say this is likely the first in the United States.
Attended by about 150 women who flew in from across the U.S., the historic event took place within the walls of a former synagogue – which has now turned into a multi-faith center – and was moderated by a female imam. The event was so historic that some of the women endured a 5 hour flight time all the way from New Jersey down to LA in order to witness the inaugural prayer session.
According to statistics from a 2011 study on American mosques, co-sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America, about two-thirds of mosques in the US use dividers to separate men and women during morning prayers. According to Sana Muttalib, co-founder of the Women’s Mosque of America, more often than not, women are forced to enter through side or back doors to reach their segregated areas.
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Yasmeen Ruhge, a cardiologist from Pasadena, while waiting for the prayer session to begin at the first all-women Mosque, told reporters, “Muslim women haven’t had a forum. When we go to the mosque we have to sit on one side. Not that we aren’t equal, but this gives us a freedom to talk as all women and create an independent role.”
Hina Warsi, one of the women who flew in from Las Vegas for the event, commented on why she thought the all-female mosque was so significant: “I think that’s important especially being in a younger generation, in America, to go to Friday prayers as just females and listening to female lead prayer versus going to jummah [the traditional Friday prayer] with a ton of other people and being a little segregated in between.”
Currently, Jummah has been billed to be held once every month, and in her sermon in last Friday’s service, Edina Lekovic, an activist with California’s Muslim Public Affairs Council said “We have the right and responsibility to our faith.”
29-year-old Hasna Maznavi, the initiator of the idea of the all-women mosque and co-founder of the Women’s Mosque of America along with Muttalib, said she wants every woman to experience what it feels like to learn from a female religious authority in the mosque. “We just wanted to have a safe space where women could come and get inspired and hear from a female khatiba or someone who delivers the khutbah or the sermon and that’s an opportunity that we don’t get in other mosques.” She added that sometimes there are difficulties to being a Muslim woman that stem from the physical layout of mosques. “The speaker is always a male imam and not only that, it’s very hard to access the imam because of the way the mosques are structured architecturally. Sometimes the men and women are completely cut off from one another. This mosque gives us a chance to connect with our leaders and also with one another in a way that we wouldn’t in another environment,” she added.
The new all-women mosque holds a neutral political ground, as it is not specifically Sunni, Shi’ite, or any other denomination.
Founders of the one-of-a-kind Mosque hope that prayers will be held every Friday in the near future.