Two years after the Women’s Mosque of America opened its doors in Los Angeles, California is about to become home to another women-led mosque ― just the second of its kind in the U.S.
Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque will open with Friday prayers on April 14, 2017 in Berkeley, California. Unlike the Women’s Mosque of America, which hosts women’s-only Friday prayers, Qal’bu Maryam will welcome both men and women to worship. But like the Los Angeles congregation ― as well as other women’s mosques around the world ― services will be led entirely by women.
Mosques are often segregated by gender, sometimes with wall dividers marking off each area. Women often sit in the back or in a separate room and occasionally have a different entrance than men. A number of Muslim women have spoken out in articles and on social media about what they feel to be “inadequate” accommodations for women in many mosques.
Chicago activist Hind Makki started a Tumblr project in 2012 called “Side Entrance,” where Muslim women around the world could share photos of their prayer spaces. Makki found that many men responded to the project with surprise.
“They just had no idea that this was somewhat typical of women’s experiences at a mosque — that you go to a mosque and you don’t see a dome; you don’t see the imam, certainly; you don’t see the architecture — you see a big wall in front of you,” she told NPR in 2014.
Qal’bu Maryam founder Rabi’a Keeble said the Berkeley worship space will be different.
“Everyone is welcome: new converts, reverts, born Muslims, immigrants, black, white, brown, all genders.””
“When you come into our service you will see that women are sitting in the front,” Keeble told The Huffington Post. “A woman will be giving the khutbah, the sermon, which is not done in a traditional mosque setting.”
Qal’bu Maryam means “Maryam’s Heart” in Arabic, and the mosque’s name is a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The name is “fitting,” the mosque’s website states, for a Muslim worship space “which holds dear, and recognizes the sistership between us and our Christian and Jewish allies.”
The mosque will aptly be hosted at the Starr King School of the Ministry, a multi-religious seminary from which Keeble received a Master’s degree in religious leadership and social justice. The mosque isn’t officially affiliated with the seminary, but Keeble said she hopes it will become a fixture in the community that beckons students and local residents alike.
“This is a place of inclusivity,” Qal’bu Maryam’s website states. “Everyone is welcome: new converts, reverts, born Muslims, immigrants, black, white, brown, all genders.”
Internationally, women’s mosques are in the minority, but they’re by no means unprecedented. As Women’s Mosque of America founder M. Hasna Maznavi pointed out in a 2015 HuffPost blog, “Women’s mosques exist in at least a dozen countries around the world, including China, Syria, India, Egypt, Palestine, and even ultra-conservative countries like Yemen.” And there’s a long history of women serving as imams in China, where the oldest surviving women’s mosque dates back to 1820.
The role an imam in a mosque is similar to that of a church pastor, Keeble noted. Imams deliver sermons, officiate weddings, conduct holiday services and more. Traditionally that role is filled by a man. But Keeble, Maznavi, and other women’s mosque founders argue there’s nothing that should keep Muslim women from stepping into religious leadership.
“The Quran doesn’t say women can’t be imams, but it’s been the tradition,” Keeble told HuffPost. She hopes to change that by not only inviting Muslim women scholars to deliver khutbahs, or sermons, but also by training those interested in learning how to conduct services at the mosque.
The founder said she hopes especially to give a voice to Muslim women of color, including a broad spectrum of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“Women need to be empowered to do what they’re called to do,” Keeble said. “If your calling is to be an imam, come try it out. Come study, and no one is going to tell you that because you’re female you can’t do it.”