April 3, 2019


How Hind Makki is changing the conversation around women's inclusion in mosques (Aysha Khan, 4/01/19, RNS)

When women are cut off from the rest of the congregation, they lose the experience of group prayer, which is considered critical for a community's social and spiritual development in Islam, she said.

That's part of why Makki has spent the past seven years bringing the discussion on women's inclusion in Muslim spaces into the mainstream -- from launching Side Entrance, her popular blog contrasting men's and women's prayer spaces in mosques around the world, to training Muslim leaders around the country on how to foster a women-friendly mosque culture. [...]

"As an American, the idea of separate but equal is just so anathema to me, and I think that that is often physically shown in mosques just by where women enter the mosque," she said.

Makki's blog helped lead the way for a broader push among young Muslims to make mosques more inclusive.

In London, a group of female activists launched the Inclusive Mosque Initiative around the same time to organize women-led community programming and alternative worship spaces.

Research from the 2011 American Mosque Study, conducted by a coalition of organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America and the Islamic Circle of North America, offered in-depth data on women's participation in mosques around the country.

And shortly after, the 2014 watershed documentary "UnMosqued" showed how disconnected many young Muslims felt from mainstream Muslim institutions.

Rose Aslan, an Islamic scholar and the second woman to ever deliver a Friday sermon at the Women's Mosque of America, said Makki's work follows the path paved by activists like prominent Islamic scholar Amina Wadud.

In 2005, Wadud drew headlines for leading a public mixed-gender prayer service in New York City. Because most Muslims believe that women cannot lead men in performing prayer, a slew of fatwas were issued declaring her actions heretical.

"She really angered a lot of people, and many people around the world remain upset about what she did," said Aslan, an assistant professor at California Lutheran University. "But she set the stage for less provocative actions down the line."

In the wake of her "radical and controversial" actions, initiatives like Side Entrance, the Women's Mosque of America and the Muslim women's education program Rabata now "seem so mild," said Aslan.

"It's harder for people to complain as much when they're not violating any Muslim legal doctrines," she said.

Programs focused on women's empowerment and education, whether they're from a liberal or conservative religious perspective, are relatively new, said Aslan.

Those programs include the rise of women-centered mosques, like the Women's Mosque of America and Masjid al-Rabia, as well as the emergence of so-called "third spaces" among young professional Muslims. These alternative Islamic communities have now cropped up in virtually every major metropolitan area in the country, whether it's a formal organization like Washington, D.C.'s MakeSpace or a new group that cropped up in L.A. last month and is meeting in restaurants.

"Young professionals are just moving away from their mosques if they're not changing fast enough," Aslan said. "These spaces just speak more to what younger generations say they need and want."

Just as Catholicism and Judaism previously, we're remaking Islam in our image.

Posted by at April 3, 2019 12:00 AM