LOS ANGELES // A new Los Angeles mosque that forbids men from attending may be the first of its kind in the United States.
More than 100 women gathered on Friday at the downtown interfaith Pico-Union Project to mark the launch of the Women's Mosque of America, the Los Angeles Times said.
The mosque hopes to create a space where Muslim women can learn and connect with other women.
“Muslim women haven’t had a forum,” said Yasmeen Ruhge, a cardiologist from the Californian city of Pasadena. “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.”
Female-only mosques already exist in China, Chile and India, but Muslim leaders say this could be a first for the US.
About two-thirds of American mosques use a divider to separate men and women during morning prayers, according to a 2011 study – a number that may be higher for Friday prayers.
At the inaugural service of the Women’s Mosque of America, a female speaker addressed women’s issues and afterwards held a discussion circle.
Although the prayer space is only for women, other events and classes will be open to men.
“When only half of the membership is contributing to the success of the whole, we’re not going to be as well-off as we could be,” said the mosque’s co-founder, M. Hasna Maznavi.
Sana Muttalib, who also founded the non-profit initiative, said that spaces for women in many mosques often aren’t as appealing or as accessible as the areas for men, and women are forced to enter through side or back doors to reach their areas.
Experts say there’s been a growing call in recent years for female empowerment in the Muslim community to help change public perception of the faith.
“One of the major ways that Islam is ‘othered’– one of the major stereotypes – is [how women are treated],” said Ruqayya Khan, chairwoman of Islamic studies at Claremont Graduate University. “But there is a rich history of women in Islam, and it’s often kind of sidelined or buried.”
* Associated Press