A new mosque to open in Bradford run by women for women?

If this project were to get off the ground, a Bradford mosque run by women for women would confound, to some degree at least, the perception that extremists are far too numerous within certain Muslim communities, and the suspicion that many young Sunni Muslims are too easily radicalised. I wish Gora Bana and all those supporting her every success and, once the mosque opens, I will be one of the first non-Muslims to pop along to show solidarity with the initiative.

Here is an article that appeared in the Bradford “Telegraph and Argos” newspaper in May 2015:

Bradford will be home to the UK’s first mosque run by women for women, it was revealed today.

Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, made the announcement on the first day of the Daughters of Eve Conference, which involved women from across the country coming together to discuss issues including sharia law and the portrayal of Muslims in the media.

Ms. Gora said for the past year the Council has been looking at facilities in the city’s existing mosques and this led to the Bradford Mosque Project.

She said, “The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women, and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK. Over the last year we have carried out a detailed audit of local mosques and found that the services offered by mosques are not always adequate for women. Rather than just complain, we decided to do something about it. We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months.”

She said the idea had already created some debate, such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque.

Annual "Discover Islam Exhibition", University of Newcastle

Annual “Discover Islam Exhibition”, University of Newcastle

This is a follow-up article that appeared a few days later in the same newspaper:

Plans to create the country’s first mosque run by women, for women, in Bradford have been revealed at the start of a month-long consultation process. Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, made the announcement at this weekend’s Daughters of Eve Conference.

She said that for the past year the group had been looking at facilities in the city’s existing mosques, which led to the Bradford Mosque Project. She said, “The aim of the Bradford Mosque Project is to build a mosque for women and run by women. It would be the first of its kind in the UK. Over the last year we have carried out a detailed audit of local mosques and found that the services offered by mosques are not always adequate for women. Rather than just complain, we decided to do something about it. We hope that this is something we can start in the next couple of months.”

She said the idea had already created some debate, such as whether women would be able to lead prayers in the new mosque, which would be developed along the model mosque as it was constructed in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.

Ms. Gora said the consultation would be respectful of everyone’s religious sensitivities and its key goals were to be all inclusive and fully accessible to all communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, and all schools of thought; a safe space for all women and a centre for learning and promoting shared values and social and political engagement.

Ms. Bana said, “In the Prophet’s time the mosque was the centre of community life and learning and we hope to replicate that model including women-led congregational prayers for women. Through the consultation process we intend to work with diverse groups, opinions and organisations, including the Council for Mosques, to create the ethos and spirit of the mosques during the Prophet’s time.”

In February, America’s first women’s mosque opened in Los Angeles and its founders said the aim was not to compete with other mosques, but to “inspire and empower” Muslim women.

Bradford Council for Mosques declined to comment on the idea of a woman-only mosque, pending discussions.

President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association for Bradford North, Dr Mohammed Iqbal, said as far as his religious group were concerned there was a tradition for women to lead prayers in their own groups. “The mosque is a mixed community and involves the whole community, men, women and children. It is for bringing people together,” he said.

The idea has proven controversial to some people commenting on the “Telegraph & Argus” Facebook page.

Iram Ayaz-Kirkire said, “For those of you saying ‘equal rights’ and women should share the mosques that already exist. You need to understand that the mosques in Bradford are for males and females. Never has a woman been turned away from a mosque.”

The qur'anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

The qur’anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

This appeared in “The Guardian” newspaper, also in May. Predicated on the exciting news about the planned mosque, it provides international and historical perspectives of considerable interest:

A Muslim group seeking to establish Britain’s first female-led mosque is to consult on its plans for a prayer space “managed by women primarily for women”.

The Muslim Women’s Council (MWC), which was founded after a series of informal conversations with women in Bradford, believes that women have traditionally been marginalised in places of worship.

During the initial consultation, the aim is for various options for the women’s mosque to be discussed with both locals and international Islamic scholars. MWC says the facility would be open to Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Early plans include facilities specifically tailored for Muslim women to cater for their religious beliefs including services for divorce, bereavement, legal advice, parenting and feeding the homeless.

The organisation seeks to also promote Islamic education and scholarship for British Muslim women in order to tackle social issues such as radicalisation and lack of social cohesion and says, “In the current context the role of British Muslim women has never been more important”.

Bana Gora, the founding member and chief executive of MWC, said access was the biggest problem that female worshippers face, according to a local audit of mosques her organisation had carried out.

Gora said the findings highlighted that many of the local mosques followed a “patriarchal model” and that “women’s representation on governance structures was non-existent on committees and boards”.

She added that gender segregated spaces, which are traditionally how many UK mosques are structured, were “dated and unwelcoming”.

She said, “The alienation that women feel has profound consequences for younger generations who are taught that Islam treats both men and women as spiritual equals, yet the practice within mosques contradicts the principles.”

Gora went on to say that the MWC wanted to provide a safe space for young women to question, learn and grow, have an opportunity to make informed choices and to appreciate their heritage at a time when “many young people feel that their faith is no longer relevant, or are going to extremes”.

Children in Cengilli, near Kagizman, eastern Turkey

Children in Cengilli, near Kagizman, eastern Turkey

The focus is initially on Bradford, where there are 110 mosques and where a quarter of the population say they are Muslim.

The MWC has previously organised meetings with party political leaders, challenged volunteers to climb Mount Snowdon for charity and hosted events to celebrate the lives of women in the community.

Congregations in mosques are led by imams who are traditionally male, yet women can lead other women in prayer, according to some Islamic schools of thought.

There are female imams and women’s mosques, or nusi, in China, with Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque of Kaifeng, which dates back to 1820, being the oldest surviving one.

Dr. Amina Wadud, a 62-year-old African-American professor, made headlines when she led Friday prayers to a mixed congregation of men and women ten years ago.

Diyarbakir, Turkey

Diyarbakir, Turkey

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