On Friday, Los Angeles became home to the first mosque in the United States to be dedicated solely to women, marking the first time the traditional Friday call to prayer (jumma’a) and subsequent sermon (khutbah) was led by a female. While female-only mosques exist in China, this is the first of its kind in America.
“We have the right and responsibility to our faith,” Edina Lekovic said as she delivered the sermon to the gathering of roughly 150 women, according to Reuters. The event took place at the Pico-Union Project near downtown L.A. The location was first a synagogue before it was donated for use by various different religious and ethnic entities. Sunday morning church services are also held there.
Behind her, two banners emblazoned with gold lettering from the Qur’an stood out. The non-profit entity which calls itself the Women’s Mosque of America posted images from the event on its Facebook page, which has 853 likes so far. That number is growing, as is criticism.
Many Muslim women often complain that they feel excluded from traditional mosques; men and women must sit separately, and women must sit so far behind the men that they must watch the sermon being delivered on a projection screen.
The Wall Street Journal reported that while there is some general agreement among Muslim scholars that women can lead other women in daily Islamic prayers–historically, a few of Muhammad’s numerous wives had done this–there are still contesting views as to whether women are allowed to lead the special Friday prayer that is proceeded by a sermon. It is during the sermon that dialogue which shapes the mind is presented–a role reserved solely for men.
According to Muslim American scholar Furhan Zubairi, a woman delivering the khutbah (Friday night sermon) “is something that has no precedent in history or tradition.” He penned his opinions in a piece he posted online on Friday in reference to Lekovic’s delivery of Friday’s special prayer. “The issue of precedence isn’t something that should be taken lightly,” he wrote, according to the Journal.
In Islam, women are not valued as highly as men. In fact, the Qur’an notes that a woman’s share of inheritance is roughly half that of her male counterpart. Her right to work is also a topic that is highly disputed, as it is seen only on an as-needed basis, and the Qur’an directs that she is not permitted to work in an environment that serves alcohol.
For Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the mosque designed for women has stirred up talk about what the best ways are to draw more women into Islam. He reportedly told Reuters that many Muslims prefer integration over segregation as a way to entice more females into the faith. “A mosque is a place of worship where all segments of the Muslim community, men and women … should feel at home,” he said.
The Women’s Mosque of America was founded by M. Hasna Maznavi, 29, and Sana Muttalib, 31. Maznavi told Reuters that her goal in creating the mosque was to unite Muslim women hailing from diverse backgrounds, while explaining that the mosque is neither Sunni nor Shi’ite. It “occupies the ‘middle ground’ of politics,” Reuters wrote.
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