It’s a big day for the American Muslim community. Today marks the inaugural gathering of the Women’s Mosque of America in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles. This noble effort is organized by and for women with the specific goal of “empowering women and girls through more direct access to Islamic scholarship and leadership opportunities.” I for one support this because I value faith and women’s empowerment. The prophetic tradition includes examples of women leading each other in prayer but sadly the haters (men and women) will still hate. Some haters are threatened by strong, independent, empowered women so my response is to speak out and support this work and invest in its success.
I will admit that I was annoyed when first told I could not attend the service. I was particularly annoyed because my wife has the distinct honor of delivering the first sermon. I considered wearing a scarf and covering my face to sneak in, not a good look. I felt excluded because of my gender, I was being denied access for being a man! I couldn’t believe my XY chromosomes were holding me back, then it hit me. It was my first bitter taste of gender segregation. I experienced that cold, unpleasent dish served to so many women for so long at our mosques. Today that reality will finally change because of a group of pioneering women who chose to define their own spiritual experience and shape their own identity. Novel idea.
For decades women were treated like luggage-class travelers at the mosque. Many women felt slighted and discriminated against because prayer spaces often double as storage areas and supply closets. Women are often detached from the “community” experience when they watch sermons in another room via closed circuit TV. It should be no surprise why most Muslim women rarely attend Friday service. I understand it is not a religious obligation for females to attend but they do have the choice and they consistently choose not to attend. Until we address the gender issues in our prayer spaces then a Women’s Mosque is the most pragmatic alternative to disengagement from religious community experience. Our community is not complete without our mothers, sisters and daughters. The Women’s Mosque is about developing and nurturing that female segment instead of continuing to ignore it.
To be fair, the need for women’s empowerment is not limited to American Muslims; it’s just our time to address it. A wise man taught me that we are the architects of our destiny and only we can define our identity. Some identify their faith through violence, we can choose to identify ours by gender equality and the prophetic values of love and compassion. We can talk about identity but action speaks louder and its time to act. Its time to support this effort and to advance a better narrative. In the free marketplace of ideas it’s time that Muslim women have a place to gather, share and discuss faith, untainted by the male ego. Imagine that.
The organizers of this project decided on having one service per month to complement, not compete with other mosques. A noble gesture but I know that a supplement can quickly become a substitute if our mosques don’t learn to embrace our strong, intelligent, pioneering sisters before they leave. Once they leave the mosque ceases to represent the community and becomes irrelevant. We have a dual responsibility to support this Women’s Mosque while ensuring that our sisters have a voice in traditional mosques. For those who object to the Women’s Mosque claiming it “divides” our community, remember we have been divided for as long as women have been marginalized. This blessing is just the logical outcome of a history of oppressive behavior; it’s our silver lining and we should nurture it, and I will to my part.
The Women’s Mosque makes me proud to be an American Muslim. I hope my little girl will visit often and be inspired by her sisters. To all those who contributed to this achievement know that I support you and I pray that your efforts are divinely guided to every success and driven by the purest intentions.