Papa, don't preach

Born in Denmark to a Syrian father and a Finnish mother, Sherin Khankan, the well-known author and political commentator has started a new mosque in Copenhagen. The Mariam Mosque is led entirely by women imams. By Sadho Ram

By Sadho Ram

Sherin Khankan is quoted as saying to the Danish newspaper Politiken: ″I have never felt at home in the existing mosques. The new grand mosques are unbelievably beautiful, but I have the feeling of being a stranger when I am there. We women stand up in the balcony and look down on what is happening. Many women and young people don’t even go into the mosques as you enter into a male-dominated and patriarchal space in which a man has the floor, a man leads prayers, men are in focus and dominate. That is why we are now setting up a mosque on women’s terms.″

″We have normalised patriarchal structures″ in our religious institutions and this is ″not just in Islam, but also within Judaism and Christianity and other religions,″ declares Khankan. This is something that the self-confident Muslima is looking to challenge.

For a modern interpretation of Islam

Khankan is confident that her project will ease the barriers between traditional Islam and a more modern rendition of the faith that can better relate to young worshippers. She′s asserts that she is not out to exclude anybody and is willing to work with ″all″ Muslims in Copenhagen.

″Many imams in this country belong to the traditional school which does not account for the culture we live in. Instead, they help to construct contradictions between being a practising Muslim and a young person in Denmark,″ Khankan continues. She believes that it is possible to love and honour several cultures and influences at once without betraying one or the other camp.

While the overall reaction toward the newly opened Mariam Mosque has been mostly positive from the Muslim community, there has been negative comments too, which Khankan nevertheless considers ″moderate″ in tone. The negative criticism comes directly from Imam Waseem Hussein, chairman of the Danish Islamic Centre – one of the larger, established mosques in Denmark – who says there is ″no need for a women’s mosque.″

Speaking to Politiken newspaper, he dismissed claims that there is no place for women in the majority of Danish mosques. He also added that he does not believe that the mosque will make any major inroads among Muslim women.

″They can do what they want, but their theological reference is wrong. Why should there be a specific need just for women? Are we also to create mosques only for men? That would cause an outcry within the Danish population,″ Imam Hussein added.

The first Friday prayer has yet to be held as another eight female imams, in addition, to the two currently involved – Sherin Khankan and Saliha Marie Fetteh – remain to be found. Sherin Khankan is confident that other female imams will turn up to share this important work.

Sadho Ram

© MPC Journal 2016