Downtown L.A. Mosque Imagines Empowered Role For Muslim Women

By Sarah Parvini
Los Angeles Times.

The women sit on their knees, watching intently as a slightly sheepish sister in a pink head scarf crosses the beige floor and approaches the dais. After a moment, her jitters are gone and, in a booming voice, she recites the Islamic call to prayer.

In what may have been a unique moment in America, more than 100 women gathered Friday at the interfaith Pico-Union Project.

While many mosques continue to follow a tradition of separating women from male congregants, the downtown Los Angeles mosque forbids men from attending.

Female-only mosques may exist in China, Chile and India, but Muslim leaders say this could be the first in the U.S.

The inaugural prayer Friday marked the launch of the Women’s Mosque of America, a nonprofit that hopes to create a space where Muslim women can “bring their whole self,” learn more about their faith and foster bonds of sisterhood.

“Muslim women haven’t had a forum,” Yasmeen Ruhge, a cardiologist from Pasadena, said as she waited for the service to begin.

“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.”

About two-thirds of U.S. mosques use a divider to separate men and women during morning prayers, according to a 2011 study on American mosques co-sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America. That figure could be higher for Friday prayers, the study said.

Because many spaces for women in many mosques are not as appealing or accessible as the areas for men, an open environment is integral for growth, said Sana Muttalib, co-president of the women’s mosque. Often, women are forced to enter through side or back doors to reach their segregated areas, she explained.

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