History was made in Copenhagen last week, when Scandinavia’s first female-run mosque marked its official opening with Friday prayers led by two women imams. More than 60 women attended the mosque, set above a fast-food outlet in the city center and overseen by imams Sherin Khankan and Saliha Marie Fetteh.
Khankan sang the “adhan” (call to prayer) and made an opening speech, and Fetteh delivered the khutbah, or sermon, on the theme of “Women and Islam in a modern world.” Rows of women knelt and touched their foreheads to the ground — a rare sight, given women are often encouraged to pray at home or privately, or relegated to small, uninviting women’s sections at mosques.
The Mariam mosque opened informally in February, and has since hosted five weddings (including some inter-religious unions) and a couple of divorces, one of which was officiated after prayers on Friday. Their own six-page marriage charter has four key principles: polygamy is not an option; women have the right to divorce; a marriage will be annulled if psychological or physical violence is committed; and, in the event of divorce, women will have equal rights over any children. One of the mosque’s main objectives, said Khankan, was “to challenge patriarchal structures within religious institutions.”
The mosque also wanted to challenge “patriarchal interpretations” of the Quran and promote Islamic progressive values. Although Khankan’s plan to become an imam and open a mosque was met with some resistance from those close to her, it did not come from her parents. “My father is a feminist icon. I wouldn’t now be talking about female imams without my father, who always told me I could do anything,” she said. Her Muslim father is a refugee from Syria who came to Denmark after being imprisoned and tortured for his opposition to the regime
“We represent a modernist, spiritual approach to Islam,” said Khankan of the initiative. “We are seeking to create an alternative voice, without delegitimizing others. We want the Mariam mosque to be a place where everyone can come, and we can flourish together. What happens in a mosque goes way beyond the mosque itself — it affects society.”
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