Her name is Sherin Khankan. Born in Denmark to a Syrian father and a Finnish mother, the well-known author and political commentator has started a new mosque in Copenhagen, Denmark. Named as 'Mariam Mosque', it is led entirely by women imams.
Speaking to Danish newspaper Politiken, Sherin Khankan, the woman behind the mosque who calls it 'a feminist project', said she started Mariam because she "never felt at home in the existing mosques." Although, Mariam will be open to both men and women.
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.politiken.dk
Sherin Khankan told Agence France Presse that "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." She added that she "would like to challenge that."
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.
"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 practicing Muslim and a young person in Denmark. But you can love and honour several cultures and influences at once without betraying one or the other camp"
Reaction to the mosque
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 considers them to be rather "moderate". 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, 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 to do, 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 said.
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, have to be found. "It's a big responsibility and we all work as volunteers," Khankan was quoted as saying.