Earlier this year a first of its kind project was established in Los Angeles and garnered much interest nationwide: the Women’s Mosque of America.
While there have been women only Islamic institutions or masajid around the world for centuries, most notably in Algeria, Egypt, and China, this project marks the first time that the endeavor has come to the United States in this way.
In an effort to better understand the Women’s Mosque of America, the need that drove its establishment and the controversy that stemmed from its creation, MuslimGirl.net interviewed its founder, M. Hasna Maznavi. Our featured list consists of what Maznavi has said of the mosque in her own words and gives readers an idea of what she is about.
Intention behind Women’s Only Mosque
I have been watching the media and the way that journalists pick up on certain elements and ignore others. And I think what’s really not coming through right now is that this entire project stems from a place of love and inspiration. And, you know, starting a mosque was always a childhood dream of mine.
Are you familiar with the concept of sadaqa jaria? [A charity or donation that keeps paying off through the generations, like a mosque.]
So as young child, I think I must have been like seven, I decided that before I die, I want to build a mosque.
Another country’s culture vs. prophetic model
First of all, I had a great mosque experience growing up, in Garden Grove mosque. Women were on the board, women and men prayed in the same space, my older sister was president of the Muslim youth group, and there were no barriers, as is the prophetic model.
What ended up happening though was that once the mosque grew to such a large size, they renovated and they ended up building the new mosque in the style of another country’s culture
Not going to the mosque hurt spirituality
Friday used to be my favorite day of the week, a day I looked forward to, and now it became a day of immense guilt and pain and struggle and shame. I began asking myself what was wrong with me — how can I call myself a good Muslim and feel this much internal resistance going to the mosque? It really started to hurt my spirituality.
Scholarship of women in Islam goes way back
I had this experience in 2012 of going to a conference at UC Santa Barbara called “The Reconstituting Female Authority in Islam Conference,” and it was at that conference that my eyes were completely opened. All of the internal struggles that I was feeling, everything became crystal clear at that conference, and I realized,
“Okay this is not an issue with me internally, there is an issue with the way women are being treated currently in our religion.” tweet
I also learned about the vast history of female Muslim religious authorities and scholars. Thousands of them during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and up until a few hundred years after his death were female Muslim scholars, and they were chosen to memorize hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and pass them on. They chose women because the translators wanted as short a train of narrations as possible, and women had a longer life span and sharper memories. They picked them as young girls and had them sit with scholars, at three or four years old, learning and memorizing hadith, and then passing them on until the end of their lives.
Not a mosque made to compete with traditional mosques
This is a complimentary space, it is not an alternative space. It is not a competition with existing mosques. We are working with other mosques and other imams, as I said. We are planning to even have some of our Jummahs in other mosques, maybe in the next year once we start to expand. So we are working with Muslim men and with the greater Muslim community on this project.
Giving a platform for the female Muslim voice
Also, the Jummah and the prayer services are only a small aspect of what we plan to do. We plan to put our khutbas online, on our YouTube channels, and men can benefit from hearing from the female perspective that way. We plan to hold women-led classes and workshops and trainings [sic] where we’ll invite men and even interfaith men and women to come in and attend and hear from the female Muslim voice.
That’s what this really is about: giving a platform for the female Muslim voice, which you don’t hear in any Muslim mosque.
Golden age of Islam
Instead of talking about the Golden Age of Islam as a thing of the past, we want to see it now, and we want to see it in the future of Islam — we want to see an Islamic renaissance. We want to see the way that Muslim women were treated during the Prophet’s time.
Returning to the Quran
Someone asked me, when you’ve had so many bad experiences in a mosque, why didn’t you just give up and walk away? And the reason I didn’t was because I’m inspired by the word of God. I know the words of God, because I read them in a language I understand.
Everyone on our board, two men included, agrees that we all need to get the Muslim ummah back to the Quran. Think of the Prophet’s example: he was an orphan in a tribal society, the first Muslims were all freed and runaway slaves, these people were all at the bottom rung of their society. What made them so great? Why were they able to inspire so much change in their societies, change for the better? It’s because they all were in contact with the word of God, they all knew and understood what was being said in the Quran, and they all had the beautiful example of the Prophet Muhammad SAW to follow.