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In the Name of God: The Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

It always did pain me. In many mosques – too many, actually – the space for women is woefully inadequate (if not downright gross). Of course, I never saw these spaces for myself, but I learned from my own family and from my reading of some Muslim women’s experiences. Hence my complete delight at the opening of a Women-Only mosque in Downtown L.A.:

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.

Of course, I believe all mosques should have inviting spaces for both men and women. I believe that Muslim women should be made to feel welcome and part of the community as a whole. In no way, shape, or form can a community prosper if its women are suppressed or mistreated. The first Friday prayer at this mosque brought some of its congregants to tears:

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.

In most mosques, women are hard-pressed to find the opportunity to ask the imam questions after prayer. But on Friday, a female speaker (or khateeba) addressed women’s issues and held a discussion circle after the prayer service.

Many women expressed their gratitude at the chance to share their thoughts. Some cried and called the experience liberating.

On the one hand, it is sad that some of my Muslim sisters had to go to such a length as opening a Women-Only mosque to get a spiritually fulfilling experience. At the time of the Prophet (pbuh), such was not the case. Although they did pray separately (women behind the men), there was no barrier like there is in many mosques today. In fact, tradition states that the women would complain to the Prophet (pbuh) about the men encroaching upon their space in the mosque.

Still, such a mosque is a most welcome addition to the family of mosques in America. I pray for its tremendous success, and it would bring me no small amount of joy if more such mosques dot the American Muslim religious landscape in the near future. All of us – men and women – are the beloved children of God. Each of us deserves a sacred space in which to connect to Him.

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