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Scandinavia’s first women-only mosque opens in CPH

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The imam at the new mosque will help Muslim women achieve equal rights. Photo: Iris/Scanpix
13:34 CET+01:00
The female imam at Mariam Mosque, which is opening at an undisclosed location in Copenhagen this week, hopes the new facility can be a modernising influence in Islam.

Sherin Khankhan is the imam at the new mosque and the driving force behind its creation. In an interview with Politiken, she called Mariam Mosque a "feminist project" that will help Muslim women.

“I have never felt comfortable in the existing mosques,” Khankhan told Politiken. “The big new mosques are beautiful, but I’ve always had the feeling of being a stranger… [Mosques are] male-dominated and patriarchal places, where a man is at the speaking platform, a man leads prayer, a man is in focus and dominant. That’s why we have created a mosque on a female premise."

As the first of its kind in Scandinavia, Mariam Mosque will put women in charge of Friday prayers as well as all administration.

Khankhan said the mosque is aimed at helping Muslim women achieve equal rights, for example by making it easier for them to divorce their husbands.

Mehmet Ümit Necef, an associate professor with the Centre for Middle East Studies at Copenhagen University, told Politiken that he sees the female mosque as a form of modernisation of Islam, which should be considered a positive step.

“While external criticism of Islam creates a defensive response amongst Muslims, criticism and new ideas from within is hugely positive,” he said.

But leaders of Copenhagen’s traditional mosques have responded critically, questioning the theology as well as necessity of a women-only mosque.

“They can do as they like, but their theological basis is wrong. Why is there a separate need for women only? Should we also build a men-only mosque? That would cause an uproar in the Danish public,” Imam Waseem Hussein, chairperson of the Danish Islamic Centre (Dansk Islamisk Center), told Politiken.

Hussein does not believe that the mosque will be recognised by the majority of Danish Muslims.

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The mosque will have two female imams and a 12-member board, which will include two men, according to Politiken. The location of the mosque has not yet been made public due to concerns about repercussions from the general public.

Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, former head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET), told Politiken that he sees this as a sensible measure.

“If it is possible to keep the location of the mosque secret, then that is a guarantee [of its safety],” said Bønnichsen. “But it is sad that it is necessary – a victory for extreme influences.” 

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