"I want this mosque to be an inspiration to other women to do the same thing, if not opening a mosque, surely having the fortitude to say to the men, we want a voice."
These are the words of Rabi’a Keeble, the woman who founded the Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque in Berkely, California. Its first service was held on a Friday earlier this month.
While it is the second mosque in the U.S. led by women, it is the first mosque in the country where both genders worship side-by-side. Traditionally, mosques are either gender specific or allow women to worship separated from men.
"Our mosque is the first of its 'kind', in that it does not discriminate, it allows everyone to come – men, women, converts, shia, sunni, everyone," Keeble told StepFeed.
She explained that she founded the mosque out of her love for Islam and her personal sadness at seeing so much "sectarian ignorance" and so many "women who expose the same patriarchal standards" because they've never been taught anything else.
"The people willing to step outside the envelope weren't there, not even in academia," she said.
Women in mosques and female imams
Keeble, who herself converted to Islam, said that she does not believe the Prophet Muhammad intended for the religion to take on a patriarchal dimension.
"Islam is not inherently bad for women. What is bad for women is to give up their power, to allow any one other person or group to tell them what to do or say and how to dress and behave," she said. "Sadly Islam has drifted in some cases – not all – into a purely male realm, like a men's club. I don't think that is what the Prophet intended."
She explained that Islam is actually "incredibly good" for women, saying that women need to "step up and take their power." Keeble believes women must be allowed to lead prayers and worship alongside men.
"Men fear that if a woman is in proximity, and bends to pray, that their bodies will respond and they would not be able to concentrate," she said. "I say if you are so easily affected by someone's body you need to work on your nafs, because prayer calls for concentration and men are around women all day."
The Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque, is the second in the U.S. to be led by women. However, the Women's Mosque in Los Angeles, which was the first, only allows women worshipers and male children under the age of 12 to attend prayers together.
Women imams also remain controversial, although some schools of Islam do allow for them. Currently, the Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque is not led by an imam.
"I think that will take a great deal of searching and consideration. Right now we are allowing guest khatib's, and muezzin to come," Keeble explained.
Islam is for everyone
Inclusion is important to Keeble. She personally found peace and beauty in Islam and thinks that should be open to everyone.
"I saw a very beautiful religion, with people here in America who wanted to tap into that stream, and to be nourished by what the Prophet, saw, started," she said, talking about her conversion. "I saw what the Prophet's vision was and it was beautiful. We need to get back to that."
When it comes to issues of tension such as gender, nationality and race, Keeble believes Muslims need to move on.
"We have to learn to not be so touchy, to be more open hearted and have open minds, and to practice social justice towards everyone," she said. "Fighting, and holding on to old ideas about who people are racially, who they are nationally, and culturally is a problem, but we can fix that."