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Home > Denmark > Current debates > 2018 > The Mariam Mosque – a women-led mosque in Copenhagen

The Mariam Mosque – a women-led mosque in Copenhagen

Local as well as international media showed up, when the (alleged) first women-led mosque in all of Scandinavia officially opened in February 2016. The opening of a new mosque is actually not very unusual in Denmark as the total number of mosques in the country has risen from approximately 115 in 2006 to approximately 170 a decade later (Kühle Lene & Malik Larsen, Moskéer i Danmark II, 2017). The obvious reason for the massive media coverage was of course that the mosque in question differentiated itself from the vast majority of Danish and European mosques by having a number of female imams leading an all-women congregation during Friday prayer. While the Mariam Mosque is the first mosque to have clear-cut female imams, it is not the first mosque in Denmark with Friday prayer exclusively for women. This title belongs to a much less-known Shiite mosque in Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark. The women behind this mosque had already been gathering faithful for about ten years, when the Mariam Mosque opened in 2016, and still meet several times a week to pray or listen to preaches held in turn by the all-women attendants. In the months after the opening of the Mariam Mosque, it was subject to both Muslim and non-Muslim debate – in the latter, often as an important expression of a necessary reformation of Islam, which is more in sync with Western values such as gender equality. The reception from their fellow Muslims was less supportive, though, and consisted of a combination of criticising and passively ignoring. The criticism has, revolved around the rejection of a statement made by the leading female imam, Sherin Khankan, saying that Danish mosques needed to challenge patriarchal structures and make more room for the women. Other imams, publicly known as ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’, have also criticised the theology of the Mariam Mosque. One example of the Mariam Mosques’ non-mainstream theology is their inter-religious marriages between Muslim women and Christian or Jewish men, which, according to the majority of Muslims, is only permitted in the reverse constellation. This characteristic was partly the reason for the departure from the project, in the summer of 2017, of one of the two founding female imams (the one who held the very first preach in the mosque), due to theological disagreements. The women-led mosque has proclaimed to be deeply inspired by Sufism, also known as Islamic spiritualism.

The Mariam Mosque is situated in a large apartment next to the shopping main street in the heart of Copenhagen, made available by the well-known photographer and speaker, Jacob Holdt. Their central location does not, however, mean that the activities of the mosque include daily prayers or even weekly Friday sermons. Since the opening, the mosque has only been open for public prayer once a month, which might be partly explained by the mainstream Islamic opinion that Friday prayer is only mandatory for men, and not for women. The low frequency of activities, combined with the low number of participants (usually no more than 20 people), makes it reasonable to ask whether this is a ‘real’ mosque or not. The initiators behind the project undoubtedly perceive it as a mosque, and have from the beginning declared that in time it should not only make service for women but also for men, which is already the case in terms of other activities than Friday prayer. During their first two years, they have performed more than a dozen Islamic weddings and a handful of divorces. None of these have civic validity, though, because they have not yet obtained formal state recognition, which grants the right to perform legally recognised marriages and divorces. However, this is one of their goals in the nearest future. Some of their other activities include Islamic spiritual care and therapy, Islamic meditation also known as dhikr, and hosting visits from public schools and other institutions.

In 2017, the mosque expanded its activities by establishing an Islamic academy called MIA (the Mariam Mosque’s Islamic Academy), which offers shorter lessons in various subjects such as Islamic feminism or Islamic philosophy. The teachings are held by people both from inside and outside the Mariam Mosque network, some of them researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The academy is especially (but not exclusively) directed towards women who have shown interest in becoming female imams. In order to be taken into consideration as a future imam, the candidates have to present previous academic merits from so-called relevant studies (for instance psychology or Islamic studies) from ordinary Western universities. This example of intertwining knowledge from different types of reasoning that is normally thought of as differentiated (for instance understood as scientific vs. religious), seems to be one of the silver linings of the entire Mariam Mosque project.

1 March 2018