Seeking to increase female representation within Islam, Bana Gora made headlines in August 2015 when she announced her intention to open Britain’s first-ever female-regulated mosque in Bradford.
As the head of the Muslim Women’s Council, Gora recognised there was a lack of female representation in Islamic authority structures within the United Kingdom: an issue further facilitated by traditional rules segregating genders within mosques.
“When I was growing up across the Bradford district, there was never a practice of sisters going to the mosque,” Gora explained to The Guardian.
“We prayed at the house. But why couldn’t we go to the mosque on a Friday with our brother and father? We were told because it’s not the done thing. Women don’t go to the mosque. Well, actually, at the time of the Prophet [Peace Be Upon Him] women did, and they had the same access as men.”
The Muslim Women’s Council in the UK is running a fundraising campaign in an effort to purchase land to build the new mosque on, providing a space for women to both lead and be included in.
Female-led mosques around the world
Over to the UK's north-east, Sherin Khankan is Denmark’s first female imam, having founded the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen in 2016.
An activist and intellectual on Muslim issues, Khankan was born to a Finnish mother and Syrian father and holds a Masters in Sociology and Religion and Philosophy from the University of Copenhangen. Khankan told international media that she opened the temple in an effort to challenge the patriarchal traditions that exist within religions.
“We have normalised patriarchal structures in our religious institutions. Not just in Islam, but also within Judaism and Christianity and other religions. And we would like to challenge that,” Khankan said in an interview with The Guardian.
Closer to home, China’s Hui ethnic group is comprised predominantly of practitioners of Islam, most of whom live in the country’s North-western provinces, while the most recent statistics suggest there are upwards of 23 million Muslims within China across all cultural groups.
Female-led mosques have become a part of Islamic-Chinese tradition, with a late 16th century revival of Muslim culture and education seeing philosophers recognise the potential women had to uphold the faith.
Only recently has female empowerment within the country been held back, with religious persecution during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the mid-20th century holding back the movement.
Will we see one in Australia?
SBS spoke with Silma Ihram from the Australian Muslim Women’s Association about the whether we are likely to see the trend continue in Australia. While not ruling out the likelihood of a female-led institution, she stated that women would prefer to have service-based institutions that cater for Muslim women as opposed to a woman-led mosque.
“Most Muslim women do not see the need to put so much money and effort, just to have a woman leading prayers. Most mosques allow space for women to pray and to join in talks and activities and most women do not need more than that at the moment,” Ihram said.
The advocate for Muslim rights also reflected on the extensive costs and community backlash that can hinder a new mosque being built which are only furthered by the lack of well-known scholars.
“Mosques are extremely expensive and time consuming to establish and to battle through the inevitable council and local community backlash, [while] the community is still struggling to establish quality Islamic scholarship here, and there are no renowned Muslim women scholars who would be able to fulfill such leadership.”
"That all being said, I look forward one day to having a space that is designated for Muslim women only, where there is wonderful scholarship from a renowned female Muslim scholar, where there is easy access to childcare, a variety of services, and women have control of the decision making. But there are far more important things to do first - that's on the bucket list for the future."