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The Women’s Mosque: Qal’bu Maryam The heart of Maryam

The Women's Mosque: Qal'bu Maryam -

Mosques are sacred spaces – they’re community centers meant for believers. Historically dating all the way to Islam’s early years, male or female and anywhere in between came together to worship their god in earnest, creating a community. But in recent times following the ugly trend of women’s side entrances, the archaic boomerang of the role of women in faith—as if the Quran wasn’t clear enough in its revelations of the personal responsibility on both believing men and women [3:195; 4:7,25,32,124; 9:68-72; 16:97; 24:6-9; 33:35-36; 40:40; 49:13; 51:49; 53:45; 57.18; 66:10; 75:37-39; 92:3 ]; and despite the revivalist puritan hegemony, “fundamental” only to the culture Islam set forth to squash – a new kind of space is creating itself. The women’s mosque.

The case for a women’s mosque…

A study conducted in 2011 probed mosques in America and women’s involvement in mosque life. Most notably the findings conclude; on average only 18% of women attend ritual Friday prayers across the country, 66% of mosques use a partition to physically separate genders during all prayers – having increased over the years (not decreased) -and that mosques who interact with American society either through interfaith and volunteer work had substantially better outcomes for women inclusion overall. At first glance you might ask yourself, “Why aren’t women participating in the mosque more,” but the question is moot point. Across cultures, atmosphere in venues, whether secular or religious, have worked to warm up to the idea of women occupying public spaces. Despite growing up embedded in the system of the mosque, as a student of its private school until higher education, and an avid mosque-goer until recently, I never felt welcomed much. Although my spirit always revels in attending a house of God and its human attempts to meld with the divine, I’ve always felt othered, by section, by dress, by gender. I know from talking to other women, they often feel the same way too. But in Islam’s early days, that was far from the case.

…Only 18% of women attend ritual Friday prayers across the country…

In hajj rights alone, the ritual initiation into the greater spiritual connection of the collective ummah, we see no separation of gender. Traditionally speaking, the only barriers to Muslim women participation have been Muslim men, albeit the Prophets protests, ‘Do not prevent your women from attending the mosque… [Sahih Muslim, 4/161, Fath al-Bari, 2/382, Sahih Bukhari 2/ 13 /23.]’ The study also highlighted that 56% of the sample claimed to use flexible text based interpretations in their application of Islam to our modern context. Which begs the question, why does our minaret of thought stay in the first level of heaven and alienate the obligations of half the Muslim community?

THE Women’s Mosque…

A mosque drops anchor in an old church and plans to open its healing doors and hold regular Friday prayers on April 14th— it’ll be the first in Northern California. Past the bold brick of the Starr King School of Ministry, is where you’ll find Qal’bu Maryam (the Heart of Maryam). The name is powerful; venerating the only female “prophet” in Islam while emphasizing the shared sacred space, paying homage to the Judeo-Christian monotheism Islam flows from, in both body and holy spirit. The Heart of Maryam proudly declares their morals and wishes to embody pure Islam away from patriarchy and oppressive hegemony by  sticking to the mission statement below;

All are welcome to come in peace and solidarity with Muslims… new converts, reverts, born Muslims, immigrants, black, white, brown, all gendersAll engagement will flow from individual desire to be part of a community and to learn and contribute… our mission is inherently tied to social justice.”

Rabia Keeble, founder of the mosque, and admitted hopeless romantic expressed that her own negative experiences with mosque leadership – which is primarily male – fueled her passion for this bold project. “I want to see Muslim women truly empowered with the knowledge of their rights, and to have the ability to own their own space in the narrative, to build a place where they have a voice, power, and rights.”

Crystal Keshwarz is one such woman, along with Soraya Deen. Soraya will be giving the first Khutbah (sermon) of the first of many Friday prayers, inshallah (God willing), while Crystal will be preforming the aathan (call to prayer). When asked about her previous experiences, Crystal said that growing up she always wanted to perform the call to prayer but terms like ‘haram’ (forbidden) and ‘arwa’ were used to gently quiet her, that all changed when presented with this opportunity; “It is an honor to be able to do this for my sisters, it is a moment of irrefutable blessing to provide this service to the community.”

Seek knowledge even to China…

Education is a vital component to capitalistic endeavors and livelihood but also to living, and contrary to popular belief, also to faith. The Prophet has many narrations speaking about the merits of knowledge and how important critical thinking is to life as a Muslim. It is one of the central things that Qal’bu Maryam, the woman’s mosque hopes to reignite in the American Muslim ethos. “I think overtime some ideologies have drifted into the religious practices that are not Islamic at all,” Rabia laments, but then she adds with a smile, “I am committed to growing the positive picture of Islam in America by pushing back on some of the negative tropes and creating new positive associations by [first] allowing women to step up.”

The mosque touts theological soundness in the spirit of the Prophet and that of higher academia with well-known female scholars of Islam – heavy-hitters like the eminent Amina Wadud on their advisory board. Amina Wadud is a part of the greater legacy of women paving the way for pure Islam. She, especially, alongside others have inspired me in my personal journey of understanding and reaffirming my faith. Female scholarship in Islam is not new but might seem so due to the radical exclusion of women from public discourse, and when they do escape erasure they’re often met with animosity. There is nothing radical about women leading prayer in joint congregation and the idea of an educated woman as a “dangerous woman” heralded by the modern Muslim ummah is antithetical to the justice prescribed by the system.

There is nothing radical about women leading prayer


Get involved…

Sacred spaces such as mosques and more specifically women’s mosques are too few and are in need of our support. Whether spreading the word, volunteering, donating or attending if you’re in the area, visit Qalbu Maryam’s site qalbumaryam.weebly.com and help the legacy live on!

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