Asian Lite marks Holy Month of Ramadan with a special series of Ramadan Musings with Masarat Daud. In this column for Asian Lite News, Masarat meets Latifa Akay, a board member of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative
In Dubai, I take my niece and nephew out with me most of the time, including to some quick beauty appointments. Once, I was told that my 10 year old nephew could not be allowed inside because ‘he was a boy over the age of 9’. I found that ridiculous but after talking to the manager, he was allowed inside, with a fee. There are similar restrictions on spaces such as toilets and mosques, so I completely relate when one of the founders of Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) in London felt urged to start a new space having seen the difficulties her disabled mother had when trying to access mosque space. Founded by two Muslim feminist activists, IMI is an inclusive space of worship where access for the disabled is prioritised.
Speaking to Latifa Akay, a board member of the IMI, she explains that they have other chapters too in Pakistan, Switzerland, Kashmir and Malaysia. All are still quite new, with the main London chapter having launched in 2012. They don’t have a physical space yet which makes their events slightly less frequent but it has worked in their favour because so far, their publicity has been word-of-mouth. That is precisely how I learnt of them, thanks to my friend Adnan Arif who prayed Jummah (Friday prayers) at the mosque and had high praises for it.
Latifa says that the fundraising budget has a portion for the purchase of a mosque space. “Having a physical space helps in growing the community,” she adds. There are other events that are hosted by IMI too such as film screenings, a monthly feminist brunch, devotional recitations, Reconnecting with Islam events to help people who had disconnected from Islam to reconcile with it, and other related events.
Mosques for women, where women also lead prayers are not new. The tradition has existed in China for hundreds of years, with the first women-only mosque built in 1820. In the USA and in Denmark, there are women-only mosques too and one coming up in Bradford soon. But IMI is not simply a space for women; it embraces people of all gender and sexual orientation.
“Last year after Ramadan, I remember sitting with the IMI supporters. We prayed together and later sat in a park talking. It felt like such a true sense of a community and made me feel that we really have something special,” Latifa reminisces.
She admits that people seem nervous at first, not knowing what to expect. That is easy to understand because religious spaces appear to have an imposing presence, and as Latifa mentions that “while many mosques and community centres are doing great work but there are still a few who marginalise people and usually, the spaces almost always prioritise men.”
It reminded me of praying Eid prayers in mosques that meant we were huddled in an underground parking lot, while the entire mosque was open to men. As the underground parking would get busier as the years went by, we would find spaces in between cars and struggle with the heat of the vehicles.
The comforting news is that there has not been a severe backlash; it also is a testament to the changing landscape of religious practice and the important work done by women to reclaim their space of worship. Latifa concludes by saying that “this is not a new development because we are simply reclaiming what was already there.”
You can get more details on their website http://inclusivemosqueinitiative.org and they have Jummah prayers in London scheduled for June 17 and July 1, 2016. IMI also have Taraweeh prayers and an Iftar lined up for this month.
(Masarat Daud is many things. A girl’s education campaigner, a TED speaker, a TEDx curator, a recent SOAS MA graduate and a politically-incorrect humourist currently based in London.)