Over 200 women from across the UK including Glasgow, Leicester, Doncaster, Halifax, Rotherham, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Blackburn, Manchester, Luton, Woking, Watford, Oxford, and London attended the conference. As well having a national presence, the conference also had an international flavour. Speakers at the conference were from the US, Germany, Denmark and the UK.
The conference that took place over three days (20th, 21st and 22nd May), is held annually and provides an opportunity for women of all faiths to come together from across the UK in order to debate and discuss contemporary issues of importance to women. These included a much needed intra-faith dialogue on shaping religious discourse around the Status of Women in Islam, Muslim Women and Religious Authority, and the Challenges facing Muslim Women in the UK & Europe in the face of growing Islamophobia. The dialogue will feed into and inform the current discourse taking place nationally about Islam and its place in modern day Britain.
This conference was held in partnership with Rawiyah Foundation, based in the USA, and featured a number of Shaykhas (Female Scholars) as part of the Rawiya Foundation’s Shaykha Fest. The programme consisted of high calibre internationally renowned speakers participating in panel discussions and intensive workshops. There was also a chance to relax and unwind with stand-up comedy and a glamour night featuring live musical entertainment as well as a bazaar.
Speakers included Shaykha Reima Yosif, President of Rawiya Foundation and Rawiya College, New Jersey, USA, Shaykha Safia Shahid, a leading UK based scholar, as well as Sarah Joseph, Editor of EMEL, Muslim Lifestyle Magazine, Sherin Khankan, Lecturer, published author, columnist, activist, TV-Hostess, and public educator and Yasmin Amin, Doctoral Student researching Humour in Islam.
The conference took place in the heart of Yorkshire’s Bronte Country at the Mercure Bradford, Bankfield Hotel. Selina Ullah, Chair of Muslim Women’s Council says, “We had a fantastic line up of speakers coming to Bradford, from the USA, Denmark, Germany and from around the UK. The weekend facilitated women to explore the challenges facing Muslims e.g. how can we be active as citizens in the face of growing hostility and Islamophobia? Is spirituality hindered by the excesses of our modern lifestyles? What is the impact of our lifestyles on our environment? Are we fulfilling our duties as custodians of the earth?
The conference provided an opportunity for women to come together from across the country in order to take ownership of the discourse surrounding Muslim women alongside challenging the widely held stereotypes of Muslim women being submissive.
The Women led Mosque initiative was formally launched at the conference and Shaykha Reima Yosif, Founder and President of Rawiya Foundation, says, “The verse outlining roles of men and women has been misinterpreted. Men are not the custodians of women, and women are not meant to be devoutly obedient to them.”
The importance of meaningful cooperation between the faiths was discussed. Sarah Joseph, Editor of Emel Media Group, says, “We need more than teas and coffees in interfaith work. Interfaith needs to include scriptural dissection and exchange.”
The announcement of a Women Led Mosque was first made at the Daughters of Eve 2015 Conference. There has since been extensive coverage and interest generated in the project. During this time the vision has been built upon a series of consultations with stakeholders have been held, and support gained from religious scholars and academics. The Women led Mosque has also received backing from across the country and internationally at conferences where the vision has been presented.
Sherin Khankan, Founder of Mariam Mosque, says, “A women-led mosque would enable Muslim women to be visible in roles and institutions that are traditionally patriarchal. The impact of female ‘imamahs’ would go beyond the mosque, impacting husbands, children, and provide an alternative narrative when countering Islamophobia.”
As has been previously mentioned, access for women to existing mosques is inadequate at present, so a definite need has been established. Women’s representation on governance structures is non-existent on committees and boards, segregated spaces are dated and unwelcoming. This is by no means a criticism of the immense efforts of the previous generation in establishing a strong network of mosques across the UK. However, the needs of women have been continuously overlooked.
The aim is to create an all-inclusive and fully accessible space for all communities (Muslims and non-Muslims). A safe space where women’s issues can be discussed as well as wrap-around community services for all.
Women make up 50% of the population, and many donations come from women. Yet when it comes to mosques and their facilities, women do not have equal access. We have some excellent mosques in Bradford with good access; however they are few and far between. No one should ever be excluded from a place of worship but there are numerous examples where this has happened, locally and nationally.
Women are the fastest growing segment of the Muslim population and also the group that is most under attack, verbal and physical. They are being rejected by the institutions they need the most. Where should they go?
It is for this reason that Muslim Women’s Council aim to ensure that Muslim women have the space to discuss issues that affect them and their families in their daily lives in an environment that is open to everyone.
Bana Gora, CEO of Muslim Women’s Council says, “We are really pleased to announce the official launch of the Women led Mosque. Our aim is to secure enough donations over the next two years to purchase land within close proximity to the city centre.
Our website is now live, as well as details of how to donate. The web address is: www.womenledmosque.co.uk.”