A Women’s Mosque: An Interfaith Space for Feminist Spirituality by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. A Women MosqueIf you thought that all I could do in regards to feminism and religion is challenge Patriarchy and tease around ladies and gentlemen of good temper and better reputation with my corrosive comments, this post may change your mind.

As I said in a previous article, this year I started, with a small group of people, a social project called Imaan, whose goal is centered on inter-faith dialogue and better visibility of the actions and contributions of women in Islam (and religion in general,) plus critical thinking on religion from a feminist and progressive perspective.

As part of the activities of Imaan, we are developing “A Women’s Mosque” project; an initiative that aims to create a meeting place for women and our spirituality. The idea came after a reunion to talk on Islam and inter-faith dialogue with women from different denominations. At one point in the discussion, they asked me about sex segregation in mosques, which led us to a broader reflection on the position of women in the religious space, both material and symbolic, and how uncomfortable we were with that.

We realized that, in a variety of ways, places of worship displace women. Whether they relegate us to separate rooms, or refuse to allow us to speak, limiting our participation to “strictly female” issues such as maternity, caregiving, the role of wife and – of course- clothing, these prohibitions are always from a patriarchal “canonical” perspective.

So we decided to join together to create our own space.

We realized three things: Despite religious differences, we identify ourselves as feminists and/or hold a very critical view of the narratives about the sacred and the feminine from the elites of our religions. We share the conviction that revelations are ossified in a reading of androcentrism and oppression, but they REQUIRE a reading of liberation and these readings SHOULD and HAVE TO be performed by women across the board of all faiths, in order to question the religious status quo. The traditional places of worship and adoration do not represent us. In those spaces we are silenced, cornered, invisible and we have to adhere to a misogynistic narrative. The distribution of space, what we can or can’t do, and the behavior that is expected from us, does not express what we want or expect of ourselves as spiritual beings.

“We wanted a space without hierarchy, to come together and share experiences and learn how other women live their faith,” said Maria del Carmen. “I was sick of that we are important only when it comes to listen, to serve coffee and decorate the hall for worship” states Roxana. For Victoria it is a new way to approach to the Divine ” I believe that spirituality goes beyond religion; here I connect with women who are different from me in a relaxed and non-judgmental frame, which in other contexts is very difficult. “

“A Women’s Mosque” project is open to women regardless of their belief tradition. Isn’t necessary to have any training in religious matters. This is an open space that makes a big difference. In traditional cults, if you’re not a practitioner you cannot be there and if you want to leave you face some problems and judgments. Here this is not the case. You can come whenever you want and you are free to do it anytime.

Every woman has spiritual concerns that are not always met in formal sites. We recover the idea of ​​the Mosque as a place of meeting, reflection and knowledge-sharing to highlight the significant role that women had in forming and strengthening  their communities in the early days of history; a role that was made invisible by patriarchy extensively and, especially, to challenge the cultural imaginary of women believers and the prevailing androcentrism in religious spaces.

“A Women’s Mosque” project is an attempt to revive spirituality from the margins and encourage diversity, a place to experience the idea of “sacred” as a way to be in this life, to look at other women and recognize ourselves in each other. This initiative challenges the patriarchal discourse about the “Divine Truth” as a monolithic issue, whose meaning is fixed by men and mediated by hierarchy, where women only act as silent and submissive recipients. By engaging in a dialectical and collective construction of “Truth” in spirituality from their own voices this space becomes an experience of women owning their agency.

Revelations and all the thinking originating from them are useless if they are not meant to serve the pursuit of social justice and empowerment of people, to improve us as individual and in our communities. I believe that “The Sacred” is neither on wooden images, nor in sounding declarations burdened with theological background, but in the open dialogue between people who recognize each others as equal. I think God is less in judging or labeling and more in sharing knowledge and experience we have in our everyday life. “Holy” are our endeavors to find our truth and make it transcend our ego, to meet other truths that are up to us to re-signify and deconstruct together.

Faith has to be a driving force that motivates us to overcome the fear of dissent. Behind all differences, there is something sacred in all women. We are inherently valuable, free, spiritual and diverse.

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.

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Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Theology, Islam, Women and Community, Women's Spirituality

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13 replies

  1. Attempting sign-up repeatedly receive “Oops” mistake response. Question: will you demonstrate misinterpreted verses in the Quran that are used to support patriarchy?

    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

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  2. Vanessa, Flora Kashgegian experimented with interfaith worship at Brown University several decades ago. The women there found that rather than “one size fits all” worship in which differences could not be resolved, they would respect each other’s standpoints as different women took turns leading women-centered worship from their own perspectives. They found it was easier to “hear” words that would be hurtful in other contexts when they knew that “next week” the words would be different. I believe she published on this in JFSR.

    Judith Plaskow describes a similar process in B’not E’sh, a Jewish women’s group, which in this case was used to mediate among Orthodox women, Jewish women adapting feminist spirituality and Goddess to a Jewish context, and those in between.

    Good luck!

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  3. Beautiful! I could not be happier!

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  4. Women only space by definition is freedom. Women don’t need men at all really in these spaces. If you really must stick it out in male written religions, then at least create a space for women in Islam, by for and about sisters. After all men do this all the time, they create male only spaces all over the world. Women cannot be free with men in the room, and I salute the idea of a women’s mosque, and lesbians of course would be welcome and celebrated, and wouldn’t that be grand. NO MEN ALLOWED EVER!!! Yahoooo!!!! Better yet read Islam with women’s words, words that contemporay Muslim women write.

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    • Oh yes, yes, yes, every woman of free spirit, body and mind is welcome. I am glad you point that about how important is to have spaces for women only. I have received some feedback about our initiative to be exclusionary because we don’t “invite men” and we “discriminate them” and “if is not space for men then is not an open space”. From my point of view, Patriarchy and women’s spirituality depending of men are two hegemonic mind set that dammage the autonomy of women and must be challenged and erradicated from religious narratives and/or Theologies. As long we are making feminism within the frame of heteronormative mind set, we are not doing any feminism at all.

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  5. My friends and I meet on Fridays for Jummah prayer at a friend’s house (she has a big room for prayer and a big driveway- no neighbor parking complaints). One of the women gives the sermon/khutbah, then afterwards we sit and have coffee and snacks, talk about the khutbah, talk about other stuff going on in our lives. The men are completely uninterested in coming, they go to jummah nearest their work, or where their friends are, and I suspect, they might think their prayer is invalid if they pray behind a woman imam. No problem, we fly under the radar. There are some sons in attendance, the next generation is learning to pray behind a woman and along side women (even if they are all “aunties”).

    We post our khutbahs here because not everyone can make it to Friday prayer: http://www.khutbahproject.blogspot.com

    You can also get tips for how to give a khutbah, labeled under ‘tips’, entitled “The Khutbah Instruction Manual” (adapted and highly edited from an old MSA pamphlet).

    Giving a khutbah is a creative endeavor, it forces you to look at scripture, analyze, and not be boring. When we started the group, everyone decided they wanted khutbahs to be “inspirational”, so that is the bar we are aiming for. Sometimes we make it, sometimes not, but we are trying and we are getting better. It is a work in progress.

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