Head-covering optional: A new mosque aims to bridge gaps and shatter myths about Islam

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B-Wem0WCUAA1fGz.jpg-largeThere is no dress code at The Women’s Mosque of America, where congregants are encouraged to wear what feels comfortable. The newly-formed mosque, said to be the first of its kind in the United States, is less about a literal place than it is about a state of mind. It isn’t, organizers say, designed to supplant the traditional mosque. The hope is that the all-women’s gathering will  encourage continued dialogue and debate, as women take on more of a leadership role in the faith.

The second gathering of the women-only group occurred last week, just outside downtown Los Angeles at the Pico-Union Project, a historic structure built as a synagogue in 1909 and which, conveniently, faces in the direction of Mecca. At 1 pm, women of all ages, in all manner of attire, streamed into the sanctuary, removed their shoes, and proceeded to connect.

Before the ritual prayer, they heard a sermon, or khutbah, delivered by Dr. Rose Aslan, a professor of religion at California Lutheran University. Her message was one of tolerance. “Our purpose on Earth is to worship God,” she told the group. “Let us strive to purify our souls, not just so we can approach God but so we can see a reflection of God in our neighbors, in our friends and our family, and especially in people whom we disagree with or who bear hostility toward us.”

She said afterwards: “I love that I actually gave my sermon standing at a bimah, a lectern for the synagogue.” Indeed, the interfaith and intra-faith aspect of The Women’s Mosque is one of the prevailing themes here: to provide a space where women of all Islamic denominations can come together, and to allow women with all levels of understanding about the faith gather to learn.

After the service, one woman told the group she was so moved by the experience of a women-led service, she cried tears of joy.

A stained-glass window with a Star of David in the Pico-Union Project. Photos by Lisa Napoli (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

To hear the first sermon given at The Women’s Mosque of America, click here. To find out more about it, visit this link.