(LOS ANGELES) — One Muslim woman in California has made history by starting the first all-female mosque in the United States, which opened this past week in Los Angeles.
The Women’s Mosque was hosted in a humble-sized multifaith worship center, where Muslim women and women of other faiths joined together for a Jumu’ah, a congregational prayer Muslims hold every Friday, and a Khutbah, a public sermon.
“Oh, my God, it was so amazing,” founder M. Hasna Maznavi told ABC News on Wednesday. “As you know, when it rains in L.A., no one comes out. But people came out in droves. It was estimated that around 150 people attended.”
And unlike most U.S. mosques that have a male imam, or leader, a woman led the traditional prayer and gave the sermon.
Being part of the historic experience was invigorating and terrifying at the same time, Edina Lekovic, who led last Friday’s debut event, told ABC News on Wednesday. Lekovic is also a public affairs consultant for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“Being surrounded by women in an environment created for women created a special spiritual charge I won’t ever forget,” Lekovic said. “One of my friends said she couldn’t stop her tears through the whole thing.”
The Women’s Mosque came out of a group of Muslim women’s growing disillusionment with many U.S. mosques and Maznavi’s childhood dream of starting her own mosque.
Many mosques segregate women or bar them completely, Hind Makki told ABC News on Wednesday. Makki runs Side Entrance, a Tumblr blog that collects photos of Muslim women’s spaces of worship, which are in poorer condition than men’s more often than not, she said.
“I posted a picture on Facebook of one women’s room for prayer in a Chicago mosque I vested, which was only 8 feet by 20 feet,” Makki said. “While many girls commented, ‘Yup, that’s typical,’ a lot of my guy friends were so surprised and wanted to help change this.”
The Koran and the Prophet Muhammad never said women should be separated, Maznavi said. Indeed, there is a lost history of thousands of thousands of female authority and scholars in Islam such as the prophet Aisha, she added.
Maznavi became interested in Islam and women’s role after 9/11 when she read the Koran back to front in English as a young girl, she said. She was surprised to see a merciful, loving and just God and discovered that what was going on in mosques she visited was not a reflection of the actual teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, she added.
Other women felt the same as Maznavi, such as Sana Muttalib, an attorney and co-president of the Women’s Mosque. Together, these women helped to make the Women’s Mosque happen.
They say the space isn’t meant as an alternative to local mosques but as a complimentary place where women can begin to feel empowered.
“Our mosque has a healthy, great relationship with men,” Maznavi said. “Many are supportive of our idea that we want women to first become empowered and comfortable in our safe space so that they can go back and transform their own communities and local mosques.”
The Women’s Mosque plans to add other events and classes that men can join, but they are keeping their worship and prayer sessions exclusively for women, Maznavi said.
The nondenominational Muslim mosque welcomes women of any faith who may be curious to learn about Islam and encourages visitors to come as they are, she said. You don’t have to come dressed a certain way or anything like that, she added.
The Women’s Mosque is going to hold a Jummu’ah and sermon one Friday a month at the multifaith Pico Union Project building, but it said it plans on expanding to other spaces to reach as many people as possible more often. They rely on donations to fund their house of worship.
“I want to garner the untapped potential of Muslim women not only for the Muslim community, but to empower all women of the world,” Maznavi said. “God does not change the condition of people until people change themselves.”
Several Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the U.S., did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
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