Raise Your Gaze

A group of Mus­lim feminists de­ter­mined to shape a non-judg­men­tal space in which to prac­tise their faith

The Observer - The New Review - - Cover story -

Raise Your Gaze be­gan as tonguein-cheek con­ver­sa­tion be­tween mem­bers of the In­clu­sive Mosque Ini­tia­tive about the ways in which Mus­lim women have been ex­pected to main­tain pro­pri­ety – by be­ing mod­est, avert­ing their eyes and so on – and has ex­panded to be­come a core part of the mosque’s of­fer­ing.

“We have put to­gether sem­i­nars,” ex­plains trustee Naima Khan, “from con­ver­sa­tions on Is­lam­o­pho­bia and re­silience, on cre­ativ­ity and healing, on Is­lam’s fem­i­nist his­tory.” The pur­pose is to make peo­ple think in new ways about so­cial in­jus­tice “that we’re miss­ing by not re­ally look­ing at it”.

It’s a bold pro­gramme, not only for its mes­sage but be­cause of those or­gan­is­ing it: the In­clu­sive Mosque Ini­tia­tive (IMI) launched in 2012 to try to es­tab­lish places of wor­ship where LGBT Mus­lims, dis­abled Mus­lims and sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies could come to­gether to form a non­judg­men­tal prac­tis­ing com­mu­nity.

Build­ing their own per­ma­nent space is a lit­tle way off, but for now Fri­day pray­ers are held ev­ery two weeks in north London.

Khan, who works in the arts and phi­lan­thropy, was asked to get in­volved six months af­ter queer en­gi­neer Tam­sila Tauqir and aca­demic con­vert Dervla Zaynab Shan­na­han re­alised the need to cre­ate “peace­ful places of wor­ship” for Mus­lims who might be marginalised by tra­di­tional, sec­tar­ian mosques.

“Is­lamic fem­i­nism is over­looked in the main­stream but it is cen­tral to us,” says Khan. “We have not joined the com­mit­tees of other mosques to try and change from within be­cause the need was too great and im­me­di­ate.”

For Khan, who is for­mi­da­bly bright and com­posed, a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence came when she de­cided not to go to Eid pray­ers with her fam­ily at their mosque in Lu­ton. “It is sup­posed to be a won­der­ful, happy oc­ca­sion but I de­cided I didn’t like be­ing cor­rected ev­ery time I went for not un­der­stand­ing the ser­mons; and when I did, they weren’t in­spir­ing, and [were] al­ways about sur­ren­der­ing to God and ask­ing for for­give­ness.” She pauses.

“Ob­vi­ously, that is cen­tral to Is­lam, but there is so much more to say about the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence; there is so much more to say to those peo­ple gath­ered there that day.”

The hope is that the IMI will “bring in cen­turies of Is­lamic his­tory, be­cause we stand on the shoul­ders of in­cred­i­ble women who have done this be­fore us”.

Sev­eral imams and guest speak­ers, in­clud­ing scholar Amina Wadud, are in­volved. IMI em­pha­sises that it wel­comes peo­ple “re­gard­less of re­li­gious be­lief, race, gen­der, im­pair­ments, sex­u­al­ity or im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus”. Nosheen Iqbal in­clu­sive­mosqueini­tia­tive.org

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