Islamic mosques separate people by gender and assign inferior roles to women. Majority Islamic nations and many orthodox Muslims have also had a deeply hostile attitude towards the LGBT community. So it was with interest that I saw this story about a new mosque in Berlin, Germany that operates under quite different rules than traditional Islamic mosques and adopts a far more inclusive attitude.
At Berlin’s newest mosque, men and women pray together, women are allowed to lead Friday prayers, and gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcome.
“Our mosque is open for everybody,” says mosque founder Seyran Ates, a German Turkish-born lawyer and women’s rights activist.
“And we mean that really seriously: everybody, every lifestyle. We are not God. We don’t decide who’s a good or a bad Muslim. Anybody can come through this door – whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, we don’t care, it’s not our right to ask.”
It turns out that this mosque is not unique but is one of the latest in a growing trend, with the first one in Paris in 2012.
The Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque is part of a growing movement known as inclusive Islam.
There are now liberal Muslim communities and inclusive mosques all over the world – some in private homes, others in changing locations – but Ms Ates says the Berlin mosque is a major step forward for inclusive Islam, because it is the first permanent liberal mosque, with a sign on the door, open to anyone.
“What we did new, is that this is a fixed place. And it’s not a place where only people come who know each other. It’s not a closed club. We are open. We tell everybody, here is a place you can come to.”
Inside the mosque I meet Miriam, who is leading a study group on how to recite the Koran. She patiently explains the correct pronunciation of the verses to Laqa, a man from Pakistan who has lived in Berlin for 28 years.
This is the origin of our religion, adds Laqa. “We are all equal, whatever you look like, or whatever colour skin you have, whether you’re gay or lesbian,” he says. “I can’t know whether they have a better connection to God than me. Why should I judge that? I can’t. I shouldn’t.”.
It is clear that this mosque is about much more than debates on liberal versus conservative, or whether women should wear headscarves or not. For Ms Ates it is about a revolution in Islam.
“That conservatives and orthodox accept us, as we have to accept them; that we can come together in peace; that all of kinds of Islam accept each other – that’s my dream,” she says.
Needless to say, the founders of this mosque have received death threats and the like from those who do not want to give up their bigoted attitudes. It takes courage to do what they are doing. While seeking the end of religion is a worthwhile long-term goal, a highly important and much more achievable immediate goal is gaining equality for women and the LGBT community and these people should be commended for trying to achieve it within the framework of their religion.