United States

A Mosque of Her Own: First Women's Mosque Dedicated in Berkeley

Open and welcoming place of worship offered to Muslim women

Friday prayers at a brand new Berkeley mosque started with a sound that's heard daily around the world: the Muslim call to prayer.

But in a new development for a centuries' old religion, it rang out in a clear, confident female voice, and that made all the difference at Qal'ub Maryam. 

The call to prayer is rarely made by a woman. At most mosques, women sit separate from men — even their spouses and older sons — and often are required to sit and pray behind the male worshipers.

Women rarely preach khutbah, or sermons. They're only allowed to lead prayers when there are no men available.

Qal'ub Maryam in Berkeley strives to change that by giving women a mosque of their own — one founded and led by women.

"The spirituality we espouse is one in which we celebrate the process of learning rather than hard and fast rules, regulations, and deciding who is right and who is wrong," said founder Rabi'a Keeble. "Our command is to take care of each other and at Qal'bu Maryam, that is what we do."

Leaders at Qal'bu Maryam said the community intends to welcome everyone, regardless of faith, gender, or color. 

Soraya Deen, an activist who works to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians, spoke at the dedication on Friday.

"The time has come," she said. "Because religion as we know for time immemorial has always collided with women. Religious freedom and women's freedom always have a collision."

But practicing Muslims and all people of faith should work to change that, Deen said.

"We want to inspire a new generation to take roles in the community as educators and as visionaries," said Keeble.

Before prayers, Keeble told the crowd that anyone who was uncomfortable praying next to someone of another gender could move to a side room. No one did. 

The mosque's name, Qal'bu Maryam, means "heart of Mary" in Arabic.

Deen noted that the mosque was being dedicated on Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

She talked about Mary, Jesus' mother, who is revered in Islam as well as Christianity, and other unifying tenets of Abrahamic religions. 

For now the women's mosque shares space with the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Ministry School on Holy Hill near the UC campus in Berkeley.

It's the second women's mosque in the United States. The first was founded in Los Angeles in 2015 in a inter-faith center that was once a synagogue. 

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