In a brightly lit office in Bradford’s Carlisle business centre, on a road lined with charity shops, grocery stores and a green-domed masjid, Bana Gora and her team at the Muslim Women’s Council (MWC) are organising final preparations before a much-awaited consultation about the UK’s first women-managed mosque.
At the event on Sunday, which they expect local residents, imams and national media to attend, the community group will discuss their proposals for a mosque that will be open to all – men, women, children and worshippers of all sects, including Sunni and Shia. Prayers will be led by a male imam, yet the governance of the mosque will be run by women, in the first of its kind in Britain.
Gora co-founder and chief executive of the MWC, said: “When I was growing up across the Bradford district, there was never a practice of sisters going to the mosque. We prayed at the house. But why couldn’t we go to the mosque on a Friday with our brother and father?” Gora said. “We were told because it’s not the done thing. Women don’t go to the mosque. Well, actually, at the time of the prophet, women did, and they had the same access as men.”
Consultations for the new mosque began in June and are now at their second stage. The women’s group are seeking planning permission and looking at possible plots of land. Gora said she has been in talks with international architects, and that the building itself will not have minarets or domes. The community group, who also run weekly curry circles to distribute food to the homeless, said they will have a blueprint and funding strategy by September. They hope for the mosque to be ready within three years.
There are around 100 mosques in Bradford, where a quarter of the population identify as Muslim. However, according to a local audit of mosques carried out by Gora’s team, female worshippers often felt isolated from the space and cut off from the services offered by mosques.
Among plans for the new MWC mosque is a centre for excellence with facilities specifically tailored to Muslim women, services for divorce, bereavement, legal advice, and parenting.
Not everyone is happy about the plans. Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, disagrees with plans for the women-managed mosque in her constituency. She told the Guardian: “I think the reason it’s happening is that mosques haven’t been inclusive. But there are good practices and bad practices. While I’m all for equality, this doesn’t fix the problem.