Many people who have set foot inside mosques have noticed with great dismay that the space allotted to women is rarely equal to that of men. This is true in many different countries, including the United States. The largest Muslim organization in the country, Islamic Society of North America, issued a document titled: “Woman Friendly Mosques and Community Centers.”
Now, one country is taking the lead in addressing this important—and embarrassing—shortcoming. It is not the United States, nor one in Europe. It is the same country that is increasingly been seen as a global leader among Muslims: Turkey.
Turkish mosques are among the most beautiful in the world, especially the ones in the grand Ottoman tradition. Now, Turkey is leading an official campaign to create equal prayer spaces for men and women. According to the Atlantic, Ms. Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul’s deputy mufti (the second most powerful official in charge of Islamic affairs) has stated:
“This is about mosques being a space for women. When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion.”
Erdemli sent 30 teams to all the mosques in Istanbul (reportedly housing more than 3,000 mosques), and they prepared a mandate called “”Beautification of Mosques for Women.”
In Turkey, there is an office called Diyanet (The Presidency of Religious Affairs) that deals with all matters of religious life.
The head of the Diyanet office, Mehmet Gomez, has supported this “There are some wrong, incomplete, biased interpretations that do not reflect the general principles of our noble religion.”
It is intriguing to note that these officials do not see their task as adding a feminist twist to Islam—contrary to the Atlantic’s provocative title “Can Turkey Make Its Mosques Feminist?”—but rather simply stripping away the layers of patriarchy and misogyny to restore the original and indigenous egalitarian spirit of Islam:
“All we are doing is taking Islam to back before it was corrupted and misinterpreted, when women and men were treated equally, Erdemli said.
You can see a full interview about this project here.
Here’s hoping that this effort succeeds, and begins a tidal wave of egalitarian reconfiguring of mosques around the world.
Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. An award-winning teacher and speaker, his most recent book, “Memories of Muhammad,” looks at the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. This article was originally published on ReligionNews.com.