Developing Diversity Directory – Women Friendly Mosques in England
One hundred mosques provided the basis for the Developing Diversity directory published by Faith Matters which looked at the top 100 leading mosques in England which met a majority of the criteria that Muslim women wanted to see within them.
Inclusion and accessibility to religious institutions not only helps to increase the development of healthy communities but it also sends a powerful message to those who think equality is of secondary concern within some religious places of worship. This is relevant to all faith communities and in this instance, the project looked at existing good practice within mosques in England.
The purpose of this project was therefore to compile a directory of the 100 leading mosques that provided the best access to women, catering for their needs and allowing them to play their rightful role in the decision making processes. Each mosque was awarded a rating out of five stars based on criteria developed through women’s focus groups.The directory was launched through high-profiled local events and widely circulated to all statutory national and local bodies, encouraging these bodies to work with these best practice mosques.
500 mosques were contacted throughout England in the course of the project and the top 100 were rated and then included in the booklet.
The purpose of this project can therefore be summarised as follows. Faith Matters attempted:
1) To develop criteria through Muslim women’s focus groups for measuring how ‘women-friendly’ a mosque is.
2) To provide a mapping of the 100 most women friendly mosques in Britain – i.e, more stars, more women-friendly.
3) To encourage government and other statutory agencies to engage and work with the most women-friendly and best practice mosques where this is likely to help reach particularly hard to reach groups.
4) To bring recognition to the socio-economic welfare activities of the mosques.
5) To encourage a sense of competition between mosques so as to improve their engagement with and inclusion of women.
6) To improve the role of women in mosques, how mosque services respond to their needs, and the opportunities for them to play a greater role in their mosques and communities.
7) To enable women to acquire the skills and confidence to seek positions of leadership within their communities and wider society.
Focus groups for the project were held in London (Harrow and Haringey), Coventry, Derby, Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford and over 100 women were involved in the focus groups. The work therefore covered the East Midlands, West Midlands, North West, London and Yorkshire regions.
Initially, the focus groups covered mainly Pakistani women with few examples of Turkish, Somali or Bangladeshi Muslim women. We knew that this could potentially skew results and we then further undertook 3 focus groups in London and Manchester that included Somali and Turkish speaking women. In total, 8 focus groups were held and the results of the focus groups led us to the following conclusions. These conclusions were used as benchmarks through which to assess the mosques on.
1. Separate prayer space for women,
2. Services and activities for women (i.e. childcare and or women’s training or mentoring sessions),
3. An Imam accessible to women (or a women scholar),
4. Inclusion of women in decision making,
5. Women holding office on the mosque committees
This Developing Diversity Directory is the first of its kind and places the role of women directly within the development of mosques. Historically within Islam, the role of women was central to the development of Muslim communities and within the life of mosques and this history cannot and should not be forgotten. Women are fundamental to the development of healthy and pro-active communities and their role within faith institutions is no different. They are drivers for positive social change.