November 17, 2014 Faith Matters

Faith Matters Highlighted in Turkish News Agency About its Work on ‘Women Friendly Mosques’

Mosque building has been a part of Turkish tradition for centuries; now cultural changes are sweeping across this art, as two female architects pave the way for more ‘female-friendly’ places of worship.

Istanbul’s planned Camlica mosque, which will be the biggest in the history of Turkish Republic, has been designed by two female architects, Bahar Mizrak and Hayriye Gul Totu, with a budget of around 150 million Turkish liras ($66.5 million).

The new building will be “positive discrimination for women”, says Metin Kulunk, construction engineer and president of the mosque’s foundation.

“With a separate place for women to perform ablutions and an elevator taking them to the place where they can pray, women will also be able to use a convenient childcare room,” Kulunk tells The Anadolu Agency.

Intended for a 30,000 square meter area in the Uskudar district of Istanbul, the Camlica mosque will also include a special place for the disabled, a platform from where visitors can observe prayers, an Islamic art gallery and museum, a library and a car park for 3,500 vehicles.

Such facilities are not very common across Turkey, where in the past, some mosques used to offer worshippers, especially women, secluded, airless and segregated quarters with their children.

This was mostly because more men made use of the mosque, meaning that many women’s needs were overlooked.

Today, however, a younger generation argues that mosques should be equally accessible for both genders.

After performing evening prayer at Istanbul’s historic New Mosque in the Eminonu district, Turkish student Hatice Eser, 21, tells AA: “I spend most of my free time outside home, which means I need a space to practice prayers. We already have a number of mosques, but the facilities are not satisfactory.”

She claims that many mosques are male-oriented and that there are only small places for women which are not enough to meet public demand.

This desire for innovation in mosque building has also been found outside Turkey.

In the U.K. Fiyaz Mughal, founder and director of a non-profit organization called Faith Matters, says: “We began questioning why we are not catering for women’s needs and not creating architecture to meet the needs of men and women (…)

Now, that change has been taking place over the last 10 years and is really starting to show itself nowadays,” he adds.

Mughal and his colleagues prepared a directory of the 100 most ‘women-friendly’ mosques in England, which he says “was initiated to show examples of good practice in relation to the involvement of women in mosques.”

They carried out interviews with over 400 Muslim women and prepared a five-item list that women wanted to see in mosques.

“Most of them said they wanted better space, and a guiding woman who can provide religious support, plus better ablution and childcare facilities, and that women should be on the executive committee of the mosque’s planning.”

This research seems to be the first of its kind in the U.K. to focus on the needs of women in mosques.

“Mosques must be as inclusive to the community as possible, because a mosque is a community space,” Mughal adds.

In Denmark, another example of a women-friendly mosque is a planned building in the country’s second-biggest city, Aarhus.

Construction will start in 2016 if the local municipality agrees on “a decent location for the mosque building,” says the Turkish-origin architect, Metin Aydin.

He says the mosque’s design was a combination of Ottoman Islamic architecture and the local traditions of Denmark and Scandinavia.

Facilities at the mosque will include a separate prayer space for 600 women in the central hall, and services such as a car park and a playground for children which will “create the possibility for more women to go the mosques.”

Planning has been underway since 2000 and since then all locations put forward for the 3,000 square-meter space have been turned down by Aarhus Municipality, says Aydin, claiming the only obstacle they faced was political.

He adds: “The mosque in Aarhus will belong to all Muslim men and women, because the community here includes people of very different origins: Turkish, Danish, African, Middle Eastern, Kurdish, Somali, Palestinian, those from Balkans (…).”

The building will cost approximately six million euros ($7.5 million).

Pointing out that traditionally more men go to mosques than women, the architect says: “We are about changing this; we want women to be equal in terms of having the possibility of going to mosques.”

The trend towards including more women in the design and running of mosques is apparently not accepted by all Muslim people.

Mughal from Faith Matters says there are “some very conservative Muslims who do not want any changes at mosques.”

“They do not understand the life of young women, but they should accept that things have changed and Muslim women are now actively taking part in outside work.

The reality is that we have to adapt to modernity or religion dies. Modernity has to accept Islam, and Islam has to accept modernity, both ways.”

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