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Gender, inclusivity and UK mosque experiences

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Access to, management and attendance of places of worship often takes gendered forms. Gender imbalances in UK mosques manifests in attendance and management patterns and is reflected in the facilities available. The sense that mosques are perceived widely as ‘prayer-clubs for men’ (Maqsood 2005: 4–5) is often reflected in the physical spaces and facilities made available to female worshippers, and it must be noted that some mosques do not provide any of the latter at all (Dispatches 2006). Shockingly, a recent survey found that ‘women form part of the congregation in [only] half (51%) of the organisations surveyed’ (Coleman 2009: 10). Relatedly, UK Mosque management committees privilege male involvement, decision-making and leadership roles, with figures of as few as 15% women in management positions (Asim 2011: 34) and more who ‘will simply not entertain the idea’ (Asim 2011: 39). Such imbalances reflect the specificities of the UK-religious context (Maqsood 2005) yet, globally, women’s mosque involvement appears to be changing far more rapidly than here. This paper explores how gender, religious identity and sexualities interface with women’s mosque access, involvement and experiences therein. It draws upon original research with a sample of women, and indicates that inclusivity is an important topic in UK mosques, far beyond gender.

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  1. See the founder’s version; Mohamed-Zahed 2012.

  2. The collection includes pieces on China, Morocco, Turkey, Saudi, Iran, Syria, Northern India, Kazan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Indonesia, Cape Town as well as Europe and America. For discussions of research in other diasporic sites see Australia, Woodlock (2010) and in America, Karim (2008). Hammer’s book is a good starting point for anyone interested in women’s mosque involvement and female led-prayer (2012a).

  3. This was in Woking, Surrey. The first recorded mosque, however, was in Cardiff (1860), and in London almost 80 years later, The East London Mosque (1941). Quraishi 2005: 19.

  4. ‘Mosques,’ Muslims in Britain, available online from

  5. Again, figures vary dramatically, some saying that ‘nearly three-quarters of UK masjids have facilities for women, contrary to many claims.’ ‘Mosques,’ Muslims in Britain, op cit., Again, definitions of attendance and frequency, or facilities, are not given.

  6. A parlimentary briefing (by the charity commission) on the subject suggests that the figures are nuanced as ‘it is not clear how formal those responsibilities are. Again there is regional variation, with 23 % of mosques in the North region reporting women with management responsibilities, 28 % in the Midlands and 40 % in the South.’ Coleman 2009: 2.

  7. East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre, Annual Report 2009–2010, London: 19.

  8. When I recently asked a wheelchair-using friend about her experiences of UK mosques, she said ‘I can’t get into most of them to say!’


  10. The second stage explores views of the initiative and the third features focus groups reflecting on their experiences after attending an IMI event. These research findings will be published independently by the initiative in 2015.

  11. Such as British Muslims for Secular Democracy and IMI social media outlets.

  12. The idealisation of gender dynamics in Mecca require some caution. For a different perspective, see Wadud’s brilliant blog on the subject (2010).

  13. Although I was not quite a participant observer during this stage of the research, the interviews did affect me deeply. In her study of female mosque participation in Senegal, Cantone offers a fascinating reflection on her own experiences as a ‘participant observer’ ‘praying and researching other women praying’ (Cantone 2012: 16).


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Correspondence to Dervla Sara Shannahan.

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Shannahan, D.S. Gender, inclusivity and UK mosque experiences. Cont Islam 8, 1–16 (2014).

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