Though highly shocking to some Muslims, the Inclusive Mosque Initiative (IMI) is blazing a trail for inclusivity and equality by establishing a mosque where all are welcome as leaders and worshippers, including women and LGTB-identified
individuals. The Twitter bio of @inclusivemosque simply states, "Establishing a place of worship for the promotion and practice of an inclusive Islam."
Tamsila Tauqir, who helped launch IMI in November after becoming frustrated by the mosque situation in Britain as well as the rest of the world, told the BBC, "We want to offer Muslims an alternative space in which they can pray and meet. We will not discriminate against anyone, they can be Sunni or Shia, straight or gay, people with families and people without."
Though their non-judgmental approach is welcome news to some, many Muslims disagree with IMI's tolerant attitude, saying that gay Muslims don't have a place in Islam and that it's forbidden for women to lead prayers.
Imam Adnan Rashid of the London-based Islamic think tank The Hitten Institute said, "The orthodox values of Islam are very clear. Muslims already believe in things that have been established for them for centuries and they are not going to change. The Koran is not going to change, the prophetic position is not going to change. Muslim thinking and practices are not going to change."
IMI members are more open-minded and optimistic, however, like Sophia, a 33-year-old French Muslim who told AFP, "I understand that people are shocked because we have been taught that men and women pray separately, but I have adapted."
IMI leaders and community members have pointed to patriarchal interpretations of Islam as a reason why their inclusive space is so badly needed. Tauqir said that many Islamic practices are still based on "cultural traditions of patriarchy" derived from texts compiled nearly "three hundred years after the death of the Prophet."
Though IMI does not yet have a permanent physical space for meetings, they have about 500 people on their email list and committees in the UK, Malaysia, and Kashmir. They are funded entirely by donations, receiving no government support. They are active on Twitter and Facebook and host community events like vegetarian BBQs and scholarly discussions.
IMI repeatedly state on their website that their goal is not to force anyone to change their beliefs or their style of praying, but simply to provide an open and inclusive environment and "to be a beacon of progressive Islam in the UK and Europe."
IMI also makes the point that what they're doing isn't actually that unusual, saying "we are not unique in our position on free mixing of the sexes," and citing the multitude of other Muslim organizations that hold mixed-gender events. Tauqir says her mosque model is based on the principles of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where all Muslims pray together, regardless of gender.
IMI also makes the point that gay Muslims already attend other mosques and have been doing so for years.
Across the pond, Amina Wadud, a noted Muslim feminist and scholar, made headlines in 2005 for leading a mixed-gender prayer in New York City, perhaps suggesting that a more feminist and inclusive Islam is on the rise not merely in the UK.
Tauqir's vision of an all-inclusive mosque is supported by the Muslim Institute and the City Circle networking group. She says, "We're not saying existing mosque spaces aren't relevant, we're creating another space for people. We're not setting ourselves as an opposition."