When Rabi’a Keeble converted to Islam more than 10 years ago, praying next to men would have been out of the question.

Keeble is now leading a new Berkeley, California, mosque that says men and women are welcome to worship together.

It’s long been a tradition of the Muslim faith that men and women pray separately — sometimes in different parts of the same room, sometimes in different rooms or divided by a partition. 

As a new convert, Keeble accepted the Muslim faith and traditions, but she then became frustrated. She wanted to see the imam during services, not be in a separate room.

“As an intelligent, thinking person, after a while, I began to see there seemed to be an imbalance to that approach,” she said.

Keeble’s Qal’Bu Maryam mosque, which opened in April, is the second women-led mosque in California. One in Los Angeles, which opened two years ago, is for women worshippers only.

On a recent Friday, men and women removed their shoes before the prayer service. Egyptian-born Hussam Mousa, a software engineer, traveled from San Francisco (about a 22km drive) during his lunch break.

Once a practicing Muslim, Mousa said he stopped going to the mosque after the birth of his daughter 11 years ago; but, he has attended Qal’Bu Maryam Friday prayer two weeks in a row. Now, he wants to bring his daughter to the mosque in Berkeley “to show her a new model.

“You can retain your religious heritage and retain your religious culture in a space and environment where you are equal,” he said. “And not just separate but equal.”

​For Saleemah Jones, a lifelong Muslim, the division between men and women during services has never been a problem. She said something about the Berkeley mosque, though, intrigued her. On this day, she was able to give the Salat, the ritual prayer.

“I had never been to a mosque where a woman led the prayer so much as where I would ever think that I would actually lead the prayer as well,” said Jones, an attorney. “It gives you an empowering feeling. You know you can go out and do anything.” 

While this way of worshipping may not be for everyone, these attendees say they feel closer to God through this unconventional approach.

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