In this extract, Khankan’s time at the Abu Nour Mosque in Syria’s capital Damascus, highlights her motivation behind the pursuit for feminism within Islam and her creation of the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen, combining her faith and feminism to inspire change.
It is also at Abu Nour Mosque, during a sermon delivered during the large prayer service on Fridays, that the idea of an Islamic feminism comes to my mind. Listening to the Grand Mufti’s khutbah, I say to myself: ‘Could a woman lead the Friday prayer service and, instead of a man, could a person of the opposite sex be speaking at this moment? What would happen? And why not?’ In a very open manner, I ask some of the women in the mosque about it. They all respond in the same way: ‘But we would have to be at the same level as the Grand Mufti.’ In other words, it’s impossible.
The women have internalised the idea that men should dominate women. This idea disturbs me. But it was in Syria, after all, where the idea for Mariam Mosque was born, or at least that of my fight for feminism within Islam . . . even if at that point I was incapable of imagining that, one day, I myself would become an imam in northern Europe. It’s not living alongside Scandinavian feminism, but rather coming in contact with the women of Abu Nour Mosque, as much as for their piety and activism as their self-censorship, that serves as my first source of inspiration. It is here, seeing these admirable, intelligent, beautiful Syrian women, that I have come to understand the importance of living out one’s faith with concrete actions and daily commitments – a type of political activism.
I have come to understand the importance of living out one’s faith with concrete actions and daily commitments – a type of political activism.
I often think back on these women. With the war raging, they weigh heavy on my memory. Sometimes I’m asked if the seven years of atrocities and the half a million deaths have eroded my belief in God or the revolution. . . . It’s undeniably difficult to watch such suffering and see the world’s passivity and the way people are closing their eyes to it. When the war in Syria began, my father commanded me to stay silent. Like many other Syrians in Denmark, he was terrified that my protesting against the brutal Assad regime would have consequences for our family in Damascus. It’s a well-known fact that the Assad regime has spies in Denmark, who report back on any oppositionist voices. This is how a dictatorship controls its people: by spreading fear. Many years after my father fled Hafez al-Assad’s regime, he is still traumatised and has transferred the same fear to me by his example.
However, I decided I couldn’t stay silent after realising that, whether I spoke out or not, people were getting killed. What triggered me to break my silence was the passivity of both the West and the Arab-Muslim world, as well as the rising death toll. In January 2013, I decided to found the Syrian Opposition in Denmark (SOD) together with a group of young Syrian activists in Copenhagen, including a Danish theology student named Nikolai Vartenberg and a Syrian activist named Joseph Hamoud. The SOD is a resistance movement against the Syrian regime and supports only the part of the Syrian opposition fighting for freedom, democracy and political pluralism. Together we organise street demonstrations and conferences, actively participate in debates, write articles and challenge the leading Assad supporters in Denmark. We also organised a benefit concert in Copenhagen featuring fourteen leading Danish and international artists, including Outlandish, Lars H.U.G. and Fatma Zidan, which was attended by over 500 people. But in organising concerts and collecting clothing and money, I realied that humanitarian action isn’t enough; it ends up throwing money into a bottomless pit. I believe that political action can make a real difference.