French President meets Sherin Khankan, founder of Denmark’s first female-led mosque, to discuss balance between religion and politics

The founder of Denmark’s first female-led mosque, Sherin Khankan, has met France’s president Emmanuel Macron to discuss the balance between religion and politics, and topics including Islamic feminism. The meeting also included French female rabbi, Delphine Horvilleur[1].

This is significant as France has a political tradition of laïcité, in which state and church are divided, meaning the state is technically secular. However, the DR (a Danish broadcaster) reports that Macron hopes input from religious leaders will help France tackle social problems which are connected to religious and cultural differences. The meeting was planned prior to the Isis-inspired terrorist attack in Carcassonne[2].

Khankan commented that, in initiating this dialogue, Macron was making “an important political statement”. She said, “France is a country known for its unfailing and unconditional separation of religion and politics. I am trying to show through my activism that religion can make a progressive contribution to society. And there are great challenges in France”. She cites one of these challenges as radicalisation[3].

She adds, “Religion cannot be made to disappear. So it is interesting that a political leader like Emmanuel Macron is interested in listening, and by meeting with different religious leaders is sending an important signal that secular society can coexist with religion”[4].

Khankan, who founded the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen, Denmark, is not only known for this, but also as the leader of Exitcirklen, an organisation which supports women who are victims of domestic violence and social and religious control[5].

The Mariam Mosque reinterprets the Qur’ān with a focus on women’s rights, including the right to marry outside the faith and file for divorce. Through the mosque, Sherin Khankan works “to soften the interface between Western society and Islam, and hopes that her brand or religion might also help to reduce Islamophobia” and the challenge patriarchal structures within Islam[6].

One of the ways in which Khankan and the Mariam Mosque do this is by allowing Muslim women to marry men of other faiths and to seek divorce. Speaking to PBS, Khankan says, “We have constructed a new Islamic marriage contract, which gives women the rights, the right to divorce, the right over the children in the case of a divorce. Polygamy is forbidden. And if mental or physical violence occur, the marriage is annulled”[7].

[1] The Local, 2018.

[2] The Local, 2018.

[3] The Local, 2018.

[4] The Local, 2018.

[5] The Local, 2018.

[6] Brabant, 2018.

[7] Brabant, 2018.

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Brabant, M. (2018) ‘Women leading Danish mosque challenge patriarchy and right-wing religious control’. [online] 24 February. [Accessed 8 April 2018].

The Local. (2018) ‘Denmark’s female imam to meet French president Macron at Élysée Palace’. [online] 26 March. [Accessed 8 April 2018].