What is IMI?
The Inclusive Mosque Initiative is a voluntary organisation of Muslims which aims to convene inclusive spaces that welcome all people of all sects, genders, sexualities. We welcome people of all religions and none. Inclusivity is at the heart of our work. That means prioritising disabled access, mental health and emotional health in our work.
What do you do?
Like most mosques, we hold regular social events and prayers (salah). Right now, we are working towards establishing a permanent carbon-neutral mosque building. At the moment we hold events in a variety of hired, wheelchair accessible spaces.
What are your backgrounds?
We are a collective of practising Muslims who are part of many Muslim communities. We come from a range of Islamic backgrounds including Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Quranist, Salafi, Braelvi, Islamic feminist, traditional, secular and conservative. Our backgrounds reflect the diversity of ethnicities within the British Muslim community. Our team is made up of Arab, Central European, South Asian, East African, North African, Persian, mixed heritage and white Muslims.
Are you all outsiders of the Muslim community?
Depends who you ask. We are part of a spectrum of the Muslim community in Britain. Islam is precious to us and it’s the reason we do what we do. We welcome non-practising Muslims to attend IMI events and our board members are all practising Muslims.
How large is your membership?
We have an email list of about 600 people and a Facebook reach of around 5,000 people. There are Inclusive Mosque Initiatives active in the UK, Malaysia, Pakistan, Switzerland and Kashmir. Our membership is growing rapidly in response to a critical mass of Muslims who need a mosque space that explicitly includes them, their practice and their family.
Who are you funded by?
We are funded by donations and recently received a grant from Arcus Foundation. We put our own incomes into IMI and receive no government funding.
Are you a support group for people with mental illnesses?
No, unfortunately we don’t currently have the resources to be a support group but we aspire to be a supportive space.
How is IMI different from other mosques?
We are building on existing Islamic traditions of inclusivity, offering an additional space which is proactively inclusive of the diversity of Muslims and Islamic practice that is found globally. We exist alongside more traditional mosques. Whilst some are absolutely fantastic, some mosques are not particularly welcoming to women and people with mobility challenges (such as wheelchair users). IMI is different because it prioritises inclusion.
Are you a gay mosque?
Perhaps because of the way that some journalists presented us recently, it might seem like we are very focused on gay rights or are expecting all mosques to change. Neither is accurate! Our understanding of inclusivity is much broader than that. We want everyone to feel welcome at our events, whoever they are. We are not a mosque specifically for gay people, but we are inclusive of everyone and all family structures. It is a fact that a small number of the British Muslim community are also part of the LGBT+ community and they attend existing mosques already. However, for those who feel they need a place where their sexuality or their non-traditional family is included, highlighted and valued explicitly, we aim to be that space.
The point is that people attend mosques for worship (ibadah), and to practice Islam within a community. For us it is about Islam, it is not about identity politics. Our inclusive ethos is about much more than sexuality.
Does your project perceive the act of homosexuality as compatible with Islam?
IMI members hold a wide variety of perspectives. Collectively we perceive all sexuality to be a private matter between the individual and Allah.
How do you feel the mainstream Muslim community will feel about such an initiative?
We’ve been going since November 2012 and (Alhamdulillah) have had overwhelmingly positive responses from across Muslim organisations and individuals around the world. The Ummah, even in Britain, really is so diverse; Islam does include and welcome everyone and we believe that the British Muslim community is stronger together.
Free-mixing between males and females is disallowed by many Muslims. What do you say to them?
We are not unique in our position on free mixing of the sexes. Individuals will come to their own conclusions about gender segregation. For those who encourage it, there are existing mosque spaces. IMI exists for those who want to worship in spaces without gender segregation.
What about gender segregation during prayer?
We don’t force anyone to change how they pray. We recently started an event with salah led by a very knowledgeable woman. One attendee did not want to pray behind a woman; so he chose to pray separately and then we continued to have an inspiring discussion.
We are building on changes happening internationally and our priority is to provide a mosque space where women are equally as welcome, and involved, as men. Many Muslim organisations hold events where men and women mix, social events, discussions, talks etc. so our social calendar is not something unusual.