Danish female imam Sherin Khankan meets with French president to discuss 'future Islam'

Danish female imam Sherin Khankan meets with French president to discuss 'future Islam'
France's president on Monday met with Sherin Khankan, Denmark's first female imam, to discuss the future of Islam in Europe amid a push by Paris for more religious understanding.
3 min read
27 March, 2018
Khankan is a controversial figure among traditional Muslims who do not accept female ministry [AFP]
France president Emannuel Macron met on Monday with Sherin Khankan, Denmark's first female imam, to discuss the future of Islam in Europe and Islamic feminism, amid a push by secular France for more religious understanding.

The one-hour meeting at the Elysee Palace was also attended by French rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, who is also a female cleric.

According to French media reports, Macron asked the two women to come up with ideas on how best "to improve the dialogue of civilizations".

France has strictly secular political traditions, but Macron hopes input from leaders of diverse branches of different faiths will give ideas on how France can help tackle radicalisation and tensions connected to religious and cultural differences.

"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," Khankan told Danish broadcaster DR.

"Radicalisation can be a reaction to a sense of not belonging or being part of the community, so it is important that world leaders of the future find ways to include their minorities," she added.

In August 2016, Khankan - a well-known Muslim author and activist - opened Denmark's first women-led mosque, in a bid to "challenge patriarchal structures", and create a dialogue between religion and politics. 

Born in Denmark to a Syrian-Muslim father - who opposed the regime of Hafez al-Assad - and a Finnish Christian mother, Khankan is a sociologist of religion and philosophy, specialising in contemporary Islamic activism in Europe and the Middle East. 

She is the founder and co-chairperson of Critical Muslims, an organisation that promotes female Muslim leadership, and has also stood for parliament as a candidate for the Radical Left Party. In October, Sherin Khankan published Women are the Future of Islam to tell her story and explain her intellectual career in Copenhagen.

She says her Maryam Mosque (the name alludes to Mary, the mother of Christ - a prominent figure in Islam and Christianity alike) provides a more welcoming atmosphere for female worshippers, and illuminate the theological diversity of the Islamic faith - frequently over-looked in an increasingly Islamophobic environment in Europe. 

Sherin Khankan suggested to the French president the idea of ​​a large conference bringing together women imams and rabbis, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests as well as intellectuals of all religions, including Muslims, without discrimination based on gender.

Macron "expressed interest in the idea and promised to follow up," she was quoted as saying, suggesting Morocco host her proposed event.

Khankan said Morocco was ideal because of its open-mindedness of female clerics, the murshidat. Morocco also allowed women to officiate Islamic marriages last September.

"They are women charged with preaching the good word even in remote villages, with the mission to promote a reasonable, tolerant and authentically true Islam," she said.

"Nothing in the Qur'an forbids women to conduct prayer or manage a mosque," added the imam, who also officiates interreligious marriages, another taboo in mainstream Islam.

Read The New Arab's interview with Sherin Khankan

Meeting Sherin Khankan, Denmark's first female imam