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A female imam is struggling to create a collective

Regissør: Marie Skovgaard

MARIAM MOSQUE / In 2015, Syrian-Finnish Danish Sherin Khankan decided to start a women-led mosque in Copenhagen. Instructor Marie Skovgaard has followed her struggle between personal vision and the challenges of creating community.


"Don't burn any bridges" is a difficult parole to work from when one's vision is to create a woman-led mosque. Probably everywhere in the world, but not least in Denmark, as the Syrian-Finnish Danish Sherin Khankan set out to do in 2015. With a small group of (more or less) like-minded Muslims – men and women – and with a donated occasion from a soul mate in the art of creating a stir, Mariam Mosque became a reality in 2016. Instructor Marie Skovgaard has closely followed Sherin Khankan through the process, and the latest footage is from December last year.That a mosque with female imams would create a backlash in many places was predictable. On the one hand, there are Muslims who will protest that women can lead the prayer. Partly, there are non-Muslims who will protest the idea that Islam can be practiced in many ways. For example, the white Danish ladies in colorful clothes and dyed hair, who surround Sherin Khankan after a conference on "radicalization" in the Danish People's Party, to inform Khankan that while it was once Christians that posed a threat to world peace, then the threat today comes only from Muslims.

"I do not agree," Khankan says quietly and impressively calmly, though she is clearly affected by the situation. Why? Khankan is under siege in many different contexts. Surrounded by right-wing Muslim men – after speaking at a debate at SDU – who bombard her with questions and accusations of not having sufficient knowledge of the Koran. Surrounded by journalists eager to run away with every sensation the project throws off, even if it involves inventing facts; such as when Politiken writes that the Mariam Mosque has a secret address for fear of reprisals. "Why do they write like that, though?" Khankan wonders. Within the group behind the Mariam Mosque, disagreements and misunderstandings regarding theology, tactics, strategy and personal style are also lurking from the start. It becomes apparent in one of the first scenes of the Reformist, as the documentary is called. The question of gay marriage arises, and from the facial expressions of those present in the camera angle alone, it is more than obvious that they do not look alike on that issue – and do not have as much at stake.

The reformist Instructor Marie Skovgaard

The strength and the weakness

Although Mariam Mosque is about creating community and congregation, the project is linked to Sherin Khankan and her vision, as the documentary's title and plot also suggests, the good and evil.The strength of Khankan's dedication – in her faith in the cause and in her personal beliefs and integrity – is also a weakness that is often dangerously close to making it all fall apart.

She pushes some away by insisting on following her heart.

She wins, she fails, she cries, she holds on to herself, she embraces – herself and others – and she pushes some away by insisting on following her heart, and is close to pushing others away by trying to don't follow his heart. reformist is a moving portrait of a searching and resolute soul, humbly fearless without being immune to neither threats and attacks nor positive and negative reactions from those with whom she is allegedly on hold. Through elegant interweaving of the collective and the personal, the private and public, Marie Skovgaard has created a unique documentary about a unique project. The camera is bold and insistent without being indiscriminate or disrespectful, and as such it captures what seems to be at the heart of the Mariam Mosque with all its yet unfulfilled – but still alive – promises and visions.

reformist appears below Oslo Pix 3-9. June.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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