Kahina Bahloul

Two Muslim organisations in France have launched projects to create "inclusive" mosques: spaces where women and men can pray together, and where female imams would be able to lead Friday prayers. Kahina Bahloul conducts her prayers at home, in her living room. She decided to stop going to the mosque five years ago after she was refused access to the main prayer room.

"I went to the mosque with a group of male and female friends. It was a religious festival commemorating the birth of the Prophet, so it was very important.The men were told to go in, but we women were told ‘cross the road and you’ll find a room’. It was a garage in fact. So there I was in this garage. The sound system was terrible and the atmosphere was not at all spiritual. Women were cooking and kids were playing. I was extremely disappointed, shocked even."

Bahloul says the separation of men and women in the main prayer does not make sense.

"We're together everywhere in everyday life, and then suddenly, when it's prayer time, you can't even look at one another. It's as if we've been reduced to sexual objects and nothing else."

Kahina Bahloul hopes to be France's first female imam. She has a doctorate in Islamic studies and is of the more mystical branch of Islam known as Sufism. Following the terror attacks in November 2015 she founded a discussion group andforum, Parle moi d'Islam(talk to me about Islam).

Along with philosohy professor Faker Korchane, she has now set up an association with the aim of opening Fatima mosque, an "inclusive” modern space where men and women can pray together.

"The mosque will welcome men and women in the same room, women on one side, men on the other, but both on the same level. Homosexual people will also be welcomed." she explained.

Bahloul does not wear a veil and does not believe the Koran imposes it, so there will be no dress code. The other crucial feature is that a woman imam will lead Friday prayers every other week. Bahloul would like to be the first woman in France to lead Friday prayers, but recognises that even though France has Europe's largest Muslim population (estimated between four to five million people), she is swimming against a very conservative tide.

"It’s surprising that in France, considering there’s such a large Muslim community, that there’s also a deeply conservative tradition," she said. "The traditional currents such as Salafism and the Muslim brotherhood have a strong presence.

Soruce: RFI