London

Muslim women criticise male-only mosque in Soho

Mosque sign
Image caption A sign at the Soho Islamic Centre says the nearest mosque where women can pray is about 10 minutes walk away

A number of Muslim women have come forward upset that a mosque in central London has stopped allowing them to pray there.

The Soho Islamic Centre says it has become a mosque where only men can pray because of a lack of space.

It is not illegal for places of worship to admit just one sex, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

But five women have told BBC Asian Network they feel alienated by the mosque's policy.

'I need to pray'

Dr Batool Abdul Kareem, 36, said: "They approached and said, 'Can you please leave? There's no women's area here.'

"I said, 'I'm sorry, I can't leave. I need to pray.'

"They insisted. A man from the mosque was actually taking my bag and putting it outside - almost physically forcing me out - and he threatened to call the police."

Image caption Anita Neyyar says she was "shooed" out of the Soho Islamic Centre

Anita Neyyar used to pray at the mosque on her lunch break every day, as her office was just down the road.

The 34-year-old said: "The first time I went there, they were actually really accommodating and then over time it started becoming harder and harder to be able to pray in there.

"One time, the imam basically tried to shoo me away and this became a pattern. They started clamping down on women praying there and I couldn't understand why."

A sign pictured hanging in a window of the mosque directs women to another mosque about half-a-mile away.

Mohid Islam, one of the trustees of the Soho Islamic Centre, said the reason they do not allow women to pray there is because there is not any space or separate facilities for women, such as toilets.

He said it is Sharia - Islamic law - to segregate men and women and they do not have the means to do that.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission says the mosque is not breaking any laws, as gender segregation is permissible during collective religious worship and the Charity Commission supports this.

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