NEW YORK - The first women-only mosque in the United States is drawing good number of females to prayers but is also causing controversy among the American Muslim community and beyond, according to media reports.

The Women’s Mosque of America in Los Angeles holds prayers in a building that used to be a synagogue, but is now a multi-faith space. Founder Hasna Maznavi told the reporters the intention was not to compete with other mosques, but to give women a place where they can “grow inspired and empowered”.

But conservative Muslims say women can’t have a mosque for their exclusive use. What was needed, they say, is that women’s space within the regular mosques should be improved and have better access. Muttalib, a female lawyer, was quoted as saying, “Women lack access to things men have, professional or religious. “I think this is our contribution to help resolve that issue.”

An unidentified Pakistani women expressed her joy after Jumma prayers, saying that in Pakistan, only men go to the prayers. Maznavi, who is a filmmaker, said women-only spaces have been part of Islamic history for generations and still exist in China, Yemen and Syria. In the United States, nearly all mosques separate the sexes. Women pray in the rear of the prayer hall or in a separate room from male congregants. “We’re not an alternative space; we’re a complimentary space, Maznavi said. “We want to work with existing mosques to improve and make them more women friendly. We never intended for this to compete, it’s simply support for women.”

For now, the group will continue to rent out a location to conduct its Friday prayer with hopes of expanding the programme to other cities in the future. On the opening of the mosque earlier this month, Lana Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave the sermon. Meantime, Muttalib said organisers envision more programming that includes men, but the prayers will remain for women and children, including boys under the age of 12.

“It’s kind of analogous to a women’s college,” she said. “It’s meant to be a space for women to come together and talk about the female perspective.”

The event also included a Q&A discussion about the ‘khutba’, something that doesn’t often happen in traditional mosques in a way where women can participate. “It’s very rare for women to reach an imam after prayer,” Maznavi said. “This is one of the ways we’re trying to make women, feel more welcome and involved.”