Maliha Latif started looking for a mosque to join after her divorce. She soon discovered that as a 35-year-old Muslim divorcee, she faced a special challenge in finding a spiritual home. Latif did not reveal her marital status during what she calls her “masjid-hopping period” (masjid is the Arabic word for mosque). She instinctively knew that was a bad idea.
“Divorce is still a taboo in most Muslim communities,” said Zia Makhdoom, an Afghan-born imam in Alexandria, Virginia. “There’s an Afghan saying: ‘Once you enter someone’s house as a bride, the only way for you to leave that house is in a coffin,’” he said. “It is literally, ‘Till death do us part.’” He added that while few American Muslims would interpret marriage quite that starkly, there is robust social pressure against divorce inside Muslim-American communities. That was one of the motivations for Makhdoom to start his own Muslim organization, called Make Space, which seeks to “un-mosque” Muslims, and to make Islam appealing and relevant to women, young people, and others who feel excluded from the faith.
Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion. In the United States, the number of Muslims has doubled over a span of seven years, according to a Pew study. But generational changes are presenting a challenge to Muslim leaders in the U.S. Some say Millennials and Generation X-ers are less likely to stay affiliated with the mosque they grew up in than their parents because they feel hemmed in by the expectations, rules, and practices. This is especially the case for immigrant Muslims, who make up 63 percent of America’s Muslim population.