Pakistan on Wednesday reopened a mosque for female worshippers after two decades, in what observers called a move in defiance of the hardline Islam followed by the Taliban.
“Women will now be allowed to pray at the Sunehri Masjid or Golden Mosque in the north-western city of Peshawar near the Afghan border,’’ cleric Maulana Mohamed Ismail said.
Women used to worship at mosques in Pakistan before the Taliban militia took over neighbouring Afghanistan and their ideology became dominant in border regions, including Peshawar.
“Sunehri Masjid, one of two largest and historic mosques in the city, closed its doors to women in 2000,’’ Ismail said.
With few exceptions, other mosques across Pakistan followed the decision after home-grown Taliban and radical Sunni groups threatened women worshippers.
Home-grown Taliban banned women from leaving homes, blew up numerous girls’ schools in areas under their control and shot Malala Yousafzai, the campaigner for female education who won the Nobel peace prize.
“We will welcome our sisters and daughters to the mosque,’’ Ismail said, in a move analysts said could prove to be the first step towards gender equality in the conservative Islamic society.
The Pakistani Taliban have been pushed back in a series of offensives since 2014 and space for their hard-line Islamic ideology has shrunk significantly.
“By frightening society and the state to disallow women in mosque and blowing up schools, the Taliban deny them a sense of equality.
“Allowing them to a mosque is not a small move in a society like Pakistan. “It is a step towards their emancipation,’’ analyst Fida Khan said.