One of the benefits of being multilingual is the ability to intermingle with diverse Muslim communities. It allows a person to observe common struggles and triumphs of different Muslim congregations. While this empirical observation is certainly limited, there is a growing trend observable directly as well as through social media: that of increasing marginalization of social relevance of Masjids.
Over the past 17 years participating in various activities at Masjids, the House of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) in different countries, this writer has observed minimal practically relevant programs at Masjids. When Prophet, Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) established the first Masjid in Madinah al Munawwarah, it was meant not only for performing Salaah (Prayers), but it housed the essential collective activities in the premises of Masjid, though not exactly at the place where Salaah is offered. It has its religious sanctity and did not allow worldly materialistic profane affairs at this place. The space beside the “specific Salaah offering place” did serve as today’s community center for many other social, political, military and administrative purposes.
The Masjid, in Prophetic days, was the center of the Muslim society. Masjid was the station through which every activity led to success. The capacity of interacting and developing a religiously bonded community in a society – Muslim or non-Muslim dominated — is the key ingredient missing from Masjids today. Most programs at Masjids consist of lectures and lessons. While these are important, it is not enough. The activities in the premises of Masjids must aim to have a practical angle. For example, an excellent lecture on parenting for Muslim children by Muslim parents that was advertised as a “parenting workshop” in a non-Muslim country. Even though the presentations were good, the event lacked the workshop (practical) aspect. The lecture should have included a practical case-study type exercise for the audience to learn from. This would have made it a real workshop. Speeches followed by minimal Q&A are good, but not enough.
Most worldly-educated Muslims today are interested in the philosophical and theological aspects of Islam but they badly need to adopt it in their daily lives, from morning to night to next morning. In an age when the Islamophobia industry is growing alarmingly, this is a challenging endeavor but one that must be addressed. This can only be done if the Muslims display the Islamic teachings in personal and collective lives.
Muslims managing the affairs of Masjids need to realize that programs organized in their centers today are mostly lectures; they consist primarily of passing information in the “age of information.” It is like pouring hot water on someone drowning in a cold swimming pool. Nevertheless, even this is done poorly. Lessons on Hajj and politeness are important, but in today’s environment, Muslims should know how to respond to the dogmatic challenges raised by Atheist based thoughts of feminism, secularism, and scientism.
Readers that have gotten this far into the column might ask, so what exactly are you suggesting? The response to this question is: to seek guidance in on any issue, being Muslims, we must, first of all, look towards Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), His Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) and the direct disciples of Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam), i.e. his Sahaabah (Companions). And this is integral part of our belief that Islam, the complete and ultimate way of life, suggests solution to our life.
So, what was the status of Masjid-e-Nabawi in Madinah al Munawwarah during the early Islamic period? Besides offering Salaah, the work of Da’wah that is thinking, planning, arranging and implementing how to bring everyone – in and outside Madinah al Munawwarah – in the folds of Islam, not merely to expand the geographical boundaries, was one of the prime tasks. Muslims from other areas and tribes come to learn the new religion. Non-Muslim delegations reach to observe and embrace Islam when they see Islam in practice during their stay there. Muslims come for their Tazkiyah (purification) of Quloob (Hearts). Halaqah (Circle) of Zikr (Remembrance) of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and Halaqah of Ta’leem wa Ta’allum (teaching & learning) were a matter of routine without losing their importance. The Shooraa (Council of Discussion & Consultation) was called and meet there. Almost all of the activities were, directly or indirectly, religious in essence. The Masjid, even the place of Salaah offering was appropriate for them. But for sole purpose of worldly discussion, dealings, transactions and events were allowed to conduct within the premises of the Masjid but outside the Salaah place.
Keeping the condition of Muslims, general public and community elders, and the situation of society, with Muslim majority or minority, Masjid cannot serve the above purposes as a whole. However, community can make it center of their lives even today. The nature of its utilization today depends on the needs of a particular community. In some communities drugs are a major problem. If that is the case, such a community would need to organize professional seminars with a strong Islamic ethos that provide practical counselling to people using drugs.
Sometimes solutions to certain issues can be simple. In one European-Turkish community a competent imam observed that on weekends, many young people were hanging out in places that are not appropriate for cultivating an Islamic personality. That imam would regularly call up young people on Friday and Saturday nights to go out for coffee or ice cream to discuss various issues from an Islamic perspective, thus creating an Islamic bond among youth in an Islamic but casual social environment.
These programs must have a practical aspect that gives the congregation an opportunity to actively participate. This can be done at different levels. The Masjid’s management could tap into the local community’s skills by organizing workshops on, for example, writing a “Will” as Islam teaches, guiding the Sunnah way of Nikah and Valimah (Marriage ceremonies), What to do in marital conflicts based on the very effective method of divorce as taught by Islam, etc. Even when delivering socially relevant lectures, the audience should be engaged by asking questions during the lecture to see if they understand what is being communicated. This facilitates interaction and makes people feel they are valued.
Another key issue that undermines Masjids, mainly in Muslim minority societies, from dedicating needed resources to proper development programs, is the obsession with having bigger buildings and more buildings. This problem was eloquently pointed out by an imam when he stated, “Almost every community I’ve visited has a plan to build a bigger Masjid. Why do we need bigger Masjids when the Masjid is empty most of the year? Keep the building of Masjid simple and as much spacious as needed by community and invest the rest in constructing hospitals, Islamic education institutes, etc. That would be more pleasing to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) In-Shaa-Allah. Projects may also be identified that would not only show the positive impact of Muslims on the society they live in, but would enhance the economic well-being of Muslim communities as well.
Most Muslims living in non-Muslim countries lack basic information on how to cope with the un-Islamic system of their country of residence. There is only rudimentary knowledge about how the various processes work and what forces guide / manipulate it. Unless Muslims are aware of the adaptive ways to live in the society, they will continue to remain on the margins no matter how much population percentage they have.
Unless there is clear understanding of the major issues involved and of the forces operating behind the scenes, Muslims will continue to lead a marginalized existence. This is primarily because Muslims in most non-Muslim societies have not focused on practical means of how to please Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) without being impressed by others appeared to be controlling the affairs.
We live in a world that is hostile to Islam in a very sophisticated way. Muslim responses to the challenges of post-modernism must also be sophisticated, but most importantly with firm faith on divine prescription leading to Sunnah-based lifestyle. The prime and fore most effort should be to have strong relationship with Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and the Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) and frequent link to the House of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), the Masjid.