Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Problems in your Masjid? thoughts on the Mosque in Islam and Western society

The Mosque in the West

It should be noted, first and foremost, that the role of the Masjid [Mosque] in the Western context is very different from that in the Muslim world. In the Muslim world, the mosque is simply a place of prayer.Some Mosques will have funeral services, and of course students may take it as a quiet refuge to study, but essentially it ends at that.

In the United states, the Mosque has these roles and much more. It serves as a symbol of Muslim presence and culture, as the picture above shows. It is of the Shah Jahan Masjid in Woking [Surrey], United Kingdom. Marriages are performed, as well as various social gatherings, dinners, counseling, community work, political organizing, and so much more.

In short, the role of the Mosque in the West is the same as that of the Church. The Imam gives advice, marriage counseling, plays a role in local politics, in the same manner as the Pastor of the local Church. It's not an issue of right or wrong, this is just a reality.

Problems in the Masjid

In the Muslim world, the Mosque is basically on every corner. Generally speaking, it is also maintained and controlled by Government ministries, so the 'average' person has no role or responsibility in the Mosque. He [and almost never 'she'] will attend Friday prayers, and perhaps some of the daily prayers, in Jama'ah at the local mosque, and leave it at that.

Sectarianism in Mosques does exist, however it's very limited and varies from nation to nation. In places such as Pakistan, where the Sunni/Shi'ah divide is multiplied by sub-divisions, political and personality issues, attending the Mosque can be actually dangerous, as repeated bombings of Mosques, prayer gatherings and funerals show.

In places such as the United states, sectarianism is further complicated by class and ethnic divisions, which is dealt with two broad solutions..

[A] In small towns, Muslims of all sects and ethnic backgrounds will worship in the same mosque.They will offer friday prayers at the most convenient location.

[B] Muslims of the same sect or group, such as Shi'ah, Salafi, upon having sufficient numbers, will form their own mosques. Now, while Muslims outside of these groups are welcome, it is understood that this particular mosque is dominated by one school or ethnic group.

What next?

In the two 'solutions' given above, at some point problems, both on an individual and communal level, develop. It is unavoidable. When people of various thinking patterns, understanding of religion, as well as having different personalities, are enclosed in small spaces, feelings get hurt. Resentments form. Sometimes there are power struggles. Such problems are almost unheard of in the Muslim world, but they are an unfortunate reality in the Western context. Such problems exist even among followers of the same sect or same ethnic group. All of us think 'our way' is the correct model of Islamic practice and theology!

At some point, it becomes necessary for us as individuals to figure out what is beneficial to us in terms of our Islamic practice and spirituality. If we go to places where we don't feel comfortable for reasons, such as those mentioned in this text, we can easily find another Mosque. Another solution can be to limit one's participation to friday prayers only [after all, Friday prayers are obligatory according to the Qur'an 62:9] and avoid the politics. Sometimes, our boards and Imams need some perspective. Give them advice.
Religion is sincere advice [or sincerity, Naseehah in Arabic], [for the cause of] Allah, to the messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims and to the general public. [Sahih Al-Bukhari, 2:42]

Remember that the entire Earth is a Mosque [Sahih Al-Bukhari,8:56], prayers can be conducted anywhere that is clean and reasonable. We living in the West, especially having children, use our Mosques not only for prayers, but as cultural hubs, as sanctuaries and the like. So, just leaving it is not easy. Deep contemplation is required, as well as knowing the situation of other Mosques, before making such decisions. Seek Allah's guidance, and he will give you direction.Consider all options.