Time and time again, we hear stories about people being treated badly in mosques. Unfortunately, because of such stories, issues like women’s prayer space, the treatment of converts, and the quality of khutbahs have become hot topics in our community. Some people have accepted these issues innate to our mosques, while others are actively trying to address them.
UnMosqued is a documentary film that attempts to start a conversation on reforming our mosques in North America. It features Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan, Imam Suhaib Webb, and Imam Khalid Latif, among others.
This week, the Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto hosted the Toronto Premiere of the film. The screening was followed by a thought-provoking discussion with two of the film’s directors.
With a packed house of over 300 people, everyone was excited to watch this unconventional documentary.
UnMosqued takes a hard and critical look at issues like the treatment of converts and women, the unwelcoming attitudes that seem to plague some of our mosques, the quality (or lack thereof) of our mosques’ khutbahs, and the unproductive governance underpinning many of our religious establishments.
As someone who has been positively impacted by our mosques and leaders, I was surprised to see some of the primitive arrangements being upheld in these places of worship.
It was refreshing to see Muslim directors put together a film that was well produced. “The reaction so far has been very positive from both elders and young people, surprisingly,” says Ahmed Eid, the director of the film.
“Ultimately, we can’t force someone to get out of their chair and get involved in their masjid, we don’t have that ability,” Ahmed notes. “What we wanted to do is for the film to inspire a few people that can affect change to go out and do so.”
“One of the biggest problems I see in the masajid is that we have unqualified people doing certain jobs,” Ahmed continued. “Whether you’re an accountant or a filmmaker, find out what you’re good at and help your mosque with that talent; we need talented people doing what they’re good at in positions of power in the masajid.”
The film uses several mosques as examples to highlight certain shortcomings that have led Muslims (and non-Muslims) away from places of worship. But it did not provide examples of mosques that have been responsive and adaptive to the needs of their communities. At times, I felt that the film was painting a biased and unfair picture, so I discussed this particular point with Ahmed.
“During our interviews with imams for this film across the country, we were always told that there are 5 unicorn masjids,” he says, ”the problem with that is there are over 2000 masjids in America and let’s say there are 100 doing an awesome job, that’s still such a small percentage that are doing it right. We wanted the film to be about what the average mosque is.”
Although I understand that the problems are systemic and need to be addressed as such, I still think that it would have been best to also show mosques that are doing a great job. Omair Raza, an attendee, shares my concerns.
“I would’ve appreciated some success stories of communities that are offering services beyond prayer services, so that when other communities are trying to better their mosques, they have a model to go by instead of having to reinvent the wheel,” he says.
I also got the chance to speak to Amjad Tarsin, UofT’s Muslim chaplain. “I thought that there were some strong points in the film and that it did bring to light a lot of issues that we need to address,” says Amjad. “However, I’m not sure that the way it was presented and the way people will interpret it is going to be the catalyst to bring about the changes.”
One recurring theme of the film is the archaic vision and governance style employed by an older generation that runs our mosques. This is a valid point, but the film doesn’t balance this by acknowledging the work done by these immigrant leaders, who put in precious time and resources into establishing our mosques.
“I know some people that didn’t come because the film was going to bash at uncles in the mosques and I felt it did do that at times,” Omair says.
Still, UnMosqued is a phenomenal film that raises the bar of a debate that is vital to our community at this point in time. It has definitely sparked interest and got our community talking about these pressing issues. The film’s point was to highlight grievances and shortcomings. It certainly did its job in that respect.
I also spoke to Amjad about possible solutions to the problems mentioned: “For those who felt that the Masjid has wronged them – they need to be careful of committing the same wrong back to the Masjid. Our approach to improve the state of the community has to be based on love and mutual cooperation and not revenge and holding grudges against other Muslims,” he says.
What do you think? Would you call yourself Mosqued or UnMosqued? Did you get to watch the film?
Share your thoughts below!