Take a minute and think about what you believe a great masjid is like.
My imagination keeps bringing me to things like, worshiping Allah and reading Quran but also things like socializing with friends, recreational activities and community building.
However, I feel we might have the wrong idea. We try to make our Masjid the center of all our activities.
The masjid is not a one-stop shop for your social and religious needs. So when you think of a food bank, you shouldn’t think a masjid. When you think of an Islamic high school, you shouldn’t be thinking of a masjid either. And when you think of socializing with good company, you definitely shouldn’t be thinking of the masjid.
But the sad reality is that our community (myself first) treats the masjid as a kind of Walmart draped in religious garb. We judge our masajid by what services they offer and how many potlucks they host every month.
A masjid is a place of worship. It isn’t your hangout spot, it shouldn’t have a basketball court, and it isn’t somewhere to have Wednesday Movie Nights.
Let me explain.
“A masjid is where someone should come in, worship Allah, ask Him for tauba, and then leave,” says Amjad Tarsin, University of Toronto’s Muslim chaplain.
Historically, the masjid’s sole purpose was to service a community’s spiritual needs, as it is ultimately a place of worship. This includes your daily prayers, taraweeh, reading and the teaching of Quran.
As a child growing up in Pakistan, I would regularly see people attend prayer and then leave the masjid. Nothing more was expected, and the masjid there performed its function incredibly well since it wasn’t expected to be a one-stop-shop for everyone’s needs.
Today in North America, we expect our masajid to offer counseling services, funeral services, nikkah arrangements, babysitting services, etc. Then we go home and complain on Facebook about how bad the khutbah was this Friday.
Is this a fair way to treat and judge our masajid and the people who work there?
We need to begin rethinking the role of the masjid and the qualities that make it great. Is it the food bank, potlucks and ice cream nights? Or is it the serenity a masjid offers, the quality of its khutbahs, and the recitation of the qari?
However, you ask: if we can’t socialize or have recreational activities at the masjid, then where do we go?
Puzzled with these concerns, I got the chance to speak to Shaykh Abdalla Idris Ali and he offered quite a different perspective.
“A masjid is a masjid, but in North America, you don’t need a masjid, you need a community centre with a masjid in it,” the shaykh says.
That makes a lot of sense!
The religious and social needs of Muslims living in the West are different than those living in Muslim majority countries—some say even greater.
For new immigrants (and even some Muslims born in the West), it can be difficult to find one’s way in the wider society as a committed Muslim. The challenge becomes more difficult at the communal level as we try to establish ourselves as a productive presence within the society—but that’s a discussion for another day.
But the onus shouldn’t be on our masajid to enrich social interaction within the Muslim community. Let’s work on finding alternative spaces. Pouring millions of dollars into our masajid for such purposes is simply overloading it with extra responsibilities.
We should begin building community centres that offer funeral services, counseling services, recreational activities, food banks, etc. We can even have movie nights and ice cream parties in such places!
Right now, we’re trying to make our existing masajid into community centers, which isn’t working. As stated before, our masajid aren’t capable to take on such bandwidth. Let’s stop trying to have our lives revolve within 20 feet of the masjid and work on establishing other spaces that focus on fulfilling the social needs of the community.
By removing some of the burden from the masjid and helping it focus solely on spiritual enrichment, our masajid will only benefit.
However, we need to make sure we don’t expect change overnight. Our community center projects can start small and inshallah will then grow just like our masajid have. 30 years ago, our masajid were almost non-existent. There were a few masajid that could barely accommodate a decent crowd at jummah. Today, we have masajid catering to over a thousand people at each jummah.
Our community centres can also start small and offer quality services. Once those services are established, we can continue to add on relevant services to enrich and fulfil our social and religious needs. Our community will need to start working on funding these institutions. Not build bigger masajid. The people overseeing these projects need to make sure we focus on all aspects of the Muslim community’s needs.
“The community has an extremely diverse set of needs that have to be addressed, but the mosque is primarily a place of worship,” Tarsin says. “We need to develop supporting institutions that address these diverse needs that should not be addressed by our mosques.”
In order for us to grow and move forward as a community, these words should be taken into consideration and, better yet, put into action.
Just my two cents, but do leave your reply below and I’ll definitely get back to you!