By Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
The key to the success of a Muslim community anywhere in the world is for its members to emulate the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him*) in both the individual and communal spheres of life. Mosques should be at the heart of community development and should provide the community with knowledge, skills and experience, fellow-feeling, dedication, transparency and accountability. Mosques should play a decisive role in shaping individual and community life in a pluralist environment like that of Britain and should proactively seek to fill any gaps within the community and bring its members together. Mosques that seek to operate at the highest standards thus, in turn, create a sense of community belonging and play a great part in solving many internal and external problems.
Mosque in Arabic is masjid (pl. masajid) which is derived from the root word sajada meaning ‘to prostrate’. A key feature of the prayer is the prostration to God; and masjid itself literally means ‘place of prostration’. This, however, is not the sole purpose of a mosque; as an establishment it performs a series of roles that define the Muslim community and serve people that interact with it.
Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) original mosque in Medina, with its surrounding courtyard was very simple in structure but played an extraordinary role in helping create a dazzling and long-lasting civilisation. It became the heart and soul of Medina; the life of the city and its inhabitants revolved around the activities that took place in the mosque. The ritual prayer in congregation was vital, but that was only one aspect of its role.
From the collections of ahadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet (pbuh)) the following roles of a mosque are identified:
• A place for worship for everybody – For men and women, the old and young, Arab and non-Arab.
• A place for learning – Muslims developed their character on the basis of knowledge and education they gained in the mosque.
• A place for social interaction – The praying community used to meet and mingle in the mosque.
• A place for inviting people to Islam – There were many examples that demonstrate that the mosque was a vital place for those who would like to know about Islam.
• A place for medical and social care – The Prophet’s Mosque was a place for the care of the wounded in crises and wars.
• A place for meetings and consultation – The Prophet (pbuh) used to gather his Companions in the mosque to discuss serious matters and make decisions.
• A place for festivity – The Prophet (pbuh) advised the Companions to “announce the wedding ceremonies, hold them in mosques, and make them known by beating the drums”.
One often reflects on how magnetic the atmosphere must have been; attracting believers and non-believers to a simple building that would purify them and direct them towards God.
Considering the model we have from the Prophet (pbuh), what do we see today across the world? We notice that mosques nowadays are used only for the daily congregational prayer, the occasional madrasah (classes in Islamic studies), and infrequent study circles. Many mosques are locked up for the best part of the day; some do not allow women for cultural reasons and even children on account of noise! Yes, there are limitations in terms of physical space, resources, planning laws, to name a few, but where there is a will there is a way. By involving dedicated and competent people in the Muslim community we can alleviate some of the constraints and bring professionalism to the running of the house of God and improve the conditions of the community. Through facilitating interaction with other communities Muslims can be at the heart of the nation.
Our communities are diverse and evolving. Some are prosperous, others are less so; some have high youth populations, others have the opposite; some face multiple social issues, others face fewer challenges. It is the role of mosques to be sensitive, flexible and responsive to all these needs and to develop support mechanisms that directly address community needs. A mosque in an affluent area may have different needs to a mosque in a disadvantaged locality. But it is imperative that people who run them accommodate all members and involve talented and practising youth so that such mosques can help produce future leaders.
A key characteristic of a Muslim is to strive to do better, not to be content with the status quo. Where mosques find themselves struggling to provide anything more than the basics, it is a good time to reflect and recognise that new and young blood with zeal and innovative ideas can do more to transform these houses of God into hives of community activities, as demonstrated in the example of the Prophet’s (pbuh) mosque.
“…Certainly a Mosque founded on piety from the very first day is more deserving that you should stand in it; in it are men who love that they should be purified; and God loves those who purify themselves.” (Al-Quran: 9.108)
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist; community activist; author and parenting consultant. He has been involved with the East London Mosque, the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Aid. He is a board member of the LOCOG and an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London.
* Muslims repeat the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad’s name. It is abbreviated to (pbuh) elsewhere in the text.
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