The 'unmosqued' discussion has spawned a host of conversations, coffee shop conversations, desi dinner party fodder, tweetable soundbites, virally shared facebook updates, and even a couple of blog articles right here on MuslimMatters. To say that this topic interests me is an understatement (I even started a website dedicated to trying to steer leaders into running their masjids better). When it comes down to it, there's a few core arguments at play that everyone is going back and forth on. Grab some chai, sit back, and let's figure out just what's going on here.

History

Where'd this all get started?

Well it starts with a term from the Christian community referring to people who haven't attended services in some time – Unchurched.

At the end of November, a video hit the internets called 'Unmosqued' delivered by a friend of mine, Abu Yusuf. The talk was delivered at a Rad Talks conference (a TED style conference for Muslims with short “lightning talks” on various subjects). Here's the original unmosqued talk:

I felt this talk was 100% on target and articulated a lot of points that many people were thinking but hadn't said in a formal setting.

This talk prompted some people to make a documentary, a trailer of which was released a couple of months ago as a teaser. This trailer really got the momentum on the discussion going as it highlights a number of issues as well as some well known personalities:

Part 2 of the trailer [more recently released]

There's a side discussion that happened with this second trailer, and that is the issue of masajid having separate entrances for brothers and sisters.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 9.43.23 PM

This screenshot highlights some of the issues that people have with the documentary as it's currently being advertised through its teaser trailers. There is a common theme between these 2 comments, and some of the discussion from Haytham's post on our site. In this case, a masjid was apparently shown to be the opposite of what even the producers admit that it was. In the case of the fiqh issue with separate entrances, the response is that the movie is simply telling a story. And therein lies the problem.

A documentary will only tell the story that its filmmakers want to tell. The story told in the trailer is that the Nueces masjid is a typical example of a place with no proper women's entrance. Why tell this story in the trailer if it's not the case?

In regards to the fiqh issue, I feel this is a cop out. You cannot responsibly raise this issue of separate entrances and then hide from the fiqh debate. Yes, it's telling a story – but you control the story being told as well. If we're going to have an honest discussion about reforming our masjids, then we have to have the academic integrity to show this side as well. You can't say you're not in the business of getting into fiqh debates if you're going to give a one-sided story that starts one.

Anyhow, with that small tangent aside, I wanted to highlight 3 arguments that I feel are at the heart of the unmosqued discussion.

Argument 1: Criticism vs. Involvement

“I hate the way you run the masjid!”

“Well then why don't you volunteer and get involved? Stop criticizing and do some work!”

“I tried, but you guys won't let anyone outside your little circle get involved!!”

This is perhaps one of the most contentious parts of the unmosqued discussion.

masjid Administration: We've put in an unmatched level of work. We raised the funds, got the building permits, lobbied the city, found building contractors, and tons more. In fact, most of the people complaining about unmosqued learned their Islam from the very Sunday schools that we established! So you want to change things? Go ahead. Come and raise funds to run the place. Go represent us at the interfaith gatherings and law enforcement meetings. Sit down on Friday and handle all the zakat requests. You want us to build you a gym? We can't trust you with it. You don't have a track record of showing up. How are you going to raise the funds, find an architect, get city approval, and manage the construction? How about you at least teach at the Sunday school without calling in sick twice a month before we can trust you?

Community Members: We're tired of how you run things. You never take our feedback – in fact we don't even know how you decide what you decide. You don't follow the federal laws that require you to post meeting minutes so we can know what's going on. In fact, you don't even hold the general body meetings to get our input as mandated by the masjid constitution that you wrote! Moreover, we tried to get involved but you shut us down. We tried to organize an all-night event for youth, and you said no. We tried to do a food drive, and you wouldn't even let us make an announcement after jumu'ah. In fact, a few of us tried to run for board positions and when you thought we might win, you changed the constitution of the masjid!

My Take: There's a lot of truth to both sides of this argument. A lot of times the people who complain are willing to put in work – but not necessarily all the work that's needed. Most of us don't understand the level of sacrifice that went into just getting our masajid off the ground in the first place. And the average community member usually doesn't even know a lot of the work that's going on behind the scenes. Something as seemingly simple as just coordinating a khutbah schedule can take up a couple of hours a week.

At the same time, it's time for the elder generation to move on to the next level. I don't say that they need to step aside, or even retire. They need to shift their focus from running the community to mentoring the next leaders. The chairman of the board that has been there for 20 years needs to be transitioned in a dignified way into an honorable chairman emeritus position. A little more respect and work from community members can go a long way in making this happen.

The elders also need to realize that there comes a point where the “get involved” rhetoric becomes a crutch or a facade to mask deeper issues within the administration itself, and people are not blind to it. Many people have tried to get involved and gotten burned. In other cases, people get involved, but their help is not acknowledged because elders feel that getting involved only happens if you assume the title of board member. This causes them to further look down with disdain at community members.

For these administrations for which it seems there is no hope, there is only one solution. They have to be taken to account by the community at large. What I've noticed in communities where administrations are run amuck is that the community simply does not care. The more apathetic they are, the more that boards get away with. Their apathy drowns out the good ideas and common sense of the few who are challenging the board.

Fixing that is not easy. You have to be in it for the long haul. What do you do during that long haul? Focus on your pocket of excellence. Make yourself so invaluable to the community that they can't afford to ignore you. It's either that or study your masjid constitution like you're preparing for the MCAT and have a 2 year plan to run the table at the next election.

Argument 2: Women in the masjid

Having 2 young daughters, my wife, mother, and sister – I feel quite strongly about how sisters will be included in our masjids moving forward. I won't rehash the discussion about women being marginalized, not being included, and not having adequate accommodations. I think they're painfully obvious to even the most casual of masjid attendees.

But what I do think is important is to understand a little bit of context. The needs and demands of our communities have changed drastically in the last 20-30 years. Islamic schools have gone from a rarity to being seen by some as a necessity in every major community. Masjids have gone from having an empty field (i.e. future construction site) for kids to play on to having full blown gymnasiums. Social changes have greatly impacted how masjids interact with their non-Muslim neighbors.

Many masjids were established by immigrant families who came from places where women attending the masjids was not emphasized. It might be wrong – but it's a fact, and many of them simply did not know any better. The demands voiced by sisters now are different than 15 years ago. Even if they're the same, they're much more vocal now than they were before. So how do we change it?

Physical accommodations are a real problem. This problem needs a bit of context though. Some masjids are stuck – they were built long ago, or built by people who (unfortunately) didn't have the foresight to properly make an adequate sister's area. Fixing this is not easy – making a physical change requires lots of funds, building plans, city approval, and so on. In some cases, it just might not be an option due to land restrictions. Communities will have to find ways of working around this. One thing that a number of places have adopted is simply having sisters only programs in the men's area at off hours (i.e. daytime on weekdays).

The ugly side of this discussion is when unnecessary fitnah is created. And by that I mean when sisters go into a masjid seeking conflict (a tell-tale sign is that cell phone cameras are already recording just waiting for an antagonized uncle to flip out), and then run to the media to make a big deal out of it. You have to first try to work with the system as much as possible before just giving up on it.

Even with that being said, there does come a time where the system is failing and something else needs to be done. Understand the limitations of the community and try to come up with solutions. One thing that I hope will come from the unMosqued documentary is highlighting people who have successfully solved these issues and present a model for others to follow.

I don't know about existing solutions, but going forward I have a few ideas for what needs to be done. Sisters need to be included in administrative  capacities in the masjid beyond being made the social events coordinator, secretary, or the “affirmative action” board member who gets marginalized – i.e. when the 6 male board members meet privately and agree on something and then come to a board meeting to “vote” having rendered her vote irrelevant.

Floor plans must be made to give women proper sight to speakers. I've prayed in a masjid where I couldn't see the khateeb, and it was annoying, deflating, and took away from my jum'ah experience. There need to be ways to accommodate not just sisters, but sisters with children (younger children and older children) so that everyone is able to attend and benefit from a program in relative peace.

Argument 3: Imams

I'm quite tired of the “immigrant” imam debate. Being an immigrant is not the make or break issue. I have seen many immigrant imams who have had not only profound impacts on their communities, but even on me personally. If you grew up here, who taught you how to read Qur'an when you were young? Who taught you the basics of your religion? I've also seen plenty of imams who were born and raised here, and “understand the culture” that are flat out a destructive presence in their communities.

Everyone feels they're entitled to a certain type of imam, and everyone has different expectations of one. Some communities think imams are just ignoramuses who can't do anything but teach Arabic alphabets, and some imams feel like all they do 24 hours a day is teach classes, lead prayers, and provide counseling and emergency (counseling/janazah/hospital visits) services in all their free time. Ask the child of an American imam how much they saw their dad growing up. They're busy serving the needs of the community – many times they are needs that 80% of the community doesn't even realize they need because they're behind the scenes.

Communities need a clear vision of who they need in an imam. I had a chance to sit down with Sh. AbdulNasir Jangda to talk about how communities can find the right imam:

Also I've written about this issue in a lot of detail over at MuslimSI in the Imams category.

It all comes back to the community at large. An apathetic community will be content with whoever the administration parades in front of them regardless of quality or qualification. A serious community will seek out the imam who best fits their needs and take good care of him.

We also need to branch out beyond the imam role. Our masjids desperately need both a brothers and sisters youth director, counselors for men and women, and other people in such 'pastoral' roles under the direction of a main imam or resident scholar.

Concluding Thoughts

I was really happy when I saw the initial unmosqued talk from Rad Talks. It's my hope that this movement, or discourse, will bring about positive change in the community. To do that though, the story told through the film must be one that is able to penetrate the hearts of those who need to hear it most. If it's just a rah rah movie that further empowers disenchantment and disengagement [as some argue the existing trailer seems to do], then it's a failure.

My greatest fear is that people who are frustrated with people and circumstances (no matter how legitimate) will become content with being unmosqued. I feel it's only a matter of time before I run into a practicing Muslim brother and ask him which masjid he attends only to have him say, “Oh, I don't really go to the masjid, I'm unmosqued.” I'm also worried that things like misrepresenting masjids (as the Nueces example at the top) will make problematic board members even more defensive and prevent them from being able to hear the message they need (much less watch it in the first place if they just dismiss the documentary as “obvious lies”).

My greatest hope is that the upcoming film reaches those running our institutions and is able to convey to them – from an 'unbiased 3rd party' point of view the issues being discussed, and it becomes a catalyst for them to make changes.

31 Responses

  1. Haytham

    Well thought out article Omar, mashaAllah, thanks for writing it. I look forward to a good discussion in the comments section inshaAllah. This quote below really sums up my thoughts.

    I was really happy when I saw the initial unmosqued talk from Rad Talks. It’s my hope that this movement, or discourse, will bring about positive change in the community. To do that though, the story told through the film must be one that is able to penetrate the hearts of those who need to hear it most. If it’s just a rah rah movie that further empowers disenchantment and disengagement [as some argue the existing trailer seems to do], then it’s a failure.

    My greatest fear is that people who are frustrated with people and circumstances (no matter how legitimate) will become content with being unmosqued. I feel it’s only a matter of time before I run into a practicing Muslim brother and ask him which masjid he attends only to have him say, “Oh, I don’t really go to the masjid, I’m unmosqued.”

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    • Ibn Siddique

      Very balanced piece, Ibn Abee Omar. You summarized both sides pretty well.

      Haytham, I look forward to the day when you produce “Mosqued: Communities that Did it Right.” Perhaps it would be more proactive than the current film.

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  2. Siraaj

    I think the quote Haytham pulled from your piece above sums up my own problems with the direction the trailers are continuing to push – it seems less about constructive dialogue with the actual boards and moving the ball forward and more about disenfranchised people venting.

    I also thought it was ironic that a number of commentators critical of Haytham’s post were angry not that he disagreed (and went on to affirm the need for different views), but that they didn’t like his manners in doing so – I believe this is exactly what our discussion now is – it’s not a disagreement on the existence of the problems themselves, but the tone and attitude of the disagreement.

    Siraaj

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  3. Belal Khan (@khanb1)

    I hope the approach of “UnMosqued” The Movie” will be similar to “Waiting for Superman”

    Showcase the problem and their causes through the eyes of select individuals, And, show their personal journey and story arc of change. One, maybe two folks who connect with communities that change and do it right. One or two folks who end up “Unmosqued” << as a wake up call to those communities refusing to change.

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  4. Abdullah

    Very beneficial article. As a person who grew up involved in the American Muslim community and also some documentary film making, the unmosqued trailers are in fact concerning for the reasons you described. Making videos is such a powerful medium and has the potential to be powerfully misleading if the editor wants it to be. The respected personalities shown in interviews are so kind to offer words for the filmmakers, but really their credibility can’t be translated into approval for the video’s overall message. What I see are human beings who have experienced trauma and are compelled to express it artistically, but in the effort have missed the opportunity for the balanced discussion which needs to take place. The real sources of our community’s problems lay in dark places of the people’s hearts, a very difficult place to look upon. I know this because I’ve seen the deficiencies of my own self, and see how results of my efforts are good when I work on my own self. This isn’t simply taken care of with masjid administrative reforms, or better english, etc. Improvement of one’s self and having skin at least of the thickness we wear when going to school, workplaces. job interviews, court, etc, should go a long way. Because we sincerely value the purpose of those settings. But when it comes to the masjid… Maybe not as much.

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    • Haytham

      Abdullah, you are right on the money mashaAllah. Your comment is a gem and I just wanted to highlight this portion of it :)

      The respected personalities shown in interviews are so kind to offer words for the filmmakers, but really their credibility can’t be translated into approval for the video’s overall message.

      What I see are human beings who have experienced trauma and are compelled to express it artistically, but in the effort have missed the opportunity for the balanced discussion which needs to take place.

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      • Indian expat

        You misunderstood me. I am not trivializing the pain and difficulty. I am stating that unmosqued is truly a first world problem. Carefree lifestyles are yet to hit the third world and the developing nations.

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  5. SaqibSaab

    I’m glad Muslims are using the medium of film at the community level. I hope to watch Unmosqued and see the positivity this post talks about. Thanks for this piece, Omar.

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  6. Ahmed

    Omar, good job with the article. It was pretty well balanced and summarized the issue excellently.

    To those dismissing the film as a bunch of frustrated Muslims venting, I respond: and, so what? As a community we have a collective self-consciousness, which is continually wrestled with through conflicting ideas, frustrations, hopes, fears, etc. The only way we can productively sort through these issues is through a healthy, constructive atmosphere that promotes the expression of different ideas through whatever mediums we have available. These mediums include books, artwork or the one in this case, film. Film-making, by the very nature of the medium, will be discriminating, limiting, and unfair to the subject at hand. A good documentary tries to be as fair as possible, but of course, the limiting eyes of the lens and the bias of the director always seeps through. However, its okay! Its simply the expression of a viewpoint (and in this case what seems to be a popular viewpoint) that should be discussed in the arena of dialogue in our community. What happens when you don’t have a healthy dialogue occurring in the community? You get an unhappy group of people grumbling about their affairs, bitter about suppression from above. This usually leads to a more extreme response on their part, a sort of further detachment from the community.

    Most of the people on this website writing and posting are those “on top”, so to speak. Alhamdulillah, many of you guys are serving your communities in management positions. However, not everyone is privileged enough to share in that decision-making power, and its not simply because they’re not trying hard enough to get involved. No, I would contend that its not that simple. There could be many reasons for someone not getting involved or not being able to get involved. However, the reality is that stratification of societies and communities has always existed and always will; its a simple fact of life. Where there is a leader, there are followers. And when followers voice discontent or raise issues, it would serve the community well if the leaders heard them and discussed the issue. I’m not saying that we adopt a herd mentality and do whatever the masses clamor for. Rather, those on top should take the message, hear it out, discuss it and move forward. Dismissing disenfranchised voices isn’t a wise thing to do for long-term community well-being and survival.

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  7. Abdul-Basit

    As Salaamu Alikum

    I believe is by far the most balanced piece I have read regarding the trailers for “Unmosqued” and the issues in general. I hope that those involved with the documentary, their supporters (which I am amongst), and those who oppose it for whatever reason get a chance to read this article.

    One major theme in the trailers and in the subsequent discussions is bad experiences in the masjid due to a random person. While I sympathize with those individuals who have been victimized, as I still have similar experiences, I have to ask, what do you propose the masjid does to solve this issue? In any setting you will find a person who will want to give you their opinion of you and what you are doing wrong. The only thing I can think we can do is to educate ourselves and our community in order to have better manners with each other. The masjid can also have a group of people are there to welcome new people so that the masjid does not seem cold and uninviting. This will alleviate some of the negativity when someone inevitably does or says something that offends you. While we need to address how we deal with others, it is honestly a problem with people and not the masjid and I don’t think the documentary should focus on this aspect too much unless we find this behavior is a policy of the masjid.

    I think the documentary should focus on issues such as: role of women, adequate space for women, role of youth, empowering the youth, language of khutbah, allowing taboo topics such as sex and drugs to be discussed in the masjid, programs and events that engage all demographics in a community, racism/nationalism, etc.

    One issue I find with communities is a lack of understanding as to the various roles in a particular community, and respect given to those roles, which leads to various conflicts such as: youth vs elders, men vs women, community vs board/imam, board vs imam, etc. I think if we have a better understanding of our role in the community there would be more cohesiveness. As an example, the youth need to realize that their elders made sacrifices to build the institutions we have today and did the best they could do with the knowledge and experience they had. It may not be ideal but it was a good foundation so thank them for it. (Similarly our immigrant elders should be thankful and acknowledge the struggles that our African American brothers and sisters overcame, which allowed them to migrate to American and build those institutions.) The elders need to empower and train the youth to be active in the community and foster an environment that gives instills leadership qualities in them.

    Another example is the constant conflict between the community and the board, which leads to so many other issues. The board needs to realize it is accountable to the community, it needs to be transparent in its actions, and be informative of its decisions. The board needs to honestly listen to the complaints and suggests of the community and act appropriately. The community members need to realize that in the end, the decisions regardless of how you feel is at the sole discretion of the board as long as they are not haram or unethical.

    I urge those behind the movie to be more honest in their presentation and keep the stories being told by individuals in the proper context. I also urge them to have some discretion as their is no need to show which masjid has which specific problem even if they are 100% correct. Leave the communities anonymous. No need to shame the imam, board, or members of a particular community.

    May Allah reward us for our efforts.

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  8. ahmed

    Good overview mashaAllah.

    Here’s how I see things going unfortunately:

    We have imported our mosque layouts, imams, management styles, etc from overseas, so of course we are headed in the same direction. In fact I would argue that we are practically already there.

    – In certain Muslim countries, women never attend the masjid; there simply is no place for them to pray there. The same is happening here albeit at a lower degree.

    – Children and youth don’t attend the masjid; they are largely not welcome, and if they do attend, they are told to pray away from the adults because of the distractions they create. Ditto for here.

    – “Third places” are where most people go to discuss things since the masjid isn’t a location conducive to that. So people seek education, socializing, counseling, etc in coffee shops, people’s houses, and rented halls. Ever watched a video of an overseas scholar giving a speech? Other than jumua, most of the educational activities are in some location other than a masjid.

    The same is true here. Islamic conferences, MIST, AlMaghrib, Zaytuna, Bayyinah, etc: none of them are held in a masjid (except rarely) . It’s not just that masajid don’t have enough physical space; it’s that people don’t think of a masjid being a place to go and learn, socialize, and so on. Notice that even most of the masjid-run weekend schools don’t take place in the main masjid hall; it’s all in the basement or a separate building.

    So we’ve succeeded in emulating the overseas masjid model, whether deliberately or unintentionally.

    The question really is: do we want the masjid to become a “third place” or not? If so, then we need to work to change the idea of what a masjid is and should be. Or at least we need to see examples of masajid that can serve as a role model in that field.

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    • Tariq Nisar Ahmed

      I don’t write on behalf of Bayyinah, but, by and large every single Bayyinah course takes place at a masjid. That’s a general rule that dates back to the almost legendary 10-day Arabic grammar course.

      There are notable exceptions, such as the ten-month Dream Program, but even that was initially planned to take place at a masjid, and it was only changed for logistical hurdles — like the ones you said do not matter. And before anyone cries, “aha!” the plain fact is that Dream is located very close to that very masjid, that the bulk of its students spent a lot of time in that masjid or its satellite masjid. And that the masjid has always been a big part of the Dream experience, and Allah Knows best.

      Quran Intensive is a one-month program that Bayyinah began in another local DFW masjid and has been there every year since as far as I know. Some programs just have too many attendees for any one masjid to accommodate everyone practically and comfortably, but again, those are by and large exceptions to the rule.

      And from my experience, the college-style courses of Almaghrib Institute take place outside masajid for the same reason — most masajid do not have powerpoint-friendly college-auditoriums or nor halls large enough to accommodate events like IlmFest.

      In my opinion none of these events that take place outside masajid indicate any particular weakness of masajid generally. However, in some cities where Muslim populations exceed 100,000, alhamdolillah, it might indicate that masajid should pool resources to build a set of adequate teaching facilities with auditoriums that would allow those communities to host not only the institutes you mentioned, but to develop regular faculty of their own so that Islamic education can become more vibrant and more widely accessible. Those expenses that now go to renting facilities from others could be used to rent these facilities from the masajid as well as to make educational access less expensive for those who need it, bi’idhnillah.

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      • Siraaj

        AlMaghrib courses in Santa Clara, CA in Qabeelat Haadi take place at the MCA banquet hall always.

        There is something to be said about the lack of professionalism in dealing with certain masjids. Plenty of stories in Chicago.

        Siraaj

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  9. Azeem Khan

    Great Article, when it comes to sisters and masjid relations people quickly get on edge because they are afraid of the extreme that exists out there of Progressive Muslims (Mixed prayer lines, youtube that) and Asra Nomani demanding to be allowed in the main prayer space. She actually drafted something called “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque”- Google that.Those extremes only exist because the leaders of our communities allowed the situation to get out of hand in the first place.

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  10. Azeem Khan

    PS has anyone ever been to a movie where the trailer was not fully representative of the actual movie? Yeah, that happens (a lot) because trailers are designed to grab your interest, not to give you the full story. The article breaking down the trailer reminded me of what would happen when a high anticipated super hero movie would come out, and people would over analyze the junk out of the trailer. That would indicate we are either really defensive of our communities or really excited about this film.

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  11. ibnabeeomar

    The reason the trailer is being critiqued is for 2 reasons:

    1) The trailer in and of itself has already spawned a bunch of discussion on the topic, so it’s better to be in the conversation than out of it

    2) with the movie still in production its hoped that this feedback goes into shaping the final product so that its a positive force when it comes out iA.

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  12. UmmHabiba

    There is so much haterade going on from just 2 teasers that are meant to grab our attention. SubhanAllah, whatever happened to hearing the other side out and not bashing our Muslim brothers and sisters who are trying to ignite (and are doing a very good job of it) a national conversation? As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the first, if not THE ONLY film that is being made by Muslims FOR Muslims. That makes me proud of our community. We have Muslim artists who care enough to put their work out there, get criticized for it, and still carry on in order to help our community. Let’s see if we can offer some type of help as opposed to breaking these brothers and sisters down. It will be the only way to move forward- bravely and honestly.

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  13. Joe Bradford (@joebradfordnet)

    By far this is the best take so far on trailers. I really admire Omar’s statement in the comments that we need to affect the discourse (and thusly the direction of the film) in a positive way.
    That said, there is a hefty amount of negativity and selective reading of what the trailers mean. The defensive reaction by many to the trailers (a total of what, 5 minutes?) is telling. The defensiveness and subjectivity really is, IMHO, the real issue that unmosqued is about.
    To meet the slightest suggestion of a problem with such scathing reviews and comments, many by the professed “mosqued,” is quite revealing. It speaks directly to what much of the anecdotal evidence seems to indicate: People go to mosques and are met with indignation, self-righteousness, and disdain by people who have insecurities and self-image problems, and/or are caught in a thought loop. Ask yourself why people cut up and act out when together at the Masjid, how people can scream at each other in a place of worship, how they can disrespect others and the place they are in, if they are not living a double life in which they struggle with their identity. Many well adjusted people who have actual causes and hobbies do not come to the Masjid, because they simply don’t want to deal with the clamor and the inanity of it all. If we have people who are unmosqued, is it because the Mosque has unmosqued itself, not focusing on what it is for in the first place, the remembrance of God and prayer? That’s a question that must be answered.
    Most “issues” brought up so far are contextual and highly subjective, for which there is no panacea or one-size-fits-all model. Our character, on the other hand, that of common decency, courtesy, and kindness should be pretty standard across the board.
    The hard question in all of this is why its not.

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  14. Mohamed

    The whole thing is just overblown. There’s nothing wrong with immigrant imams, there’s nothing wrong with the way masjids are run. Stop this complaining culture please. Just because someone was rude to you on your last visit, doesn’t mean the masjid should be rebuilt from scratch. If you want to see more activities in masjids, then stop talking and start lobbying. If there’s enough interest, then masjids will always respond.

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    • Sameena Mohamed

      Majority of Muslims in US do not attend the mosque – THERE IS something wrong with the mosque! And my problem I feel disrespected, degraded and left out at mosques because I am a woman.

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  15. Hamza21

    Mohamed, you are not dealing with reality. It well known many converts and second generation Muslims leave Islam year after year due to the rude and alienating behavior of many of people at the masjid. The masjid is supposed to be place of peace not a environment of people waiting tell the next person how there’s something wrong with them. Muslims are following the actions Christians of 1950’s,and experiencing the same results; the majority find no reason to connect with the masjid,nor with the people that run the masjid. Islam can not survive in this environment,change must take place.

    In my view things wont change until more “third spaces” are created,thereby people with strong foundation and knowledge can take over the masjids. In early 2000’s many masajids were taken over by misguided Salafis,now is the time for those who grounded in traditional knowledge and manners to takeover these “back home” centers masquerading as masajids. At minimum the masjid is peaceful place where everyone from the community can come connect with their Rabb not place to reminisce about “back home”. If that can’t happen I fear for the future of Islam in the US.

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  16. Tariq Nisar Ahmed

    Good article, Omar. But ridiculous, in my opinion, how much discussion there has been of this film before it comes out. Great for the producers’ bottom line. But what does it say about Muslim America.

    A couple of points you discussed: You were spot on when you discussed how different the needs and demands of women from masajid are today than they were in the 70’s, 80’s, and even 90’s. And it’s great that women want to attend the masjid more. To any brother who disagrees: who do you think is going to make your children love the masjid, if your wife resents the masjid for insufficient space, unclean carpets, etc.? If your wife learns more about Islam at the masjid, then so will your kids, bi’idhnillah, and you might, too.

    On the other hand, “Floor plans must be made to give women proper sight to speakers. I’ve prayed in a masjid where I couldn’t see the khateeb, and it was annoying, deflating, and took away from my jum’ah experience.” Think of the Haramain and the last time you prayed in either of them — did it deflate your experience if you did not see the khateeb? I’ve been in plenty of masajid where overflow rooms cannot see the khateeb. We should make sensible/better distinctions between better-than-ideal conditions, what money/reality permits, and truly unacceptable conditions.

    Finally, I think studies should be conducted by Muslim social science/MBA/MPA grad students/professors of what constitutes an optimal ratio of musalleen to imams at a single masjid. Sure, at any one salat, one imam leads the prayer. But we literally have mega-masajid in some parts of the country. Some masajid have more than one imam, usually one designated for youth and one for everyone else. Most have part-time, even no-time imams in the sense that the imam is only there for salat. If a masjid serves a community of 1,000 worshipers, how many imams do they need? Wouldn’t it matter depending on the demographics of the community? Maybe the so-called Islamic “chaplain” programs have research on the practical limits of what they call “pastoral care.” How much of that is simply borrowed from research on churches, etc., I cannot even guess.

    Muslims who have the academic and financial wherewithal should support efforts to make America’s masajid the best communities in America. To do that, I think one step is conducting research investigating what worshipers needs are in urban areas, in suburbs, in college-towns, etc. And determining the best ways to satisfy those needs, spiritual, as well as social.

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  17. Hassen

    Nice article, masha’Allah.

    Not sure if I totally agree on this point, though:

    “Sisters need to be included in administrative capacities in the masjid beyond being made the social events coordinator, secretary, or the “affirmative action” board member who gets marginalized – i.e. when the 6 male board members meet privately and agree on something and then come to a board meeting to “vote” having rendered her vote irrelevant.”

    Sisters’ needs should definitely be provided for and they should have clear avenues to voice their perspectives. But is that not possible unless there are sisters on the board? Just like you said, you have daughters and a wife and mother who you want to benefit from the masjid (just like many of our brothers) and I’m sure you would advocate for the needs of the sisters even though you’re a male.

    I think the real issue is something you mentioned already, which is that many of the board members have imported a culture that doesn’t give much importance to sisters’ needs in the masjid. It’s not a male issue, it’s a culture issue. Wallahu a’lam.

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  18. Stranger

    Assalamu ‘alaykum,

    I wanted to bring up one point that I feel hasn’t been given justice throughout all this discourse. This point is valid, but whether it belongs in this discussion is up to you all. We keep speaking of the disconnect between ourselves and the masjid due to the masjid environment, lack of engaging services/activities, bad experiences, and so on. These are all existent in today’s masajid; I am not denying this at all. Do we understand, however, the blessings and benefit of going to the masjid, irregardless of the people that go, the imam that leads us, the activities the masjid holds, and our previously bad experiences had?

    One of the things I love about Sheikh Yasir Qadhi is he always emphasizes blessings associated with worship to give Muslims a sense of motivation, a sense of purpose to fulfill those acts of worship. So many of the problems we have, whether we look into this discussion or delve into other problems in our lives, stem from the expectations we have of the outside environment. There is no doubt that a masjid should be more welcoming to its members, but on the other hand, we should show unconditional and unwavering support to its masjid simply because it is demanded of us as Muslims. The following are only a few of the ahadith that outline the blessings and benefits of the masjid:

    – The Prophet (PBUH) said, “If people knew the reward in praying Fajr and Isha in congregation, they would go to the mosque even if they had to crawl.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

    – It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever purifies himself in his house then walks to one of the houses of Allaah in order to perform one of the duties enjoined by Allaah, for every two steps he takes, one will erase a sin and the other will raise him one degree in status.” [Muslim]

    – The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The best water on earth is the water of Zamzam and the best places on earth are Mosques.” [Abdul Razzaq]

    – The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Give glad tidings to the ones who walk in the darkness to the mosques, with full light on the day of judgement”. [Abu Dawud]

    – The ones who regularly pray Jama’a and whose hearts are attached to the Mosques are under the shade (protection) of Allah on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Seven are shaded under the shade of Allah on the Day of Judgment,” and he named of those seven, “a man whose heart is attached to the Mosques.” [Bukhari]

    After reading these beautiful gems, how is it possible for a Muslim to think of anything else besides wanting to go to the masjid to earn the bountiful reward placed by the All-Merciful Allah? Imagine a child who memorizes these ahadith and grows up on them. Instead of going to the masjid and thinking what brothers will be there or what conversations he’ll have, he’ll go with the mindset that “I’m going simply to please you Allah, simply to earn the reward that you’ve placed in going to the masjid. Whatever else happens is secondary.” The emphasis is on Allah as it should be.

    We expect so much from others, whether individuals or institutions, but at the end of the day we should expect from Allah. Do I feel a change needs to be made to masajid to better accommodate its community? Yes; however, a greater change needs to be made within ourselves to get spiritually attached to the masjid as opposed to just physically, socially, and emotionally.

    Rather than focusing so much on the structure and even infrastructure, we should be better educating ourselves, our families, and others around us to understand the importance, benefit, and blessings associated with simply praying in the masjid. Once our hearts are attached in this manner, our care for our masjid will skyrocket inshaAllah, and Allah will place barakah in our time we spend in whatever efforts we place in trying to better the situation.

    Finally, thank you for all those associated with this project and may Allah reward you all. I hope at the very least you can implement the education of the blessings associated with going to the masjid in your project.

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  19. Hyde

    I may certainly like the documentary when it comes out, but man these trailers sure push the imagination. I mean just to begin with the article itself
    “Well it starts with a term from the Christian community referring to people who haven’t attended services in some time – Unchurched.”
    ahhh excuse me we do not want to be unchurched or chruched to begin with. Our aim should not be what churches and temples are doing. We certainly do not want to become a “liberal church group” (as it is happening). I mean one the “woman” said that she was horrified to see women’s entrances separate from mens entrances and had the audacity to compare it to the Jim Crow’s laws. Anybody that went to school in this country knows the absolute horror african-americans went through for some 300-400 years before they were treated like human beings, and to juxtapose Jim Crow to women’s entrances is really disgusting. I mean what deen study that the girl to do before she became a muslim…there have always been separate entrances. Of course as we are accelerating towards liberalism, so soon that will be taken care of, then men and women are going to sit together and then it will happen men and women can hold hands together to pray! How’s that for equality ?
    (Gender separation is equality!!)

    Yes, I am being sarcastic and will have to wait until the feature comes out to see everything but as these trailers sure push it. Like the pixilated Imam…what exactly did he say that was so wrong ? That we should be teaching our children the hijri cleaner…of course we should be!! I swear, if it were me, I would not want my face pixelated (btw I think I may have a good idea who the imam was and he probably would not want to be pixelated either).

    Ultimately there is no need or room for a reformed updated 2.0 western regulated Islam, but an Islamic Revival (The Third Religious Awakening in America could be an Islamic awakening for the muslim community)…where issues like immigrant imams, and sisters praying room and youth centers are fully addressed.
    (On a personal level, well actually the whole comment is personal , this documentary and like of this is aleninitnh the vast majority of the muslims, but then again I am glad that the issue is being brought up on MuslimMatters…in fact I am glad that the brother wroot rather well entry on the issue itself).

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