When I was in Houston this past summer, my children, 15 and 12 years old—and even the 6-year-old – dragged me 98 miles almost every day during Ramadan to attend the masjid in Clear Lake (CLIC). The days we couldn't go to CLIC, they still begged me to take them to any masjid rather than staying home.
When we came back to the Middle East though, all of their enthusiasm and excitement of going to the masjid seemed to have been left behind in Houston. Even though we are a two-minute walk from a beautiful and luxurious masjid, I have to force my son to keep up with his prayers in congregation. My daughter has never set foot there.
Masājid are in abundance here. One can hardly cross a road without seeing a masjid. Congregational prayers are facilitated at school and work places. A prayer cannot be missed simply because there isn't a place available to make wuḍūʼ or pray. The police even excuse illegally parked cars halfway up the main road around the masjid during prayer times.
When I moved to the Middle East three years ago, I was especially impressed with the way masājid were taken care of – exceptionally clean, bathrooms distinctly spotless, and carpets freshly vacuumed and perfumed at all times, a huge selection of books (though in Arabic), and hundreds of du'ā'/adhkār leaflets for free distribution.
There are no dirty “masjid politics” either, nor any uncles or aunties to be bossed around by. Yet, in three years, I have only been to the mosque next door once (Ramadan excluded). I have to remind my son multiple times to say his prayer at the masjid. My daughter, who used to pray Jumu'ah very enthusiastically in the beginning, now prefers to pray at home.
It took me a while to realize that with all of the facilities in the masājid here, there is a sense of “emptiness” that creates a barrier from becoming attached to the masjid, especially for the youth.
For those of us from the West, who had been actively involved in the masājid, regularly took our children to pray at least Maghrib and Isha, met our masjid-fellows more than our own family, and ended up making masājid our second homes, the masjid became an integral part of our lives. We didn't go there to only pray but to learn, inspire and get inspired, socialize and make friends.
Unfortunately, “masjid spirit” is something totally lacking in this part of the world. It is not something you feel or even realize in the beginning. If someone was actively involved in the masājid back home, as time passes by, the lack of connection with the masājid creates a void in our lives.
I made some of my closest friends in the US through the mosque. These friendships started at the house of Allāh, bonded us through our faith and still continues to connect us at opposite ends of the world. Over here, however, there is rarely ever any exchange of salaams in the masjid. No one stays longer to find out how the fellow Muslims are doing. Neighbors could be attending the same masjid, but may not even know the name of the person standing next to them. There are no activities for the youth and no classes for ladies. The huge structures fill up for the prayer and empty as soon as the prayer is over.
We have often complained about the masājid in America and found ourselves frustrated about the neglected masjid, the dirty bathrooms, smelly rugs, unfinished and improper parking lots, infamous “uncle/aunty politics”, and last but not least, the mistreatment of sisters at the mosque. While I was once amongst those complainers, I would be the first to admit now that living in the eastern part of the world taught me to value what I didn't before: masājid in America are far better than the masājid in “Muslim” countries.
With all the problems that the masājid have in the US, at least there is an opportunity to change things and there is room to make a difference. All roads don't lead to dead-ends and most importantly, there is freedom to raise your voice.
Over here, each and every masjid is controlled by a single organization which is not only restricted to men but it is nearly impossible to get through to them with any suggestions or constructive criticisms.
I admit that at times it is quite challenging to keep up with all of the masjid politics in some parts of the US. I remember when I felt like quitting, I complained and criticized about how unprofessionally issues were handled in the masjid. I went through the “un-mosqued” escapade after moving away from Houston to a different city in US. Now I realize that at least opportunities were available to improve situations; and over time, with some effort, we were able to work on and resolve our issues, and were able to become a part of the masjid.
Over here in the Middle East, we don't have the freedom, nor the opportunities, to even address the problems let alone find any solutions for them.
Once my son was in the mosque, and a lady walked in to get her son admitted for Qur'an classes. The way my son described the scenario was both funny and sad at the same time. All the imams ran inside the office because none of them spoke to women directly, then they sent a small boy out to ask her what she wanted and why she was there!
The sisters' area is beautiful in the masājid here – usually upstairs where the imām is visible to the sisters. However, sisters cannot communicate with the imām nor can they contribute anything towards the masjid. All of the masjid decisions are made by one major organization that controls all of the religious activities in the country. From what I've heard, the people in-charge usually shy away from even speaking to women!
I understand that in the US, we don't have ideal imams in every mosque who take sisters' or youth issues under consideration, but at least the channels of communication are open. If one mosque is unapproachable, we can move on to another mosque, knowing that the two mosques will not be running under the exact same principle.
I ask my brothers and sisters in the West: Don't be disheartened, keep up the good work you are doing in your communities, even though it may seem impossible, know for a fact that there are no dead-ends there. Value the freedom and opportunities you have to be active and involved in the houses of Allāh, azzawajal and make a positive difference, even if it is just a little. At least, you are making a difference.
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