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UnMosqued ReMosqued: Western Masajid and the Search for Community

Hena Zuberi

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This post is meant for the the Muslim communities in the West where Islamic Centers and Masajid are the hub of community activity. When referring to a masjid, we do not mean where we make the actual salah, we mean the whole institution, the center and the community that it envelopes. It is a blessing that this conversation is taking place. As the response to, “Mosques are Missing the Point” pointed out, this topic resonates with so many; there is a thirst for many to come back to the House of Allah. 

Empty structures

Amenities are great, but people matter more; I look at the churches here in the Northeast – phalerate structures with stained glass windows, cavernous sanctuaries, and shiny steeples. They were probably built by devout settlers hundreds of years ago, on large parcels of land, but they are empty, dead spaces. The people who built them must have sacrificed, much as our elders have, in making them.

Don’t get me wrong; my heart sings when I see the copper domes and the carved wooden mimbars of our mosques.  But what use are these if no one is coming to these palatial masajid? It seems that the boards of Islamic nonprofits invest in physical assets rather than human capital. Only 44% of all Imams are employed full-time and paid. Half of all mosques have no full-time staff. Program staff such as youth directors or outreach directors account for only 5% of all full-time staff. With all due respect to their knowledge and status, 66% of Imams were born abroad and many cannot relate to my generation, much less that of my children.

What is happening in our mosques?

People stop going, they stop attending. This doesn’t mean that they do not pray, it means that they are not attached to one particular masjid on a regular basis, nor is the masjid a relevant part of their lives. They do not know the people alongside whom they worship. The masjid is not a place they would reach out to if they were sick or needed help, to learn or to give.

In many communities, the very place that was meant to bring Muslims together has become an anathema for the community— associated with fighting, control, and divisions like little fiefdoms.

A recent hashtag on Twitter – #unmosqued – offers a poignant look into reasons why people have stopped attending the masjid or stopped being an active part of the community. This was spurred by a RadTalk on the topic, and has now evolved into a major documentary.

Some of the tweets and comments particularly caught my eye because they said things that many of us do not want to hear. The majority of grievances were from three major groups who have had abusive mosque experiences – new Muslims, youth, and women.

New Muslims

A sister shared an experience on how some of a particular masjid’s members asked a person to delay taking their shahadah until the next Jumu’ah, so more people could be there to see the “trophy of the day.” Boards tout how many conversions take place in the masjid but have nothing to offer the new Muslims after shahadah. This solid blogpost (and its responses) on what masajid need to do for converts, is very relevant to the discussion.

Youth

Aser Mir, a UK citizen, says the downfall of the youth as they turn to drugs, alcohol, and fornication in Muslim majority areas where there is a mosque on every corner is a troubling matter, “Many simply turn to mosques for Friday prayers or just ritual worship only. Many don’t turn to mosques at all. Others feel they can’t turn to their mosques. So, in effect, you can be attending the masjid or not and still be unmosqued.”

In a recent report by Ihsan Bagby regarding mosques in America, many mosque leaders shared the difficulties they are facing. Bagby writes, “The real challenge for them is not radicalism and extremism among the youth, but attracting them and keeping them close to the mosque.”

Women

“The brothers do not know the concept of lowering their gaze and love grouping themselves in front of the doors.”

This is a common complaint by women who feel intimidated or are made to feel less because they ‘dared’ venture into a masjid.

“When a female has been a Muslim her entire life, and still does not know who to go to for questions about the religion. #Unmosqued #Cmon.”

I personally don’t have this issue since I have access now, but there were years when my only access was online fatwas, until I met a young British scholar. But once she left the country there were years where I didn’t know who to turn to for my questions.  Many Muslim women face this issue.

Other MuslimMatters contributers have had similar experiences. Ify Okoye tweeted, “At some mosques, unwelcome mat is unfurled w/ indignities tht remind us tht ‘this isn’t the Islam women were promised’ #unmosqued.” She has written prolifically about her experience at masajid.

Like many women, MM’s Ruth Nasrullah has been unmosqued because she was tired of not being included in the decision-making process at her local Islamic Center, and when her opinion was asked it was so uncomfortable.

For all those who don’t believe that this is the role of the masjid and that it should be purely a place for salah, read this hadith related by  ‘A’isha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her):

“There was a black slave-girl who belonged to an Arab tribe. They set her free and she stayed with them. She said, ‘One of their girls once went out wearing a red leather jeweled scarf. She put it down or it fell off, and a kite flew by it as it was lying there and, thinking it was meat, made off with it. They looked for it but could not find it, and so they suspected me of taking it.’ They began to search her and even searched her private parts. The girl went on, ‘By Allah, I was standing with them when the kite flew over and dropped it and it fell among them.’ I said, ‘This is what you suspected me and accused me of and I am innocent of it. There it is.'”

‘A’isha said, “She came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and became a Muslim. She had a tent or small hut in the mosque. She used to come to me and talk with me. She never sat with me without saying:

‘The day of the scarf was one of the marvels of our Lord

Yes indeed! He surely rescued me from the land of unbelief.’

“I asked her, ‘What is it with you? Whenever you sit with me, you say this. So she told me the story.” (Sahih Bukhari)

She was a woman, a youth, a minority, a convert, oppressed, poor and lived IN the masjid of the Beloved ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Today she may have been unmosqued.

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    April 8, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Asalaamu alaikum, Hena. Great post on a topic that’s crucial for the American Muslim community to address.

    Since you mentioned me and I live in Houston, I’d like to point out that the Clear Lake Islamic Center (themasjid.org) is a shining example in many ways of how a masjid can get it right.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 9, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      Wa alaykummas salam wa rahmatulah,
      JazakAllah khayr for your feedback. We have discussed this amongst the sisters and you have been writing about it for a long time, it just took this talk & documentary to the get the word out.

      I have heard great things about Clear Lake Islamic Center. Tell us more about what they do right please.

      • Avatar

        ruth nasrullah

        April 10, 2013 at 9:26 AM

        Physical: the CLIC is clean, well-maintained, smells nice, is organized, has comfortable lounge areas, a gym, a kids play center that is manned by volunteers, a clear glass divider between men and women’s prayer spaces, clean and fully-stocked kitchen areas. Staff: The assistant imam is a full-time administrator, they recently hired a youth coordinator, of course Sh. Waleed Basyouni is a great asset in terms of knowledge and vision. Organizational culture: There is an expectation that children will not run around screaming and behaving wildly, the facility is green, there is openness to women’s involvement, there is a dedication to interfaith and active outreach to the community. They have a well-maintained website with accurate information posted and a Constant Contact email newsletter.

        There’s probably more to it than that, since I don’t go often. It’s the only masjid I ever go to, though.

  2. Avatar

    Asif

    April 9, 2013 at 1:07 AM

    AsA – Great article and well presented. I have experienced all the issues you have presented and have held same opinions for decades. I fully concur with the question or statement Lani Azhari posed. What is the function of a masjid especially in the west?

    Our local masajids shud be the local “watering holes” for the area muslims but they are not. The greatest disservice to local Muslims is the service of an immigrant imam who is not connected to local issues and is not able to provide ANY guidance. I dont give charity to a mosque regularly, even my area masjid, for they dont publish their financials to public as they must under 501c charter.

    I tried for over a year, in my local masjid in New Tampa, FL, to bring about changes to bring the young to the “property” of the masjid via different programs and then let opportunities bring them further in but to no avail. The BOD is a bunch of self-egotistical group and no less then walking-dead.

    We talk long and tall about unity, charity, rightousness, caring, cleanliness, etc. “Do as I say, not as I do.” Anyways, you get my point and I am regurgitating all you have so aptly reported on.

  3. Avatar

    Asif

    April 9, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    To those who read and vote on comments, please dont! YOUR votes dont carry as much weight as your comments do. So, please, take part in the duscussion so MM can know more about the community and this issue can grow to ever increasing awareness. Also, please let as many people know of these article series aa possible.

    I have said, over decades, that masajids should not exist as they do in the west but be part of a Muslim Community Center. I am glad to see someone talk on the same issue and, now, feel that Islam in the West might florish with us as Allah’s representatives – this designation carries all the aspirations this article has touched upon.

    Is there hope for us and our faith? Please dont tell me there is since Allah has promised to safeguard Islam for He has but not the Muslims if we dont act as Muslims that care for concerns “besides our own selves.”

    Hena and I may very well understand that these changes will bring about a blessing not dicussed in the article and that being the prospect of an American unified ummah – with gradients, of course.

  4. Avatar

    Aqeedah Awliya

    April 9, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    If people stop going to mosque it’s their problem. The need to feel attached to a community might be the root of the problem. Before anything else, going to a mosque and pray there is gaining 20something more sawab, so why would anyone stop going there? What’s the point of praying at home when you have the chance to go to a mosque. I think the problem is some people regard mosques as community clubs, no they are not

    • Avatar

      Ruth Nasrullah

      April 9, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      ASA. You have a valid point about the purpose of a masjid. However, some masajid put obstacles in the way of prayer. As an example, if women are behind a wall or in separate room they can’t see and follow the imam. This is a potential problem if a prayer is held which a woman is not familiar with, such as a janazah prayer; a woman has to rely on following the women she can see. If no one there knows the prayer all those women are left on their own to improvise as best they can.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 9, 2013 at 10:06 PM

      JazakAllah Khayr for your perspective. Prayer is of course the most important part of attending the masjid but there are maqasid behind the congregational salah. Why are we asked to pray together, why 5 times, why are asked to pray Jumuah beyond the local community masjid and the Eidain with an even broader community. There are definite wisdoms behind these commands.
      We are supposed to worried about our brothers and sisters in Islam, inquire about their deen and dunya.

  5. Avatar

    Ghazala

    April 9, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    Salam ‘alaikum,
    Subhan Allah we love Maryam Masjid /Maryam Islamic Center (MIC), in Sugar Land, TX. It is beautiful in every sense of the word. We have a large prayer area for sisters, separate entrance, smiling faces & a Zonal Council / management that is diverse & helpful, over twenty teams (with youth taking center stage & being trained to lead), that cater to many needs of the community, weekly counselling, a vibrant, young local brother as our Imam, plenty of events that cater to both young & old alike. Of course there is always the odd trouble maker but the rest of the community & the volunteers make up for the random unpleasantness. We are not perfect but strive for perfection every single day.
    This is from the Favors of Allah swt upon us & I pray Allah continues HIS favors upon us & upon all the Muslims across the world.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      April 11, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      Wa alaykummasslam,
      Ameen, I loved my former masjid Unity Center too despite any struggles, it was my family’s second home. We were getting there. Baby steps.

      Random unpleasantness is human as long as it is not the culture of organization. MIC sounds like an awesome community.

      I would love to hear more about how this was achieved. What steps did the community take?

      • Avatar

        Ghazala

        April 13, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        Jazakallahu khairan Sis. Hena for giving me the opportunity to present some of the specifics that contribute to the blessed MIC community. One of our very active, young volunteers Br.Waleed Mohiuddin helped me compile this list. We will take you to the vision as an organization and try to link this to our success, Alhamdulillah.

        Exemplary Institution across North America
        Having a vision itself brings us to a key factor – professionalism (and organization). Masaajid need to be given priority just as we do, to our businesses. Tawakkul is vital – aim high (recognize that there is no limit to Allah’s blessings), work hard (passion is key here – do it heartily with Ikhlas ), succeed (be thankful if outcome is positive, thankful and patient otherwise).

        Primary focus on recognizing potential in Youth, retain them as productive Muslims and empower them to become leaders
        This is one fundamental and distinguished element – focusing on Youth as leaders, mentoring them & instilling the required passion. Youth has the energy, exposure and creativity required of an outstanding institution – this coupled with the wisdom of our elders is a much known but apparent recipe for success. Our 23+ teams each with youth leadership is a key element of MIC’s growth, success and ability to retain the community members.
        What the centers also need, is to provide the environment and activities that youth spend most of their time in – sorry to mention the Starbucks and pool halls – but if this is what initially brings the youth in – this is what we give, of course in a Islamically and morally legal way – transformation is the next step which is achieved through presence in the Islamic Center.

        Family Friendly Institution
        This is where the concept of ‘Islamic Centers’ vs. ‘Masaajid’ becomes apparent. The purpose in many peoples mind seems to be that of fulfilling ritual obligations (the Masjid). We have to think beyond – use the ‘Centers’ to bring the community together – people often question the spending on community events, we need to think beyond this – this is truly an investment in the community – to gather people and provide that sense of community and brotherhood – to create memories that often become habits – the youth especially is much more likely to carry the morals and rituals they learn over to the next generation – realizing this and investing in the community is key.

        Promote Creativity, Innovation and Professionalism
        This sort of ties with the vision of an organization – we often tie these elements to engineering and manufacturing firms – it is time we apply them to activities and management of the Islamic Centers. Diversity in all aspects (age, gender, race, etc.) is key in promoting these elements – this is truly where the difference is both in terms of perception and success.

        Set new standards of Outreach
        This is self explanatory – creativity in outreach and leading by example – focus on our behavior that inspires others. One factor that our Daw’ah team demonstrates is the concept of ‘no compulsion’ – we do our due diligence – guidance is from Allah. Talking of events, MIC Daw’ah & Family teams are to organize one event per month besides the ongoing Halaqaat. Again this is done in the most professional way, for example, The Daw’ah team brings in a speaker, seeks approval, then sends in the event planer that outlines the dates & responsibilities of the other teams, Media does designing, printing, distribution of material, announcements FB page, audio/visual set up etc, Parking, Food, Maintenance Teams are all ready, set for the day of the event with a clean Masjid, extra help to constantly clean bathrooms, food provided, tea/coffee service available, so on so forth. It is one smooth operation Alhamdulillah.

        Promote active participation from Members in shaping the community and its future
        This is all about creating a sense of community and the sense of ownership (of the Center) within the community. Idea should be to create the willingness to be (proudly) associated with MIC – through active participation in activities, or as a community member. Seek input from members, show that they matter.
        MIC is passionate about interfaith dialogue, whereby our community is invited to attend these events / luncheons. Our events are as varied as Marriage counselling & events with esteemed scholars to lighter fare with dessert competitions, art competition (coming up) etc, that involve a large segment of our diverse community.

        I hope this outlines some of the things that contribute to an energetic and passionate MIC community – May Allah bless MIC and guide its members. Ameen.
        May Allah bless everyone at MM & all those who work in HIS path. Ameen.

  6. Avatar

    The Eco Muslim

    April 10, 2013 at 9:06 PM

    Brilliant advice. I shall be using these ideas at our eco-mosque here in England.

  7. Avatar

    RCHOUDH

    April 11, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Mash’allah this is a great article that lays out many of the issues facing American mosques today. Here’s what I think is going on with many mosques today; I think most of them are overwhelmed with the various issues facing Muslims in America (particularly the younger generations and new Muslims). Since most mosques are run by immigrant communities, and only have enough in their budget to simply run a prayer place (and not a community center) they are often times silent and helpless about the various issues you bring up above. I believe the idea of having “safe spaces” is generally a good idea, and one that mosques that can’t provide the services given by “safe spaces”, can benefit from. So rather than having “safe spaces” operate completely independently, I believe mosques should take advantage of their services and make their services aware to to their congregations. Also mosques should sometimes allow the “safe spaces” to use the mosque as a venue towards conducting any special events that could benefit the entire community (such as lectures/workshops on various important topics).
    As for my own experience, I try to encourage family members to attend their neighborhood mosques all the time, even though I understand when they say that their mosques are not well-equipped with everything. I remember one relative saying that her mosque didn’t offer any special events for youth, to which I replied that perhaps she should try volunteering to create and run these events herself (with the mosque board’s permission of course). Sometimes I think it’s important to initiate things ourselves, just to see how far we can go towards improving our mosque’s atmosphere ourselves.

  8. Avatar

    Zahrah

    April 12, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I have to agree with Adeeqah (above). We expect the mosques to step in and fill in all the blanks of our social lives. This is not what the masjids are for. They are for us to gather and pray, send our children for Qur’an teaching, for funerals, weddings and the like. It’s above and beyond to ask of each masjid to provide unlimited services for youth (basketball games and events) and folks who have social needs. It’s great if a masjid has enough space and funds to provide but not many do. We in America are expecting the mosques to be like churches, with social events all the time. In other countries, the mosques aren’t expected to fill these other community needs, servicing each sector with games for the kids, functions where the women can cook and serve, family games and outings, etc. They go use the mosque to pray, and go home. Their neighbors and friends fill in the social functions. I always thought that was a great thing about a mosque. With the church, you are made to feel like you have to belong as a member of that church. If you leave and go to another church there is gossip and questioning about why you left. Not so with the mosques. They are open and there is no commitment to one or another. If you feel like one of the mosques is your home mosque, great! But no one is going to wonder why you decided to go to a different mosque this week.

    That being said, the new Muslims and the youth that grows up in America have these social needs, and have expectations of the mosques to fulfill them, not realizing this is not the duty of the mosque. Then, because of these feelings they themselves have created, they are left feeling unmosqued. I’m happy to be unmosqued! I can go to whichever one I please! I know folks from different ones and am happy to see them and meet new friends when I visit other mosques.

    However, because of the expectations and feeling that mosques are letting them down by not providing programs they need, we need to make these other services (like Make Space) to help service the needs of the Muslim communities. We all really do need to step in and help provide support and social services to one another (especially with new Muslims, women and youth) outside of the masjid. And mosques need to be connected to these groups and promote Make Space to help fill in the blanks of the needs of our community.

  9. Avatar

    Sandra Amen-Bryan

    April 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    Salaam Aliekum,
    Yes, it is a “blessing” that this conversation is taking place in the light of day, in a honest manner, vs the venting process many of us have engaged in when discussing the issues detailed in this article.

    As a female worshipper, I have gone through all of the disgraces of having being eyed by a pack of men at the doors, too tiny of a space for the women, and hostile remarks/behavior that indicate my presence on Friday or another day was not welcome. Rather than shed tears anymore over the hurts I have incurred in masjids, in different states, I actually expect a certain level of rude behavior at any new mosque, I might attend. If i don’t get it, then I am happy. If I do, I chalk it up to their record and not mine. I take the best of what I get and leave the rest.

    I think anyone, man or woman, who attends any masjid regularly, has to develop their own Survival Strategy in order to protect one’s iman, while putting forth a desire to serve, as well as worship.

    And if the above solution is not acceptable, then I think the outcome is as the author documented: there are many other “Spaces” that are being formed to accommodate specific needs of the community(s). People who want to worship do not have to depend on the mosque establishment. They can and are developing ummahs of their own. They are leaving the domes and doing their own thing; and taking their financial resources with them.

    I think this is a positive trend. We don’t have a hierarchy for good reason: it naturally breeds competition for power, control and creates corruption. The development of additional spaces is good competition. For we all should all be competition for ‘good deeds’.

    • Avatar

      Gibran

      April 12, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Mashaa Allah sister, you reminded me of those who “turn of evil with good”

      http://quran.com/13/22

  10. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    April 14, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    I think there is a pattern here: it’s the women. The women’s section at my masjid is kind of crazy. My wife hates it and we used to get into heated arguments because she hated going there so much and I would insist she go. The problems are still there. Some scholars say it is our separation that is causing the problems. In the Indo/Pak masjids, they are big on the curtain or a separate room. The severe degree of separation causes the women to be more likely to talk during khutbahs and lectures because they are not directly in earshot of the speaker. So my wife goes to Jummah and struggles to listen to the Imam over a bunch of chatting sisters. It is an old guy’s club. May Allah reward you brothers for bringing this up. It’s a serious issue and you are right, it threatens our future as a Western Ummah. Some of us are obviously having a hard time being inclusive. I am black American, so I always blame prejudice. We come from these pure places where no one was different, and in America, everyone is different. We have to adjust our thinking and prioritize reaching out to those who are different and who we are used to seeing as less. Often, if you get to know that lesser person, you will find that he or SHE has strengths and good qualities that make them your equal or maybe your better!

  11. Avatar

    Tamirah-Amani Euphrates Jehan

    August 7, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    August 6, 2013, I traveled from Columbus, Ohio to Toledo, Ohio on a business assignment and saw the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. It was an extremely ornate-huge building sitting boldly and magnificently wear everyone driving Interstate 75 can see it. I’ve seen this huge structure years ago but I was not Muslim and had no idea what it was. Now, as a Muslim, I know that it is a masjid and Alhamduallahi, I had the opportunity to go visit. My sister, who is non-Muslim, accompanied me and was very excited to visit this majestic place of worship. So after my business was conducted in Toledo, we drove to Perrysburg, Ohio to visit the masjid. After spending about an hour trying to locate the masjid, Subhanallahi, we found it. It was around 4:30pm and we walked inside. From a distance, to the right of us, we saw a woman sitting at a desk. She was not wearing hijab (as I thought was customary to do when inside a masjid), but I am a newer Muslim convert and do not know all the proper etiquette, sunnah, etc., so I am still learning, as was my reason and excitement for visiting the masjid in the first place.

    At any rate, the phone rang and the woman answered the phone. I didn’t know if we should just start walking around so I waited to ask permission if it was okay first. While the woman was on the phone we saw a few shelved Islamic books and Al Qur’ans and various pieces of literature placed on a table. We heard some one say as-salaamu alaikum, and we turned around (I wasn’t sure if the woman was speaking to us or someone on the phone). We turned towards her and she briefly looked at us then put her head back down. I noticed she was off the phone so I said, wa laiku as-salam. She looked up again (saying nothing). So I said hello, we have traveled from Columbus, Ohio and saw this beautiful masjid and wanted to visit. She said, in an abrupt and rude manner, I will be leaving soon. I said, okay, isn’t the masjid open for Salat-al Dhuhr and Salat-al Asr in about an hour? She said yes but no one will probably come. I wanted to be clear if she meant that the masjid would be closing or if she meant it wasn’t really an “active” mosque so I asked her and she said yes it is an active mosque but that no one is normally present during these prayer times. So I said okay. Is it okay to look around, she said, again, in an abrupt and agitated manner, I guess. I have to say, I was taken-aback by her mannerism and behavior. She was so very impolite. It almost came off as being prejudice or something.

    As a hijab-wearing African-American Muslim, I know what it feels like when someone acts ugly towards a person of a different race, ethnicity, nationality, etc., and unfortunately, I experience these negative behaviors from Muslims (my so-called brothers and sisters in Islam) more than with non-Muslims (Allah (SWT) is my witness). It is extremely discouraging to give salams to a Muslimah and not get any in return. It is extremely disconcerting to see women not want to stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet with me during prayer and watch them “scoot” over -although I understand that it’s sunnah to connect the rows, etc. However, I just try to keep it moving and realize that it is “people” not Islam that acts undignified, but I cannot lie, it keeps me away from the masjid. I’ve gone to a few in my hometown but have entered and exited feeling like some type of “out-cast” or something. I also sense that the people are saying with their eyes, what are you doing here? This is our mosque. Like being a Black American is some type of disease. It is horrible because if you ever experienced this you know what I’m talking about and I know it is not a figment of my imagination or some type of insecurity issue I have.

    Back to the masjid in Perrysburg, Ohio. Like I said, I was taken aback by the reception we received (or really didn’t receive) from the woman. I don’t know if she was a Muslim or not and although I have met with cold receptions before from Muslims I still try not to let it discourage me from having a positive outlook and not to categorize all Muslims as being rude, impolite, racist, prejudice, or ignorant. So, again, I was just shocked by the cold treatment we received. We traveled about 2.5 hours away and took an additional hour trying to get to the masjid and only to be met by a cold/rude acting person who was, by all intensive-purposes, the representative of that masjid (just like if a person would call their local utility company, as a customer, you would expect to be treated with respect and dignity and if you are met with a rude customer service representative, your experience will impact your view/perception of the company (although it was the rep who was rude)). It’s just how it is. We reflect that which we say we represent (expressed or implied).

    I felt so disappointed and embarrassed by the woman’s behavior. I did not want my sister (non-Muslim) to have experienced this. What if I was bring someone there to take the Shahada? What if I was returning to the faith and wanted to make an appointment to meet with the Imam? What about the fact that I was a traveler (wayfayer) wanting to make my prayers? It was just a horrible experience, such so, that me and my sister said thank you and walked out the door. The spirit and attitude in that place was so negative, cold and unwelcoming, I would rather not waste my time there.

    Later that day, when I returned home, I looked at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo’s website again (like I did the day before I traveled there), to see if I missed anything. Was this a true Islamic place of worship? It said “Greater Toledo” as if it was the masjid serving all of the city and surrounding area. So why in the world would it have a woman in the office who is so rude?
    Then I Googled the masjid’s name and saw that it had met with disaster. From what I understand, about a year a go, a man entered the masjid with a gun with the intentions on shooting Muslims and when he found no one, he set fire to the prayer rug causing over 1.4 million dollars in damage. What a horrible thing! The man was charged for a hate crime, arson, and various other charged and sentenced. Me and my sister discussed how tragic this was and how we were glad that no one got hurt or died (Subhanallahi!).

    The fire set by that man caused a lot of physical damage.

    Then my sister made a statement that will stick with me forever.

    She said, that woman’s actions (and if she behaves that way on an ongoing basis) will cause more damage than that fire could ever cause.

    Respectfully submitted by

    Tamirah-Amani Euphrates Jehan
    Columbus, OH, USA

  12. Avatar

    Jennifer aboufadle

    June 1, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    I think it is important to bring our Mosqes back to being the center of our communities. I think I have a good idea for how to help make this happen. I think first and foremost there has to be a huge community of woman at the Masjids all the time(fajr to Isha) especially those who speak the language of the area and have knowledge of Quran, we need to give other Muslim women somewhere to come for new converts and women in need of community support(with loss, tragedy, and other stressors). Also, I think the best thing is to offer free high school education at the Masjid to highschool girls(only). We need to cement their faith and islamic education before they become wives and mothers. Fathers should love this because it will bring them to the Mosque and away from boys. The priority in making this free will be to have the mothers involved with the classes. In Florida we have free homeschooling online program called flvs, witch offers local teachers you can call for support. Also, with this I think it would be simple to add daycare the student could help the younger kids and that will also help them with basic parenting skills and teaching the girls to help the kids will hopefully show them the joys and troubles of motherhood that will help them appreciate their parents inshallah. I think with minimal start up money and space and a few mothers this could transform the Islamic communities for eons to come. Allah knows best.

  13. Pingback: Unmosqued Series: Role of the Masaajid - East vs. West | MuslimMatters.org

  14. Pingback: Reviving the Role of the Masjid | Part 1 - MuslimMatters.org

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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#Society

A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

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Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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