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Reviving the Role of the Masjid | Part 2 | Dr Hatem Al Haj


| Part 1 |

Written by Dr. Hatem AlHaj

II.      We need to build them correctly

By building them correctly, I don’t mean making them fancy and luxurious. In fact, there are strict warnings against this in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Imâm al-Bukhari entitled one of the chapters in his authentic collection: “Chapter on the Building of Mosques,” where he proceeded to report the following from Abu Sa‘eed al-Khudri raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

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“كان سقف المسجد من جريد النخل – يعني مسجد النبي r – ، وأمر عمر ببناء المسجد وقال: َأِكنّ الناسَ من المطر، وإياك أن تحمر أو تصفر فتفتن الناس”

“The roof of the masjid (of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)) was made of palm branches. ‘Umar ordered that the mosque be rebuilt and he said, “Protect the people from rain, but beware of using red or yellow (for decoration), thereby distracting the people.”

Anas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said,

“يتباهون بها ثم لا يعمرونها إلا قليلا”

“They build masājid and boast about that, but they do not use them for worship except rarely.”

Similarly, Ibn ‘Abbâs raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“مَا أُمِرْتُ بِتَشْيِيدِ الْمَسَاجِدِ

“I have not been commanded to build lofty mosques.”

About this, Ibn ‘Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) commented:

“لتزخرفنها كما زخرفت اليهود والنصارى”

“You will surely [fall into] decorating them (the masājid) just as the Jews and Christians did.” [Reported by Abu Dawood with an authentic chain]

The building of the masjid needs to be utilitarian and functional. The architecture of the Islamic centers should be inspired by the good understanding of their various roles and aim to accommodate them. In addition to the prayer room (masjid proper), there should be, whenever possible, facilities to allow for the place to be used for didactic learning, socialization, sports, hosting the wayfarers, and even shopping for certain items that may not be readily available in the markets.

Traditionally, the scholars disagreed over the rulings concerning attachments of the masjid. Some viewed that they should take the same rulings of the masjid. However, since there is no clear, authentic text of revelation to decide the right position, the use of maslahah mursalah (consideration of public interest) may be invoked here. Most of our Islamic centers, and even the newer masājid in Muslim countries, have restrooms inside the building of the masjid. By consensus, the use of the lavatory is not permitted inside the masjid. We have basically agreed by building those restrooms inside the building that contains the prayer hall (masjid proper) that the rulings of the masjid are not extended to the entire physical facility that contains it. This will give us the flexibility of having announcements, and even advertisements for the benefit of the community, in the lobbies of our masājid. It will also give women during their period a chance to come to the Islamic Center without having to worry about the controversy over entering the masjid, as long as they don’t stay in the prayer hall (masjid proper). Moreover, many functions that may cause some discomfort to some members of the congregation, if done in the prayer hall (masjid proper), could still be done within the center but outside the prayer hall.

III.    We need to keep them open

Unless there is a legitimate fear of harm to the masjid and its congregation, the masjid should be open at all times and accessible to the worshippers.

Allah said,

” فِي بُيُوتٍ أَذِنَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تُرْفَعَ وَيُذْكَرَ فِيهَا اسْمُهُ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ فِيهَا بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالآصَالِ * رِجَالٌ لا تُلْهِيهِمْ تِجَارَةٌ وَلا بَيْعٌ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلاةِ وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ يَخَافُونَ يَوْماً تَتَقَلَّبُ فِيهِ الْقُلُوبُ وَالأَبْصَارُ”

“[Such niches are] in mosques which Allah has ordered to be raised and that His name be mentioned therein; exalting Him within them in the mornings and the evenings [Are] men whom neither commerce nor sale distracts from the remembrance of Allah and performance of prayer and giving of zakah. They fear a Day in which the hearts and eyes will [fearfully] turn about.” [Q 24:36-37]

The Muslims should always feel welcome to their local masjid, and wherever they travel, they should count on being able to use the masājid on their way. Without the masjid being open at all times, its role will be limited, even if its caretakers believe in theory that masājid have a comprehensive role. Many provisions could be made to facilitate keeping the masājid open. Having a book store attached to the masjid, or in the lobby, is one way to help ensure the presence of someone at all times. Larger masājid should be capable of hiring attendants that will keep the masjid open and look after the facility. For the smaller masājid, having video monitoring and/or alarm systems may provide enough security.

IV.  We should staff them correctly

There is no doubt that most of the work to be done at the masjid should be done by volunteers. However, the role of dedicated staff is vital to the wellbeing of larger and more active masājid, for the purposes of stability, consistency, organization, and providing comprehensive services to the community. There is no Baytul-Mâl (Muslim Treasury) here in the West (not even in Muslim lands) to look after the needs of those who shoulder these collective duties. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on the communities to facilitate the dedication of some of their members for this work. There should be an emphasis on providing comprehensive services, such as keeping the masjid open, providing guidance and counseling to the visitors, answering their questions, resolving conflicts between members of the community, conducting marriages, overseeing funerals, and the likes. Such functions could be extremely time consuming and far beyond what could be realistically asked of volunteers. Add to that the upkeep of the facility, paying of bills, dealing with various agencies, handling official paperwork, and so on. In many churches, the staff is between ten to twenty full time employees. If we could save on some positions through volunteer work, there are others where it is vital to have complete dedication.

It is also important for the masājid to understand the need to diversify their workforce. This will only happen when we realize the broadness of the mission of the masjid. Most of us like the “all-in-one” devices. They are certainly convenient, but not always the best. When it comes to human resources, it is even harder to come by those “all-in-one” imams who are scholars, well-grounded in knowledge, eloquent in both languages, convincing to the elders and befriended by the youth, and at the same time computer savvy and capable of administrative tasks. The larger masājid may need to have several people to perform all of those functions. As for the smaller masājid, with fewer resources, the caretakers of the masājid need to be creative in using the resources available in their region, and in sharing with other masājid.

It is vital that we have cadres among the youth to take charge of the Islamic organizations, and that we empower them for that. There is so much that needs to be done to ensure that the position of an imam is inviting to those talented and accomplished individuals with high aspirations. The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“مَنْ وَلِيَ لَنَا عَمَلًا وَلَيْسَ لَهُ مَنْزِلٌ ، فَلْيَتَّخِذْ مَنْزِلًا ، أَوْ لَيْسَتْ لَهُ زَوْجَةٌ فَلْيَتَزَوَّجْ ، أَوْ لَيْسَ لَهُ خَادِمٌ فَلْيَتَّخِذْ خَادِمًا ، أَوْ لَيْسَتْ لَهُ دَابَّةٌ ، فَلْيَتَّخِذْ دَابَّةً ، وَمَنْ أَصَابَ شَيْئًا سِوَى ذَلِكَ فَهُوَ غَالٌّ”

“He who will do work for us and has no house, let him have a house, and if he has no wife, let him have a wife, and if he has no servant, let him have a servant, and if he has no riding animal, let him have one. Whoever takes more than that, he is an embezzler.” [Reported by Ahmad from al-Mustawrid ibn Shaddâd]

Notice that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed that those who do service jobs for the benefit of the ummah be sufficed, including having a servant (which was the norm for the middle class in their time). This is vital in order for those workers to concentrate all of their thoughts and efforts on their work, so that they may excel, reach their potential, and achieve the best results possible. At the end of hadith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) reminded the actual workers of the importance of ‘afâf (self-restraint). This is an important reminder for anyone who assumes a public position within the ummah, and most important for those who assume the positions of imams and da’ees (preachers).

It is not a secret that many of our youth who went oversees to study for six or seven years came back and refused to work as imams. Many of them cite problems that imams encounter with the masjid boards and the way they are treated as lower ranking employees with many bosses. This is a great waste of the resources of this ummah. It is time our masājid make the positions of imams, youth directors, resident scholars, teachers, and administrators all inviting to the best talents of our communities.

There is no doubt that a big part of the problem of our Muslim countries has to do with the lack of righteous governance and skilled management. These two problems have been sadly inherited by many of our Muslim organizations in the West. Management and administration are not all intuitive, but rather have become a science, and Muslims who live in the West have the opportunity to learn from the experts. There are even free classes offered on how to run non-for-profit organizations. There are known principles of good management that we could learn how to apply, because when we speak of them at an abstract level, we all agree. You won’t find any one contesting the importance of clarity of vision, consistency of procedures, transparency, clear identification of roles, empowerment of workers, timely reevaluation, and the likes. The problem is in applying those principles.

Finally, the community of the masjid needs to agree on their ultimate reference. If it is other than the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, as transmitted, understood, and applied by the Companions, righteous predecessors and great imams, the masjid may be moving fast, but it would also be moving in the wrong direction.

وصلى الله على محمد وآله وصحبه والحمد لله رب العالمين



Dr. Hatem AlHaj is an AMJA scholar, a pediatrician and a PhD in Islamic Shariah. 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Dr. Hatem Al-Haj has a PhD in Comparative Fiqh from al-Jinan University. He is a pediatrician, former Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Mishkah University, and a member of the permanent Fatwa Committee of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).



  1. Umm Hadi

    December 28, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    Masha Allah, May Allah bless you and increase you in knowledge.

  2. Danish

    December 29, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    That was really well written. you raised a very nice point that Masjids should be open 24 hours a day and anyone can visit and offer his prayer anytime. May Allah guides us in the straight path and offer fajar prayer in Masjid with congregation. I notice there very few Muslims who wake up early in the morning for Almighty Allah.

  3. Belal

    December 29, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    What if a portion of the masjid was dedicated toward being a charging station for battery operated cars, ie Tesla (future proofing masajid and opening them up for being dawah centers) and having a small 24/7 convenience store aspect to it – or at minumum, quality vending machines that sell healthy snacks (think Kind and Quest bars) and are accessible at all times.

    • Fahad

      December 29, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      I agree with Belal, I think that having some sort of business attached to the masjid would be a great idea. It could be a revenue stream that could make it possible for the masjid to rely less on donations and fundraisers. Also, if they are making a profit, they could use it to sponsor cool programs and pay masjid employees. As Dr. Haj mentioned, a bookstore is a good idea.
      I was thinking something along the lines of a service that Muslim community members would benefit from and be willing to pay for, such as an all female gym. This would be especially useful for women who wear hijab and niqab. The gym could offer classes in a halal environment.

  4. Safi

    December 30, 2014 at 7:33 PM

    Baarak Allah Feek Dr. Hatem,
    The role of the Masjid is very important to discuss as the Masjid is in many ways the heart of the Muslim community. This article and it’s preceding article did an excellent job summarizing the diversity of utilization of the Masjid during the prophet’s time, the need to build the Masjid appropriately, and the need to have adequate management in their representation of the community members and their competency.

    What I am interested in knowing is a prioritized approach to the Masjid. i.e. What are the top priorities of the Masjid in terms of function? What are the top priorities of the Masjid management? What are the top priorities and responsibilities of attendees towards the Masjid?

    In my humble opinion, the articles as they stand risk being two encyclopedic. If the goal is to truly revive the role of the Masjid , then we should derive a short set of concrete vital actions.

    And Allah knows best!
    Baarak Allah feekum, and JazakumAllah Khairan!

  5. Hafiz owais

    January 1, 2015 at 2:44 AM

    Masha Allah, May Allah bless you with great knowledge.

  6. Br Rat

    January 3, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    Not much has been said about adapting a Masjid to the needs of American Muslims. I would strongly suggest this means creating Islamic Centers which include professional social services that can assist people in need through empowerment, stills development, referrals to various health, legal and city services when needed, keeping in mind the needs of the whole family. Social services providers need to be paid, but their work is cost effective and saves a lot of pain and suffering that cannot always be helped by spiritual counseling alone, or by a charitable payment.

    To the difficulty that some imams have with boards that treat them like servants, I would also add that Imams need to have at least one regular assistant, in order to develop a team, and not simply a cult of personality. A young person with good communication skills would be an asset in this role. This level of organization will help build trust.

    Finally, more could be said on developing a role for women at the Masjid. Frankly, we need their influence.

  7. adeeb

    March 23, 2015 at 2:55 PM

    Is it obligatory or recommend ed to pray in congregation all 5 prayers

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