As an Imam and a community teacher, I am always looking for ways of enhancing and improving my own character and spiritual development as well as that of my congregation, students and disciples. Time and space are very important for this. The month of Ramadan and Friday prayers are blessed times. Similarly, there are some special places: the Masjid and the School. The Masjid is the house of Allah, “the best spot of land on earth” as described by the blessed Messenger ﷺ. How can this blessed spot of space in an inner-city area impact me? Here I briefly describe what the Masjid can do for me and you, and perhaps more importantly what can we do for the Masjid: the hub of the community.
Just after Ramadan this year, the Muslim Women’s Council in Bradford convened a meeting about having a ‘female-only run Masjid’. It was very interesting to see how the British press became hysterical about this, as though this was a great stride forward in giving more freedom to women. Of course, it was nothing of the kind. The first Masjid in Islam was established by the blessed Prophet ﷺ, and it was all inclusive: women, men, children and the elderly were all welcome. In fact, hadith literature shows that at any time, one third of the congregation was women. Inclusivity is what is needed. The men’s club mentality is not Islamic; neither is the women’s club. More women should be involved in the management and day-to-day running of the Masjid, but this cannot happen if we begin to talk about exclusive spaces for men and women. I believe this debate is distracting us from the real issue, which is how can the Masjid space be used more effectively.
My vision of an ideal Masjid is that of a Masjid that seeks to reclaim three important areas of human life:
- Education; religious and academic
- Family: entertainment, sport and art
- Civic society; politics and media
The Masjid is the training college for people who have aspirations to serve Allah and the community. They should be provided with support, encouragement and opportunities to use their talents for changing society. They are provided mentors, guides and leadership to fulfil their role.
It is not sufficient to be a regular Masjid-goer, but to have the yearnings to transform oneself and others. That’s a true Muslim – Bashir: Giver of Good news, Nazir: Warner, Dai: Inviter to truth, Shaheed: Witness for truth. The biggest question is: does your Masjid take such an holistic approach? Does the leadership believe in the members’ capacity to achieve their potential?
The serious shortcoming of many Masjid leaders is their inability to make namazis (worshipers) good students, or disciples. When you passionately believe that the Masjid is there to train people to become agents of change, then that Masjid will become the hub of the community. It will play a prominent role in community building. This is the perspective that Masjids need to grasp, where they are dynamic, outward-looking, people-orientated, Allah-centred and following the Sunnah.
Masjid and Civil Society
In Britain, the state runs the country. It is responsible for providing services like education, defence, law and order, health, social and recreation. Nearly 60% of an individual’s income goes to the state as taxes. However, the family institution is also important and exerts a huge influence on the individual and society. In between these two powerful institutions, state and family, is a third very influential player: the civil society. This is independent of the state. It is the engagement of the community with itself; it’s community at its best where it tackles its own issues independently of the state. It’s a sign of community vibrancy and the true social capital of any society. For religiously-active Muslims, the Masjid is an important institution that influences the civil society.
In the inner-city terraced houses where the majority of Muslims here live, you will find rows upon rows of Victorian houses. Somewhere in those terraced houses you may find one converted into a Masjid. Muslim areas have their own shopping malls, restaurants and even small factories. However, one place gives them a real sense of community, and that is the local Masjid. Anecdotal evidence shows that nearly 90% of Muslim men pray Jumma regularly.
The local Masjid has always been the hub of the community from the time of the Messenger (peace be upon him) it has played a pivotal role in the community. At once it was the place of worship, a School (the suffa), a sports hall, a court, a place of marriage, advice centre, welfare office, Institute of strategic planning and so much more.
In British society, the Masjid is three distinct spaces rolled into one. Firstly, and most importantly it is a place of worship where devotees can practice and develop their spirituality. Secondly it is a centre of learning for the young and the old and thirdly it is a public place for meeting, social intercourse, bring people together and sustain integrated recreational activities, place of funeral, marriage and festivals.
The Masjid is the operational base for community building. It is where Muslims can cooperate and support young and old people to build healthier and a multi-faith society. The benefit of such Masjid can be summarised as follows:
- It binds people around a common faith and shared vision for society.
- Provides a space for the development of Islamic spiritual, moral, intellectual, social and cultural values. This offers protection from the onslaught of any dominant immoral and corrupt culture that may exist in society.
- It pools talents, resources and efforts for promoting good and checking wrong in society. It increases social and political capacity enabling effective actions for building a just and moral society.