The call came in around 10pm on a weekday. “Imam, can you come now, as my son says he is going to commit suicide.”
This scenario is just one example of issues that play out constantly within the Muslim community. One day a sister came for ‘Isha Salaah with two children and said she did not have any more money and had taken the bus with her last dime to get to the masjid. She said her children were hungry and they had no place to stay. Another sister called to say that her husband was threatening to kill her and that the police were not doing anything about it. Can you help? Unfortunately, the threat was real, and the sister was stabbed by her husband and she passed away.
The reality is that the American masjid has become an indispensable place of hope and refuge for many Muslims as they try to navigate the various crises in their lives. They are no longer just a space for spiritual fulfillment and solace. It is, therefore, imperative to note that for masjids to be effective, there must be organized services, proactive members, and an Imam who is capable of successfully dealing with the spectrum of tasks and challenges.
The plethora of services today being offered by masjids has grown by leaps and bounds. Here is a small sampling:
- Religious services that form the core of the Masjid’s functions include:
- Daily Salaah
- Financial help and Zakaah
- Islamic Education Classes & Schools
- Fatwa Services to answer questions of members
- Jumu’ah Services
- Janazah Services
- New Muslim Services
- Ramadan Services
- Hajj and Umrah Services
- Nikaah Services
- Qurbani Services
- Social Services that:
- Provide opportunities for children
- Marriage and General Counseling
- Societal needs of members:
- Immigration Advice
- Legal Advice
- Assistance with Enforcement issues
- Mental Health Services
- Technology required for effective operations:
- Technology and Social Media Services
- Media Interface Services
- People/Groups that may have distinct needs:
- Sisters Services
- Widows and Widowers Services
- Youth Services
- Inter-organizational networks and projects
The American masjid has now become a multi-purpose facility just as it was in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SA). In his time, the masjid functioned as a spiritual haven, homeless shelter, clinic, jail, classroom, command center, and more. Depending on the size of the masjid and its membership, the services will vary from only providing Salaah to several other services.
The members of a masjid visit and connect to the masjid for several reasons:
- To make the Salaah, including daily, Jumu’ah, Tarawih and Eid prayers
- To experience the month of Ramadan and participate in iftar and dinner
- To attend and participate in the various programs or services offered
- To solicit help for any problem they may have
- To volunteer their services
Members of masjids are the ones who work and sacrifice together to produce the remarkable and amazing results we see in the masjid. However, there are also members in some masjids who pose a significant challenge to the masjid’s success. Some of these challenges are as follows:
- Cultural attachment taking precedence over Islamic practices, values and norms: Members try to impose their particular cultural embellishment, even if it is against Islam. They also show intolerance to each other’s cultural displays even if they are within Islamic parameters.
- Consumer mentality instead of a contributor one: So many members unfortunately come to the masjid simply to participate in a passive manner. Very few have the mindset to become proactive contributors.
- Transactional mentality that seeks to only connect with the masjid when they have a need e.g. janazah or wedding: Once their needs are met, they disappear until the next need brings them again. These types of members are not interested in connecting with the masjid as a vibrant community center. They have little interest in working to make the masjid better and more relevant.
- Members who are not very knowledgeable in Islam: These are the people who may passionately object and find fault with things which are Islamically sound.
- Entitled members: This includes those who believe that they should be accorded special privileges because of their connections, donations, or longevity.
Due to the many services being offered by masjids, the role of Imams has changed significantly. The traditional role of the Imam was to lead the Salaah, give the Khutbah, teach classes, provide advice, and perform religious ceremonies such as janazah and nikaah.
Now the Imam has many additional roles, some of which include dealing with law enforcement, interfacing with the media, interfaith representation, mentoring and networking. These roles require a multi-disciplinary set of skills including human relation skills, counseling, skills to deal with different cultures, easy rapport with the youth, and the list goes on.
One of the most significant roles of the Imam is the Friday Khutbah. This is considered the most important hour of the Muslim community. The community comes out in full force to the masjid each week without any flyers inviting them. Their sense of obligation causes them to show up. The believers sit silently on the carpet and then look to the Imam to inspire them, to motivate them, to educate them, to comfort them, to show them how to solve some of their problems, to reassure them of the truth of Islam, to teach them how to be patient in hardships and to be trustful in calamities. The believers hope the Imam will help them to become rejuvenated and excited as they leave the Friday prayer.
This responsibility is so tremendous that the Imam should never underestimate the preparation required to do justice to the khutbah. Once in a gathering of Imams, I heard one of them say with a sense of pride that he prepares his khutbah while he is taking off his shoes and walking towards the minbar (podium). He felt this showed how competent he was. I was horrified, knowing the tremendous responsibility that comes with being an Imam and guiding the congregation. The unique opportunity of the Friday Khutbah must not be allowed to become a missed one.
Among the many challenges facing the masjid are the following:
- How to make it attractive, comfortable, and fulfilling for the youth and others.
- The challenge of elevating the education and practices of the community to be more closely aligned with Islam.
- How to structure and organize the masjid where everyone has a chance to contribute and to bring their gifts and talent, regardless of nationality, age, or gender.
- The challenge of making the masjid a community hub for not just Muslims but the wider society at large.
These challenges are real and will require a clear strategy where finances, technology, and people are merged and aligned in a disciplined manner.
The American Muslim masjids have the potential to become beacons of light for all Americans. To become a place where, irrespective of your religion or nationality you think of the masjid as your place of hope, love, help, and comfort. To accomplish this will require each and every Muslim to become connected and involved.