The Centrality of the Masjid
By Samantha Sanchez
The Masjid as a Center for Community, as a Nucleus of the Muslim Society
Beyond establishing prayer, the function of the mosque is to provide for the needs of the community. Islamic cities were built with this purpose in mind, just look throughout North Africa and Europe. The mosque was at the center surrounded by the market and residence areas. Thus making the mosque of central importance in all aspects: socially, academically, politically, militarily, culturally, and so on. The community mosque, despite limited space in some communities, should provide a number of services for the community beyond those which naturally occur – daily prayers and weekly congregational prayers (jumah).
Religious and Secular Classes. The mosque of antiquity’s role was to provide a center of learning for the community. So much so, that in Islamic Spain, Europeans traveled to the mosques of Granada to be trained academically in philosophy, medicine, and many other subjects. Moreover, mosques existed with the purpose of providing religious training in terms of laws (shariah), jurisprudence (fiqh), and other subjects. Although most mosques today provide Sunday and Friday schools for children to be taught Islam, many lack a strong adult education mission. To fulfill this role, mosques today should provide religious and related courses, such as, but not limited to, Arabic, Islam for Beginners, Halaqas, Fiqh, Hadith, Shariah, Tafsir, and Dawah Training. These courses would enable the community to become educated in the scholarly discourses of Islam all the while teaching the proper behavior of a Muslim and allowing for better conduct as a community.
In addition, classes of a secular nature should be taught by members of the community who have skill so that such skills can be shared in an effort to make the Muslim community the most educated in all areas. Such classes can be in computer training, calligraphy, and other types of workshops that would provide beneficial skills for the ummah.
Social Functions. The masjid should be the social center of the community and as such should provide halal activities monthly if not weekly with the sole intention of fostering communitas a brotherly (or sisterly) feeling amongst its members. Such social gatherings can include lectures on Islamic or appropriate secular issues, Islamic theatrical and/or musical performances such as nasheeds , dinners, fundraisers, etc”
Marriage, Birth and Death Services. Of course many masajid offer the following services but how many teach the fiqh of such services? Masajid must offer marriage, birth and death services (nikah, aqiqa, and janaza), but in addition, classes or lectures should be given on the proper fiqh where attending and performing a janaza, pre-marriage counseling issues, and the rituals upon the birth of the baby, can be learned and discussed. Too many people are not familiar with their responsibilities in this respect, or have some ideas that are culturally influenced and need to learn what Islam says in regard to these ceremonies.
Health of the members. As mentioned before, the learning of medicine was of great importance in the golden years of Islam. Scholars, such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) would teach others the ways to heal and medical care was never in want. The masjid, if possible, should rally the help of doctors in the community to offer free care and advice to members, once a week or once a month. Also, if anyone has knowledge of homeopathic or herbal medicine or if anyone is interested in learning, classes could be offered in this subject as well. Natural healing was important to the Prophet (saws) and books have been written such as Prophetic Medicine, which outline was Prophet (saws) used to heal different ailments.
Foundation of the Family. The masjid should offer several types of family services including marriage counseling, grief counseling, parenting classes, help for victims of domestic violence, and if possible, lawyers in the community could offer free legal advice to members. Thus, when a Muslim family has a problem they will not turn to secular solutions but rather attempt to solve their problems wit the help of Qur’an and Sunnah and other Muslims as guides.
Community Service and Charity. Last, but not least, the masjid should be a forum for active community service. A food drive or establishing a food pantry is a simple but effective way to begin giving back to the community. Islamic communities of yore were known for their generosity and today’s Muslim communities are not, but should be, at the forefront of all charitable and social justice causes. Each month a theme could be announced, i.e. clothes drive, book drive (for masjid library or donation to a local library), helping the elderly, etc” It would also be good for Muslims to be active publicly with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Red Cross/Red Crescent. Sadaqa funds should be established if they are not already. Finally, services even in our local area such as maintenance of the masjid, cleaning and repairing, are all examples of community service. It starts from within. If we cannot take care of our masajid how can we take care of the community at large?
Conclusion. It is time to return to the halcyon days of the Golden Age of Islam, when the masjid was more than a once a week gathering place, or a place to drop off and pick up children for Sunday School. We must become motivated as an ummah to strive for a community in which the mosque is the nucleus of all things, great and small. It is a tragedy that globally, many mosques, even today, have no women on executive boards, no community service projects ongoing, and no services for the community aside from the performance of nikah and janaza. The masjid is a place for all people, male and female, adult and child, Muslim and non-Muslim to feel free to come and benefit from its plethora of educational and social activities. They are for the common good. What type of daii are we if we do not invite non-Muslims to our activities, and what type of community are we if we do not care about the whole person and not just the spiritual part. Islam is not a religion, it is a way of life. But recent generations have treated it like the former rather than the latter. The excuse so generally made is that there is limited space in our local masajid and we cannot have so many activities. The Prophet (saws) carried out all these activities and more in the first mosque he built in Madina which as we all know was not half as large as some of the mosques we have today. Remember what Allah has said in the Qur’an:
“The mosques of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in God , the Last Day, establish regular prayers and practice regular charity and fear none (at all) except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance. (9:18)”