Some Advice for American Mosques

So… today while I was running on the treadmill, since it was overlooking a large gymnasium, I was passing the time by watching a scrimmage basketball game.  My mind began wandering and I began thinking about how churches are so efficiently organized, as so many of them have organized basketball teams, softball teams, volleyball teams, and so on.  They provide an essential aspect of life for the community: social connectivity.

The mosques I’ve been to in the US seem to be very disorganized, with ethnic in-fighting causing overwhelming disunity.  I even visited the largest mosque in North America, and felt very disappointed by the disorganization, lack of decent sound equipment, and overall disrespect by those listening to the lecture.  I had a very hard time hearing the speaker because I was surrounded by chattering women, with kids running up and down the aisles.  When the lecture finished, everyone began pushing and shoving in order to get outside; it was a frightening experience!  This mosque probably had several hundred people in attendance, but I’ve been to churches equally as big, if not bigger, and never have I seen pushing and shoving!!

I’ve often wished that mosques would just take a look at how churches are organized and run in the US, and follow suit.  Why not, after all?  If they are doing something that works, why not model your organization after it?  Churches are extremely well-run and provide an important social function in the lives of many Americans.  Growing up in church, I can personally attest to the fact that a lot of people go to church and church events, not because they’re particularly religious, but because they enjoy connecting with others in a clean environment, having their physical, spiritual, social needs met, and giving back to the community as well by donating their time and specific skills when needed.

Unfortunately, in the US, people are so isolated and distant from each other that their social outlets are confined to only certain situations: bars/clubs/parties, work (which has limitations), or church.  People who don’t go to church, but don’t want to participate in the club scene (such as Muslims), are highly ostracized and separated from the society at large as they have no way to integrate and connect with other people.

This is why I think it is imperative for mosques to step up and provide a social support system similar to what the church provides for so many Americans.

First, what mosques should do is address the physical needs of Muslims: have two fully functioning fitness facilities for both the women and the men – and don’t skimp on the equipment for the women (particularly the cardio equipment)!  Giving the men a place to exercise that is free from the distraction of half naked women would be a refreshing alternative from the regular gyms.  Providing women with a secure place to work out and being able to wear whatever they like will help women to branch out physically and not be inhibited due to the requirements of modesty.  I exercise in a fitness facility 5x a week, and I can tell you that wearing pants, long sleeves, and covering my hair while running at a brisk speed for lengthy period of time is HOT AND HARD.  If mosques provided such services for their members, it would fulfill a huge need.

Once a mosque has a fitness facility, they could even branch out by addressing both the physical and social needs of its members by beginning intramural teams that could play against other church or community teams (often cities have an intramural league in which various organizations like churches, businesses, a group of friends, and so on form a team and sign up to play).  The mosque could even have a women’s volleyball team (I would totally play on that) and work on interfaith outreach by inviting other churches to start women’s only volleyball teams, and have the other teams come to the mosque for games so that the Muslim women’s modesty could be ensured.  The opposing teams could sign a waiver or something stating that they would respect the modesty of the women by having only females in attendance, no cameras, no taking pictures, etc.

In this way, people in the community could have a chance to see real Muslim women (and men) up close and personal, and see that they’re real people after all.  It would be a great way of spreading a positive image of Islam by breaking down the barriers of isolation many Muslims tend to put up.

Further, churches often have classes and various groups for people to be involved in that address their spiritual (and social) and mental needs.  The last church I attended had a divorce care class, a widow/widower class, a young married class (discussing the many common issues newly married couples face), an unemployed class (they talked about networking, interviewing, shared job tips, and helped one another commiserate), men’s classes, women’s classes, a parenting class (parents of small kids, parents of teens, etc.), a single’s class, a senior citizen class, and so on.  Each class was run sort of like group counseling (so there was a lot of discussion and participation of group members) and teaching integrated with the Biblical perspective all combined.  A mosque could have English classes (as do some churches), as well as Arabic classes (a HUGE need for reverts), basic Islam classes, interfaith classes in which they learn about various other faith traditions, and so on.

The sheikh or imam of the mosque doesn’t have to singlehandedly run all the classes, but he could oversee everything and have the class leaders appointed on a volunteer basis (and then of course, meet regularly with the leaders and ensure appropriate material is being used and so on).  In churches, getting volunteers has never seemed to be a problem in my experience, as people are eager to give their particular skills in service to God.

As many churches do, the mosque could also provide individual counseling services for individuals facing difficulty in their lives and want a trusted, Islamic perspective on the matter.  Finding qualified individuals to volunteer a little bit of their time would not be difficult – or the mosque could pay a few people to come in part time to offer their services (and maybe charge a minimal fee, like $5 or 10$ or something).  The mosque could also have a publicly available list of Muslim professionals in the area in a variety of fields so that members could get the Islamic-based services they need.

Other basic things: child care (to circumvent kids running rampantly during lectures and reduce the women chatting and hanging out instead of listening), and hey, how about a BULLETIN so that the members know what the lecture or activity is even about, and what time things are happening, who the speaker is, what is going on during the week in terms of activities and classes, last week’s attendance, how much people gave last week, and this year to date, and how much the mosque still needs and so on…

The proposal I had worked out in my mind as I was running was far more detailed than this, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Plus, it’s just my own fantasy after all, since I’m not in charge of a mosque (nor am I near one), I don’t have a large amount of money to donate to such a cause, and it may be too big a task for many of the ethnic Muslims to leave their sadly un-Islamic cultural practices at the door and come together to start to effect true change by first serving the local ummah, which will secondly have inevitable positive effects on the community at large.  People will see the Muslims being more active, more visible, a positive force, and people may be curious and come participate in some of the activities offered, just as many people do with church activities.

Well hey, here’s an idea: perhaps all of us reverts should get together and make our own mosque!  Unfortunately, many of us are so spread out that it would be hard… but not impossible.  InshAllah such a dream could be realized someday, and Allahu alim – God knows best.

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3 thoughts on “Some Advice for American Mosques

  1. Asalaamu Alaikum

    Well you’re preaching to the choir with me! You missed something though…committees. I remember the church always had these and people would sign up to volunteer like for fundraising, visiting the sick, social etc. I remember the church was always run by the women too. The mosque? Who is running it? Our mosque doesn’t even have an imam and the majority don’t want one. They want to run the show. They also don’t do dawah; think of the work they would have to do to accommodate all those converts once they let them through the door. Not to mention that they might start asking for things like say an Imam!

  2. Walaykum salam!

    Yes, I think all of us reverts definitely would like to see more organization and more outreach to members and to the community, for sure. You’re right, committees are also an important part of the church as it helps shifts responsibility to being on the members instead of solely on the pastor – or imam. When people feel more included, they feel more eager to participate and take responsibility.

    That’s incredible that your mosque doesn’t even want an imam! One mosque I’ve been to several times is very large but the majority of the members are from one country and the imam is from another, so those members refuse to support anything he does just because they want an imam from their country. So stupid!!!! Think of all the time lost and wasted from stupid, ignorant, fighting.

    One thing I think that has a big effect on the way mosques are run in the US is the fact that generally imams are either brought from another country or are immigrants. They then bring their cultural ideas of what a mosque is and the role it should fulfill and don’t branch out beyond that. In Islamic countries, Islam and Muslims are all around you (relatively speaking), so the social and physical needs of the community are being met elsewhere. The mosque serves to educate members solely on the religion and does little else. But, society is much, much different in the US, and the mosque has to fill a much larger role, which is what too many mosques here don’t realize. I’m sure the members don’t help much either since they also are bringing their cultural ideas about what a mosque does and probably would oppose any kind of changes, despite the fact that it would greatly benefit them.

  3. Fantastic post, Sakina. I completely get where you’re coming from (and obviously you’ve given this matter a great deal of thought).

    I think your point about masjids in the US being focal points for Muslims whereas in Muslim countries, they’re just places to pray. For those of us who’ve been part of a large church, the idea of involvement is strongly resonant.

    I had this dream where I stood up and said we should make sack lunches for the homeless during Ramadan. In the dream, everyone else looks at me like I’m insane.

    If I could work from wherever, I’d definitely support the “revert” founded masjid. I think it’s worth noting, however, that outsider observers hold US Muslims in fairly high esteem. One article I read praised them for being theologically curious, community oriented, and far more egalitarian. I suspect what we reverts bring to the table is a fresh perspective on all things old and a few new ideas. 🙂

    Salaam!

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