The Deen of Al-Islam is a unique way of life and a distinctive social order. All activities, private and public, are assumed to be organized within the framework of moral principles and values revealed in the Qur’an and manifested in the life of the prophet (SAS). This system of principles and values is uniform and universal. However, its efficacy very much depends on the efficiency of goal-oriented institutes. The Masjid (Mosque) is one of the basic Islamic institutions that is assumed to play a major role in the promotion of truth, justice, knowledge and goodness in society. In this article I have examined the existing institution of the Masjid and evaluated its performance on the basis of realization of the stated goals. In the final analysis, some suggestions have been made, seeking revitalization of this important institution and improvement in its operations.
In 1970 a seminar was held in Jeddah under the auspices of a cultural organization Nadi Al Bahr-ul-Ahmar. It was presided by Prince Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz. In the seminar an important paper was presented by the well-known religious scholar Shaikh Mohammad Al Muntasir Alkitani on the role of mosques in Islamic society. It makes interesting and thought provoking reading. The Shaikh traced the importance of mosques through well-documented research work, and lamented the present day restriction of mosques to only rituals of Namaz, Aitkaaf and Tilawat. He pointed out that the important role played by mosques had been forgotten, rather deliberately ignored when Islamic governance changed to monarchy. The paper highlighted the following functions of the mosque in the early period of Islam:
1. Apart from the Jumma congregation, the Muslims used to assemble in the mosque in difficult times and sorted out the issues confronting them.
2. The mosque was like a university to the grown ups who acquired and imparted education and knowledge.
3. For the children, it provided elementary education where they were taught to read and write.
4. Literary gatherings and discussions were held in it.
5. Seminars were held to promote intellectual activities.
6. The Qazis (Judges) set up their courts to impart justice.
7. Sometimes the criminals and convicts were placed in custody.
8. It provided accommodation to the poor, needy, homeless and travellers.
9. Food was distributed among the poor and hungry.
10. At times it was also used as the state guesthouse.
11. It was also used as hospital for the sick.
12. Marriages were held in the mosques.
13. It was also the state armory where weapons were made and stored.
14. The ‘Baitul Maal’ was also in it from where salaries were disbursed.
15. Any other matter of importance was discussed and resolved in it. (Details of the paper are available in ‘Akhbar Al Alam Al Islami’ dated 17 Ramzan 1395 Hijri published by Rabita Al Alam A1 Islami)
Prince Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz was so impressed with the outcome of the seminar that he decided to hold an international conference on the subject. On his insistence the Rabita Al Alam Al Islami organized an International Islamic Conference on ‘Motamar Risalat-ul-Masjid’ from 15 to 20 Ramazan 1395 in Makkah. Delegates from all Muslim countries and many non-Muslim countries participated. The conference inaugurated by King Khalid, re-emphasized the importance of the views expressed by Shaikh Alkitani and appreciated the authentic references and suggestions given by him.
The Motamar must have published the deliberations of the conference, which must be publicized in Pakistan and abroad for the benefit of Muslims who are in the habit of hurrying up and down mosque stairs without having a faint idea and understanding of its true social and national importance.
Center of Learning
The Mosque as a place of congregation should provide regular opportunities to the Muslims not only to acquire knowledge, but the unique social platform for constant inter-action through which the society as a whole can benefit. In the Masjid-e-Nabwi (The Prophet’s Mosque) the Nabi (Prophet) himself started a small school where he, with his companions, gave lectures on the Quran and general ethical knowledge. Consequently in the later period we come to know about scholars in small villages. These schools were attached to mosques. This was the case not only in Arabia and Iraq, but also in all other provinces that came under the banner of Islam. From its earliest days, Islam lent the mosque for higher education unlike our modern mosques where only rituals are allowed. In it there is shelter for the travellers, medicine for the sick, and justice for the offended and learned discussions for the educated. Lectures were delivered on various topics. The audience formed a compact circle round the lecturer (Halqa). No respectable person was debarred. The lecturers prepared their lectures carefully as they had to face an array of intelligent questions and criticism. Imam Ghazali lectured at Nizamiyah University for four years emphasizing the necessity of stimulating the normal consciousness of the students. The Maderasahs were really collegiate mosques spread over the entire Muslim world. The most famous were founded by Salahuddin and Nuruddin Ayyubi in Allepo, Hamah and Balabaak. During the Mamluk period, the number of such institutions multiplied. The curriculum included all branches of knowledge and the standard was very high. In Muslim Spain, Al-Hakam had established 27 free schools in the capital. He also established the University of Cordoba in the mosque of Abdur Rehman III. It preceded both Al-Azhar of Cairo and Nizamiyah of Baghdad and attracted a large number of students from all over the world.
Our mosques are usually restricted to sects that propagate their views against other sects. The Imam considers the mosque his personal property and exploits the illiterate ‘Namazis’ to his benefit. He forbids any kind of meeting or discussion in the mosque although you will find him in the company of his friends planning the next move against the other sects. The Quran tells the Nabi ‘As for those who divide their Deen and break up into sects, you have no part with them’ (6:159).
Let us examine the state of affairs at the Masiid in the light of the findings and recommendations of learned Muslim scholars made at the two Islamic conferences mentioned above. In general, there appears to be little or no improvement at all and a lot needs to be done to make the Masjid functional and effective as an institution. At the Masjid, children and youth learn to read the Qur’an with correct pronunciation ( i.e. with Tajweed) and it is definitely a recognizable achievement. But a heavy emphasis on memorization and less attention being paid to improving the capacity to understand the message of Al-Qur’an, and to shape the life of younger generation conforming to Islamic norms is an indicator of myopic thinking and defective planning. Very few efforts have been made to use the Masijd for carrying out a mass literacy campaign.
One major reason as why the Masjid have become so disoriented and dysfunctional lies in the fact that the ‘priesthood’ which has no room and role in the Islamic system, has become an integral part of the current institutional design. On the one hand, the clergy promotes blind institution (taqlid) and religiosity among the Muslim masses and on the other, it forms affiliation with political and business elite, to serve their joint interest. In most case, funds under different categories of charity are pooled together and used to meet the large administrative and operational over-head. Very few funds become available for the assistance of the needy and poor people. Carelessness and callousness have been replacing the Islamic values of affection and compassion.
Basis of Piety and Righteousness
The term mosque literally means a place where one prostrates. The Quran talks about mosques built on foundations of piety (9:108). Those who build such mosques establish Allah’s laws and share his gifts with everyone. They strive for unity among Muslims and reject injustice and tyranny.
The Qur’an also refers to the other type of mosque that is built on the foundation of sectarianism and is used for exploitation. The Nabi himself brought down such a mosque (Masjid-e-Zarrar). The Quran says that those who do not lead their lives according to it are rejecters (5:44, 45, and 41: 6, 7). Such mosques give birth to other mosques built as a reaction and hence the hatred and animosity continues unabated.
As Muslims we must remember that the mosque is a place where the injunctions of Allah are propagated and practiced. The ‘Kaaba’ has been mentioned in this context (48:27) not as a structure of concrete, but as a pivotal point of Allah’s system.
House of Rituals
The house of Allah has been relegated to the position of the house of rituals and worship only. Despite the fact that mosques are equipped with loud speakers, the Imams are usually found shouting at their peak. The ignorant masses are given to understand that they have performed their obligations as Muslims by only ‘reading the namaz’ and not establishing the ‘Salat’. We have forgotten that ‘Ibadat’ is not worship; it is much more. It is the endeavour to establish the total authority of Allah as directed in the Quran ‘The Divine laws given to mankind as well as to the physical world are immutable’ (6:34). Ibadat is a round-the-clock system, which can be rightly propagated through the mosques.
One wonders why the real objective of the social importance of mosques has been relegated to its present stagnant position. The answer lies in the nefarious designs of our ‘High-priests’ who, in league with the ruling clique, have always exploited religion for personal benefits.
Handling Social Problems
Today we are ignorant of the problems and sufferings of our neighbours because of the lack of social inter-action and careless attitude. The mosque is the only place in the neighborhood or ‘Mohalla’ where people of the locality assemble in small numbers daily and in big numbers on Fridays. The ‘Namazis’ are in the habit of leaving the mosque as soon as possible after the rituals, little bothering to inquire about each other’s welfare which is a basic Islamic value. When the people deliberately keep themselves ignorant of social problems; how can they strive to solve them or at least be a part of the system, which would resolve these problems? Most of the copies of the Quran available in mosques have no translation. People without comprehension read it. We are given to believe that mere recitation of Quran will bring rewards (Sawab). It is not taken seriously as a book of knowledge and guidance. When we go to the market and buy a television, computer or juicer, we are unable to operate it fully unless we read the accompanying book of instructions. A mere reading of the book without understanding it will result in the wrong handling of equipment and the eventual result will definitely be disastrous. Similarly the Book of Allah has to be understood and only then it can be effectively applied in our lives. The Quran is a ‘do it yourself kit’ which instructs and guides us on the various aspects of our lives. If we follow them in the right spirit the results would be positive, beneficial and rewarding, otherwise not. ‘Those people who do good and beautiful deeds then their world (present life) become good and beautiful. And together with the present their future also becomes luminous (39:10)
Role of the Imam & Muezzin
There are two important persons in each mosque. The Imam, who is chosen for moral excellence and knowledge of the Quran , leads the prayers and usually teaches Quran to the children of the locality; and the ‘Muezzin’ who calls the faithfuls to prayers. They can help in achieving the above goals. In this context the mosque can play a very important role. Islam has provided a golden opportunity to Muslims to remain united, sort out their problems, extend the social bond of cooperation and brotherhood through mosques. We do not need community and welfare centers and homes for the destitute if the institution of mosque is properly utilized. This should be for all members of the society irrespective of their religion. ‘Allah created mankind as one community, but then they created differences (2:213, 10:19, 49:13)
Religious obligations in other religions are fulfilled through ritualistic worship, which is totally detached from the practical aspects of life. However, in Islam the mosque, as a central institution presents a unique platform for the establishment of the system of ‘salah’. It is a kind of a central control room which assures that the ‘Deen’ of ‘Islam’ is practically and effectively implemented in society. The mosque is not a temple of worship. The system of ‘Salah’ delivers the Muslims from the age-old custom of confined rituals and self-created worship. All the Nabis brought this system. The misguided people and their vested interests led then to the wrong paths of ambitions and desires (19:58). Consequently they were divided into groups and sects totally disintegrating human relationships and values. The present position of the mosques in our society represents the gradual decline of its true purpose. In the early days of Islam the mosque was the source of a system through which the permanent values of Islam were implemented. As a result there was no one hungry, homeless or needy. The positive influence of the system led to a slave less society in which there was social, political and economic justice; human rights were adequately protected and there was a feeling of internal and external security. What more can a man ask for?
Impeding Initiative & Knowledge
Today no one is allowed to ponder over the laws of Allah. The Maulvi (priest) forces the illiterate masses and even the educated ones to understand Islam through him. This is a total negation of human capabilities and intelligence and is like putting seal on man’s thirst for knowledge and the initiative to be a better human being. In such circumstances how can the mosque be a house of knowledge and education? The Quran emphasizes: ‘Through knowledge man reaches the right conclusion’ (28:80) ‘Quran explains in detail in Arabic for people with knowledge and understanding’ (6:105) ‘Matters are made clear to those who have knowledge’ (6:105)
Nicholas Berdyeau in ‘Destiny of man’ asserts that no society can call itself free unless it provides conditions conducive to the development of human personality. Muslims are required to think and contemplate about the universe, human beings and the laws of Allah. Eventually these laws have to be applied in our lives as a dynamic force. ‘In this way Allah shows His signs openly and clearly so that you think and contemplate on the present and the future’ (2:219-220). Those who do not seek knowledge and ponder are called ‘Blind’ by the Quran and cannot be equal to the knowledge seekers (6:50). Children are no doubt taught elementary Arabic and Quran in the mosques; but that is all. Their immature minds are programmed to detest all sources of modern knowledge.. Consequently, they grow up hating modern knowledge and stick to the old and medieval values, which are of no significance in the evolution of mankind towards a better tomorrow. ‘An individual (or a people) who looks forward towards the future and puts in the necessary efforts and is convinced of the permanent values as enjoined by Allah; then this effort will bear full fruit’ (17:19)
Seminars & Discussions
Today literary gatherings, discussions and seminars are never held in mosques. In fact, the religious bigots with a vast following have permanently impeded exposition of knowledge to serve their ulterior motives. In most of the Muslim countries where the literacy rate is low, the religious leaders have found it easy to negate all channels of knowledge, foresightedness and progress so vehemently emphasized in the Quran.
Consequently, we have masses that ‘Have minds wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not. They are like cattle, nay more confused, for they are neglectful (7:179). Seminars and discussions involve educated and knowledgeable people who are the best source of enlightenment. Such gatherings not only guide us, but also arouse our curiosity to study, understand and apply the laws of Allah in our lives. The Muslim is at least united on the fact that Quran is the book of Allah. A changed atmosphere in the mosque would be totally unacceptable to those at the helm of religious affairs, as they would have to take the back seat. Moreover, if the masses were enlightened directly, their authority and exploitation would be curtailed.
Source of Justice
With the rapid population explosion and complexity of law it will not be possible to hold all litigations in mosques. However, matters involving neighborhood problems can still be disposed off in mosques. But the Qazis or judges deliberating such issues should be of good character and known for their honesty, integrity and sense of justice. Community based courts do function in the countries of Europe and America. It makes justice accessible to the common man. ‘Do justice because by doing so you act according to the Divine laws’ (5:8)
Today the concept of justice in small matters is almost non-existent in our society. The common man does not know whom to approach and how to secure his social rights. Thus he prefers to forego so many of his rights which make it more convenient for violators of law to thrive in society and continue their un-Islamic practices unabated. The biggest test of a society is its treatment of the poor, needy, hungry and shelter-less. Although all human beings are equal, yet some enjoy the bounties of nature and life more than the others. Islam is against concentration of wealth in a few hands. It directs such people to ensure an equitable distribution of Allah’s gifts.
‘And in their wealth and possession is the right of those who possess less than what they need and those who are unable to earn’ (51:19).
Social Welfare Centers
The mosque can be the centre for helping the poor and needy. Such a use of the mosque would make the welfare centres redundant and enhance the importance of mosque in society. This was the practice in the early era of Islam and must now be revived.
The wayfarers or travellers usually have to face many problems in a new city and environment. The administrators of mosques should see to it that their difficulties are removed and if need be they should be provided accommodation in the mosque till such time they can make better arrangements.
‘And do good to parents … and the way-farers (who are needy)’ (4:36)
‘And render to the kindred their due rights as also those in want and to the wayfarers’ (17:26)
Nowadays we do not see such social practices. The wayfarer’s religion is of no significance in this context but the non-Muslims are not even allowed to enter mosques as the Imams consider mosques their personal property and rightful domain. The mosque can help in guiding patients and dedicated doctors can treat minor ailments during a specified time of the week or day. Vaccinations can also be provided in mosques.
Marriages are still held in some mosques; but it is a dwindling practice. People would have to come out of the influence of Hindu customs and traditions and make it a point to assemble in mosques for marriages. We do not consider social customs to have any connection with Islam; we make such things dependent on our personal convenience and liking or on prevalent cultural standards or on the exigencies of the day. Nowadays marriages are remembered for their pomp and show and the money spent extravagantly on them. This is in violation of Allah’s directives: ‘Eat and Drink but waste not by excess’ (2:31).
When marriages can be held in mosques why not other social functions; but then the mosques would have to be opened up to the people not simply as place of worship but as a center of fulfilling and understanding the social needs. It would eventually be a place where the sole authority of the Imam will disappear (as it exists today); instead, the people would join each other in their efforts to share social responsibilities, duties and obligations.
In the present day circumstances it would be difficult to use the mosque as armory or for production of arms & ammunition. For this purpose ordnance factories have been built. Similarly, the disbursement of salaries and management of state accounts require vast paperwork and administrative set up for which provincial and federal offices have been built. All matters of economic, social and political importance should be discussed threadbare in mosques and a proper resolution be adopted in light of Allah’s directives. These directives are available to everyone in the Quran.
Rightful Place of Mosques
Mosques can regain their rightful place in society, but for that they would have to be taken out of the steel grip of the Mullahs and Imams. The so-called guardian and judges of what is right and what is wrong are respected in our society as Aalim-e-Deen and have completely monopolized mosques and our religious and social customs. In the Quranic sense the Aalim is similar to a scientist. A true Aalim understands the laws of nature as evident in the universe and submits in fear to the authority of Allah (35:27,28) and he is the one who understands the parables set forth for mankind (29:43).
Throughout history the so-called Ulema have had the upper hand in society and state. They have collaborated with rulers to serve their selfish motives and have been largely responsible for disintegration of human relationships and social values. In the present century we find only two nations standing up to them. Turkey and Egypt understood the destructive nature of the Mullah’s undue, selfish and un-Islamic interference in state and religious affairs. They were completely banished from authority. Although the secular nature of these two countries does not reflect Islamic values, yet they have overcome their deep-rooted stagnation with their emphasis on knowledge and education.
Today the majority of Muslims do not realize that their ‘Salah is no more than whistling and clapping of hands’ (8:35) as it serves no purpose and no goals are achieved. The Quran reminds us that ‘It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; a true Muslim believes in Allah, the Malaika, the Book and the Messengers, and the last day of judgement’ (2:177). Muslims all over the world (56 countries) are at the receiving end because they have failed in establishing the system of ‘Salah’ and ‘Zakah’. ‘The hypocrites think they can beguile Allah but it is Allah who beguiles them; when they stand upto prayer, they stand without earnestness to be seen by others (4:142). It is not for such as join gods with Allah to visit or maintain the mosques of Allah while they witness their own souls to disbelief. The works of such are in vain and bear no fruit. In fire shall they dwell (9:17). So tonight when you go to bed pray that you are not one of those mentioned in Surah Maoun: ‘Have you seen the one who belies religion in rejecting the orphans and feeding of the needy. Grief and sorrow are for such worshippers who are neglectful of their prayers and only want to be seen praying by others’ (106: 1 to 7).
How can the Mosque regain its true position?
The role of the mosque needs a thorough study and redefinition. It can definitely play an important role in the welfare of Islamic society. Perhaps a conference, similar to the one held in Makkah a long time ago, can bring out more depth about the true nature of mosques in an Islamic society today.
The Masjid can regain their rightful place in Muslim communities all over the world, if Muslim scholars and Muslim masses work together to improve their functioning by freeing them from the undue influence of Taqlidi (blind following) and sectarian elements. I would like to make following suggestions in this regard:
1. Copies of Al Qur’an with translation be made available at each Masjid so that people can read and understand the message and apply the Qur’anic principals of justice, balance and goodness in their everyday lives. Saudi Arabia should be commended for the printing and gratis distribution of the copies of the Holy Quran during the Hajj season, but these are in Arabic and serve no purpose except to be kept at a prominent place in the drawing room..
2. Special efforts should be made to teach Arabic language, enabling people to read and understand Al Qur’an directly. These measures will facilitate penetration of Qur’anic messages deeper in the inner self, inspiring the soul and enlightening the mind. It is inspiration of the soul and the enlightenment of mind that bring about charges in thinking, attitude and behavior.
3. The person who is assigned the duties of Imam in a Masjid must be qualified in terms of both Islamic education and Islamic etiquette. Criterion for selection of the Imam is that he must have a broader outlook of life and he must be free from sectarianism and obscurantism. A good Imam is an asset for the Muslim community, because the Masjid is the second best place after family to educate and train the younger generation in Islamic education and Islamic manners.
4. Minimization of operational and maintenance cost would make more funds available for the welfare of those in the community who need and seek help.
5. The Muslim community may be better off if it uses the Masjid for the purpose of marriages counseling. Intensive use of this low-cost alternative significantly increases community savings by sharply reducing extravagant expenditures on marriages and expensive litigation involving petty family disputes.
Perhaps the yardstick of the postmodern world is not reason, but tolerance and the mosques can play a pivotal role in this respect. Living in the U.K. for the last five months I have been disappointed to see that the mosques here are no more than churches where the main objective is to gather more funds and the only purpose is to offer Namaz and leave. The imams here are more retrogressive than those in other Muslim countries. The Muslim youth find it very difficult to digest mere rituals as their ideal. Consequently they are the least bothered about the true Islamic spirit. Daniel Brown (A new introduction to Islam) has referred to a Fatwa issued by a Toronto based Imam warning Muslims against greeting non-Muslims by wishing them a Merry Christmas. Mosques have been rendered ineffective as a center of social uplift and inter-action, rather they have increased sectarianism and parochialism among Muslims. Mosques in most Muslim countries seem to belong to sects and not the community at large. In Pakistan the police have to stand guard while the Muslims offer their prayers. Al Qu’ran guides us along a path that brings us closer to God: “Allah loves those Who do good “( 2:195) Allah does not like those who exceed limits.” (7:55)