In the name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful
Praise be to Allah, Master of All Existence, in whose Hand is the destiny of all humans and jinns, and who has full power to do anything He pleases. All universes are maintained by His Light and encompassed by His Knowledge. And may peace and blessings be upon His final and most beloved Messenger, Muhammad ibn Abdillah, and his pure family and rightly-guided Companions. Know that the masjid is the central institution of the Muslim community. The first thing the Prophet (upon him be peace and mercy) did upon his arrival at Medina was to set the foundations for his masjid. Similarly, the first thing the early Muslims did wherever they went in the far corners of the Earth was to establish masjids for the community to gather and establish the daily congregational prayers. The primary function of the masjid should be to facilitate the establishment of the great pillar of this religion, the Prayer. It is a duty upon the trustees of the masjid to ensure that the masjid is a place which is pleasant to be in. A person who enters the house of Allah should find a place that is clean, fragrant and inviting. All attempts should be made to provide effective climate control so that the masjid is cool in hot weather and warm in winter. A person should not feel like leaving. The Prophet (upon him be peace and mercy) commanded for masjids to be built and that they should be kept clean and perfumed [Tirmidhi: Chapter on what is mentioned regarding the perfuming of masjids]. It is related that incense was burnt in the masjid while Sayyiduna Umar sat on the minbar [Encyclopedia of Islam]. We should make an effort to ensure that our masjids are more fragrant and cleaner than our own houses. Typically, it is noted that in some masjids incense (bakhoor) is not burned as some members of the congregation object to it. This is a huge mistake in my opinion. There is always someone who will object to anything we do. Trustees must have courage to do what is right, not try and please every person, especially as most people do not base their opinions upon sound knowledge. It is a huge disservice to the House of Allah that people entering it are assaulted by unpleasant odours from peoples’ footwear etc, rather than pleasant fragrance as the Prophet (upon him be peace and mercy) commanded. The fact that a handful of people object to this should not mean that the vast majority suffer and the House of Allah is neglected. Establishment of the congregational prayer is only the first job for the masjid. Beyond this, the masjid should work with all its resources for the advancement and propagation of Islam (Da`wa), both locally and globally. As mentioned, the masjid is the natural centre of the Muslim community, and it is obligatory upon the community to work for the propagation of the teaching of the Final Revelation to Mankind, particularly in the time and place we find ourselves today. Activating the Friday Prayer GatheringIt is essential that the Friday Prayer gathering be activated and utilised for its essential purpose, which is (apart from being an act of collective worship):
- To be a platform for Da`wa and religious instruction
- To be a forum to promote community cohesion and political organisation
It is essential for the sermon to be to be in English and delivered by Imams who have a good command of the language. This is permissible in Islamic Law and, in fact, it seems absurd to lecture in a language that the majority of the audience do not understand. This defeats the whole purpose of the sermon. Friday sermon as a platform for Da`wa The Imam should use the sermon to call people back to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala, remind them of the favours of Allah upon them, and their obligations towards Him. His intention is to strike fear in their hearts, give them hope of the mercy of Allah, and invoke love of Allah and His Messenger (upon him be peace and mercy) in their hearts; in short, to encourage them to abandon disobedience and come into a state of obedience to Allah. Friday sermon as a platform for religious instruction Secondarily, the sermon may be used to impart essential knowledge of the religion that all Muslims should know, such as issues of doctrine which are agreed upon by Othodox Sunni Islam (not controversial issues for which there is a difference of opinion amongst our scholars), what is obligatory and what is prohibited, and some aspects of ritual worship, such as rules of fasting, ritual slaughter etc. Friday Prayer Gathering as a forum for community cohesion and political organisation The gathering of the local Muslim community which takes place every Friday is a unique opportunity to promote the common interests of the community. No other religious community can boast such a large number of its adherents coming together on a weekly basis and sitting silently to listen to their sermon. This is a remarkable opportunity for community action on a local or even coordinated national or global level. For example, many local councils seriously under-represent their Muslim constituents, leading to gross injustices in the distribution of resources to the Muslim community. The Friday (and Eid) gathering should be used as a venue for the community to put forward its candidates as local councillors and present them to the assembled worshippers for election. The candidates in turn will clearly understand that it is the Muslim community that has brought them into power and will effectively represent the interests of the community at local government level. A similar approach can be used for local Members of Parliament etc. It is of the author’s own experience that in his local area, namely Hounslow, there are a large number of Sikh councillors and currently not a single Muslim councillor, despite the fact that the area is teeming with Muslims of Pakistani, Algerian, Somali and other ethnicities. Owing to the fact that elected councillors have ultimate decision-making power in the local council and are able to override decisions made by the planning department, there are a large number of very visible Sikh temples and schools springing up in the area, but attempts of Muslim organisations are often quashed by the local government. Recently, the local council have even had the audacity to announce that there are ‘enough’ Muslim Friday Prayer Gatherings taking place in the area and any new ones will not be allowed! It is pitiful that the huge Muslim community is unable to even find an effective voice against such Islamophobic sentiments. The masjid is the natural place to lead efforts of the local community to insist on representation at local government level. Regrettably, many of our brightest and best second generation educated Muslims who would have been expected to take such leadership positions have been incapacitated by the activism of certain Islamic groups who insist on spreading the idea that participation in the government of this country is tantamount to disbelief. This idea is based on a lack of deep knowledge and understanding of the Quranic message. Other functions of the MasjidThere are many other obligations upon the Muslim community which the masjid can act as the vehicle for fulfilling. However, the most important of these in our situation as Muslims in a non-Muslim land are:
- Encouraging, supporting and financing the study, teaching and research in the Islamic sciences, thus ensuring the preservation of Islam into the next generation and supporting our scholars who are involved in the intellectual jihad of our time
- Providing good quality Islamic primary and secondary education for our children
- Setting up of organisations or sub-committees specifically devoted to outreach missionary work for propagating Islam (Da`wa) to:
- Non-practising Muslims
These organisations or sub-committees should be well funded and ideally consist of salaried missionaries who are paid to devote their time in this most noble of efforts, so that they are able to devise strategies and novel approaches, including the development of da`wamaterials if required (ie pamphlets etc). Nurturing our children in an Islamic worldviewI have mentioned the necessity of providing excellent primary and secondary Muslim schools for the community’s children. Where this is not yet possible, and children are attending non-Muslim schools, the role of the evening madrassah becomes vital in nurturing the children and attempting to save them from the surrounding atheistic, materialistic culture. This is a daunting task. It is unlikely to be accomplished by simply doing what masjids have been doing, which is teaching the children how to read Quran and memorise some Arabic formulas. Teaching them to read Quran is important, but what is more important is to:
- Teach them why we believe in God and why we believe in the Quran as the Final Revelation. They are not growing up in a Muslim country – you cannot assume they will always have faith and never question it. We need to give them the intellectual foundations of our belief to provide them with the antibodies they will need as they are exposed to atheism later on.
- Instil a love in their hearts for Allah and His messenger (upon him be peace and mercy). This may be done by reminding them of the blessings and favours of Allah upon them, and teaching them the biography and character of the Prophet (upon him be peace and mercy)
- Teach them about death, how it is inevitable and how this life is temporary and nothing but an illusion. Teach them about the questioning in the Grave, the Day of Judgement, and Heaven and Hell, in order to focus them on the most important aspect of life which is to prepare for the Hereafter
Importance of salaried staff and sound financial investment of masjid capital Two points require a brief mention. Firstly, our larger masjids should not overly rely upon voluntary workers to carry out some of the essential functions described in this article, as this results in inefficiency, imperfection and lack of commitment. There should be well-paid staff, caretakers, teachers, scholars and Imams who can devote themselves and take responsibility for essential services and missionary work. We just need to glance sideways at how much financing is provided for Christian missionaries worldwide to realise how much we are lacking as a community. Secondly, finances of the masjid should be managed, if need be, by paid consultants so that capital is invested safely for the benefit of the masjid. For example, purchasing properties around the masjid have the desirable effect of providing accommodation for Muslim tenants, building a Muslim community around the masjid and providing a regular income for the masjid. The Masjid as a Centre for Orthodox Sunni Islam Our masjids should insist on the teaching and propagation of Islam as understood by the vast majority of this ummah, ie the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah (Sunni Islam). This tolerant and embracing understanding of Islam has been transmitted in a reliable unbroken chain through the generations until today, and we should be uncompromising in propagating it. The definition of Sunni Islam is those who follow one of the four orthodox schools of Islamic law, or madhabs (ie. the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafa`i and Hanbali schools). Anyone who does not follow one of these schools is not from ahl al-sunnah. This is simply a historical reality that spans over a thousand years of this ummah. Many scholars have written treatises on the necessity of following one of the four Sunni schools of Law in one’s ritual worship and interpersonal transactions. Provision of free literature The masjid should make strenuous efforts to have plentiful amounts of free literature available which explains the doctrines, historical reality and viewpoint of Sunni Islam, and refutes the various sects, innovators and movements which claim to represent authentic Islam but in reality distort it. This literature should be well presented and packaged and available free of charge to the public. Muslims of all sects and denominations should be allowed access to the masjid and its facilities but, under no circumstances, should they be permitted to teach or propagate their deviant understanding and distortion of the message of the Beloved Prophet (upon him be peace and mercy). The early Imams were very clear that innovation in the religion must be opposed intellectually and institutionally. Regional collaboration between Masjids The Sunni masjids of a region should come together at regular intervals to collaborate on issues of importance to the wider community. A pooling of funds may be used to set up Islamic ‘Think-Tanks’ or organisations that have small teams of scholars and intellectuals devoted to Islamic propagation and responding to the myriad intellectual and cultural challenges of the time. These would include the setting up of regional Shariah councils, Fatwa organisations and Islamic Institutes of Higher Education. These are some notes on the subject of the role and function of masjids in Britain which I have put together upon the request of a dear brother . They are not meant to be comprehensive but I hope that some of the more important aspects of the topic have been covered by the permission of Allah the Almighty and Merciful. All praise is due to Him alone and may peace and mercy be eternally upon His Final Messenger. And Allah ta`ala knows best.