Prayer only or a community gathering place...

Assalam alaikum & Peace to all

Something has been in my mind recently about how a mosque is set up and used. First some background of where my ideas have come from. I was raised as a Catholic and as such we were expected to attend Church and with that "Sunday school", which was where you 'learned' about religion and were made into 'good little christians' (anyway you get the idea). After the school you were given cookies and juice and were sent off on your merrily way. The church was a meeting place of sorts, it was a place to meet with family and friends, as well as a place to pray and worship. I always liked the fact that there were programs set up for young and old, that you could go to socialize with like-minded people and perhaps engage in some learning as well - ok this was my ideal place, I know they existed because I've had friends who had a very enriching experience at church - I however did not experience this always -anyway on to my ideas now. I wondered if the Mosque should be such a place? Should it be a place to pray and worship as well as encourage the young and old to be active within the community? The quick answer is 'yes, of course it should be' but then when I think of it more I am hesitant, and my answer becomes... maybe not.
So with that question begins my research into this whole topic of what the mosque should be.
Found this article that seems to cover all my concerns and ideas.

Many people came to the Prophet offering their protection and hospitality. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) gratefully acknowledged their good feelings requesting them to release the leash of his she-camel, for it was directed by Allah to the place where the Prophet was to stay. Finally, the she-camel came to a halt. The Prophet descended and, later on, his Mosque (known in Arabic as: Al-Masjid An-Nabawi) was built at that place.

Thus, two mosques were built within a short period of time. This is a crystal-clear indication to the far-reaching role the mosque has to play in molding the shape of the community that is chosen by Almighty Allah to lead humanity in the spiritual, moral, and social change along the future history of humankind till the world comes to an end.

In his commentary on the Qur'an, Al-Qurtubi, a prominent explanator of the Qur'an wrote extensively on the two verses quoted below, bringing out a wide range of topics related to the mosque.

I shall touch on some of these topics:

The Function of the Mosque

In the Qur'an. There are a number of verses in the Qur'an that stress, most importantly, the spiritual function of the mosque. For example, Almighty Allah says,

(In Houses that Allah has allowed to be exalted and that His name will be remembered therein. Therein, do offer praise to Him, at morning and evening, men whom neither merchandise nor sale beguiles them from the remembrance of Allah and constancy in prayer and paying to the poor their due, men who fear the day on which hearts and eyeballs will be overturned.) (An-Nur 24:36-37)

...The mosques are the places for the regeneration of our spiritual power through prayers, the remembrance of Allah, recital of the Qur'an, and supplications. [According to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)], Mosques are the places the angels frequent most, where peace and tranquility descend upon those who are sitting there reciting and studying the Qur'an.Mosques are also the most suitable places for offering the prayer. They are aloof from the hustle and bustle of the streets, workplaces, or markets. At the mosque, a sense of sanctity and reverence replaces the worry and trouble of daily life. If the mind is troubled outside the mosque, it is at peace inside, for it is in communication with the ultimate source of comfort and spiritual joy.

In the Sunnah. There are different types of Sunnah. Here, the practical Sunnah is the one under discussion...
At Madinah, the Prophet was free to meet with his Companions at any time and in any place. The most suitable venue was the mosque. Since its establishment, the mosque assumed responsibilities that were not previously known to any place of worship. The life of the newly emerging community was gradually taking shape in and through the mosque.

The Prophet's Mosque Roles

The following exhibits, besides being a place for performing the prayers, the significant roles played by the Prophet's Mosque:

The mosque as a center for education. Islam is the religion of learning. Its miracle is a rational miracle; i.e., the Qur'an. The first revealed verses were about learning: reading and writing. There was no school or college to enroll in. The place where those seeking guidance could easily find what they sought was the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

There are many references in which the importance of the mosque as a place of learning is emphasized. Al-Bukhari and Muslim related a story of three people entered the mosque; the Companions were sitting in a circle around the Prophet. One of the three found a place and sat in;, the second sat at the back, while the third went away. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "The first person came forward, so Allah came forward to him. The second was shy, so Allah did not wish to embarrass him. The third turned away, so Allah turned away from him." No moral, spiritual incentive to learn could be more touching than such a parable.

The mosque as a shelter for the homeless. Many Muslims who migrated with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were single, homeless, and destitute. They were lodged in the mosque. They were known as the people of Suffah. Abu Hurairah was one of them. Also, when `Abdullah ibn Umar was young and single, the mosque was his bedroom. Moreover, the great mosques in the Muslim cities served as hostels for Muslim travelers.

The mosque as a nursing home. Rufaydah, one of the pious Companions of Prophet Muhammad, used to nurse sick people in the Prophet's Mosque. In her tent in the Mosque, she nursed Sa`d ibn Mu`adh, until he passed away.

The mosque as a place of entertainment on special occasions. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged that marriage be contracted and celebrated in the mosque. Furthermore, he allowed the Abyssinians to perform a folklore dance and `A'ishah was leaning on his shoulder and watching their performance.

These were among the most important roles the mosque played in molding the shape of the Muslim nation. Those roles continued in one way or another all through the Islamic history. Great mosques are still famous for their academic history: the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Al-Azhar Mosque, Az-Zaytouna Mosque, and Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque — the latter being the center of learning where great non-Muslim a lumnus like Pope Sylvester II, [who is credited with introducing the use of Arabic numerals and the concept of zero to Europe], studied.

Read the complete article here

Ok so it seems that historically the Mosque was used as a prayer place, school and a meeting place. Now, the real question is if this should be true today or not? We have schools, and meeting places do we really have to make the Mosque into something that we may not need? Here is my personal opinion on it. The Mosque should be a center and meeting place for Muslims, all of them, men, women and children. I think it would be great to go back and have the Mosque be a vibrant part of the community. The only thing is that I don't think that can happen. Somehow setting up a Mosque to be friendly to women and children is a major undertaking... can't understand why but that's how it is. How many Mosques do not even have a place for women let alone a place to accomodate children. Now who's fault is that? We can play the blaming game, but that will not get anyone anywhere, maybe we should try and focus energy into changing the 'norm' and include women and children. I also realize that there are many cultural deterents to overcome - those would have to be addressed first. This is why I don't think the Mosque can be something other than a place for worship, at most a place of learning. I also know that men are known to 'congregate' at the Mosque and engage in more than worship or learning, they make it a 'meeting place' - almost like a social club. I don't agree with doing that, either go there to learn or pray but don't go there to 'socialize' - there are many other places that that can be done. Until there can be a good balance between worship and learning and is welcoming to all I think the Mosque should be for praying only - Inshallah I will experience this one day or at least find a Mosque that is attempting to be someting for all the community!

Comments, views are as always welcomed!!


erin said...

Asalaam alaikum,
The masjid I go to is masha'Allah actually functioning very well as a place for prayer and community center. We have the musalah, very nice sections for both men, women, and kid-friendly, and then there are classrooms, a gym, a kitchen, and office, even a special room downstairs for washing and preparing a body of burial. I think it is very important to have this kind of 'community center' feel because sometimes people get drawn into the masjid for events or classes, and then end up becoming attached and learning so much and strengthening their iman. Every Saturday we go to the masjid, beginning with the prayer, then there are ladies and mens halaqas, and the kids have gym-time, and then there is a lot of food served and we are all at the masjid for hours alhamdulillah. And its not the only one, there are other masjids in my area that are similar to this alhamdulillah. Just to let you know it IS possible and it's really great in my opinion :)

Aalya said...

wa alaikum assalam
I am so happy to hear that there is such a place! I only wish that there would be more effort to make more Mosques like that! If you don't mind are you in N. America? (I can understand if you don't want to reveal your location) Was just curious... I think there is a trend to build such places in N. America - mashallah hope that it will continue!

erin said...

Yes I live in Vancouver, Canada - alhamdulillah I think you're right, there is a trend to have the masjid as a real community center, esp since we are a minority its essential for bringing the community together here. Of course, we also host big outdoor BBQ's and other events at parks, or renting out halls for big dinners etc.

Hajar said...

Likewise to Erin, the mosques here mostly function as a prayer place as well as a community center, although I have yet to find one that actually has a gym. In my primary school and religious classes, we actually have mosques within the school grounds. Sure remember having fond memories there. ^^


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