Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Occupy the Mosques

I was shocked when a mosque I attended for its activism turned passive after embarking upon a pricey expansion project. But it was only recently that the full ramifications of its decision hit me, and that too, like a ton of bricks.

It happened one day last month. I was perusing the Internet when I ran into an image of a young Iraqi boy sleeping in the fetus position on a wooden floor next to a chalk drawing he had made of his mother. "Mama," as he had written in Arabic next to her, had recently been killed in the Iraq War.

I stared somberly at the image of the boy, who looked about the same age as my youngest child. The picture may or may not be authentic, but it put a face to the very real suffering I knew was happening around the world.

Oh, God! I thought. This poor orphan is the cost of us not lifting our voices against oppression! Our mosques have turned so selfish, busy constructing expensive buildings, schools and playgrounds while becoming silent spectators to suffering, intentionally foregoing any talk that would stir up controversy or alienate donors.

In this blessed month of Rabi-ul-Awwal--in which we celebrate the birth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S)--it is high time we take a step back and study the role of the mosque, or "House of God on earth," vis-a-vis the mission of the Prophet (S).

God says: "We sent aforetime Our apostles with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and Balance, that men may stand forth in social justice." (Quran 57: 25)

Establishing peace and justice on earth for the pleasure of God has been the goal of all the prophets, and as followers of the Last Prophet (S), it must be ours as well. The mosque is one of the many tools to aid us in this pursuit, and by no means should it become the very reason a community stops its struggle against oppression.

It was in the mosque that Prophet Muhammad (S) exhibited our responsibility towards the distressed, according to scholar Abbas Ayleya. While leading congregational prayers one day, the Prophet (S) suddenly started reciting the verses faster than usual. When questioned by his Companions later, he replied, "Did you not hear the baby crying?"

It is by no coincidence, I suppose, that one of the lone voices exposing and decrying oppression comes from a makeshift mosque on the footpath of the Islamic Center in Washington. Muhammad Al-Asi, who was elected imam of the Islamic Center thirty years ago, was kicked out for his political views two years later and has been leading Friday prayers outdoors ever since. 

"We are meant to have justice done in this world," says Al-Asi, who is also author of the Ascendant Quran, the first exegesis of the holy book directly into English. "This is what the Prophet's (S) history is about, this is what the Quran is about."

It is vital that we have a correct understanding of Islam so that we are able to keep to the straight path. Indeed, we've been warned that many will lose their way.

Ali, husband of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) said: "A time will come when nothing will remain of the Quran except its script, and nothing of Islam except its name. The mosques in those days will be flourishing with regard to architecture, but desolate with regard to guidance."

Among others, twentieth-century poet Allama Iqbal tried to get us back on the right track:

Meri zindigi ka maqsad teri deen ki sarfarazi,
Isliye main Musulmaan, isliye main namazi

My life's purpose is the establishment of a just social system
This is why I am a Muslim, this is why I pray


Machi said...


Coming from Iraq and recently visiting my country, seeing the orphans broke my heart -- so glad you posted this. Will share, thank you Salina.


Salina Khan said...

Thank you, Aseel. You should also write something about your experience.

xavier said...

Asalaam alaikum,

This subject is so very true when you look at the one of the most expensive mosques built in Morocco, Hassan II Mosque (how do you name a mosque after a king, by the way?), yet that country is steeped in corruption, religious persecution of Shias, has one of the worst human rights' records, treats their women poorly and has poverty on a scale unmatched by the so-called Western tourist gate to Africa.

Muslims needs to be vigilant that we do not become like the Roman Catholics with their intricate Gothic designs of architecture built for the world to see, while their parishioners face hardship the world over. Nor do we need to build a Vatican City flourishing in revenues when the largest continent of Christians, Africa, is war-torn and suffers from famine.

Yet, we risk it with the modern day Hejaz, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Look at Mecca itself: a place full of Western influences and yet, stock full of the same radical Wahhabi clerics and religious persecutors. A country full of oil revenues that goes out of its' way to treat women like a lower class of human. Was this not the same of As-Shams, As-Shams, As-Shams? No doubt the comparisons to the criminal Yazid (la) are in order here.

As for now in the West, Muslims should not get fascinated or emboldened in pride to see minarets that reach to the skies, but should be concerned about the foundation itself: that we as people cannot construct concrete houses when the rest of the world is on fire. All that would serve to do is make us prisoners of our own oven, both here and in the hereafter.