The Role of Mosques
Horace Walpole once wrote, “The world is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.” Well, when I think of the mosques we have in Singapore today, I do not know whether to laugh or cry. In the aftermath of 9/11, perhaps no other place of worship has become more politicised than the mosque, its role seemingly forced to change to accept modern-day sensibilities.
Those belonging from the older generation here in this secular city-state will no doubt realise the stark differences between the traditional mosques of yesteryear and the current hybrid of mosques-cum-community centres, not just in terms of mosque architecture and building design, but also with regards to the activities carried out within the mosque.
Today’s mosques no longer serve ‘merely’ as places of prayer (because let’s face it, there’s so much more to do in life than just praying), but also function as “active nodes in the national grid” that “contribute to community and social development”. (MUIS, 2011)
When I speak to some of the older folks in the community, naturally more resistant to the breaking of traditions compared to the rest of us, I sense a certain degree of resentment with the slew of changes that are being proposed and implemented. I once spoke to a middle-aged Pakistani man who said he would not donate to the new mosque in Sengkang, because it looked nothing like a mosque. I’ve heard murmurs of discontent from the elderly seated at the back of the prayer hall whenever the khutbah is delivered in English, or worse, like a half-baked Science lesson.
[pullquote_left]Will chaos ensue with the current direction taken by the progressive, modern mosque, to be more open, tolerant and inclusive?[/pullquote_left]
The young, I fear, have lost the decorum needed when attending congregational prayers at the mosque, partly because older congregation members prefer to remain quiet than admonish them, under the false defense that to do so would scare them away from the mosque, causing greater damage. If you think I’m being dramatic, sit anywhere near groups of students during Jumaah prayers, and observe what they do while the khatib delivers his sermon. The days of canes hanging from mosque walls, ready to test the stubbornness of rowdy boys, are sadly long gone.
But am I barking up the wrong tree here? Will chaos ensue with the current direction taken by the progressive, modern mosque, to be more open, tolerant and inclusive? At the recent Mosque Convention 2011, Haji Alami Musa, the president of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) exhorted for mosque leaders to ‘have empathy and feelings towards people who need help’.[quote]”Even if the young person has tattoos on his body, or a lady with very modern clothes, never mind. Our job and our role as mosque leaders are to emphatise and give as much help as possible. That is most important,” he said.[/quote]
Perhaps, to truly understand what is ‘important’, we should refer to the Holy Quran, which has set clear guidelines on the role of the mosque, the house of Allah. There are three criteria which the mosque should meet (or any other Islamic institution wanting to stay true to the faith for that matter).
The first is that the mosque has a “foundation (that) was laid from the first day on piety (taqwa)” (Surah at-Taubah verse 108). It would be pointless to fill the mosque with a flurry of programs meant for everyone, whether young or old, if these programs are not formulated on the basis of inculcating taqwa in its participants. In fact, some of these programs are even guilty of relegating solah (prayers) as a secondary activity, when clearly solah has been proven to be an effective program for its inculcation.[pullquote_right]Perhaps that’s why the mosques of old never had programs which sought to educate its congregation on healthy living or good financial planning. They all were too busy praying.[/pullquote_right]
The next criterion is that the main activity of the mosque be the prayer, and that all other activities revolve around this hallowed practice. I’m no linguist of Arabic, but I’m tempted to think that the words ‘masjid‘ and ‘sajada‘, or prostration, share a common root, and are thus inextricably linked.
I’m also no sociologist, but I strongly believe that all the ills facing the Muslim community today, from broken families to delinquent youth can be nipped in the bud if we worked harder at bringing true Islamic education to our kids (brimstone and fire, anyone?) Perhaps that’s why the mosques of old never had programs which sought to educate its congregation on healthy living or good financial planning. They all were too busy praying.
The third and final criterion deals with those who attend and maintain the mosque. The Quran states in verse 18 of Surah at-Taubah that they meet certain conditions: “The mosques of God shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayers, and practice regular charity, and fear none (at all) except God. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance.”
Needless to say, the mosque, the meta-institution of the Muslim ummah, must be seen as much more than just a physical structure with modern architecture, equipped with the latest green building technology. Those who frequent and manage it must be people who are pious and God-fearing, qualities which are unfortunately seen as obsolete in the current corporate world clamouring for professional executive schemes and ‘quality’ assurances.
Until and unless this is done, the mosque will simply evolve to become a hangout for social gatherings and idle talk. People who frequent the mosque will speak in slogans, and readily borrow unislamic standards from elsewhere, to the continued ignorance of the masses of Muslims.
Granted, a mosque such as this may become more ‘popular’ and feature more heavily in the lives of everyday people, but its role will surely be deviated from that which Allah SWT and His Messenger (saw) had intended. Wallahualam.[divider] References:
- Holy Quran, Surah at-Taubah
- MUIS Media Statement Mosque Convention 2011
- Mosque leaders urged to be open and inclusive, The Straits Times, 5th December 2011
- Parable of Masjid Dhirar, Ustaz Zhulkeflee Haji Ismail
Shahnawaz Abdul Hamid
The writer blogs about football, politics and religion at www.hayatshah.com. He is currently writing a book about his experiences meeting Muslims in Cambodia and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.