NEED to make.
Before reading this, I ask that anyone whom I might be inadvertently addressing remember one simple fact: This is intended as nothing but naseeha (sincere advice) from a brother in Islam. I know that I often come across as abrasive and blunt in my criticisms, but I implore my readers to please consider that my motivations are, to the best of my ability, pure, and stem from nothing other than a desire to see a thriving, successful Muslim community in the West.
So, without further ado, I present to you all what I consider to be the most pressing reforms that American Mosques need to make:
BE TRULY OPEN TO EVERYONE:
We’ve all heard it a million times from you brothers who run American Mosques: “We are open to everyone! Salafi, Sufi, Ikhwani, it doesn’t matter!” But I regret to have to inform you all that a simple investigation into your speaker roster, and a glance over the books in the Masjid library tells another story. There we see only one understanding of Islam is permitted, and that is the understanding coming out of the Najd region of Saudi Arabia.
Allow me to digress for a moment. -It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of the Salafi movement, and I further feel that this particular brand is totally out of touch with the American Muslim experience. I am not ashamed to hide my true feelings on the matter. However, I am not so naïve as to think that the Salafi Dawah is going away any time soon. The average Muslim in the states often times cannot even differentiate between Salafism and Orthodox Islam (Often erroneously referred to as “Sufism”), and wouldn’t know how to properly filter even if they were able to differentiate, (nor would they if they had the capability, as the seductive –and I feel, deceptive- call to the “pristine Islam of the righteous forbearers” –as it’s practitioners allege- is far too alluring to the untrained masses).
Thus, I will admit, those of us who were guided to see through what I personally consider the façade of Salafism are not doing ourselves a service when we become outraged every time a Salafi speaker is invited to the Masjid (often at the exclusion of Orthodox scholars and preachers). The key to reform here is moderation in our call. From my end, and from the end of those that are likeminded, I say this: Let us not demand that Salafism be barred from our Masajid, as this, aside from being unrealistic, will only fuel the flames of division within the community. Let us instead insist that American Masajid stay true to their claims of being open to everyone.
And that’s the end of my digression: To our Mosque board members and Masjid-key-players, I also beg of you to ask yourselves, what is so wrong with letting the people hear both sides of the argument? If you are really on the truth, then you should have nothing to hide. The Orthodox Muslims are (or at least should be) completely open, and we hope that those who hold an opposing view are equally as open (especially if you are claiming that your Masjid is truly ‘open to everyone’). What we want is fairness, and to insist that Muslims live up to what they say are their principals.
What we want is a true inclusiveness that is within reason. If your Masjid is claiming it’s open to everyone, then make sure that it is. Make sure the speakers on the roster and the books in the library give the views of all parties, groups, or even sects –if that is what you want to call them, that adhere to love of God, His Prophet, and the family and companions of the Prophet, be they Salafi, Orthodox (what some call Sufi), or Ikhwaani.
I am not suggesting, obviously, that every Tom, Dick, and Harry be allowed to give religious instruction. I know this inclusiveness will (and should) have it’s limits. Extremists on all sides of the aisle should be avoided, people who create a fanatical environment for the truth, as well as those groups which Salafi’s, Orthodox Muslims, and Ikhwaani alike would all agree are deviant, such as Qadiani’s, Rawafidh, Hadith-rejectors, and the like. But beyond that, we can be more open than we have been in the past, and it’s a goal I humbly request you work toward.
STOP BEGGING FOR MONEY
Seriously. Stop it. Your congregants are not an endless well of funding, and no successful business model can function on donations alone. I find it rather odd that most of the board members of American Mosques are businessmen, but yet cannot seem to grasp this basic concept. We –the congregants- don’t mind giving from our wealth in the initial phases of Mosque construction, but once the musaleh (prayer room) is built, it’s time for you to start thinking of ways to make money that don’t include begging.
Buy a strip mall and rent it out. Start a Shari’ah compliant bank. Get into real estate. Or any of 100 things you can do that don’t involve harassing people every 6 months for the cash they’ve worked hard for and that you for some reason feel entitled to. Truth be told, we –your congregants- have donated a lot already, and we don’t mind continuing to give within reason. But these 200,000$ fundraisers every time we turn around are getting old.
I mean, seriously, do any of you board members ever stop to think about how exorbitant fundraisers could lead to divisions within the community? Fundraisers asking for insane amounts of cheddar make the lower-middle class and poor people (you know, 90% of your congregation) feel like crap. People that make under 30,000 a year and got kids to feed really start to feel undervalued, like they aren’t real contributors when they hear you asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that is unfair. They have a lot to offer. Many of them may not be able to give money, but they donate time, effort, talent, and their own personal skill set to the Masjd.
They are the ones that paint your walls, install your speaker system, run your website, fix the plumbing, clean, and keep the daily operations moving along (and often times, they do it for free, at cost, or under-market value at your insistence). By ending a khutbah three or four times a year with an auction-like donation drive, in which the bidding starts absurdly high and ends low sends an important subliminal message: The people who are really of value to us are the moneymakers. (And usually –but of course not always- these moneymakers do the least amount of volunteer work to boot, yet many Masajid give them preferential treatment because of their financial contributions). The only way to prevent this unfair treatment is to end these insane donation drives wherein the value of people is determined by how lavishly they are willing to spend.
It is time for you to find another way to get the money you need for Mosque projects. Seriously.
USE THE MONEY YOU ARE GIVEN TO DO SOMETHING THAT REALLY MATTERS
And while we’re talking about money, I have to say, I rarely agree with what you’re doing with it once you get it. I know, I know, who am I, right? I, like the majority of your congregants only gave a couple hundred bucks, and what’s worse, I gave it in secret so that, in your mind, I don’t help the Masjid at all and thus don’t deserve a say. But, nevertheless, I object to how you’re blowing through my money.
I mean, how many renovations do we REALLY need? How many thousands of dollars should truly be spent on that gold dome and the huge minarets? Do we really have to have a dining hall for guests? Can’t we just be simple and let our guests eat like we eat, in the prayer hall? Are there not more beneficial things we can be spending our money on? Oh, like what, you ask? Well, I’m glad you put that question to me, because I have a few suggestions:
Suggestion #1: Let’s REALLY help the needy:
How about we put a big chunk of money in a savings account, and give generously to those Muslims in need? Wouldn’t it be nice to give someone more than the bare minimum when they are in such a difficulty that they have to ask –usually with a heart full of shame- for a helping hand from their friends and neighbors? I mean, sure, we can continue giving people just enough to keep their head above water so that they will just be in the same situation again in a few months, but I don’t think we’ll be getting any generosity ribbons anytime soon operating on that methodology. It seems like we would really be accomplishing something if we gave someone in need enough to completely and truly get him/her back on their feet for good.
Not to mention, Islamic Sacred Texts are replete with reminders about the rewards God gives for charity, and those rewards include an increase in the wealth of those that give, so, if you’re claiming to be an organization that is representing the Islamic faith, then I suggest that you have faith in the idea that if you focus more on charity, you might not have to ask for money so much. Your institutions’ wealth might just increase all on it’s own were you to be a little more generous to those in need. Just saying.
(And in a similar vein, ‘those in need’ includes our own Imams and Shaykhs that are often shamefully underpaid. Some of this money needs to go toward equitable salaries for those giving us ‘ilm).
Suggestion #2: A Muslim convert “debt relief” program:
Another idea: You know, a lot of converts come into Islam with massive amounts of riba-based debts hanging over their heads. Wouldn’t it be nice of us to be able to pay off most or all of that debt for them, so that they can focus on the deen? I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of Muslim converts in such dire straits due to debt that they have to take on 2nd or even 3rd jobs, which leaves them absolutely no time to learn their religion. The result of that is, of course, that they ultimately get so wrapped up in trying to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in, that they lose focus, and ultimately fall back into their old lifestyle, never to be seen at the Masjid again. Considering that it is frowned upon to have debts in Islam (Debt affects everything from being able to make Hajj, to your state in the afterlife), I would figure it would be a good idea to follow the Prophetic example of paying off the whole –or nearly the whole- of the riba-based debts that converts come into Islam with.
(I would add to this: We also could use a fund that would go toward paying for converts to go abroad and study the religion, as we are desperately in need of American Muslim leadership, but perhaps that’s another suggestion for another day).
Suggestion #3: Let’s get serious about media:
My final idea: Get a professional audio-visual program. You need it, even if you don’t think you do. To make my case I present to you a story: I was talking to a videographer friend of mine who works for one of the medium-to-large sized Churches in my city. I was curious how much his Church spent on their audio visual department, so I asked him. His response to me was flabbergasting. He informed me that his church uses several 40,000$ cameras, and top of the line audio and video editing software. They have a professional lighting system shining down on the preacher, and they have 3 paid videographers and roughly 40 volunteers manning the whole audio-visual ship. This is not a mega-church that airs it’s sermons on television channels, mind you. It is nothing more than a decent sized church down the street from the neighborhood I grew up in. (Note: We have mosques thirty minutes down the road bigger than this Church, with NO audio visual program).
That, and that alone, my friends, is how the Churches in the Southern U.S. are staying full and even attracting converts despite the fact that Christianity is on the decline everywhere else in the world. It’s all about the power of media and how seriously they take it. American Mosques are shamefully behind the times in this respect, and it’s time we change that.
Just imagine the possibilities were American Islamic institutions and Mosques to make media and audio/visual programs a priority. The khutbahs filmed by a professional audio-visual department could be distributed as dawah, and DVD’s and CD’s can be sold to raise money for the Masjid (which goes back to my second point up there, about finding ways to raise money without fundraising). And believe me, if the DVD’s and CD’s are professional, and your khateeb is a decent speaker, people will buy it in droves. For proof, look no further than your local mega-church, as this is one of their main sources of renewable income.
Admittedly, this point is a personal one for me. Being a professional videographer myself, and having worked for an international Satellite T.V. channel, I honestly thought that once I returned to the states after my year long sojourn in Egypt that local Mosques would be falling all over me to hire me for my services. Perhaps I overestimated the Muslims’ desire to 1) be professional, and 2) propagate Islam in the best manner, because only one Masjid benefited from my expertise in this field (and may God bless them for their far-sightedness), but even then I was only hired on a very limited basis. I only mention this to drive the point home. If no Masjid makes use of my expertise, but nevertheless were to hire someone better and more qualified than me, I would be thrilled because I honestly think this is a step that American Masjids need to take, regardless of whether it benefits me personally or not. On the real.
This concludes my thoughts on the general reforms needed in American Masajid, and I hope that it is beneficial and that at least some of the advice is heeded by our leadership. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that if even half of this advice is implemented, we will not only see an increase in Mosque attendance, but in conversions, community cohesion, spiritual advancement among the congregants, and general success for the American Muslims. If there is any good in this article, then it is from the Almighty, and if there are any mistakes, then they are mine alone. Thank you for reading.