Purpose of Mosques today

The writer, Sh Dr Imranali Panjwani (Chelmsford, UK) is a Senior Lecturer in Law, Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, UK and Head of Diverse Legal Consulting.

8 principles from Imam Ali (a.s) as a benchmark to see if our centres are successful or not

One of the constant questions by most, if not all generations of Muslims as societies change and develop, is how we should define the purpose of mosques and Islamic centres. Whilst a mosque (masjid), etymologically, is a place of prostration and therefore is fundamentally associated with worshipping God, an Islamic centre can be broader and include a variety of social activities catered for a particular community. What both institutions have in common is that they are geared towards constructing activities that guide people towards God, rather than away from Him.

Given that we live in a time whereby technological, demographical and moral change is occurring at a rapid rate, we are faced with several challenges. For example, why should people attend a mosque or Islamic centre if all lectures and educational activities are online? If all types of opinions about our faith can be accessed on YouTube, what is the need to restrict the audience to one speaker only? How can a centre provide a meaningful spiritual, moral and intellectual experience for youngsters if their needs are catered for by other institutions in society? Should speakers charge for their majlis when people can access knowledge for free online? And many more questions.

Perhaps an answer to the above challenges is to re-examine the conception of the masjid at the time of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and thereafter. What was our beloved Prophet trying to establish when helping to build arguably the first mosque in Islam, Masjid al-Quba, in Madinah in 622 C.E? One may cite several reasons stemming from the Qur’an and history itself. A few suffice. Firstly, to transform society from polytheism to monotheism: “And [He revealed] that the masjids are for Allah , so do not invoke with Allah anyone” (72:18).

Secondly, to establish a pattern of Godly and moral conduct for members of that society that would purify their souls and actions: “The mosques of Allah are only to be maintained by those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and establish prayer and give zakah and do not fear except Allah , for it is expected that those will be of the [rightly] guided” (9:18) and “do not stand [for prayer] within it – ever. A mosque founded on righteousness from the first day is more worthy for you to stand in. Within it are men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves” (9:108). All these verses show that a masjid was formed to purify people’s beliefs and deeds so that society would move un-Godliness to Godliness. But specifically how was this done?

When we examine narrations pertaining to the conception of a masjid, we may be pleasantly surprised to see the kind of activities and patterns of behaviour that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and his family setup. In fact, we can assess whether we are following these patterns in our mosques or have moved away from them.

In one important narration recorded in our earliest hadith compilations, it states the following:“The Commander of the Faithful used to say: one who frequently visits mosques acquires one of eight things – a beneficial brother who is near to God, the Mighty and Exalted, rare knowledge, an unambiguous verse [of the Qur’an], an expectant mercy, words that ward off ruin, hearing words which guide him towards that which is right or to abandon a sin out of fear [of God] or shame.”?[1]

[1] Al-?ad?q, Shaykh., Man L? Ya??uruh al-Faq?h, vol.1, p.237, hadith no. 713 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr alIsl?m?, 1413). Also found in: Al-?ad?q, Shaykh, Am?l? al-?ad?q, p. 389, hadith no. 16 (Qum: Maktabat al-Islamiyyah, 1404); Al-?ad?q, Shaykh, Al-Khi??l, vol. 2, p. 409, hadith no. 10 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr al-Isl?m?, 1403); Al-Tusi, Shaykh., Tahdh?b al-Ahk?m, vol. 3, p. 248, hadith no.1 (Tehran: D?r al-Kutub al-Isl?miyyah, 1365); Al-Tusi, Shaykh., Am?l? al-T?s?, p. 432, hadith no. 969 (Qum: D?r al-Thiq?fat lil-Nashr, 1414); Al-Harr?ni, ?asan ibn Shu’bah, Tu?af al-‘Uq?l, p. 235 (Qum: Mu’assasa al-Nashr al-Isl?m?, 1404); N?r?, Mirz? ?usayn. Mustadrak al-Was?’il wa Mustanba? al-Mas?’il, vol. 3, p.359, no. 3778 (Qum: Mu’assasa ?l al-Bayt, 1408); Al-Amil?, al-?urr, Was?il al-Shi’a, vol. 5, p. 197, hadith no. 6320 (Qum: Mu’assasa Aal al-Bayt, 1409); Al-Majlis?, Mu?ammad B?qir. Bi??r al-Anw?r, vol. 80, p.351, no. 4 (Tehran: D?r al-Kutub al-Isl?m?yyah, 1404). In al-Khi??l, Shaykh al-?ad?q states that‘Al? b. Ab? ??lib (a.s) directly heard the narration from Prophet Mu?ammad (s.a.w). In Tu?af al-‘Uq?l, the narration is also attributed to al-?asan ibn ‘Al? (a.s). In Mustadrak al-Was?’il wa Mustanba? al-Mas?’il, Mirz? ?usayn N?r? mentions that al-?asan ibn ‘Al? (a.s) directly heard the saying from Prophet Mu?ammad (s.a.w). There may be slight variations in the chain in some of the above and other hadith compilations.

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