Written by Kaighla Um Dayo
I’ll just say this out loud: I miss church.
When I say “church”, I mean the evangelical, Protestant Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night gatherings at the church building with people to worship God.
(side note: Former Catholics, we understand church probably was far less fun and lively, and Theresa doesn’t miss Mass ONE BIT.)
Many converts who come to Islam from a Protestant, and specifically evangelical background, are terribly disappointed upon entering the fold of Islam and finding attendance at the masjid (mosque) … well, it just doesn’t compare.
Although some of the reasons the experience can’t be duplicated are practical ones (e.g. not mixing with the opposite sex, music being a point of debate, etc.), we would like to put forth the idea that Muslims in charge of the running of masajid (mosques) could really learn a lot if they ever attended a church.
DISCLAIMER: WE ARE NOT TELLING YOU TO WORSHIP JESUS. Calm down. Also, we understand that not all churches are inclusive, welcoming, etc. and not all masajid are guilty of the opposite.
1. Parishioners’ Care
Get sick or break a bone, or even have a baby, and there will be people literally tripping over themselves coming to your place to offer you an abundance of food, help cleaning up the place, and taking your kids somewhere cool to give you a break for a few hours.
Sure, if you happen to be a member of a prominent family in the masjid or if your dad or husband is the head of the masjid, you may get the VIP treatment, but for the most part, good luck having anyone even know you are not well.
2. Youth Groups
SURPRISE! Teens and tweens actually enjoy being somewhere wherein they are given attention and are able to enjoy hanging out with their friends.
Youth Groups at churches have games they enjoy, soda they like drinking, topics that actually apply to their lives being discussed, and adults who offer non-judgmental guidance and advice.
Imagine if we welcomed the youth like this in our masajid instead of acting like the masjid should only be a place for severe and stern behavior. We would have a whole new generation of engaged and practicing Muslims whose hearts are tied to the masjid.
3. Toddler Nurseries
Go to any church in America right now that’s got an attendance size bigger than 100 people and you will find something peculiar happening: there are NO SCREAMING, RUNNING TODDLERS IN THE WORSHIP HALL. This is no accident.
BOTH MEN AND WOMEN volunteer in a cyclical schedule to watch the munchkins, partying with them, feeding them snacks, and playing games with them away from worshipers so that mom and dad can focus, as well as the innocent bystanders.
No one person or group of people is burdened with the job of watching alllll the kids. And it’s not all “please SISTERS keep your kids quiet!“. Churches understand the impossibility of this and are set up to welcome parents and children alike.
4. Caring about The Poor
One of the things I miss the most about church is how much the message of caring for the poor and downtrodden is central to the mission of the church. There are many, many events and happenings going on through the church to reach out to the homeless, the sick, the poverty-stricken, and even, *GASP*, the drug addicts in the world.
Masajid, by and large, have failed to help even those in need in their own communities, much less the downtrodden outside of their communities. But every Muslim knows that “Whatever you spend of good is [to be] for parents and relatives and orphans and the needy and the traveler.” (Quran 2:215) Notice there is NO mention of only if the relative, orphans, the needy or traveler are in your community and ascribe to your faith.
5. WOMEN Have a Voice
In any church in the USA, women are on staff, on boards, organizing projects, and participating in their own community.
Do we need to say this out loud again? Muslim women are not included often enough in any runnings of a masjid, and it’s appalling. Sure, no one minds relying on them to volunteer for the cleaning and cooking for Eid and such, but watch a woman try to hold a position in the governing board…
The Prophet (PBUH) sought counsel from women. Shocked? You shouldn’t be; it was a regular occurrence because stuff affects women, too. Women are more than half of the community and most converts are women. But when our masajid leave women out, they are working with one hand tied behind their back. For a community to be whole, a community needs to include the whole community.
Churches have staff: actual live people who are paid to take care of the administration, funeral services, wedding organization, gardening, building upkeep, counseling, pastoral care, etc. Everything functions well and no one is overburdened.
The majority of masajid in America do not allocate finances to employ more than one person. (Notice we said allocate. It’s about priorities.) This one person is usually an imam, and all the work of funerals, weddings, divorces, counseling, teaching in the community, etc. falls on his shoulders. He receives atrocious pay and the community demands that he be available day and night. It’s not a wonder why it’s so hard to speak to a live person on the phone when you call a masjid, let alone one who speaks and understands English.
7. Churches LOVE New-comers
Walk into a church right now, regardless of your religion, and you will be welcomed with open arms by the elders and many of the youth. Many churches even have a dedicated welcoming committee whose job is to welcome … everyone.
Contrast that with walking into any random masjid. First, you’ll have to find the correct, unlocked entrance, wander around looking for the wudu station, and when you arrive in the musallah, you’ll be immediately judged for what you are wearing/not wearing/wearing “incorrectly”, the color of your skin, and the language you speak/don’t speak. And that is if you are not turned away for not being the right nationality or just plain ole’ being female.
The masjid was never meant to be the somber tomb it is today. It began as the central hub of the Muslim community, wherein … well, life happened. It is sad to say that more churches resemble our tradition than masajid do.
Muslims have an excellent blueprint for the responsibilities of the masjid in the actions of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). All it takes is a commitment to returning to our roots and bringing those roots into the 21st century, and a dedication to actually learning what they did in the first place.
This piece is entirely from the perspective and experience of, Kaighla, as a previously very active member of the Evangelical church movement, Bible college student, and Missionary. If your masjid is on top of the game and is getting things done (or your org, like this one in Brooklyn), please, please, let us know in the comments section! We will be so thrilled to be proven wrong.
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