In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Jumu’ah Khutbah/Friday Congregational Sermon
The Role of the Masjid in the Twenty First Century: Part One
Claremont Main Road Masjid
Friday 9th March 2012/16th Rabi` al-Thani 1433
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
On Sunday 18 March, 2012, the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) will be convening its Annual General Meeting (AGM). It is therefore expedient for us to be focusing on the changing role of the masjid in the twenty first century. Since the topic is vast I would like to divide my reflections into two parts. In this first khutbah, I would like to remind us of the central and multi-faceted role the masjid should play in the lives of Muslims. I will also provide some guidelines on
adab al masjid i.e. the decorum, etiquette and proper behavior to be observed in order to respect the sanctity of the masjid. In the second khutbah, I shall endeavor to make some modest suggestions as to how each one of us can make a contribution to revitalizing the role of the masjid in light of the globalizing conditions of the 21st century. I shall propose that by harnessing the three critical ethico-moral Islamic concepts of shura, nizam, and sadaqah jariyah, the masjid as an institution will better able to live up to its dynamic role.
The central message I would like to convey in the khutbatayn is three-fold:
Importance of the Masjid
The Arabic word masjid literally means a “place for prostration (sujud).” The sujud represents the most important posture in the Muslim ritual prayer, the salah, in which the forehead of the worshipper gracefully touches the ground in a supreme act of submission and surrender before God.
Notwithstanding the fact that salah, can be performed anywhere, since the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) informed us that the whole world is a masjid, we are taught through the noble examples of Prophet Abraham and his son Prophet Isma`il (peace be upon both of them) that to set apart special and dedicated places of worship for God, is a praiseworthy offering. In Surah Al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 127, Allah, the Sublime proclaims:
وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
When Ibrahim and Isma`il raised the foundations of the House of God: (they made the following prayer): Our Lord! Accept from us (this house that we have dedicated for your worship); Surely, Thou art All-Hearing, All-Knowing (Q2:127)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) clearly understood the great importance and value of establishing masajid (plural of masjid) and so he encouraged us in an authentic tradition (hadith) reported by `Uthman ibn `Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) that:
Whoever builds a masjid, seeking through it God’s grace,
God will reward him with a dwelling in Heaven (Bukhari & Muslim)
What greater encouragement and motivation can we have for establishing and patronizing a masjid than these clear and unequivocal words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). To underscore the great importance of his words one of the first things the Prophet (pbuh) did shortly after arriving in Madina, after being freed from the Makkan persecution, was to build a masjid at a place called Quba.
Multi-faceted Role of the Masjid
The masjid has a multi-faceted role in Islam and should be the centre and the fulcrum around which the life of a conscientious Muslim revolves. I would like to briefly elaborate on what I regard to be the three most important functions of the masjid.
1. Masjid as a Place for Prayer & Worship
Undoubtedly, the most important function of the masjid as its name denotes is a place for prostrating in prayer and worshipping God. In this regard, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) counseled us to gather together at the masjid to perform salah as much as we can in congregation (jama`at). In order to encourage us to do so he taught us that God grants a greater reward to someone who prays in congregation in the masjid than someone who makes the obligatory salah alone at home. Moreover, the Prophet (pbuh) himself used to dedicate small portions of his time to enter into i`tikaf i.e. spiritual retreat in the masjid more especially during the final ten days of the fasting month of Ramadan.
The most important masjid event is the weekly Friday congregational prayer service (jumu`ah), which has been made an obligatory duty on the believers. It ensures that Muslims visit the masjid at least once a week. In this regard, Allah, the Sublime, proclaims in Surah al-Jumu`ah, Chapter 62, verse 9:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا إِذَا نُودِيَ لِلصَّلَاةِ مِنْ يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ فَاسْعَوْا إِلَى ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَذَرُوا الْبَيْعَ
ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ
Believers! When the call to prayer is sounded on Friday (the day of congregation), then move promptly and earnestly towards the remembrance of God (dhikrullah), and leave off worldly business; this is for your own good, if only you realized it (Q62:9)
In the above verse we learn that the sublime purpose of attending the jumu’ah service is the remembrance of Allah (dhikrullah). In order to encourage Muslims to attend the jumu`ah service the Prophet (pbuh) in a hadith related by the companion Salman al-Farsi and recorded in the authentic hadith collections of Bukhari and Ahmad is reported to have declared that the sins of the worshipper who attends the Friday congregational service will be forgiven until the next service.
As exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the Friday congregational service is accompanied by a weekly sermon (khutbat al-jumu`ah). The purpose of the Friday khutbah is to remind, exhort, inspire, and most of all engage the entire community, both men and women, on the spiritual, ethical, social, cultural, and political issues which affect it – and draw it all back to loving, serving, and glorifying Allah and improving our own character dispositions and the human condition.
In light of this primary role of the masjid as a place of prayer, worship, and spiritual retreat it is logical and understandable that the masjid should be regarded by the conscientious Muslim as a sacred sanctuary and a hallowed space. As such we are commanded by God in the Glorious Qur’an in Surah al-An`am, chapter 7 verse 31 to respect the sanctity of the masjid by being appropriately attired (zinat) whenever we visit it:
يَا بَنِي آَدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِنْدَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
O Children of Adam, wear your best apparel whenever you visit the masjid (Q7:31)
It is significant to note that the above Qur’anic exhortation to appropriate dress codes for visiting the masjid is not merely directed at women, but also at men. In my own experience I have found that many Muslims are quick to notice when women are not appropriately attired in the masjid but are blind to the large numbers of men who come to the masjid with tight fitting trousers which has swept dirt from the streets and distracting T-shirts that expose their naked flesh when they bend down and prostrate in the sujud. I exhort both men and women to try our best to observe the sanctity of the masjid and the sacredness of our communications with our Lord through the salah by trying our utmost to dress appropriately and modestly whenever we visit the masjid. I hasten to add that the challenge of appropriate and modest masjid dress codes is an ongoing challenge of times in which we live and needs to be resolved through ongoing education and patience rather than rebuke and coercion.
The most important way in which we can overcome this challenge is to emulate the exemplary conduct of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He has taught us that whenever we enter the masjid to recite the following prayer:
اللهم افتح لى ابواب رحمتك
(Allahum-maf-Tahli Abwaba Rahmatika)
“O God Open the doors of Thy Mercy unto me.”
After we have entered the masjid the Prophet (pbuh) has further taught us that before sitting down we should perform two units of salah known as the tahiyyat-ul-masjid, the greeting of the masjid. Both of these rituals should serve as a timely reminder of the sacredness and blessedness of space we have just entered.
Moreover, throughout our stay in the masjid the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us to be kind and considerate to each other and not to climb over people’s backs to reach the front of the masjid. This of course presumes that people will be reasonable and not fill up the masjid from the back and the doorways and leave large gaps in the front of the masjid for latecomers. This is an exasperating problem which masajid all over the world face. Small wonder the Prophet (pbuh) encouraged worshippers to be disciplined and to fill up the rows (sufuf) from the front. Furthermore, he has taught us not to raise our voices in a loud manner such that we distract other worshippers.
In this regard I would like to cite an instructive prophetic tradition (hadith) concerning the etiquette of jumu’ah (adab al-jumu`ah). Abu al-Darda’ reports that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was upon the minbar and was delivering the khutbah and he quoted a verse from the Qur’an and next to me was `Ubayy bin Ka`b and I asked him: “When was that verse revealed?” He refused to talk to me until the Messenger of Allah came down from the pulpit and then he said to me: “You have nothing from your jumu`ah, except useless talk.” When the Prophet (pbuh) had finished, I went to him and informed him of what had happened and the Prophet (pbuh) answered by saying” `Ubayy has spoken the truth. If you hear the Imam speaking, be quiet until he is finished.” (This hadith is related by Ahmad and at-Tabarani). Let us all try to do better in this regard, and refrain from loud chatter and raised voices that cause a distraction to other worshippers.
To balance the picture I have thus far sketched on the role of the masjid it would be important to note that some people mistakenly believe that the role of the masjid should be limited to acts of prayer alone. This brings me to the second most important role of the masjid
2. Masjid as a Place of Teaching & Learning
From the very beginning the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) established the masjid not merely as a place of prayer (salah) but also as a place of learning and teaching. The first Islamic school (madrasah) was also housed in the Prophet’s masjid in Madina. There are also numerous prophetic traditions (ahadith) which informs us about the robust educational role the masjid played during the life of Prophet (pbuh). According to one report attributed to the companion `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once entered the masjid and noticed two groups of people. One group was praying and reciting the Qur’an and another engaging in teaching and learning. The Prophet (pbuh) commended both but preferred to join the group engaging in educational activities. He then proclaimed:
I have been sent (i.e. the purpose of my prophetic mission is) to educate.
Later Muslims understood the vital role of the masjid as a centre of learning and established universities with the masjid at its centre. The largest and oldest masjid university in the Muslim world is al -Qarawiyyin situated in Fez, Morocco, is a great example in point. Interestingly it was established by a wealthy women Fatima al-Fihriyya, in 837 C.E. Another symbol of teaching and learning that many traditional masajid have adopted, is to have a special kursi i.e the scholar’s chair of teaching and learning which is occupied by the Imam during his regularly educational sessions. In this regard I am delighted to announce that CMRM shall in the near future be installing a masjid kursi – chair of teaching and learning. Through the generosity of one of our members the chair has been constructed by a master craftsman in Cairo and is in the process of being shipped to Cape Town. Our vision is to also invite women scholars to occupy the masjid kursi, so as to take yet another small but significant step in the fostering of a women friendly masjid. It is also our intention to sustain the adult education programme which we have tried to revitalise since last year and which got off to a good start this year with the Islam for Beginners Course.
3. Masjid as a Place of Social Justice & Solidarity
Last but not least, al-Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s masjid) in Madina not only served a religious and educational function, but it also had an important social function. It became the hub and center of religious, educational as well as social life of the early Muslim community. The masjid served as a focal point for the caring of the poor, the needy and the wayfarers. Moreover, whenever the Prophet (pbuh) needed to consult his companions on an issue of public concern he used to call them together at the masjid to convene a shura or consultatory council.
Moreover, during the formative years of Islam women participated freely in all of the social justice programmes taking place in the Prophet’s masjid in Madina, and they shared the main space of the masjid with men. After the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when some men tried to ban women from attending the masjid not only to participate in social justice programmes but also from the daily salawat by arguing that it had the potential for corruption, it was rejected by eminent Muslim scholars. For example, `Abdullah ibn `Umar rejected this argument by citing an important hadith wherein the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) decreed: “Do not deprive women of their share of the masajid, when they seek permission from you.” The Bilal remonstrated against this by saying; “By Allah, we would certainly prevent them.” `Abdullah ibn `Umar responded by saying: “I say that the Messenger of Allah said it and you say: We would certainly prevent them!” (Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Hadith Number 891).
The early Muslims, indeed, respected the sanctity of the masjid but they did not understand its role in a narrow parochial sense and therefore they did not hesitate to use it for any commendable purpose. Thus the indigent traveler found shelter in the masjid, and in some cases even the sick were treated, and infrequently the early Muslim community used it as a court of justice; for even the administration of justice was deemed something sacred.
But even more extraordinarily in the tenth and final year of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) mission he engaged in an interfaith dialogue with a high delegation of sixty Christians from Najran, about 450 miles south of Madina. They were received and accommodated in the Prophet’s masjid in Madina, and he allowed them to pray in the masjid, which they did facing east. This is unequivocal evidence of the welcoming and broader social role that the Prophet (pbuh) himself sought to engender for the masjid. This is a role that CMRM strives to perpetuate through organizing of inter-faith events at the masjid and planning for our social justice programmes.
From our discussion thus far we can learn that there can be no doubt that the primary role and function of a masjid is to serve as sanctuary for prayer and worship as its name denotes. However, I have also hopefully shown how the precise function and role of a masjid is much broader than being merely a place for prayer and worship, symbolized by the salah. The masjid also has an important educational as well as social role.
In minority contexts, like South Africa, and in a globalizing world, where face to face social relationships are being eroded by faceless cyberspace encounters, the masjid should serve as a real space for nurturing community solidarity and supporting social justice struggles. In order for the masjid to be able to play this broader and more dynamic role we need to first, delicately balance between the spiritual, educational and social roles of the masjid in a way which does not erode the sanctity of the masjid. Second, the masjid needs to be a sacred and welcoming space wherein the spirits of both men and women, old and young are nurtured, their intellects inspired and their skills and contributions appreciated and utilized. In order to achieve these noble goals, however, we need to work hard at strengthening the masjid’s capacity and governance. This is the subject of my sequel khutbah to be delivered next week, insha-Allah.