We want the film to be a catalyst for people to begin to create positive change in their mosque, and that is already happening. Here is your opportunity to be a part of this positive change. Kickstarter is all or nothing, if we don't raise the total amount we need, we get nothing. Please consider backing this film on Kickstarter and helping us complete it.
Unmosqued Film Posts
We've chosen not to market our project at this stage of the process, just publishing some blog posts for the small number of people on our facebook fanpage. We decided this early on both because we needed to finalize the film's subjects and themes before we made it "public", but also because we have very limited time to work on this each day. When the time is right we will go out and actively tell our story, but at this stage you're enormously privileged to be reading this (joking).
Since we launched our first teaser a little over a month ago, it has almost 35,000 views. (There is another repost of this exact teaser with ~5k views). The teaser alone has generated countless discussions about the topic among many different circles across the nation. Aside from this proving that there is a genuine interest in what we're creating it's also a testament to the importance of the topic itself to all those that are involved/not involved at the mosque. Much more to come. Stay tuned.
UnMosqued is a documentary film which aims to highlight the growing need for reform in many of the mosques found in America. The purpose of the documentary is to engage a group of people who have been disconnected from their local mosque and explore the various reasons that have led to this sentiment. It is clear that many youth who are likely to be second or even third generation Americans have felt judged or unwelcome at a mosque. It may be the degree of friendliness or a lack of ownership that breeds this feeling. Masajid may not be doing enough to attract and retain the youth, which further alienates the future members of the community from using the mosque space for their spiritual growth.
UnMosqued aims to explore this growing unease with the masjid space and why it exists. One clear factor is the cultural divide that pervades the American Mosque landscape. According to The American-Mosque 2011 report, "3/4 of all mosques are dominated by one ethnic group. In most cases this one group is either South Asian, Arab, or African American," (p.14). As Muslims become integrated within American society and grow up in a diverse multi-racial environment, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to enter a mosque that is predominated by a certain culture. Millenials and Generation Xers do not have as strong of a relationship with their parents' country of origin which exacerbates the discomfort they feel when entering ethnic-based masajid. Granted, these mosques have been formed in order to provide comfort and community to the large influx of Muslims that have come from diverse parts of the world to America. While it has successfully accomplished that goal, the catch 22 is that it will not sustain such comfort with future generations while on American soil.
We are indebted to the sacrifices the first generation of American Muslims provided us with, including the infrastructure and community organizing that was required to build our current mosques and Islamic schools. According to the American-Mosque 2011 report study, in a little over 30 years, they established over 2000 mosques all across the country, and today, only 10% of all Muslims in America attend these mosques. Sadly, most of the established mosques in America have created a large amount of confusion in the minds of the Millenials and the Generation Xers between what is a cultural practice and what is essential Islam.
The problem we are facing is a subtle one that very few people are aware of. Many Muslims enter the mosque and think that what we see and experience is normal and that this is how a mosque should be, while in reality, what we oftentimes experience in the mosque is nothing more than a cultural interpretation of Islam that does not take into account the American context. We hope the film will inspire people who are unmosqued to feel a sense of responsibility and to take the film to their communities, watch it with them, and have serious discussions as an effort to remedy the dire situation we find ourselves in. We hope the film will move the elder generation to make some needed changes in our mosques in order that we not lose the future generations of Muslims in America.
What is your name and how are you affiliated with NYU?
My name is Khalid Latif, I work as a university chaplain for NYU, I am also the executive director of NYUs Islamic center and I currently started to work as a senior fellow for NYU's "Of Many Institute." My primary role is with the Islamic center, I oversee most of the administrative responsibilities as well as the programmatic responsibilities. We have a pretty diverse population so we need a pretty diverse array of programs that we need to offer, everything from community service to community programs, religious programs, we do a lot of counseling, we have pretty much anything you can think of.
What do you think is the mosque's role in the American context?
When we are trying to define what the masjid is in the American context, I think it is really hard to come up with a single definition. When you are thinking about what the landscape of Muslims looks like in the US, you have Muslims from all over the world who have settled here and have called this place their home and the reality and needs of all these populations differ from place to place. To give you an example, my great great grandfather probably didn't speak English, and would be more comfortable in a mosque that fit with what he thought was culturally normative and one that understood the realities that he faced day to day. It would be problematic for me as someone who is more comfortable with English and was brought up and raised here to say that I have to understand this as an either or situation. He needs to have his needs met as much as I need to have my needs met. And so what the masjid means to him needs to be something that exists in the United States as much as what the masjid needs to me. And if he is comfortable with the masjid as a prayer space where we just go to pray 5 times a day, and we go there once a week to hear a sermon, and that is it, then that is fine for him. And for me, if I am looking for a place that is more about community and where I can find a place where I can find people who are a little more like minded to me, or find individuals that I can seek advice from or council from, or even just develop on a personal and spiritual level, then the masjid means that to me. And to someone else it can be something totally different.
I think where we are today we find that the masjid as being a primary institution within the Muslim communities across the US, and from it we now see certain communities building offshoot institutions, but it is still in a very young state. It is in a place where individuals who are not necessarily trained to run essentially what is tantamount to a nonprofit are doing their best to run something that a generation later now are saying that there is now a need for individuals who are more trained in those realms to take over. They are thinking that it is time to start looking at counterpart institutions in other religious communities and seeing how are their houses of worship running and how are they catering to their respective consistencies.
I went to Holland recently and I visited a moroccan mosque, and it was beautiful, and they had huge subsidies they received from their government to build these cultural centers that they then incorporate a masjid space into. And these guys had like flatscreen TVS, etc. We left from the Moroccan mosque and we literally walked about 15 feet and the building next to it was a Turkish masjid, and we went in, and it was the same setup, but everything was now Turkish. And they said "Isn't it great that we are able to have our own spaces?" And I said to them "Where do the Dutch people to when they want to access Islam?" And they said "What do you mean?" I said "If I was Dutch, and I didn't speak burbur or urdu, and I wanted a place to go feel comfortable and a place to be, where would I go?"
What advice would you give to a mosque board in America?
If you are the one who is given the blessing of providing the space or facilitating the space for others to come, you have to think really broadly about all the people coming in and what is going to give them a comfortable space so that they can have the focus that they are supposed to have while they are in prayer. Do some masjids do that well? Yeah. Do some not do it well, yeah. It varies from place to place. I don't think it is good to think in general terms, because then we discount those who are doing it well. What we need to do is look at the examples of those who are doing it well and see how it is that they are providing adequate space? How is it that they are attune to the realities of their communities, and see then how you can replicate it. if you take the stance that says everyone is doing everything poorly, you are not going to do it well.
What were some of the challenges you guys faced in building NYU's Islamic Center?
When we were building out our Islamic center at NYU, early on, we had critics who said you know what, you tend to be too progressive or too liberal, and now, years later, they come to all of our programs, and they are the people who say that this is a great place to be. We had to deal with issues in terms of race and ethnicity, ideological distinctions, at the end of the day the creation of a space that enables me as a a person to comfortably engage diversity and understand that the other that even though they are a Muslim becomes empowering. Certain things just take time.
Yousef Abdallah is the northeast regional manager for Islamic Relief. He has travelled the world raising money for the world's neediest children and has travelled across the USA performing fund raisers and raising awareness of some of the hardships others across the world are going through. He had visited hundreds of masajid over the last few years.
You have travelled the entire country and have seen many, many different mosques. What are some common problems that you have noticed?
There are overarching problems and there are individual problems. The problems really depend on who is in control of the masjid. The overarching problem or issue that is facing the masjid today is that the time of the individual masjid has passed. The masjid couldn't adapt to this new change for a need to be a part of something bigger, a bigger vision. Masjids today as just one component or a separate entity. They are like small governments that do not want to merge into a larger government, or group. I believe now as a muslim community, we are at a time where we need institutional work. Those small groups, or the individual masjids, played their role and they were really useful in the past thirty years but now they are having problems accepting the fact that it needs to change. The masjid has to become a small component of a larger picture, of a larger umbrella. That umbrella, institutional work, is not there, and this is creating a huge problem for the masjid because the masjid had a certain capacity to answer to the needs of the community when the community was small, but now the communities are large.
We're no longer the immigrant generation anymore- we have second and third generations who have completely different needs and the masjid is not able to answer these needs. So, yes there are overarching goals which is moving from one stage to another and the whole community is failing to find or establish institutions and the masjid is also having a hard time transitioning from small masjid controlled by a board of a few number of people to a masjid that is part of a bigger picture and a bigger message. On an individual level, financial problems really effect every single masjid. The masjids and schools in America are always in debt.
Do you see the second and third generation suffering from the lack of foresight that some of our masajid have in choosing to stay ethnic based?
The second generation is in much better shape than third generation. The third generation is really suffering. The masjid was built for the immigrant community, definitely. Some masajid were able to transition and deal with the second generation- some, but very few- I can count them on my right hand in the US. Probably in every state, you will find 2-3 masajid that can deal with the second generation, yet they are not able to deal with the third generation. The second generation has a mix- they received a lot from their parents- the immigrant parents, so they have the mix between the American society and the old way of thinking so they are able to survive. The third generation will not be able to survive if we keep running the masjid the way we've been running it.
Many masajids speak their own native language, whether it's Arabic, Bangladeshi, Urdu, Turkish and our children are having a hard time understanding the message or getting the message through that language . We have to realize that we cannot be hard-headed and say, "This is the way…either you understand Arabic…or you can't." We have to deliver the message, it doesn't matter the language. God did not specify a language making due towards Him…the message has to go to people in the language they understand and they understand best- the third generation understands the English language the best. So we have to be able to transition to that level.
We respect the immigrant generation, and you know, I am one of them. I'm sure the 2nd and 3rd generation realize the value the first generation added to this country. But it's about time for us to start including others. I cannot stay stuck in the past with one generation. I have to be able to add and accept everyone. Among this acceptance, I believe masjids have to start within their organization providing support for this generation, whatever it takes- from the Friday sermon, to adding new programs, hiring people from the 2nd and 3rd generation- not just hiring them, but the board. The board is playing a huge role in the masjid in America. And if you go to the boards, 99% of the board members are immigrant generation. How can an immigrant generation be able to understand what the 2nd and third generation needs are? We need to include them in every level of our work. From the board, to the hiring, to the volunteer level- everything.
Interesting comments on this photo of Usama Canon posted by Mustafa Davis. How do you guys think Imams and Muslims in general should dress in the USA? Traditional or modern clothing?
Most of our issues in our masajid today are how many raka of taraweeh, when is Eid, etc... We are even divided among the books we should read. "Is this scholar right? How does his Aqeeda look?" But you know what, Allah gave us a mandate that is bigger than these things. You are entitled to your personal conviction, but if a conversation or conviction has the potential of creating conflict in a community, then keep it to yourself, and only bring to public discourse what will add to unity.
You walk into a masjid and and someone tells you "You know what brother, I saw you eating Ice cream the other day and we both know that it has such and such in it, so I don't know if your salat is accepted since then, etc…" That is just awesome. I should give you a "Inna hathidi Ummatukum ummatan wahidatan" sticker. (This is your nation, One Ummah) That deserves an award. We have to remove this conversation from public discourse. I'm not trivializing fiqh, it is important, but you and I aren't qualified for those debates. People argue with "My masjid is doing global sighting…yours is doing it this way…We should go with global because we are one ummah…!" Look, first of all the issue is more complicated than that, second of all, you can't even be united with the people you pray next to, and you are worried about global unity of the ummah? What are you talking about? Lets deal in reality. What is your relationship with your parents at home like, especially when they get agitated? Is it dysfunctional? What is your relationship with your husband/life/children/siblings? How are you discussing global ummah unity while your family itself is not united and in harmony? And if your family is in harmony, and I pray they all are, then the next thing that supports the family structure is the the community, or the masjid. The masjid is supposed to be a place where families get together and find harmony with each other. That is the next space, and unfortunately it has become a space if conflict. If all our kids see is fights at board masjids, If that is all they see, if there is no effort to be curteous to families at our masjids, then we are discontinuing ourselves from our noble history.
And there are good role models out there that need to be duplicated. I was raised in New York City, and in big cities where there is a growing, hustling and bustling Muslim population, there is a a lot of immigration and different flavors of Islam, so as I came into adulthood and started thinking about myself and exploring Islam, I was exposed to such a wide variety of religious points of views. Every masjid has its own standards and protocols. "We teach this school of thought here, you have to dress like this here..." It was insane. There are 2 masajids in Queens whose doors face each other across the street, but one khutbah is done in one language and the other in another. Across the street from each other! And the masjid were actually places of cults. Which are you going to follow, and who are you going to dismiss? That is the nonsense that I experienced for over a decade, and as I started traveling I had a very pessimistic view of the unity of the ummah. In the cities, masajid were built upon ideological or ethnic lines.
Then I visited Irving Texas. I was visiting there in 2007, and I went to pray there, and after the salat, the imam was giving a talk, and the imam was clearly from a specific school of thought, but all those different groups in New York who hated each others guts and didn't even consider other groups Muslim were all hanging out together in the same masjid. This mosque was built on the idea of giving families a place to be. That is it, no cultural ideological agenda. After isha, there were 300-400 people just hanging out the masjid. The arabs were playing soccer, and the desis were playing cricket, the kids were playing basketball because they couldn't understand the other two sports. And it was awesome. I was like, is this Eid? No, its just a wednsesday. They made this a fun place to be for families. I mean who thinks of building a sisters section (also called a closet), with a partition in the middle, so here are the women with children and here are the women without children so they can be separate? Who thinks of that?
Why is the Islamic Cultural Center of NY so diverse?
The ICCNY is one of the most diverse communities in NYC, because it was built specifically for all Muslims. I understand that all mosques must be built for "all Muslims", but this center was founded by the Islamic World League, not just one country. From Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Bahrain, and so on. They all contributed to build it, even though Kuwait is takin almost 75% to support it. That is why you can see different ethnics or different people, from Africa, here, Bangladesh, from the Arabic, etc.
Why other mosques are so ethnically divided?
Most of the Masajid have been formed by a group of people who came from the same country. They collected contributions amongst them and they created a mosque to worship God, but really to serve their own community. A place where they can meet and pray 5 times a day, come together and teach their kids, bring all the community and spend the weekend there and pray Eid. This is why you can find many mosques that have a group of people who have the same nationality or same tribe. Most of the attendance of that mosque are from the same tribe and people.
Creating masajid by a particular group of people who came from the same country really helped to increase the number of masajid in New York City. If we say there is a big mosque in 96th street, lets all go pray there, not all the people are able to come here. But thinking of creating a msoque, or renting one in the as area where nearly 90% of these people who came from the same country, and is accessible to all of them, this helped to create many mosques. And it helped to spread Al-Islam and teach the kids the Ialamic values and morals. But in the future, my own point of view is, it will maybe be the same, because up to now, each of these groups are looking forward to purchasing an Islamic center, which will be an Islamic school, meeting hall, and a place to pray, and other places where they can meet for their social gatherings. Instead of renting a hall, they will have all these facilities in one building. Their communities are growing everyday.
Is there a tension between older and newer generation?
Yes, there definitely is.
Islam teaches us respect, and tells us what your duty/right towards your parents. This helps unite the older and newer generation. I know the father cannot be the same as me, he cannot have the same ideas. For me to change it, I must use wisdom, I cannot just come to him and tell him what you are doing is wrong, and false. This will upset him and he will not be ready to accept what I tell him. If I come with respect, logic, wisdom, etc, this will really help me.
This value still exists in the african community. Children respect their parents, and recognize the favor that their parents have done for them.They recognize that yes, after Allah, it is the parents that is the reason for them to be here. When you respect someone who is a wise person, you will own him. This is the method that we are using as Africans, which is why we do not have a large conflict between the old and young generation.The older generation knows that the newer generation is taking over. They are getting older, they are going one by one back to Allah, it is the new generation up and coming.
Describe the role of Women at 96th Mosque
The masjid is for all Muslims, man, women, and kids. Each of them have a role. Women have their own roles in the masjid, not to call athan, or deliver Khutbah, but the woman are also a part of the community. They are the ones who are taking care of the kids, they also clean the prayer room for the women, and also contribute money to support the masjid. We have 420 students at ICCNY weekend school, 90% of the teachers are women. And we are also training them to become more and more qualified to teach. Their minds are more open, as they are more ready to deal with kids than man. This is nature, because they bore them and took care of them, etc. We need to have weekend schools in the masajid to make the kids love the mosque. If the mosque is not a place to organize events for the kids, where the kids can come and spend their day. The mosque should not just be a place for worship, but a place where you can also have fun with the kids.
Should Mosques be involved with / raise awareness of politics overseas?
The masajid should keep clear from politics abroad. Example, the community that I lead, we always receive politicians, party leaders, etc that come to the mosque, but we always tell them when you come here, you be like any of the members of the mosque. We will allow you to greet the congregation, but you cannot talk about politics If you want to talk politics, you should rent a hall, and invite the people there. The mosque must be a place of worship, of teaching al-Islam, etc. But it is not supposed to be a place to discuss politics. This will lead to divisions. It must be free from politics. The Khateeb is not allowed to mentions any politics.
Mohammed Langston is a Muslim photographer and hip hop artist. While he was in New York, I sat down with him and we discussed some of the issues that are plaguing our masajid in America.
Tell me where you are from, your conversion to Islam, and how the masjid facilitated or aided you in the process.
I am from Detroit Michigan, became Muslim in 2007, shortly after graduating from high school. The masjid didn't really play a large role in me becoming Muslim...it was more of what I learned and me not being comfortable with the doctrine I was raised in, Christianity. So after high school I was reading a magazine, and it just sparked the whole idea of Islam, so I went out and I purchased a Qur'an. I sought out people in my life that I knew were Muslim, and then I decided I would become Muslim. And actually I went to a masjid, and believe it or not, it is funny and ironic that you ask how did the masjid facilitate or aid me in becoming Muslim, because when I went to the masjid that I wanted to take Shahada at, I was looked at as if…they were confused as to why I might have been in the masjid. And so I told them I am interested in taking Shahada, and they said I couldn't. I was told that I couldn't because the Imam wasn't present, which is practically unheard of, I don't care what school of thought you follow. So I said thats is fine, so I left, and I googled another masjid and I ended up at the Wayne State University masjid, and that is where I took my shahada, January 19 2007. But I would say the masjid facilitated that. The first masjid was predominantly Arab, and I think in particular Iraqi Arab…that was the hospitality I received. It wasn't a very warm welcome.
Describe the ideal masjid board
I think women should be on masajid boards… A nonMuslim was asking me why are Muslim women treated like dogs in our mosques, and I had to inquire like what do you mean? How are dogs treated? And he mentioned some of these things, like they don't have any kind of positions on the boards, etc. I feel that is counteractive to Islam because at the time of the Prophet, Islam was revolutionary to women's rights. We need women in high positions, we need great diversity on the board even if the masjid is largely one ethnic group.
Were you welcomed into the Muslim community after your conversion?
I think over the years I have developed a sort of thick skin in my relations with multiple individuals from such diverse backgrounds, from South Asian, Pakistani, Bengali, so I'm a little more comfortable. But that should never be a prerequisite! Especially if you are going somewhere to worship the Creator. Initially it was strange, it was like, am I involved in the right religion? It seems like a South Asian thing, or an Arab thing... You have to constantly remind yourself that you came to this deen because of Allah, the Creator. Initially, it was the most uncomfortable experience ever, and I was thinking like, do I have to dress like this...? We have to be frank, a lot of our masjids haven't prepared for the amount of people who have embraced Islam. Because some masjids are actually cultural centers, or so it seems to the person new to this community that such and such community center of this ethnic background, that can be problematic and make one hesitant and reluctant to want to engage and worship with them.
What language should the Jumma Khutbah be delivered in?
In America, the masjid should give their khutbah in English, although even in my region there are masjids that give the khutbah in Urdu, and I'm even inquired sometimes, "Brother, why haven't you come to the khutbah in this masjid?" And I say I'll go to the khutbah when I can understand the khutbah….Priority based on where we are and the conditions we have, English is the best fit.
Why do you think masajid are ethnically divided? Is this healthy for Islam in America?
A lot of the immigrants that came to America didn't come to give Dawah. They didn't come to see some floodgates open where everyone takes shahadah. By far and large, most people were looking for a better living, a means to provide for their family, and maybe even succeed in the American dream. But in the middle of that they have erected masjids and we sort of have the masjids that couldn't keep up with the amount of immigrants who were coming and so you have immigrants that haven't yet become proficient in the language, and so some of these domestic masjids within our nations boundaries decided to give their khutbas in their original language. Still problematic, but we have to be fair. Many of these people came to America to have other people come into Islam.
We have Muslim lawyers, engineers, etc, but that can easily be replaced. But what will happen if you haven't made yourself indispensable with what is of utmost importance? Leading others to this way of life, Islam, this deen? Every Muslim is obligated to be some sort of voice of Islam and to teach others about this way. But you can't make yourself indispensable if you just bring Pakistan here, that doesn't resonate with people in our society. You preach to society with what they understand and know. If you make a Pakistani masjid here, an Algerian one, or any other masjid here that won't accommodate the needs of American youth, there is no interest in it. It won't be impactive, it won't be inviting.
Do you think it is ok for a masjid to ignore the youth?
Ignoring the youth can be likened to the idea of a child being raised without a father. And I see this in the African American community for a number of unfortunate reasons. You see the largest incarceration rate among any ethnic group, you see a great disparity in socio-economic state in the African American community, all as a result of not having that sort of fatherhood, or that nurturing and mentorship. The reality is what encompasses these youth programs is conditioning and nurturing, that people have examples of what they can be, or how they should be, and what they become. Otherwise they will find it elsewhere. So if you incorporate that in the masjid, it is complete. You will offer means of mentorship and development.
What do you think of the idea of a "third space?"
I think the third space is a great idea, and I believe it is a reaction to what we find currently in the masjids. People say they don't feel comfortable in the masjid because it is of one ethnic background, or they only have this type of people on the board, etc, and so the third space is the way to go. If people aren't going to change to make things easier and willing to sacrifice and accommodate that which will be more beneficial, then the third space is the only space to go. Then what are they going to do? When all these people are going to these third spaces? There is nothing wrong with third spaces, but here is some sort of majestic feeling and understanding, and it is mostly esoteric, that comes with still being in the masjid. So it is unfortunate that we are at this stage.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Imam Shamsi Ali, who is the Imam and Director of Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, and picked his brain about some of the issues the mosques in America are facing. He is also the Chairman of the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria and the former Imam of the 96th Street Mosque in NY.
What is the Role of the Mosque in the American context?
The mosque in the American context is very much different from the mosque in the Muslim world, because of the nature of the society in which we live. Firstly, we are living in a majority nonMuslim society. We must take into consideration that our neighbors are not Muslims, and we have to know how to deal with our neighbors so they don't have a sense of suspicion in their minds. The mosques should play a role in clarifying the many misconceptions that people have about Islam in these times. After Sept. 11, many mosques were attacked, and we found those specific mosques that were attacked were almost all exclusive. They didn't open their doors to their neighbors, and so naturally, neighbors grew suspicion in their minds. Secondly, the American people are so open minded. The way we express ourselves as a community must be open as well. Thirdly, unfortunately, not many mosques have made teaching Islam to their neighbors a priority. What the mosque has become is mainly a place to pray. Our mosques must also know how to deal with our young generation. The young generation were either born here or came here when they were children, and they must know and feel that the mosque is an important part of their lives. But if they aren to feeling welcome in the masajid, then certainly this is problematic.
I still remember when I joined the ICC, I immediately started a class called "Islamic Forum for NonMuslims." When I started, I had almost 50 people, and out of them, 70% were seriously studying Islam, and I think all of them ended up accepting Islam. mosques need to take this mission up as a priority. We love talking about Dawah, but we don't really know how to do it. It is important to wisely introduce Islam to these people. The purpose if not to convert anyone, but it is important to clarify the many misconceptions.
Should mosques be involved in politics outside the USA?
We have our own issues here in America. What is the percentage of our young generation are coming to the mosques? Issue of educating our Imams is very important. 90% of the Imams in the United States are immigrants. And I don't think the Imams really understand what America is all about. And the knowledge that Imams should inquire is not only that of the Qur'an and the sunnah, but it is about how to apply them in our own society. The Imams should educate themselves about the domestic issues in our communities. They should know the domestic problems that exists between there black and the white, between asians and middle easterners, etc. I think we have a lot of issues that need to be addressed rather than talking about politics from outside. Politics outside the United States is important, but we have to know priorities. There are also some mosques talking about the moon sighting issues, etc. These kinds of behaviors create more tension in the Muslim community rather than peace. These are side issues that don't deserve this much priority relative to the other big problems we have.
You are on the board of many different mosques, and are involved in 3 of the biggest mosques in this area. What are some common problems that you see?
The majority of the mosques in the United States are ethnic based mosques. This is pakistani mosque, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, etc. Among the many problems we are facing are ethnic issues. In some bengali communities, Pakistanis feel unwelcome because they have a political issue back home. Among the biggest issues we have are women's issues. If you see mosque boards, for example, you will find mostly males. I was asked about Amina Wadud, when she led Jumma here in NY. My answer was not the fiqhi perspective, but related to social issues. She knows that it is wrong to lead men behind her, but there is a spirit that I understood from her, and that is resistance to the male dominant society, where in the mosque, you find the male area is so clean, so neat, AC works, but when you go to the women's area it is small, crowded…This is a resistance against a male dominated mosques. When mosques don't take women as part of their community, there is a damage done. There is a self damage…it looks like we conform that accusations that women in our society thinks of us, that women are 2nd class citizens. I encourage all mosques to include women in all their activities, on their boards…
The second one is youth. Recently, a good father came to me and he was tearing, and he asked me to help him with his son. I asked what happened to his son, and he told me "My son doesn't want to come to the mosque anymore…" And I knew his son from our sunday school. So I went over their house and I asked his son over tea why he doesn't want to come to the mosque anymore. He said that every time he goes to the masajid there are always some people who feel that my outfit is not acceptable, because I don't have this south asian dress. So I feel that I am not welcome. People look at me when I pray and make me feel like I'm not a good Muslim. It is important to create an environment there our young generation feel welcome. In fact, they must be included in the decision making in the mosque. Why? Because they know more than the immigrants. They know more America than their fathers and mothers. Our young generation must be trained to deal with the media. Our Imams cannot deal with the media in this culture.
So it seems that there is a problem, we have the mosques run by largely immigrants, and the younger generation does not want to deal with their issues/problems, and hence don't want to come to the mosques. What are some practical steps we can take to move forward?
There are several steps to be taken. The first one is that our immigrant community to realize that it is the time right now to include our young generation. Their number is increasing, and we are now taking part of the mainstream life in America. We have 2 congressman, a high official in the white house…I think it is time time right now to change the mindsets of immigrants. We are already Americans, and we want the new generation in America to play an important role. There must be a representative of the youth on the board of the mosques. Secondly, we must train our American young Muslims to be future Imams. What happens is when an Imam is an immigrant is there is a linguistic barrier. There are still khateebs around that give khutbas in languages that are not English. And so it is a must right now to produce American Muslim imams, that speak the language and understand what America is all about. These days our imams are hard to understand. Young Muslims come and tell me I don't understand what he said because it is not in my language. Thirdly, there must be a process where there is transfer of power in the masajid. If you go to many mosque, you will find all old people, simply because they have money…and I think that is wrong, because no matter what, the young generation must be the ones who receive this transfer of power of the mosque. Gradual, but certain process in transferring it into our second generation, so they feel that mosque belongs to them.. Many younger generation people feel that they don't belong to the mosques, and we are lucky to have MSAs in college where young people go, but they don't come to the mosque. I think this is mainly because they don't feel that mosques belong to them.
What has changed about the ICC over the years?
What changed about the ICC over the years have been the outreach programs. Mosques are not just places of worship, where people pray 5 times a day, but they are places where we need to think about and define how to build our community in the USA. We are dealing with city council and governments, we are dealing with law enforcement, we are dealing with the NYPD and FBI. We are dealing with nonMuslims, are we have interfaith work as a priority at our center. Outreach programs in the USA mosques are one of the most important priorities we need to have. Otherwise, the mosque will play a very limited role in our growth.
More from Imam Shami Ali in part II of the interview.
Many memories of my childhood are of me on the green, soft, carpeted floor of the local mosque. I remember receiving awards for memorizing Qur’an, and also being hit with a belt or stick by my sheikh when I had failed to memorize. The mosque (masjid) has shaped my values, decided who my friends were, and ultimately, gave me a sense of community...until I grew up, that is.
As the years have passed and the hairs on my head have dropped, I’ve wondered and questioned the role of the mosque. More specifically, I wanted an answer to the core question: What is the ideal role of the mosque in the American context?
In order to answer this layered question, so many other topics surrounding "mosque-culture" had to be addressed. Should the Friday sermon be delivered in English or Arabic or Urdu? What should the women's area look like? Should the youth share the mosque space with the adults, or should they create their own, third space, to hang out in? Is the mosque a place for prayer and spiritual growth, or is it required to be something more?
So many mosques in America have the same problems: youth not showing up, lack of funds, ethnocentrism, irrelevant topics not addressing current social problems, inequality in regards to women's rights, etc. Imagine if we saw positive change in the American society influenced and galvanized by communities associated with their local mosques! How vastly different this would be than Islamophobes flooding the media asking, "Where are all the "moderate" Muslims?"
This film will explore the various functions of the mosque in the American context, who is leading them, where they are going, why the youth are not attending, and most importantly: What is the purpose of the mosque in America- and is it fulfilling it?