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Reviving the roles of mosques

During the Prophet’s time, a mosque was not merely for prayers or Quranic recitations, but also a centre where Islamic state affairs were conducted.


IT is already the sixth day of the most blessed of the Islamic months, Ramadan, but it is hardly too late to extol its virtues and significance.

The Prophet’s hadith as reported by al-Bayhaqee affirms that the first 10 days of Ramadan bring Allah’s mercy (rahmah); the second 10 His forgiveness (maghfirah) and the last 10 emancipation from the fire of hell (itqunminannar).

Every time Ramadan begins, mosques will be bursting at the seams with worshippers, capitalising countless opportunities and bounties that Ramadan offers to get closer to their Creator and seek His mercy, blessings and forgiveness.

Besides the usual congregational obligatory prayers, other activities conducted by mosques during the blessed month include providing meals for iftar (fast breaking) and organising congregational Tarawih prayers later in the evenings.

Tarawih is a special prayer performed only during Ramadan nights. Although not compulsory, Muslims are highly encouraged to perform it for it is a sunnah (practice) of the Prophet.

A hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah extols one of the virtues of Tarawih prayers in which the Prophet intoned that, “Whoever establishes prayers during the nights of Ramadan faithfully out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not for showing off), all his past sins will be forgiven.”

Yet as outwardly religious and spiritual as Muslims are during Ramadan, the fervour dramatically dies down once Ramadan is over. The number of congregators dwindles and mosques will return to its less-than-packed normal state. Nevertheless, be it Ramadan or otherwise, the notion that the mosque is merely a physical place to perform solat (prayers) is always held by Muslims.

Yet, such is a misperception about the actual function of the mosque. When the Prophet migrated to Medina, the first deed he undertook upon arriving was to build the Quba Mosque, which still stands to this day.

Even though the building structure during the prophet’s days was very basic – mainly clay and date palm trunks were used– it was the place where the Prophet and His companions prayed, learned and recited the Quran.

Indeed, the Prophet did not limit the mosque merely to prayers or Quranic recitations. He made it a centre where Islamic state affairs were conducted. Perhaps what Imam Ibn Taimiyyah mentioned in his book, al-Fatawa, could provide some insight on the actual roles and functions of mosques in Islam.

The mosques were the stations of the Muslim leaders and the centres for congregations. The Prophet established the foundation of his blessed mosque on piety.

In it, prayers and Quranic recitations were performed, the remembrance of Allah and teaching knowledge established, and speeches were given. And in it matters of politics (running affairs of the Ummah), troops and platoons were deployed, Muslims gathered for their religious and livelihood affairs, and so did his governing officer of Makkah, At-Ta’if, Yaman, and other similar regions and cities.

His governing officers in the suburbs also had gatherings where they performed prayers and political affairs.

Sir William Muir, in his book The Life of Muhammad, comments that despite using crude material and insignificant dimensions, the Prophet’s mosque is glorious in the history of Islam. Not only was it a venue where the Prophet and his companions spent most of their time, established oft-recurring prayers and listened with reverence and awe to messages from Heaven; it was also the place where they planned their victories; received embassies and issued edicts, amongst others.

In comparing the statements by both Ibn Taimiyyah and Muir on the roles of mosques during the Prophet’s time with current functions, a somewhat large disparity exists in the extent to which we make full use of the institution. Despite their large size, lavish design and exceptional comfort, most mosques are seen as institutions which confine their functions to religious and spiritual rituals. In some instances, mosques are reduced to becoming destinations and places of attraction for tourists.

The present challenge that arises is reinstating the functions of the mosque to its original purpose, as a centre where Muslims initiate and undertake activities that cover all spheres of their life from establishing and seeking the pleasure of Allah to managing the affairs of the ummah.

Such an uphill task requires a concerted effort from all of us, including policy-makers and government agencies. It should first begin with the need for all stakeholders to have the correct understanding of the virtues and roles of mosques in Islam.

Such an understanding would be fundamental as it would help Muslims– especially those involved in managing mosques – to have the right perception on how to manage the houses of worship and organise programmes effectively.

In the corporate world, the success of an organisation depends on the blend of many factors, both internal and external, that can be translated into managerial excellence – including clear vision, innovation, strong leadership, good governance and employee focus.

If we would like to see the revival of the role of mosques as it used to be during the early ages of Islam, it is high time for the relevant authorities to consider corporate management techniques in mosque administration. However, this does not mean the management of mosques has to operate on the platform of profit-based principles. What is recommended is that good governance practices are adopted in daily operations and management process.

Adopting a corporate culture undoubtedly requires experts know­ledgeable in dealing with organisation and administration activities. To this end, mosque management could consider engaging those with professional backgrounds as part of its management team.

Their presence will definitely create a significant influence on how mosque administrators manage and plan activities as well as create mosques, as described by the Prophet in a hadith narrated by Ibn Hibban, as the best patches of earth.

Muhammad Hisyam Mohamad is a Fellow at Ikim's Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely his own. The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist IKIM Views June 23, 2015
Tags: masjid, mosque
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