Occupy the masjids to liberate them!

Developing Just Leadership

Salina Khan

Safar 19, 1434 2013-01-01

News & Analysis

by Salina Khan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 11, Safar, 1434)

A masjid ought to be more than simply a fancy building where people just come to offer salat. Frustrated by lack of meaningful activities in the masjids, Salina Khan argues they ought to be occupied by activist Muslims to liberate them.

I was shocked when a masjid I attended for its activism turned passive after embarking upon a pricey expansion project. But it was only recently that the full ramifications of its decision hit me, and that too, like a ton of bricks.

I ran into an image of a young Iraqi boy sleeping in a fetal position on a wooden floor next to a chalk drawing he had made of his mother. “Mama,” as he had written in Arabic next to her, had recently been killed in the Iraq War... The picture may or may not be authentic, but it put a face on the very real suffering I knew was happening around the world. Oh, God!...

It happened some months ago. One day I was perusing the internet when I ran into an image of a young Iraqi boy sleeping in a fetal position on a wooden floor next to a chalk drawing he had made of his mother. “Mama,” as he had written in Arabic next to her, had recently been killed in the Iraq War. I stared somberly at the image of the boy, who looked about the same age as my youngest child. The picture may or may not be authentic, but it put a face on the very real suffering I knew was happening around the world.

Oh, God! I thought. This poor orphan is the cost of our not raising an impassioned (collective) voice against injustice and oppression! Our masjids have turned so selfish, busy constructing expensive buildings, schools and playgrounds while becoming silent spectators to suffering, intentionally foregoing any talk that would stir up controversy or alienate donors.

In this blessed month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal — in which we celebrate the birth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) — it is high time we take a step back and study the role of the masjid, or “House of God on earth,” vis-a-vis the mission of the Prophet (pbuh).

Allah (swt) says in His noble Book:

“We sent aforetime Our apostles with evidence and sent down with them the Book [the Law] and the Critereon [to judge between right and wrong], so that [the affair of] man may be erected [upon a standard of] social justice” (57:25).

Establishing peace and justice on earth for the pleasure of Allah (swt) has been the goal of all the prophets, and as followers of the last and final Prophet (pbuh), it must be ours as well. The masjid is one of the many tools to aid us in this pursuit, and by no means should it become the very reason a community stops its struggle against oppression.

It was in the masjid that the Prophet (pbuh) exhibited our responsibility toward the distressed, according to scholar Abbas Ayleya. While leading congregational prayers one day, the Prophet (pbuh) suddenly started reciting the verses faster than usual. When questioned by his Companions later, he replied, “Did you not hear the baby crying?”

Muhammad al-‘Asi, who was elected imam of the Islamic Center 30 years ago, was forcibly removed from the masjid together with his young family for his Islamic-political views. An armed SWAT team, hired by then Saudi ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, attacked the masjid in the middle of the night on March 5, 1983.

It is by no coincidence, I suppose, that one of the lone voices exposing and decrying oppression comes from a makeshift masjid on the footpath of the Islamic Center in Washington, DC. Muhammad al-‘Asi, who was elected imam of the Islamic Center 30 years ago, was forcibly removed from the masjid together with his young family for his Islamic-political views. An armed SWAT team, hired by then Saudi ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, attacked the masjid in the middle of the night on March 5, 1983. Imam al-‘Asi, his seven-month pregnant wife and young daughter were bundled into SWAT vans and dumped 20 miles outside Washington, DC on a rural road that was still covered in snow. There were wearing only their pyjamas and were not allowed to dress properly for the freezing temperature outside. It must be borne in mind that there were no cell phones at the time to call for help in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night.

After shivering in the cold for a long time, a pick-up truck came by that gave them a lift back to Washington DC. Imam al-‘Asi has been leading Friday prayers outdoors ever since.

“We are meant to have justice done in this world,” says Imam al-‘Asi, in his monumental tafsir, The Ascendant Qur’an, the first exegesis of the noble book directly into English. “This is what the Prophet’s (pbuh) history is about, this is what the Qur’an is about.”

“We are meant to have justice done in this world,” says Imam al-‘Asi, in his monumental tafsir, The Ascendant Qur’an, the first exegesis of the noble book directly into English. “This is what the Prophet’s (pbuh) history is about, this is what the Qur’an is about.”

It is vital that we have a correct understanding of Islam so that we are able to keep to the straight path. Indeed, we have been warned that many will lose their way. Imam ‘Ali said: “A time will come when nothing will remain of the Qur’an except its script, and nothing of Islam except its name. The masjids in those days will be flourishing with regard to architecture, but desolate with regard to guidance.”

Among others, the twentieth-century poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal tried to get us back on the right track by reminding us through his stirring poetry:


Meri zindigi ka maqsad teray deen ki sarfarazi (My life’s purpose is the establishment of a just social system)

Isliye main Musulmaan, isliye main namazi (This is why I am a Muslim, this is why I pray!).

Sister Salina Khan runs the blog, http://theperfectionistas.blogspot.ca/

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