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Urdu Section ( 9 Feb 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The role of mosques in social reform

By Maulana Nadeemul Wajidi (Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam Edit Desk)


A conference of the Imams of 140 Mosques in and around Khatauli in the district of Muzaffarnagar near Deoband was held recently.  In the conference, they decided that they will not only perform their duties as imams but would also pay attention to social reform.  Today the customs of the fellow countrymen have become so common among Muslims that they have become an integral part of our society. Playing music in marriage ceremonies, eating while standing, considering dowry as imperative, exhibiting the dowry and spending lavishly etc. are among numerous customs that can be avoided. The Imams have decided that they would boycott such marriages to discourage these customs.  They will not administer such Nikahs nor will they participate in them.  The situation has arisen because we have delinked mosques from their broad meaning.  Commonly Muslins think that the mosque is the God’s abode and they go there to offer prayer collectively and that’s all. This concept has rendered Muslims detached from the mosques.  Though the mosques are central to the Muslims of the area where they can not only gather for  worship, but also carry on their religious, educational and reform based activities.  Until a few years ago Nikahs were held in mosques in cities and towns.  This is a sunnath. Gradually this practice is getting outdated.  Now hardly any household likes to get the Nikha of their sons and daughters to be held in mosques. Generally mosques are rented for this purpose, where a big part is specified only for Nikah.  A special stage is prepared only for the Grooms and is lavishly decorated. Only then a ritual like Nikah is completed.  There is no doubt that the main reason for the alienation of Muslims from mosques in terms of social affairs is Imams themselves.  Now when the situation is aggravating our Imams are forced to think over it and they are pondering to take steps in this direction. Anyway, it is never too late. The Imams have belatedly started to think about it and realize that the mosques hold great importance in the reform of Muslims.  At this moment this decision has been taken by the Imams of 140 Mosques of only a town in a district.  This movement should spread and every mosque should play a pivotal role for the Muslims of the area.

According to the meaning given by Islam a mosque is a place for worship of the almighty that has been stated in the Quran.

And the mosques are for Allah (Alone), so invoke not anyone along with Allah.”(Al jinn 18).                                       

The Quran says that worship does not only connote physical worship like 5 prayers in a day but it has a wider meaning which covers all the aspects of the life of a believer. God says:

Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims." (Al Anam 162-163)“

During  the initial stage of Islam, the  mosque have essential character of all social, political and religion base assembling were held in a mosque.  Even educational classes were also held in mosque.  The Prophets encouraged his fellow companions to come to mosque to earn about the faith.

 “The person who sets out for the mosque only for the purpose of learning something or teaching someone will get the reward of a complete Hajj”(Tabarani 99/7).  The Prophet (PBUH) would deliver sermons on occasions other than those of Namaz.  This made the female companions (sahabiyat) feel that the men benefitted more from the Prophet’s sermons while they were losers.  So they came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said:                                           

“Men have surpassed us in terms of benefitting from your sermons, so please fix a day for us.  Therefore, the Prophet (PBUH) fixed a day for them when he (PBUH) would deliver his sermons”.(Sahih Bukhari 178/1).

This was also done in the mosque.  The women were very enthusiastic about participating in the assembly and they would come to the mosque leaving their all chores and learn about the religion.  Seeing their zeal, once Hazrat Aysha said: “Best women are the women of the Ansar for whom their modesty is not a hindrance in getting religious education”.(Ibn Majah 307/2).  It means that they do not shy away from the problems they face but ask the Prophet (PBUH) within the limits of decency and get guidance from him (PBUH).

The Prophet (PBUH) would go to the mosque to supervise the religious sessions held from time to time.  Some time he would join the sessions to encourage the fellow companions.  Hazrat Abdulah bin Amro bin al Aas said that once Prophet passed through two sessions.  In one of the sessions, dua and dhikr was going on and in the other session religious issues were being discussed.  He approved of both sessions and joined the session on religious discourse.  He sometimes took help of examples.  Abdullah Bin Masood narrated the tradition: Once the Prophet(PBUH) drew a straight line on the ground and said that this was the right path, then he drew a line on its left and right and said there is no path on which the Satan does invite  us to follow. After that he recited this verse.

And verily, this (i.e. Allah's Commandments mentioned in the above two Verses 151 and 152) is my Straight Path, so follow it, and follow not (other) paths, for they will separate you away from His Path..(Al Anam 153).”

In the initial stages and the later stages of Islam the importance of mosques in Islamic society shows that the mosques are the fundamental source of Islamic identity.  It is not a place of worship alone but also for promoting collectivism among Muslims. Discipline and integrity is promoted by mosques.  It generates love and fraternity and promotes the spirit of learning and imparting religious education. If we do not confine prayers only to worship and do not measure the greatness of mosques with the heights of their minarets, this verse sheds lights on the broader meaning of mosques.  By greatness and heights the heights of walls and minarets are not meant but the width in which the Muslims assimilate themselves with all their issues and affairs, where the praise of God is sung and education is also imparted. it should also be  a place for training where  believers can sit and  pray God and seek his intervention in all their affairs.  There is a tradition that says that once when the Prophet (PBUH) came to the mosque, an Ansari Abu Umamah was already present there.  The Prophet (PBUH) asked him,” O Umamah, what are you doing here when this is not a time for prayer.”  He replied,”O Holy Prophet (PBUH) I am beleaguered by problems and have been burdened by debts.” The Prophet (PBUH) said,  “Will I tell you some verse that  if you recite them God  will solve your problems and your debt will be repaid.”  He said, “O Holy Prophet (PBUH) please teach me the verse.”  The Prophet (PBUH) asked him to recite some verses every morning and evening. (Abu Dawood 353/4).

The Sahabi was a in a financial crisis but did not go to any rich person for help but went to Allah’s home and started thinking about it.  His act did not go waste. By the virtue of the prayer taught by Prophet, all his problems were solved and he got rid of his debt.  This incidence tells us that if a sahabi could take the shelter in the God’s abode in his personal matter why the Muslims cannot take shelter in God’s home in their collective affairs and problems.  The system of worship in Islam, especially the system of 5 collective prayers that Islam has produced means that God wants to see collectivism which in itself is a solution to many crises.              

The question of collectivism could also be done away with in the observance of namaz like in roza and zakat and instead of stressing the significance of the mosques, the Muslims could have been told to offer their five prayers in the comfort of their homes. But it is not so. The collective prayers in the mosques were ordained and the emphasis was put on it repeatedly. Two different hadiths of Sahih Muslim and Bukhari say:

“Offering namaz collectively has 27 fold rewards than the individual namaz. (Muslim). That is, when the believer does the ablution properly and sets out for the mosque, his place is exalted by one stage at every step and one of his sins is forgiven. When he starts his namaz, angels pray for him as long as he is offering the namaz :” O God, shower your blessings on him, have mercy on him. The person waiting for the time of the prayer is also like one who is actually offering prayer.”

The sahaba were so accustomed to offering prayers in the mosque that when someone would not turn up for the namaz, they would think that the person was either ill or was a munafiq (hypocrite). Most of the time people would suspect him to be a munafiq because generally ailing sahabis would also come to the mosque for prayer escorted by two persons. If you made it a habit to offer your namaz at home leaving the mosque, you gave up the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) and if you gave up the sunnah of the Prophet, you are misled. (Sahih Muslim 387/3; raqmal hadith 1046). Once Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Abbas was enquired about a person who offered namaz all night and would fast all day but avoided the Friday prayers and collective prayers in the mosque. He was said to be condemned to go to hell. So, the significance of the collective prayers of the mosque is so great that it was concluded by a majority of ulema that offering prayers in the mosque was a sunnah muakkadah.

Have we ever thought why offering of namaz in mosques has been stressed so much. The purpose of worship would also be fulfilled by offering namaz at home or in solitude. Why has the attendance in the mosque been made mandatory irrespective of night or day, rain or sun, winter or summer? There might be some reason behind it. The purpose is collectivism. All the people gather in the mosque of the locality five times a day, all the people of the area gather in the principal mosque of the area, the population of a vast area gathers at the Eidgah twice a year. The observance of namaz is the basic thing. But it also promotes harmony, fraternity, discipline and order.

Mosques teach us discipline and order alongwith collectivism. Not only the method of worship but also the way to lead a better life is learnt in mosques. Coming to the mosque all clean and tidy, waiting for the namaz to begin in silence and peace, offering the namaz and other rituals with humility, standing in a straight line, following the imam to the tee, all are part of the system of the mosque. Hadhrat Abdullah Ibn Masood narrates the tradition t: “Hadhrat Muhammad (PBUH) would correct our lines holding our shoulders and saying: “Stand in a straight line, do not be in disarry and disintegration otherwise yoiur hearts will also go hay wire.”(Sahih Muslim 2/425; raqmul hadith 654). In another tradition, the same message is given more clearly: “Form lines, join shoulders with shoulders, do not leave room in between, and bring your hands closer to those of your brethren. Do not leave room for Satan. Those who form the line, will get God’s blessings and those who break the line will fall apart from God’s blessings.”(Abu Dawood 2/309; raqmal hadith 570).

The attendance in mosques instilled great sense of discipline in sahaba. One tradition says that during the Battle of Iran, the warriors were crossing a river in a line. A sahabi dropped his bowl in the water. He started searching for the bowl in the water. The warriors remained standing in line in the river until the sahabi found his bowl and joined his compatriots.

The appointment of imams in the mosques is also not devoid of wisdom. It could be so that there would not be any imam. People would come in groups and offer namaz and go away. But instead of that, the Muslims were ordered to select an imam and follow him in the namaz collectively. According to religious scholars, if a namaz has been offered in the mosque, other namaz is not permissible. Secondly, there are limitations in the selection of imams but useful guidelines have been formulated in view of the convenience of the Muslims. While selecting an imam for a mosque people should keep this principle in mind: “The person who can recite the book of Allah in a better way should be the imam, and if there are more people capable of a better recitation, then the person having a greater knowledge of sunnah should lead the prayers.” (Tirmizi397/1; raqmul hadith 218). This makes it clear that while the talent of decent recitation of the Quran is required on the part of the imam, the knowledge of sharia laws is also desired so that one can perform his duties as a  leader of the community.

Imamat is not an ordinary position in Islam.  It is true that the purview of imamat is limited to the mosques in practical terms. However, the person exalted to the seat of imamat also has a social status outside the mosque and his position and status can be used for the reform of the Muslim society. Islam does not only detail the virtues of Imam but also gives clear instructions to follow him. A hadith says: “The imam is to be followed, so when he calls the takbeer, follow him and say the takbeer, and when he starts reciting (the Quran) then observe silence.” (Ibn Majah 3/82; raqmal hadith 837). This is a long hadith in which the duties of the imam and the followers have been enumerated.

 Mosques have enjoyed a central place in the Islamic history. During the progress of Islam, wherever Muslim populations came up, mosques were also built in those populaces, becoming the centres of the religious, social and practical activities of the Muslims. There are innumerable such mosques, some of them being more than 1000 years old. That’s why they are also called Jawamaul Alf (thousand year old mosques).For instance, Jamay  Amro bin al Aas of Egypt, Jamay Umwi of Damascus,  Jamay Al Mansur of Baghdad, Jamay al Qarubeen of Marraqash, Jamay al Zaitunah of Tunis are mosques that have played an important role in the intellectual and educational guidance of the Muslims of their respective countries.

There are millions of mosques in our country where the Muslims gather five times to offer prayers. Among those mosques, some are major ones. Many of them are historical mosques.  Many services for the welfare and reform of the Muslims can be rendered from those mosques. But first we should come out of the age old definition of mosques. Our fault is that we have confined mosques to prayers. We should study the system of mosques in Islam and provide the Muslims with an opportunity to benefit from its merits. Even In this decadent age, imams are treated with respect. People listen to them. There is a need to take advantage of their position and status. We hope that the community will benefit from this character of the imams. The imams who have taken upon the task of social reform in Khatoli deserve praise. Muslims should move forward by making the mosques the basis of social reform.

Source: Daily Hindustan Express, New Delhi