Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some other reasons you won't find me at the masjid

     And I mean the reasons apart from the wholesale gender apartheid rampant in mosques throughout the US. There are several masjids in my city and the accommodations range from tolerable to nonexistent. At the one I used to attend (that my husband still attends regularly), the room is big enough, but is used primarily as a storage space. It's entirely removed from the main congregation; women can't see the imam, but only hear him via a single crackling, screeching loudspeaker. Not that most are paying attention anyway, after all, it's been made quite clear that their participation in the service is unnecessary. Since the khutba and prayer aren't for them and their presence is merely tolerated, why should they listen? Better to cluster up for a nice gossip and take the opportunity to let the kids run about for a while.
     But segregation and inferior accommodations alone did not drive me from the masjid. So without further ado, some reasons, chosen at random from my ever-growing list.
     Reason 416.7
     Political diatribes masquerading as khutbas. Ninety-five percent of sermons are about politics. While the goings on in Palestine, Lebanon, and the rest of the Arab states are surely important, it would be refreshing if once in a while we might hear about Islam. (Note: I mention Arab states because Arabs predominate here. I'm sure if this hood were primarily South Asian, I'd be complaining about the barrage of Indo-Pak-centric sermons.)
     Reason 212.4
     This one is tangentially related to reason 416: The nurturing of our persecution complex. Every single week, we hear about how the world is against us, how there is a vast conspiracy to humiliate and conquer Muslims. We hear that we must be wary of all non-Muslims and ready at a moment's notice to defend Islam against...well, against pretty much the entire world. Nary a mention of the problems within our communities (unless it's about the number of Muslims engaged in illicit sex, in which case it's blamed on "Western media" anyway). Yes, our internal issues are best swept under the rug.
     Reason 671 
     Strong arm fundraising tactics. Last year I went for Tarawih one fine evening. Throughout the night, we were hearing about our responsibility to support orphans (Palestinian orphans). Finally, the imam paused and shouted, "BROTHERS, WE WILL NOT PROCEED UNTIL WE HAVE COLLECTED AT LEAST $5000." And we didn't. There we sat for almost 30 minutes in relative silence as the masjid minions waded through the crowd, stopping in front of each of us to give us the stare of death ("sisters" were expected to give as well, even though we didn't warrant a mention from the imam). This doesn't happen only in Ramadan, but every single week those attending Jumma are bullied into giving to someone's cause. Now, I'm a great promoter of charity and I do think it's every Muslim's responsibility to give as much as he or she can, but am I mistaken in saying it's meant to be done privately? Charity loses much of its blessing if one is shamed into giving. I also wonder why no one has considered that there are among us those who literally do not have a penny to give.
     Reason 38.9
     Unqualified speakers. Most masjids have Friday guest speakers who are seemingly chosen at random from a pool of available men. One would think this would ensure a fresh and ever changing perspective. Alas, most are not only ill informed about religion, they're terrible public speakers. At my most recent masjid, there is a large number of black American converts, many of whom are invited to speak (that is, the men are invited). They are, to a man, proudly introduced as "Brother So-and-So, who came to Islam X-number of months ago." Said convert will relate his conversion story, then tell how he spent three months "upon the knowledge" in Yemen or KSA, funded by the generosity of the congregation. He will then proceed, with his newly acquired slightly foreign-sounding accent, to rant for 30 minutes about the "kuffar" and how important it is to be "upon" various things (the haq, the minhaj, the knowledge, whatever). Embarrassing. The point is to congratulate ourselves for gaining converts and to seem less racist, which is awful in its own right, but we do it by forcing the congregation listen to meaningless drivel picked up from websites and "teachers," then regurgitated for the rest of us.
     Reason 709
     The stench. A masjid is the very last place on the planet one should expect to find rampant body odor and foul feet. And do please spare me the "some people have a disorder..." excuse. It is statistically impossible that so many hundreds of people gathered in the same place should, all by chance, have the same funky disease. That the men have just come from work also doesn't cut it. While a number do perform manual labor, taxi drivers and waiters should not smell like anything apart from motor oil and french fries. Not to mention that a huge part of the overall stink emanates from the women's section, wherein fully half are either teachers in the attached Islamic school, receptionists, or homemakers. No  excuse for the reek of unwashed bodies and clothing there either. I've also heard "wearing deodorant is alien to such-and-such culture." Fair enough, but I'm talking about skipping soap and water, apparently for weeks on end and far outside any country plagued by water shortages, alhamdulillah. I really want to know where so many Muslims got the idea that it's ok to stand before the Creator while smelling like a donkey.
     Reason 2
     The Shady Sheikh. I'm not talking about one in particular, but it's a serious problem at a number of masjids in the area. I can't stomach the thought that the ones who are meant to be setting an example for the rest of us are so often the worst hypocrites among us. The so-called sheikhs in this city engage in insurance scams, embezzlement, cover up for abusive men, perform Green Card marriages for cash, and pressure female converts to marry men who need papers, are already married, or have just been released from prison.The common response, when one points out that our community leaders are little better than criminals, is "But he went to Azhar!" To that I say pssshhhhhh. Azhar, like any other institution, has its share of bad students and people who misuse or misunderstand what they learn (though it does seem suspicious that so many of those ended up in this city). The other thing we're not supposed to mention is, that because Azhar is free and many other religious institutions are relatively low cost, the slowest or most inept kid in a family is often the one who gets religious training, while the most promising are sent off to be lawyers or engineers. Same goes for families with a lot of kids. The money for education is depleted by the first three or four and the rest have to study religion. So in many cases, it's not that one has any vocation or the desire to study the din, rather that there's no more money and religious education is a sure way to a steady income. In fact, it's a joke among many people. If someone's kid screws up or gets bad grades, parents will often laughingly say, "Well he'll have to study religion." Thus the unqualified and downright stupid end up being the people who run our mosques.

     The above list is by no means exhaustive. There are plenty of other reasons I'm not likely to set foot in a masjid any time soon. These are just some of the standouts. 

     Coming Soon: The reasons you won't find my kids in an Islamic school...


  1. This was an all-around fantastic post that addresses points that Muslims need to hear. Since all the points were so good, I'll address them each of them separately. Alhamdulillah, I really love the masjid that I attend because they are able to avoid most of these things, and I really feel welcome and accepted there (probably because it serves a very diverse population with a lot of students and young professionals).

    Alhamdulillah, the masjid I usually attend has a very good space for women. Women actually have three options when praying; they can pray behind the men in the main hall, they can pray in two adjacent rooms to the main hall that are completely open (no walls, so they can see and hear the imam without any equipment; basically next to the men), or they can pray in a balcony space upstairs where they can see and hear the imam without a TV screen or a PA system). However, I have been to masjids where the women's section is a windowless room with no access to the imam besides a loudspeaker system and a TV screen, and I don't feel welcome or comfortable there at all.

    Reason 416.7: I am very proud of my masjid for actually talking about Islamic topics in their khutbahs rather than having them degenerate into anti-Western tirades. I went to a masjid in Morocco where it turned very political, and I really wanted to leave because I don't come to the masjid to discuss politics.

    Reason 212.4: Agreed. Yes, there is obviously anti-Muslim sentiment out there, and even sometimes anti-Muslim laws, but I think it is going way too far to claim that "everyone is out to get us", especially when there are so many issues that aren't discussed within the Muslim community.

    Reason 671: Wow, that's really harsh and quite unIslamic to shame people into donating like that. Like you said, some people might simply not have anything to give, and even if they did, they should not have to feel so much pressure to do it, which really does take away from the spirit of sadaqah.

    Reason 38.9: Oh man, that sounds insufferable. Convertitis is bad enough, but to subject the whole congregation to it sucks. And anytime I hear the word "kuffar" used improperly (i.e. when people say it to refer to anyone who is not Muslim, regardless of their background or situation), I want to punch something. There are some people like that at my masjid, but Alhamdulillah they have not been invited to give the khutbah (usually reserved for people with more knowledge).

    Reason 709: Alhamdulillah, I haven't been to a masjid that has truly stunk, but I can imagine how gross/unpleasant/distracting it must be.

    Reason 2: I haven't had much experience with this, but honestly, if I found out that the imam or sheikh at a masjid that I attended was like this, I would probably leave and not return until they left their position.

  2. You leave the best comments.
    I think the reason you've been fortunate enough to have not encountered a lot of these issues is, as you mention, your masjid "serves a very diverse population with a lot of students and young professionals."
    In the cities I've lived in, the masjids generally serve a specific immigrant/second-generation community. We have the Yemeni masjid, the Lebanese masjid, the Pakistani, and so on. (I should mention that there are numbers of converts about, with the Euro Americans generally gravitating toward the Lebanese masjid and the African Americans the Yemeni masjid, but in both cases, converts are not generally considered such an integral part of the community that their needs and concerns should be addressed).
    If there were greater diversity, I think there would be far fewer of the issues I talked about (at least, once the initial ethnic power struggle ended). But the self segregation that goes on, not only in the Muslim community as a whole, but within our communities, when we isolate ourselves according to ethnicity, allows the miserable practices I wrote about to become entrenched.
    Young people and more liberal Muslims have no alternative, no space where one doesn't have to worry about ethnic divisions or local politics, so they either shut up and go along, or do as I've done and stay home. It's frustrating because rather than young people, as they grow older and take power, changing the less desirable of their elders' traditions, they simply incorporate them, so the nonsense continues.

  3. This was great. Though I have never been to a masjid the pictures in my mind seemed quite vivid. Believe it or not many of the same issues exist with my religion and it's many houses of worship. Religion it seems is universally resistive to change for the better. Thanks again for the post and sharing these insights. Good luck and be well.

  4. My husband would love for me to convert to Islam, but I have a serious issue about the segregation of women. In his mosque, the women are in a separate room (and on Friday prayers, a separate building!). The worst was when my stepdaughter died suddenly. I was stuck in a windowless room with the women, then wasn't allowed at the gravesite for her burial. My husband & sons needed me to be with them, yet because I was female I had to stay out of sight. I'd understand if it was because I was kaffir, but just for being born a woman? His mosque is mostly Pakistani immigrants. Went to a mosque in Ohio once which was much more inclusive and active in community; I might get more involved if there was one like that here.

  5. Hi Gruelmeister, thanks for stopping by.
    I can well believe that one finds similar problems in other religions. Sadly, as soon as any religion starts getting itself organized and becomes a community affair, the power struggles and personality conflicts overshadow every good thing.

  6. Hi Sk8r,
    It's sad that the community you live in is influencing your relationship with God. I hope you'll find good relationships with the more rational among us soon.
    And by the way, that thing about women not attending funerals is a load of crap. Gender segregation carried to such an inhuman extreme that one isn't allowed to mourn for a child is most assuredly not a part of Islam.

  7. I loved this post! It's so, so, SO darn true for me as well -- well, most of the points anyway. There are two mosques in my community that I go to or used to go to frequently but not as much. One of them - just far too conservative and intolerant for my taste. I got tired of arguing with one of the Qur'an teachers there about all the issues we were discussing and her reasons for, say, why plucking the eyebrows is haraam because "I [she! She!] would like to return to my God exactly as He created me." I was like, "But that's no reason for you to tell the rest of us women how to handle our eyebrows or not to shape them!" She used a similarly lame reason for her claim that blood and organ donation is haraam in Islam. Or that blood can be donated ONLY to Muslims. ~rolling eyes~ Oh them poor infidels.

    The other mosque - interestingly, my teacher appreciated the sort of questions my sister and I'd ask, she really did. She'd tell us how much she loves us for raising such questions. But each time my sister or I would ask a question, most of the students would laugh. And we realized that we were putting our teacher in an unpleasant situation such that she didn't really know how to appease both us and her other students. So we just figured that wasn't a palace conducive to the kinds of questions we had to ask. It was good only for questions on how to express your outward piety, and I'm allergic to outward piety - well, most times, anyway.

    The space for women! Oh God, don't even get me started on that. All we women get is a tiny, musty room full of crying children when we're sometimes twice as many than the men - yet, the men get the whooooooooooooole huge inner courtyard space! I got tired of having to remind the women this is unacceptable. I guess I don't have the courage at this point to go to the men's area and pray right there. Hopefully, some time soon in the future!

  8. Back in the day I visited some horrible mosque that had tiny spaces for women, with itchy scratchy carpet to boot; that were seriously in need of a cleaning, the very least a good vacuuming (which caused me to wonder how it got so dirty in the first place, feet in socks and nobody eating etc)plus the women's side rampant with screaming children while the men's side was mostly quiet and serene with the men bobbing back and forth in quiet contemplation (when I happened to be in a mosque where I could actually see them)PLUS the never ending tide of my "fellow sisters" who thought nothing of appointing themselves the dress code mod squad and would go around pointing out your strands of hair or uncovered feet etc.

    And while in the Islamic country I lived in the kutbahs were always in Arabic...while in America they would have one lecture in Arabic and another in never failed that most of the crowd would stay silent and listening for the Arabic one...but suddenly start gossiping and ignoring the children etc when the English one started up. I might point out that most of these people were nonArabic speakers and didn't understand it (there is a difference between listening attentively and sitting there with a glazed look on your face)...though I might point out that rarely were the English and Arabic ones about the same topic and the Arabic one was often more politicized and the English one more about charity or behavior etc.

    The only mosque I ever entered that absolutely reeked were the ones on the road to Mecca. Not only were they the most disgusting mosques with absolutely horrifying attached bathrooms I had ever had the displeasure of being forced to use..but I felt it was a huge shame on the Saudi people and their country to allow such mosques and bathrooms to exist at all...much less on the road to Mecca where you were sure thousands and thousands of muslims would need to use them. Of course you mentioned the people actually being the smelly objects of your so I will point out that in the hot humid country that I lived in, Arabs would mask the body odor that was rampant with tons of you basically were choked on all the different over powering concoctions of perfumes that were impossible to avoid.

    First time to your blog, good luck with it. Looks like you are off to a good start. Coolred38

  9. Hey CoolRed, thanks for stopping by. I've often read your comments on other blogs and always appreciate your insight.

  10. Looking forward to "The reasons you won't find my kids in an Islamic school..."