March 3, 2001

Masjid: A Welcome Place?



When I saw that he was very receptive to Islamic teachings I began to get
excited. Here was a man who spent his entire life living for little more than
himself, now he wanted to live for a greater ideal, a higher goal. He could very
easily become a Muslim. I knew I had to move carefully. One misstep and he might
turn away and remain unfulfilled and lost.

I thought of what to do next. I was only one person. I knew he needed to see
more, to know more, to understand more. I realize then that my problems were
just beginning.

If you can identify with this scenario then you may already know what
problems naturally follow. If you cannot conceive that there would ever be any
difficulty with introducing someone to Islam, then read on and be enlightened.
Certainly light can dispel the darkness that has hidden the truth to many.

We’ve all dreamed of bringing someone to Islam. Every time we’ve had the chance
to share our faith with others we thought about the potential for a new Muslim
being born. The Blessed Prophet once said that to bring someone to Islam is
better than the whole world and everything in it. It’s especially of interest to
those of us who have accepted Islam ourselves. We know what life is like before
Islam: stupid, meaningless and empty. We know our fellow Americans need it

But no man is an island and Islam cannot operate in a confined space. To
achieve the full benefit of Islamic practice, one must live Islam, come into
contact with other Muslims and have access to uplifting and inspiring “Taqwa
Builders” such as books, gatherings, Salah in congregation, etc.

Let’s say, just for a moment, that you convinced someone to consider Islam a
bit closer. Let’s say you’ve peaked their interest and you’ve reached them at
the right time in their lives. What do you do next? If you were a Christian, you
might introduce the person to your Bible-study group or bring them to your
Church where they can be drawn into the lifeblood of the thriving institution.

But as a Muslim, you know that we, as a community, don’t have relevant,
interesting study groups. Instead, we have boring meetings where a bunch of old
guys sit around and argue about fiqh issues, middle eastern politics or the evil
Americans. Scratch that. You can’t take your convert-to-be there.

What about the masjid? Surely I could take him or her there? Well, not if
it’s a her, in most cases, because the masajid tend to be very anti-female
places where sisters are shoved into back closets, stuffy basements or tiny
places far away from anything important. (In the old country, women didn’t even
go to the masjid anyway. Ah, the good old days, they reminisce!)

But your prospect is a male, good, that solves that problem. So you bring him
with you to evening prayers one night so he can get a feel for the place Muslims
meet. If you’re blessed with a well-organized masjid, then you’re okay. But if
you’re masjid is like most, it is disorganized, has no secretary, is dirty with
papers and things lying around and, perhaps, there are people living in it and
sleeping around here and there or hoards of unsupervised children are all over,
running amuck. Your friend is open-minded so looks past all third world habits
he sees flaunted and sincerely wants to learn. You’re lucky, because most
educated Americans of all races wouldn’t want to stay in place that’s messy.

You make Salah and perhaps your friend joins in. He loves the experience.
Afterwards, you introduce him to the Imam and some of the brothers. They’re
friendly, warm and decent people. Then everyone decides to sit together for a
small meal in the masjid and your friend hesitates. He feels shy. He’s off his
own turf, after all, and is completely dependent on you at the moment for his
sense of center and place.

A large sheet is spread and the brothers sit down around it. A community bowl
is placed in the center and then everyone begins eating. Your friend takes a few
tentative bites and begins to relax. He even exchanges a word or two with the
brothers and is on the verge of opening up. Then, something strange happens.
Slowly, imperceptibly, the words floating in the air begin to lose their English
flavor and drift over into Urdu or Arabic or Bengali or whatever. After ten
minutes, everyone is speaking a foreign language and laughing and ribbing each

Your friend starts to feel uncomfortable again. No one talks to him, no one
looks at him. You try to engage him in small conversation or even try to
translate discreetly what they’re talking about. But after a few minutes of
translating the useless banter of what’s going on in so-and-so’s old town in the
dusty old country, you see it’s not worth trying anymore.

You finish the meal and the brothers depart. A Muslim sister passes by along
the edge of the room carrying a food pot to the kitchen. She looks timid and
skulks like a thief who hopes to go unnoticed. None of the men salute her or
offer to help. They merely throw their plastic plates in the garbage and filter
out of the masjid and go home.

You try to keep the interest of your friend. You don’t want it to end here.
You look around near the masjid entrance for some literature you can give him.
There are no booklets, flyers or anything like that. All there seems to be are
piles of donation forms from about twelve different relief organizations.

You’re getting nervous. You know follow-up is the key. Your friend shifts his
mind to going home. You can almost see the invisible block erecting itself
again. You don’t want to start at ground zero again. You tell him you want to
check and see what upcoming programs are available to attend. You go to the
bulletin board. It’s a mess. Papers announcing programs held three months ago
still remain. Ads for carpet cleaners and halal meat stores jostle with each
other for space.

After a frantic search your eyes brighten for a moment. You find notice of an
upcoming event. But after seeing who the speaker will be, you become
disappointed. The scholar in question is legitimate, but hardly speaks good
English and often puts audiences to sleep in record time. He never even speaks
about anything relevant. You don’t ever want to take anyone interested in Islam
there-you wouldn’t even go yourself, equating it with a horrible punishment.

You and your friend make ready to leave. You pass by the locked door to the
library. A thought comes and then goes just as quickly. No one attends to the
library around here and it’s full of books a seeker of knowledge would never
understand anyway. Hoping for the guidance of Allah upon your friend, you bid
each other good night and he travels off in his car his home. Either he has a
lot to think about or he feels he found another dead end in his quest for a
spiritual center.

As you turn onto the highway you can’t help but wonder: what if your masjid
were just a little different? What if it was set up for dawah like nearly every
church in America is. What if it were clean, well maintained, staffed with a
friendly secretary and set up as a full service center for the community? What
if those people who have lived in this country for ten years or more would open
up and at least speak the language of the people around them when they were
present? What if there were good, relevant programs for Muslims and non-Muslims
alike given by people who were inspiring, eloquent and aware of the issues we
face in the modern world?

Then, just then, you think to yourself, people like my friend would be
accepting Islam all the time. If you can identify with anything I’ve written in
this article, then resolve to do something about it. If your masjid is good and
runs in a professional manner for dawah and community support, then please give
your address to every Muslim in your city or suburb so they can steer clear of
the masajid which fall far short of decent management and organization.

If a Muslim businessperson can go to Indonesia and within ten years everyone
in the village is Muslim, what are we, who have been here for decades, doing?
There are hardly any converts attending our masajid, second-generation kids find
it irrelevant to be involved there and women are given little, if any voice in
our community affairs.

Time and time again I have seen middle-aged, wealthy men who made big kuffar
bucks in every haram way, filling the masajid and talking about establishing
Islam in this nation. Meanwhile, their kids are outside talking about music,
girls, dancing or whatever, their wives are at home watching TV and their
relatives lost Islam long ago. All this happened right under their noses, by the

If we truly want to establish Islam here, then we have to build community
masajid which serve the community and are relevant to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
I wouldn’t want to be those people on Judgement Day who built a masjid in this
life but then made it a dead structure by their own hands. Allah help us take
the masajid out of their control before there are no more Muslims left to fill


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