Every few weeks, it seems that another newspaper article appears with the frightful headline, “Community X Protests New Mosque, Council Grants Building Approval.” It seems that fear has gripped even the most sensible of us. A masjid (literally the “place of prostration” in Arabic, or “mosque” as they are known in English), has unjustifiably become a symbol of fear and worry in American communities, many of whom have begun to protest against their development, afraid that they will become hotbeds of extremist activity. Muslim communities are almost afraid to request the right to build a masjid for their growing populations, afraid that uneducated (and some educated) township members will raise threats, protests, or rally against them with hate crimes and other acts of hostility.
When one examines the actual content of sermons, Sunday school classes, and ideas emanating from major masajid around the United States, it becomes clear that there is nothing more harmful to the fight against extremism than the rejection of masajid in this country. Why? Because masajid are founded when an American Muslim community reaches a critical mass and needs a central place to worship, provide social services, facilitate community outreach, and offer spiritual and moral guidance. When Muslims have rooted themselves deep into American soil for decades and have added the prefix “American” to their cultural identity, a masjid NEEDS to be raised. A masjid is a place of peace and tranquility for the Muslim faithful, and is without doubt the most valued institution of the American Muslim community.
This is why the American Muslim masjid is the extremists’ worst enemy. We build masjids with tender, loving care; we build them to give our children moral and spiritual direction and keep them away from those things that all Americans fear for their children. We build them to provide one reliable place for husbands and wives to unload and resolve their family problems. We build them to celebrate weddings, share happiness from the birth of our children, and ask for forgiveness and mercy from Allah for our deceased. Therefore we would hate nothing more than to watch our own masjids be taken over by people who would use them to destroy everything we have worked for as a community.
We do not tolerate extremism in our masjids. We don’t want it, need it, or care for it. We hate extremism because we are striving to practice our religion and get closer to Allah through the acts truly prescribed by Islam – charity, prayer, justice, remembrance of God, and service to humanity. We are repulsed by the disgrace that extremists bring our name, the name of our beautiful religion, and we detest the scrutiny of our religion that they cause.
The roots of extremism are stomped out at our masjids as our leaders insist we pray for the oppressed, but warn us never to commit the crimes of the oppressors. The roots of terrorism are weeded out as we are taught from the Qur’an itself that to kill an innocent person is as if we have “killed all of mankind.” (5:32)
The masjid is where our hearts are connected to Allah by loving Him and all of His creation. From this beacon Muslim Americans are given light and guidance to be fully American, and fully Muslim; able to contribute to and celebrate the freedom and beauty of America, and adhere fully to Islamic personal conduct and acts of worship.
But to my neighbors who fear my masjid, I ask: What do you think will happen when this central beacon is not allowed to thrive in our communities for us all? Our masjids allow us to hold fast to our qualified traditional scholars, who can tell you from 1,425 years of scholarship that taking the lives of innocent people is strictly forbidden. Our masjids allow us to insulate our communities from the hate-filled voices of rhetoric because we do not allow those voices to penetrate inside. We preach against them actively outside, just as we did on the Friday after 9/11. No cry rang louder against the terrorists of 9/11 than at the American masjids; but unfortunately, only the Muslims who came for prayer at the masjid heard that cry, leading us to the situation of fear and mistrust we have today.
Without masajid, others will meet the need for congregational prayer in their basements, but there will be no central source of guidance and wisdom for the community. And this lack of guidance is a potential source of religious misinterpretation of many sorts in communities of all faiths. Masajid keep our communities healthy and family-oriented, and they attach our hearts to the neighborhoods in which we live, just as churches, synagogues, and temples do.
The builders of masajid are your lawyers, doctors, teachers, and students. We are your neighbors, cab drivers, and shop owners. Our children play with your children, and ride the same trains, planes, and buses as your children. Our lives and communities are intertwined, woven together into a colorful mosaic of beliefs and backgrounds. We – American Muslims – have everything to lose if we lose our masjids to extremism.
That is why we we will not allow it to happen.
That is why the teachings from a major American masjid have never been the source of violence.
That is why our elders and scholars have made it a priority to keep violence and extremism OUT of all our lives.
And that is why every American should want a masjid in their neighborhood.