Who Runs Our Mosques?
Realistically speaking, the scholars at our centers are treated as mere employees of the executive board. Subsequently, the resident scholars we have in many communities are censored and are increasingly reluctant to speak out against the above activities which take place in our centers. If our religious guides are intimidated to speak up against music, gender mixing, the need for Hijab when entering a Mosque, and so on, how do our communities function in the first place?
Mosques and Islamic centers across the West are currently debating how to best meet the increasingly dynamic demands of their congregations. Indeed, we require of our religious organizations a variety of qualities, including being accessible to the youth, technological literacy, and fluency in catering to Islam in the West and its growth. However, as the discourse continues to shift towards progress and advancement, we must also evaluate the very foundation of our religious organizations. The burden of transparency and allegiance to Islamic mandates falls on the heads of our mosques and centers, in addition to each individual congregation member.
Unfortunately, while immense progress has been made in the logistical aspect of running our religious organizations, there continue to be lapses in judgment when it comes to the ethical and religious dimensions of decisions carried out by the leadership in many mosques and centers. It appears the cost of maintaining increasingly sophisticated centers is the slow, but apparent erosion of Islamic principles in the conduct of the Mosque and what it has come to symbolize in our community.
The paragon of such contradictions comes in the utilization of our mosques. There is a minority movement among youth who are rejecting having opulent weddings and celebrations at hotels and rental halls and are turning to their local mosques to hold such occasions. In an ideal world, nothing more should be asked of them, and they should be commended for discarding the dark veils of culture and decadence. However, all too often we witness the desecration of the house of God by certain individuals who choose to play music at their weddings held at the mosque. In general, no real action is taken by the leadership of the centers where such incidents took place to ensure they do not occur again. It would behoove these centers to speak out about issues such as music and mixed gathering in Islam in the first place, so that we do not produce masses that are ignorant of such issues. It is one thing to disobey God and play music in our own private quarters, but to do so blatantly and without a second thought in God’s house of all location alludes to the eroding sanctity of the Mosque in our communities.
The question of how our mosques and centers can be utilized doesn’t simply end when it comes to renting out facilities to parties not associated with the Mosque or its board of directors. In an effort to attract an increasingly Westernized audience, our mosque youth committees are holding events such as “Youth Meet and Greet”. While the Islamic perspective on gender mixing is fairly clear, events such as those that promote unmitigated gender mixing continue to take place and are mushrooming in popularity. The track record of meets and greets is one of where an event quickly deteriorates, and instead of being a venue for “respectable” interaction among those with the intention to marry, they become events infested with immodesty where every law of Hijab is violated. Furthermore, scholars including Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani do not permit the facilitation of such events among the youth.
The issue of gender mixing in our centers has been ignored despite the Islamic perspective on the matter being well-known. However, due to political influences and the fear of being labeled “too conservative”, many mosque leaderships has refrained from enforcing the Islamic conditions on gender mixing. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in a sermon to the people of Iraq spoke of the mixing of the genders, “O people of Iraq! I have been informed that your women rub shoulders with men on the streets – do not you feel ashamed?” (Wasail al-Shia) How is it then we can allow such blatant transgressions to take place in mosques?
If our purpose is to establish mosques and centers that are progressive, then it must also be our objective to leave behind an era of transparency. Long gone are the days of a mosque or center being run by one individual, and today practically every center has an executive board or committee who oversee the operation of the center. The board is usually comprised of influential members of the community who unfortunately, more often than not, are respected for their occupation and monetary status. However, the qualifications to be a board member for a mosque ironically do not include religious knowledge or piety. The end result is many mosque leaderships completely devoid of any regard for Islamic principles, with little to no knowledge of Fiqh, ethics, or Islamic traditions.
We find in every Marja Taqleed’s (Religious Authority) book of laws that it is obligatory on every layman to familiarize him-/herself with Islamic rulings pertinent to one’s daily life and routine, so why is it that we continue to allow our centers to be run by individuals who are ignorant about basic Fiqhi matters? The leadership at our religious institutions is a reflection of our community, and the moment we stop demanding competency and piety at the highest levels of our mosques is the same moment we have struck Islam with the greatest sword. The lack of competence, knowledge, and piety in leadership is especially shameful considering Imam Ali outlined and thoroughly elaborated upon these principles in his famous Epistle to Malik al-Ashtar almost 1400 years ago!
These individuals most dangerously try to push their agendas (or ignorance) when it comes to who gets to speak in our centers. Whether we admit it or not, the pulpit in the majority of our centers is readily given up to any self-proclaimed intellectual without the slightest seminary background, as long as he is willing to make overarching generalizations about Azadari, Marjaiyyat, and the Shari’ah. A Catholic church would never invite someone who condemns the Pope, but our Islamic centers take “freedom of speech” to a whole new level, disregarding the traditions of the Infallibles about the level of knowledge and piety one is expected to exhibit before ascending the pulpit of the Prophet.
Our mosques do have a resident scholar who is charged with ensuring that the community maintains the required level of practicing Islam. Theoretically speaking, the imam at every mosque serves as a banner of Islam and truth, uplifting the spirits of the believers and making sure no one goes astray. Realistically speaking, the scholars at our centers are treated as mere employees of the executive board. Subsequently, the resident scholars we have in many communities are censored and are increasingly reluctant to speak out against the above activities which take place in our centers. If our religious guides are intimidated to speak up against music, gender mixing, the need for Hijab when entering a Mosque, and so on, how do our communities function in the first place? The very fact that the pulpit at our centers is subjectively used should raise red flags and is an indicator of the inadequacy plaguing our mosques.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in his last will warned of an age where those most unfit for running the Muslim community will indeed be doing so, “Do not desist from promoting good deeds and cautioning against bad ones. Should you do that, the worst among you would be your leaders, and you will call upon Allah without response.”