The Mosque – A Welcoming Place for Would-be Converts?
Alas not, according to Yahiya Emerick
When I saw 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 realized 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 desperately.
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 jama’ah, 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 life-blood 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 many of 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 ol’ 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 real full-time 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 the place, running amok.
Your friend is open-minded so looks past all the 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 a place that reminds them of a welfare building.
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 other.
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 you’re 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 he 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 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 to 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 da’wah 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 run in a professional manner for da’wah 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 doing who have been here for decades? 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 kuffer-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 godless TV programs and their relatives lost Islam long ago. All this happened right under their noses, by the way.
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 Judgment 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 them!