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By Samana Siddiqui
It’s that time of year again, which means Sound Vision has developed another list of ideas for Masjids in 2011. This year, we’re focusing on teens, technology, and much more to help our mosques move forward and meet the increasing challenges and pressures we face as a community.
1. Hold monthly youth open houses
Open houses at Masjids have become a staple activity in the community, especially during Ramadan. Expand this concept to Muslim youth by hosting “Youth Nite“. The point is to reacquaint tweens and teens with their house of worship.
2. Embrace technology
The Imam of your Masjid may have a cellphone, but does he know how to text with one thumb? Can you text a donation to your mosque? Does it have a Facebook page? Does it tweet about matters spiritual on Twitter? Does it have a listserv where members can discuss issues and post thoughts and ideas?
These are just a few of the technological skills every Masjid in America needs to become adept in in 2011. All of them will help our mosques build efficiency, as well as an online community. Nowadays, the latter is just as important as building an in-person one.
As well, these tools help Muslims express themselves in a constructive manner, as they develop their thoughts and share them with others. In the long run, this helps us learn how to debate and discuss issues that concern us as a community, and talk about them in an effective way.
3. Deliver dynamic Khutbas
Sleeping or texting worshippers are hardly uncommon at Friday prayers. Some of this may be due to genuine fatigue or an emergency. But more often than not, they are a reflection of a boring Khutba. This year, hold a meeting in the first week of January with all of the people who present sermons at your Masjid. Then, brainstorm topics of relevance to the community, as well as how to make them relevant and interesting.
Also, if it’s available in your city, have your Masjid’s Imam and all of the Khateebs attend Khutba training workshops. If nothing like this exists, participate in the programs of groups like Toastmasters. Then, based on the information from their sessions, develop one for Muslim public speakers.
4. Gear up for Election 2012
Ever hear about the Muslims who built a bar in their neighborhood?
It started like this: the Muslim community heard about the plan and 40 people decided to approach the alderman of that town for a hearing on this issue. Along with them, 10 others attended in support of the bar.
The alderman then asked the Muslims how many of them were registered to vote. Out of the 40, only four raised their hands. When he asked the same of the supporters of the bar, all 10 raised their hands. Seeing this, the alderman explained that while he was sympathetic to the concerns of the Muslim community, they had to understand that in the face of four registered voters versus ten, he would favor the position of the greater number of voters.
If you want your voice, and your concerns to count, you have to vote. Let this year be the one in which we build a solid Muslim voter base, discuss our common concerns, and decide which issues we should push for in the presidential election of 2012 insha Allah.
In America we have an opportunity to be counted. But unless we participate we will be ignored. Wars have killed a million-plus Muslims in the last 10 years, created over 10 million new refugees, and literally destroyed the U.S. economy. We are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China to fund this effort. However, no one during the last election campaign talked about these facts. Had Muslims joined with fellow Americans who also oppose these wars, we could have made this an election issue. Let’s do that for next year.
5. Make women real decision-makers
Don’t think your Masjid has done its job if it’s just provided ample, clean space for women, along with voting rights in the mosque‘s elections. Women need to be involved in its decision-making at the board level, not just relating to “ladies” issues. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, regularly consulted women in various capacities. Follow the Sunnah and do the same at your Masjid starting this year.
6. Sell hope
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Make things easy and do not make them difficult, cheer the people up by conveying glad tidings to them, and do not repulse (them)'' (Bukhari and Muslim).
We are living in difficult times for Muslims in America and around the world. The Masjid should not only be a place where these challenges are talked about it, but it should also be where Muslims can find solace.
Make your Masjid a repository of hope and comfort for Muslims. At least once a month, Khutbas should be about an optimistic topic, something that will infuse listeners with joy; Imams, Khateebs, and everyone who volunteers regularly at the Masjid should smile more often; positive news about good things Muslims are doing or of others standing up for Muslims should be given publicity in sermons and newsletters.
7. Root out extremism
Be extra vigilant about extremist views among worshipers and be prepared to counsel those who espouse them. This topic should also be discussed in Khutbas. In addition, watch for“entrapment” efforts.
8. Hold “other” meetings at your Masjid
Apart from open houses and interfaith meetings, most Masjids don’t offer much of an incentive for non-Muslims to step in. This year, consider holding gatherings for other interests at your mosque. For example, in one California Masjid, avid numismatics gather regularly to share their love of stamps. The head of the group is a Muslim woman who suggested the idea in the first place, and they have been meeting there since.
Doing this allows both Muslims and non-Muslims to connect with your Masjid in a more light-hearted and comfortable context. Remember that most Americans are counseled to avoid discussing religion or politics in polite company. Stamps are easier to stomach than sermons, and they provide an incentive to learn more about Islam and become more comfortable with Muslim neighbors.
9. Make anger management part of sermons and classes
In a Gallup survey last year, 26 percent of Muslim youth in the U.S. reported feeling angry as compared to 14 percent of Protestant youth and 18 percent of the general American population. This survey had 10 questions on mental health and almost all results when it came to young Muslims revealed that they were the least happy and the most angry. Islamophobia has created intense stress and pressure for their parents as well, with Muslims suffering from job discrimination, profiling during travel, as well as general prejudice. There is much anger and frustration that needs to be dealt with constructively.
While Masjids should offer anger management workshops, these are not likely to be well attended. Most people would be embarrassed to admit they have a problem. Instead, use your two best platforms to reach Muslims of all ages: Friday sermons and youth classes or activities.
You can choose to develop a few lessons or Khutbas exclusively on this topic. But it would be better to incorporate Islamic teachings about anger throughout the year as situations come up. For example, if a fight between two students breaks out, use the opportunity to talk about it in class, perhaps even acting out a skit to show how the situation could have been handled better.
10. Embrace humor and fun
Humor is an excellent way to reach out to others, especially tweens and teens. While the Masjid will always be a place devoted to the serious worship of Allah, we can’t forget that the Prophet embraced a lifestyle that incorporated fun and lightheartedness from time to time.
Humor is also a key element in television programs geared at youth. Plan a Muslim joke festival at the Masjid. Challenge youth to come up with the funniest, cleanest, Muslim-themed jokes they can. That means no swearing, backbiting, or disrespect to anyone, young or old. Reward the best ones with prizes. Then, publish them in a little booklet entitled “Best Muslim Jokes 2011", in paper and PDF form. Put the latter up on the mosque’s website.
Also, on Eid, organize a carnival for kids featuring some of the usual (e.g. pony rides, inflatables, popcorn, cotton candy, etc.) as well as the unusual (e.g. a video game tournament, poetry readings, Islamic rap song contest, fashion show for girls and women only), that will allow Muslims to truly feel the joy of Eid.
11. Plan some activities during the summer
Masjid activities usually slow down or stop completely in the summer months. Many people do go out of town on vacation at some point, but not everyone does, or does so at the same time. Plan at least a few weekly activities for young and old, whether it’s classes, story time, or discussion groups. This will help keep Muslims connected to the mosque in the summer instead of taking a complete two-month hiatus.
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