8 things Masjids can do to help boost social services

Every evening, my mother used to send me with prepared meals to our nearby Masjid as I was growing up in a small town in Pakistan. I always thought our Imam's growth in probably unintended directions was a result of all this food he had to consume which almost everyone in our neighborhood was sending to the Masjid. Later on, when I was allowed to stay out in the evenings, I learned that after every sunset prayer, several volunteers set up food and drinks. Tens of people would come and sit across each other to silently to eat. These were probably the same people I saw sleeping in the Masjid after the last prayer of the day.

Most Masjids in the Muslim world are open 24 hours a day, seven days of week. They are often the first place the hungry, homeless or poor travelers turn to for help in the Muslim world.

However, the Masjid in North America has not developed this tradition. Most mosques are open only during prayer times. With the exception of one Masjid in Atlanta that proudly writes "door open 24/7 days a week," most doors are closed to the hungry and the homeless. About ten years ago I remember failing to persuade a Masjid which respected me as an Imam to allow the usage of its excellent cooking facilities to prepare meals for a proposed mobile soup kitchen (no, it was not one of those "immigrant Masjids". I did not bother to ask them).

The Prophet's Masjid in Madinah was a center of not just prayers, but of all the social and human services being offered at that time for the whole society, Allah's peace and blessings be upon the Prophet. Abu Huraira, who recorded the largest body of the sayings of the Prophet, was actually a homeless and poor Muslim who was sheltered on the Suffa of the Prophet's Masjid, may Allah be pleased with him. Hundreds were sheltered and fed in the Masjid before they were able to take care of themselves in the city. The Prophet's treasury would go empty most of the time because of the priority to take care of people, while the structure of the Masjid was so poor that sometimes the call to prayer would be done with the announcement that people should pray at home because the floor of the Masjid had turned into mud.

Masjids in the USA are better in many aspects than the Masjids in the cities of the old country, but not when it comes to social services. Although 84 percent of Masjids in America provide cash assistance to the needy there are usually no formal structures in place to go beyond the this charity. This can and must be changed. The Masjid is the focus of any Muslim community and in order for it to be effective, it must be more than a prayer place that is closed to the community "after hours."

Since four-fifths of the Masjids are located in a metropolitan area, they must be aware of the extraordinary efforts made by other faith groups to offer social services to the metro communities beyond their own congregation. It is the call of Islam to serve all in need, not just Muslims.

Funding may not be the problem since only 15 percent of Masjids report financial difficulties, while half feel their financial health is good . Social services are such community-oriented programs that it is Masjids, not the national organizations, that may become the only vehicle to help Muslim Americans advance in this long overdue area of development. Although there are many smaller Masjids, in each major city in the US there are four or five of them whose annual budget may be higher than that of any national Muslim organization. The problem, therefore, is not financial. Rather, it is understanding the importance of social services and assigning some dedicated workers/leaders to learn the necessary skills of this field for the community.

Here are eight suggestions for Masjids to provide the necessary social services to the community around them. If you are a Masjid leader, these ideas are for you. If you attend a Masjid, you can initiate discussion in your mosque to move forward in this area. Bear in mind that these ideas are for larger Masjids that can undertake such initiatives on their own. Alternatively, they can partner with smaller Masjids and assist them in enhancing their social services programs.

Form two committees:

The first major suggestion I have is to form two committees:

  • family services committee (marital conflict, spousal abuse, etc.) and
  • human services committee (poverty, homelessness, etc.).

Once the groundwork is done, have a Friday sermon dedicated to the importance of social services in which the Imam asks people to volunteer for the committees. Before a budget and other resources are assigned to the committee, let it study and come up with a plan of what that Masjid itself can do; things they can do in collaboration with other Masjids in the area; and things they can do together with other faith groups.

The formation of two committees instead of one will also rescue the cause of the hungry and the poor (human services committee) which we have often seen being lost to the cause of martial counseling, an area in which about 74 percent of Masjids report being informally involved in.

The formation of the committees will also help formalize what many Masjids may already be doing in an unstructured way, thereby making them much more effective and useful to the community.

No Muslim institution can, Islamically, remain isolated, living like an island oblivious to the society around it. Thank God for faith groups who supported Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, as a result of which many Masjids came out of their isolation. Many have organized open houses etc. Some Masjids had been involved in interfaith dialog before the tragedy. Now is the time to learn how other faith groups offer social services to society.

There is much the Muslim community can learn from the Catholic community, for instance, which has established many solid social service institutions. These have successfully met the needs of not just Catholics, but Americans of all religious backgrounds who are hungry, indigent, facing family or emotional problems, as well as other issues.

These partnerships will bring Muslims out of their isolation in North America and be a method of bridge-building. It will also allow Muslims to gradually develop a domestic agenda that may eventually support their justified concerns regarding international issues of justice. It might also help people of other faiths to develop a feel for Muslim issues.

More Muslim marriages are dissolving or in trouble than we as a community would like to admit. Couples need proper counseling and help. Many husbands and wives often turn to the Imam or the community leader affiliated with a Masjid to help solve their problems. Given the burden of responsibilities these individuals already have on them, and their lack of training in counseling, this is unfair and ineffective. However, many Muslims believe that they are more appropriate than non-Muslim professionals in this field. For instance, one Muslim facing marriage problems went to a non-Muslim marriage counselor who advised him to "date other people" to better evaluate his feelings for his wife.

This is, of course, not a reflection on all marriage counselors in America. However, it does indicate the crying need for marital counseling and conflict resolution that is in line with Islamic values.

Since 75 percent of Masjids do report providing some form of family counseling, Masjids must invest in providing some basic training to Imams and leaders and sponsor other Muslims to offer their services at the mosque for the community. Offering Islamic marital conflict resolution in a compassionate, private and professional manner will Insha Allah, save not just couples and families, but also the future of the Muslim community in America.

There are about two million people currently in prison in the US. About 25 percent of the world's prison population is in this country. In 2001, the rate of incarceration of 690 inmates per 100,000 population is the highest reported one in the world. Forty-six percent of prison inmates in 1999 were African-Americans. Nearly one in seven (13.4 percent) black males aged 25 to 29 were in prison.

Every year about 600,000 people are released from prison. Almost two-thirds of all released prisoners are likely to be rearrested within three years. The total number of people who are somehow controlled through this system is now 6.5 million. They are either incarcerated, on probation or on parole.

There is an acute shortage of vocational, educational and substance abuse programs in and outside the prison system. Only six percent of the prison system's budget goes towards these educational programs. Hundreds and thousands of prisoners are being released each year without any form of community correctional supervision, although studies show that community supervision combined with some form of rehabilitative program following a prisoner’s release helps reduce the chances of these individuals going back to prison.

This is where Masjids can contribute in an extraordinary way. I don't know on what basis, but it is said that about 30 percent of the prison population is Muslim. Most of them became Muslim while there. Of course we know that Malcom X (Malik Shabazz) and H. Rap Brown (Imam Jamil al-Amin) came to Islam through the prison system. Therefore, the Masjids' interest in this area is not only of benefit to humanity, but to the Muslim community as well.

Muslims have already done half of the work. There are Muslim chaplains in the prison system, Friday prayers there, a few correspondence programs, etc. The prison community has become a place where Muslim inmates find not only knowledge about Islam, but brotherhood as well, which is essential for individual security in the prison system.

However, once they leave prison, these Muslims usually lose this support structure and are often left to fend for themselves. They still need help securing a job, finding a place to live, etc. There are hardly any Muslim halfway houses in America, which is why they end up turning to non-Muslim institutions which offer these services. As a result, a number of them leave Islam along the way. Prof. Ilyas Ba Yunus finds that a majority of those 70 percent of new Muslims who leave Islam in a few years are from this category who do not find the Muslim brotherhood in society which they had while in prison.

Can your Masjid work with other ones to establish a halfway house for former inmates, where they can be assisted in transition to a real job, some training and emotional support? If these halfway houses are open for people of all faiths, it can even get support from different government agencies. Some people are actually doing it for business. If your Masjid cannot do it and you do not have other Masjids in your area to coordinate the work with them, maybe you can still consider donating some of your Zakat to a halfway house which is working on helping people stand on their feet.

Most of the priority categories recommended by the Quran apply to this category of people, whether it is Fuqara, Ibn Assabeel, Muallifat al qoloob, or helping prisoners and freeing the people.

The FBI estimates a woman is battered in the United States every 15 seconds. Sixty percent of battered women are beaten while pregnant, often on the stomach. Each year about one million women become victims of violence at the hands of an intimate—a husband, ex-husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. One quarter of all U.S. households with children are headed by women alone.

Domestic violence has plagued Muslim homes for years. Only recently have some efforts been made by Imams and community leaders to address this problem. To our knowledge there is no shelter being run for Muslim women in America. In Chicago, a shelter run by Hindus has more Muslim women clients than non-Muslim. According to research by Prof. Ilyas Ba Yunus, the second largest group which he noted among the 70 percent of new Muslims who leave Islam in a few years belong to those leaving after a marital problem with a Muslim spouse.

The need for battered women's shelters remains high because most women and children who are victims of domestic violence usually have no place to go to escape danger. While some may find supportive family and friends to stay with while domestic violence in their home is being addressed, many, many others have nowhere to turn to. This is why they often end up going to non-Muslim women's shelters. While these offer some respite from the violence, they also pose challenges for Muslim families.

It is imperative that Masjids establish women's shelters. In fact, many Muslim women have often turned to the Masjid for help in this regard, only to be turned away or told by the Imam to "be patient" and tolerate the violence endangering them and their children. The Masjid can offer shelter and safety. In addition, it is likely that the husband perpetrating the abuse will accept advice and intervention from fellow Muslims over non-Muslim social workers and agencies. This makes the Masjid an ideal institution in which or through which to establish a battered women's shelter.

A shelter can be based in a rented house with a few bedrooms. Your Masjid can start one on its own or have a few Masjids start one together. You can sponsor internships for Muslim women in women's shelters to gain an understanding before you start one on your own.

Often times, the reason new Muslims leave Islam is due to a lack of support from the Muslim community in the face of the challenges they face after conversion.

Masjids can help by establishing support groups for new Muslims. These would not only teach new Muslims the basics of the faith, but they would also help them deal with issues like non-Muslim relatives, discrimination and other problems converts face. In addition, they would become like their "family", since many converts must deal with parents and siblings who are hostile to Islam or outright reject them for becoming Muslims. Without such a support system in place, it is highly likely converts will slip back and leave Islam.

The best people to start a new Muslim support group are some "old" new Muslims themselves since they have gone through a transition and learned about the challenges from a unique perspective. Masjids should allocate a budget for this purpose.

Offering free medical care to Muslims and non-Muslims in the local community is an excellent way for Masjids to fulfill the obligation of social service. Given that medical care is not only expensive, but sadly, that a number of Americans don't even have health insurance to cover the costs of treatment or tests, a free medical clinic is an ideal social service project.

The Masjid can organize Muslim doctors and other health professionals to use their locale as a place to hold a free clinic on a frequent or permanent basis. The free clinic will require not only plenty of planning, but also the funds for liability insurance, equipment, publicity, etc. However, there is help available. Masjids can contact other organizations, Muslim or non-Muslim, which have already such a system in place to seek advice on funding and establishing this project.

  1. Partner with other faith groups
  2. Train Imams and others in family counseling
  3. Start or support halfway houses
  4. Battered women’s shelter
  5. New Muslim support group
  6. How to open and sustain a free clinic
  7. Deposit boxes for food and old clothing

Although old clothing can be difficult to process, clothing drives are something people love to participate in. So get them involved. Masjids need to place deposit boxes where clean and usable clothing can be collected. Most churches, for example, sell these clothes and use the cash for other priorities. These boxes can also become a regular reminder of our obligation to the poor.

Conclusion:

Organized social services are a new territory for Muslims in America, although we have a strong history in this field. Whether you are a volunteer in a Masjid or a leader of your Islamic center, if you do take steps in this direction, you are a pioneer. Please document each step and each experience in this direction and share them with other Muslims across America. You can send it for publication to any of the Muslim newspapers and magazines. You can also send it to us for web publishing. May Allah be with you.

Comments

Hello my name is laila. me my husband and kids came down to Florida 2 and half yrs. ago and thinking our business with delivering with our truck we had was great money but our carrier split and he lost commercial insurance which put not just us but other drivers in harm leaving us stranded we waited a month for him to get his commercial license straightened which he kept stalling but he never did so we got so behing our bills and we became homeless with my 2 daughters and so when it was time for girls to go back to school we talked to the school board because we didn't have a location for the girls physical one so they told us we have to have a physical address for the girls to attend school we was living out of four mini van that we had financed after our other cargo van we worked out of died out on us after 2 n half yrs. of it working but yes the mini van we lived in it tried to get regular jobs and that wasn't going to help us pay our bills and only survive with the minimum wage nothing compared to what we were use to making over the road delivering. we went through so much struggle and now my kids are in group home since some one reported that we was homeless living out of mini van when income tax time came we in time got another cargo truck since we got robbed on the mini van the head gasket was going and it would heat up bad so luckily we got with income tax another work van so we can do within the state delivery to be able to afford to get an efficiency since it was just me and my husband. We moved down to Broward County, FL for better opportunity since we can get more better contracts then being in St. Lucie County, FL which where there was no business. So we worked through a company called BAGS through airlines thinking we can afford to pay of our cargo and be able to have some money aside for survival and might possibly look into an affordable place and try getting more contracts for delivery to save, but evidentially it didn't happen 4 months of having that cargo truck we weren't able to keep up the payment and food wise lets not even go there we literally survived on peanut butter jelly or tuna sandwich from cans or oodles and noodles for 25 cents from Wal-Mart plus me being a vegan it was so hard I became a vegetarian but my husband had to survive so he did dollar burger once a week or so but I couldn't. So our vehicle got repossessed and @ that same moment we was getting contracts left and right and gigs but our problem became gas as well let alone couldn't keep up with our cargo truck payment and when we came out of the library our vehicle was gone they took repossessed our vehicle it hurt us so bad all our clothing what we had other then rest of stuff we had in little storage but besides the point our clothing paperwork husbands id was all in there and we didn't know where they had taken it so we had called up our auto sales place and they said we had to wait till next day to find out so we did we had to find where we can go to sleep so we went to beach because that was the only safe place to go away from craziness same clothes that we had on out backs luckily I had my purse and all my id's were with me except for him so we been out here few homeless people guided us to where we can go to eat which churches, now him and I have other problems we don't believe in these shelters after hearing horrific stories and we see what's going on politically with everything and around us all of these churches, mosques they feed you well we don't no where the mosques are but the churches we was guided for clothing and food we have a huge problem with these so called churches and mosques that don't want to help the homeless people get of the street @ night so they can feel safe and I mean help all of them but don't put every homeless in the same category of bum there are the displaced ones with families or individual that lost business, house, car whatever and are willing to get back on their feet but have to take chances being out there @ night trying to sleep but cant because afraid someone's going to do something to them. But also these churches all they do is feed you and then rush you off letting you know "OH WE CARE WE LOVE YOU' that just sounds so fake and wrong mean while you would think they would listen to you and give you a chance to speak or even if they would notice you and come to you and ask you how you doing what's going on with you so you can express what it going on with your situation but instead they rush you off because they want to impress others that hey at least we feed these homeless outside what good is that doing homeless but just to feed them how about helping out with job fairs and a place to sleep @ night just to feel safe and as far as the ones that are gone from the head and alcohol, drug addict provide them with some rehab help if they don't need help that's on them but the ones that are in need of help trying to get back on their feet what's up with that. That's what pissing me off yes I should start a riot for that Shelters are no good you got felons, addicts, thieves, Bugs someone want to fight you for no reason your better of outside but would hope that these churches, mosques would open up their doors and hearts to homeless that really need help I am not putting the other ones down but they seem not to care but to spend their disability cheques on booze drugs and the ones that don't get cheques they just stealing from the others while the other ones that are not trying to be involved in such mess are trying to stay away from all that hot mess help them. Jesus wouldn't allow this to happen what's going on in this world and you telling me that homeless is nothing and just judge them people go through issues that's what lands them on street and even the ones that got on alcohol, drugs etc... they didn't come out of their mamas womb of the bat like that something happened to them that's why they are who they are in that condition help them with the rehab program recovering treat people like humans not no piece less worth of shit cause that's what's going on all this government has these churches, mosques they cant help homeless people out make this world a better place that's all I am saying I have more to say I can keep going on if I wanted to expose these churches, mosques etc..... they want to sit there feel sorry for you but no help homeless people are not asking to sleep @ your homes but just to open your doors to people that want to feel safe at night let them come in and sleep in peace! I am not trying to put other churches and mosques down that are trying to help I am pretty sure there are some good ones but please tell me where there is one in Broward County we are so frustrated our nights are sleepless and journeys ton our bicycles everyday to library and finding a place where we can wash up and feel clean and food. One time early in the morning we went to go wash up and 2 cruisers came pulling up right behind us asking us what are we doing we told them we are changing didn't tell them we are about to use this beach shower to wash up didn't know what they was going to say so as I expected they made us feel like we are nothing and told us don't go on beach and please don't use the shower this is for the public and it just blew my mind and made us feel like we weren't humans then please tell me what are we what category do we belong in or do we even, it hurts to hear that here we are decent people not on drugs, alcohol trying to survive get a regular job trying to keep our hygiene clean and we have to hear this our day was upsetting but we didn't let that bother us too long but just to keep in mind that how we are being treated. We still got our quick shower some where else and then off we went trying to figure out our day. this one church that we use for our address for mail they allow everybody had us apply for buss passes monthly ones for a yr. told us 7-10 business days now it has been a month since we haven't heard from our bus pass so at least we can get around and go for our interviews and if need to start then we know that we have a definite transportation, but we call that church everyday and we get told that oh your not the only one and don't call back till after 3:30 pm they are plain and rude but then they so call want to preach Jesus this Jesus that we love you we care and I look @ them it looks so phony I hate it this is just a cover up its not even genuine all these big organizations you mean to tell me you cant let people like us come in and feel safe for night, just @ nights please tell me what's wrong with the picture this church is supposed to help with clothing and clothes matter fact I have seen females that work there that talk about helping people like us with buss passes food clothing go in the room and get what they need from clothing section and sneak out the other door to their office to put the clothes they like and leave us with crappy stuff that doesn't make sense. I have no clue where's there a mosque that would help you out in Broward County. If someone knows please help us out this is temporary for us..Thank you my email is lailakash76@gmail.com

Location

Florida

Although this article high lights the problems facing Muslims and offers good suggestions, it certainly lacks the reality.Imams and masajids cannot do everything, their first priority is five daily ritual prayers and limited halaqa for men and women. Almost all masajids run by part time working people. The kind of the services that the author has suggested cannot be handled by these part time brothers. First they do not have time, second they lack the skills, and experience.The reality demands that we have full time workers away from the Masjid and run as professional organization. Leave the masajids to provide religious services.One organization in Richmond, Virginia is now launching an independent social and community services.

Location

Richmond

This article is great. Jazakumullah khair for your useful input! :-)

Location

Frankfurt, Germany

Salam allaikoum jazaka allah for this beautifull analysis ,but in some cases its impossible to inplament ,the reason is liabilities if we the building under no supervision and a fire or such desaster happens a lawsuit is inevitable.

Location

Waltham ma

masha allah wat better way to boost our self esteem than with masaajid . a better way to get away from worldly affairs. we r lucky in leicester that it iz a very multi cultural city that islam iz so wide n we hav a large amount of masaajid and madaaris to get together as a muslim community.wassalaamps can we hav mor interesting articles jst like this one plz!!!

Location

LEICESTER, ENGLAND

When I finished reading this article, I asked myself: Am I a real Muslim? This is a call for service and an eye opener to what I can do in my own little way to further the cause of Islam in my neighbourhood. A well researched article and may ALLAH (S.W.T.) reward you abundantly. Just one question for you: Do you have some guideline or tutorials or perhaps someone can share with me how it was done somewhere?

Location

LAGOS, NIGERIA

A/aArticle is Good.I think Masajid around the world doing all these as per the requirement and capability, now it is time to institutionalize these functions.I am surprised that School for Learning the Quran/Hadith is not part of it.

Location

New Delhi

I'm going to phone my mosque and see about getting a food and clothing bank started and also something to help the New Muslims as I am one myself

Location

Hamilton Ontario Canada

An excellent article addressing all the requirements of an islamic society. If we are not going to take care of ourselves, who will? This is an excellent article to help us strive towards implementing care towards the needy in our community. i wish every mosque would apply this!

Location

Toronto

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