Here are a couple of things we recommend Masijds can and should aim for this year.
1. Ensuring zero tolerance for any and every type of extremism
Masjids must be vigilant about extremist rhetoric and behavior this year and be at the forefront of stopping them.
We are living in a very difficult time for Muslims in America. Saving our lives and the lives of our neighbors is a sacred duty.
If a person spouting extremist ideas in your Masjid is not dangerous, you need to immediately counsel him towards moderation. But please adopt a zero tolerance policy for any type of extremism in your Islamic center or organization.
Almost all Muslims are concerned about wars and would like to see peace, but no one should allow his or her anger to result in taking the law into their own hands. So listening well within our communities is crucial for all Imams and Muslim leaders.
Ask your board to adopt a formal zero tolerance policy towards extremist talk in the Masjid.
In addition, encourage your mosque’s Imam to give Khutbas to encourage the civic participation of our community members. We can oppose wars by joining peace and justice groups that focus on changing the policies of our nation. This encouragement can channel legitimate anger at injustice into positive action, instead of frustrated community members lashing out in extremism and violence.
2. Help your Masjid become a truly professional house of worship
America works nine to five, five days a week (well, most of the time, anyway). And this is precisely when most Masjids are closed and no one is available to answer a query. A majority of mosques in North America are run by doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and businesspeople. They are all very successful in their fields and work in a professional manner. But when it comes to Masjids, it is by and large a volunteer job not in the best of the volunteer tradition.
It is about time for Masjids' leadership to recognize the limits of volunteerism the way we practice it. Good usage of the precious time of talented volunteers requires professional management. Masjids must urgently hire full-time staff with good communication skills to deal with situations that require outreach with the rest of America.
As well, although most Masjids have building expansion plans, very rarely do they develop short-term or long-term plans in view of the challenges Islam and Muslims face in North America based on their assessment of the weaknesses of their own congregations. Thinking for the growth of the Muslim community in its location and at the national level is very important for the proper usage of its resources. On a professional level, we use tools like loud thinking to develop strategic plans. This must also be used for Masjids and Islamic centers in fulfilling the community's needs in all areas, not just in providing a place to pray, a weekend school and other staple Masjid activities.
3. This year, focus especially on our youth
Muslim tweens and teens are under tremendous pressure in America. A large number face discrimination, both verbal and physical, in school and in other venues. About 28% of Muslim students in New York report being stopped by police as a result of racial profiling. Some deal with the pain of rejection by rejecting their faith outwardly, changing their names to more “normal” sounding ones. Others drown their sorrow in alcohol, drugs or dating.
The Masjid, as the premiere institution of the community, must urgently address the struggles of Muslim youth this year. That means not just organizing activities, but really involving them at all levels of mosque life, in particular, decision-making. Consider that we have a duty to prepare tomorrow’s generation to take the reins from those running our Masjids today. We cannot expect them to do that if we shut them out of any type of consultation or involvement.
Call an urgent meeting of a few key older youth who can be successful leaders and mentors to younger Muslims. Then, start the process of building a dynamic youth presence and involvement in your Masjid.
4. Beef up security of your Masjid and surrounding neighborhood
As long as there are Muslims anywhere committing violent acts, there will be some type of blowback on Muslims in America and in other countries where we are minorities. Unfortunately, some in Muslim countries attack their Christian neighbors, taking them as a scapegoat for US policies. In a similar way, some non-Muslims in the United States relate to American Muslims as though they are terrorists. Mosques are the target of choice in the U.S. as churches are in some Muslim countries. Some have had their windows smashed, others set on fire and others still, have become the venue for violent attacks on innocent people.
That’s why Imams and Masjid administrators must institute practices and tools that will keep visitors to the mosque safe at all times. This includes installing security cameras, hiring security guards on occasions like Eid or when a large gathering is taking place, as well as working with local police to report and deal with suspicious behavior, packages delivered to the Masjid or other potential threats. Also, when a security guard is available, make sure s/he prays after the congregational prayer so that worshippers remain safe while praying later.
Finally, while taking security measures, it is important that the Masjid remain a welcoming place for all. Form a mosque welcome committee for newcomers, Muslim or non-Muslim, so that fear and insecurity never replace traditional Muslim hospitality. This is even more important as our country’s policies become fear-driven, shutting others out and undermining the great American tradition of openness.
5. Make your mosque woman-friendly
We’ve been saying this and writing about it for years, but it needs to be said again because, frankly, we can still do so much better. Involving sisters in the Masjid is a surefire way to success. More importantly, it is how the early Muslims built a dynamic and inclusive community that successfully prepared its next generation to take the torch of Islam and run with it.
Excluding sisters, whether that is by denying them space outright or offering them dirty, cramped quarters, will ensure that your Masjid will most likely not last beyond the next 15 to 20 years. Women are the power behind so much of men’s success in life, including mosque life. As the primary caregivers of our children, they are the ones who have the power to make or break our youth’s love for and attachment to the Masjid. This year, harness this power once and for all, by truly making the Masjid the sister-friendly house of worship it was during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.