Da`wah Reflection Series: Part I | Part II
In the name of Allah, the All Hearing, the All Knowing
In 2012, Dr. Ihsan Baghby republished the 2011 report The American Mosque1 . In that research piece which seeks to map the growth, tendencies and leadership structure of the American Muslim community, there are a number of points to which I will call your attention as the subject of this da`wah (invitation to faith) reflection.
- Mosques are under-staffed. Only 44% of all imams (Muslim religious leaders) are full-time and paid. Half of all mosques have no full-time staff. Program staff such as youth directors and outreach directors account for only 5% of all full-time staff.
- Mosques are under-financed. While mosque attendance is higher than that of other American religious congregations, mosque budgets are less than half the budgets of other congregations. The median income for mosques is $70,000, whereas the median income of all congregations is $150,000.
- The role of the imam in the mosque is evolving. In 26% of all mosques, the imam is not considered the leader, in 55% of mosques the imam is considered the leader, and 19% of mosques do not have an imam. This is a significant change from 2000, when in 40% of mosques the imam was not considered the leader, and in 41% of mosques the imam was considered the leader.
We can gather a number of important themes from the report as quoted above.
- The roles of the imam and the mosque are evolving.
- The mosque for the most part is understaffed and underfunded.
- The Muslim community lacks in effective, qualified leadership.
Dr. Baghby’s research has chronicled major trajectories that draw our attention to the manner in which the Muslim community has grown in the US. Coupling the report with grass root experience, we gain new insights into the form and shape the community is taking. Much of the Muslim community has grown without solid leadership and with few resources for understanding of Islam. Of interest is the reality that most communities do not have a spiritual-religious guide (for lack of a better term).
The role of the imam is diminished in the overall community and increasingly, the mosque resembles a religious center more than a Prophetic institution. The days of the “strong-man” grass roots imam that was the hallmark of the Muslim African-American community have faded, and in many places they are a thing of the past. Today many communities are instead governed by the “strong board” composed of professionals with little to no Islamic training. And let us face the reality that many of our institutions are locked in a political grind that is not very productive. Couple that scene with the lack of collaborative, visionary leadership on the da’wah scene, and then we are ready to ask a series of questions.
Before moving forward I want to add a few more layers to the scenario being built here. Along with an evolving mosque lacking in funding and leadership and a da’wah platform lacking in collaborative, visionary leadership, we find our youth struggling to make sense of the world around them. A growing professional community left to itself, sincere but lacking roots in Islamic learning, and a cry for reform in the way we interpret Islam in regards to women, society, culture and other religions puts us in a very awkward space. There is no question that we are aiming to redefine ourselves and make sense of life in a new space we now call home–and seeking to do so with integrity.
The responsibility of those on the da’wah platform is to guide this process or at least guide the discourse by seeking to answer the question: Where are going? Put differently, into what are we evolving? For most of us, our responsibility is to open up the platform to engage this dialogue. But before doing so we must commit ourselves to studying Islam and the life of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) and to holding his model as a paragon for evolving the community. Without mature dialogue, humility, learning, guidance and leadership rooted in knowledge, piety and wisdom our community is headed for an evolution based on circumstance and whim.
In the Qur’an we learn the importance of dialogue among those of varying status, for Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) allowed the angels to engage a dialogue with Him (swt). According to scholars of Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) this indicates that Allah (swt) teaches us to dialogue with others regardless of the station they hold in relation to us, and by extension, this teaches us the very spirit and principles of leadership.
And [mention, O Muhammad] when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” (Qur’an, 2:30)
In a Prophetic tradition narrated by Bukhari and Muslim with their chains of transmission on the authority of Umar (radi Allahu `anhu – may God be pleased with him), the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Actions are guided by intentions…” From this we learn that an end should guide all action. Imam ibn Abi Zaid al-Qayrawani (ra) teaches us that all actions and intention should be rooted in the Qur’an and sunnah (traditions of the Prophet ﷺ), thereby teaching us the centrality of revelation in our life on earth.
We lack a transparent vision(s) that makes clear what principles and evidences are guiding our thinking and action. In the last reflection it was mentioned that Abu Bakr (ra) as a leader had clear principles to guide his leadership. The question of leadership for that generation was highly pertinent. The question of continuity of the community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ preoccupied the community not solely for political reasons but more so from the angle of keeping the effort of Prophecy alive–that is, to guide people to the best life, to Allah (swt). In the moment of intense crisis Abu Bakr (ra) illustrated the qualities of a leader concerned with the community’s well being, and hence he is remembered today as the only companion to be recognized as the amir (leader) of the Believers and the vicegerent (khalifa) of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
In the struggle for definition and existence as we aim to find a space within the broader American culture, we are tending toward loosing a sense of what a life lived as a Muslim means and entails. And we witness this reality in many adults and youth. In an environment where debate, illiteracy, conflict and confusion reign right alongside sincerity, hard work, knowledge and sacrifice, we would do well to reflect on the reality that our community was governed by volunteerism and sincerity for so long before us. Now we are in need of knowledge, mentorship, organization, wisdom, sacrifice and investment. Until that moment is seized we need to strengthen ourselves and families and support our friends in the Muslim life lived in the 21th century. And that begins with drawing near to Allah (swt), learning, practicing, being good to others and encouraging the good for others and in others. Pray and work so that we evolve into a community of iman (faith), a community of deeds and testimony, a guide for others and ourselves.
- Retrieved (2014) from: http://faithcommunitiestoday.org/sites/faithcommunitiestoday.org/files/The%20American%20Mosque%202011%20web.pdf [↩]