Taking UnMosqued to ReMosqued
Editors' Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Muslim community here.
The UnMosqued movement bravely initiated a long-needed inquiry into the policies and thoughts circulating in our mosques today, as well as made public the opposition to such practices by intellectuals, activists, imams, and youth.
Before the inception of the movement, to speak out against the inherently sexist nature of gender segregation in mosques was to question orthodoxy. Efficiency, transparency, and inclusion were not objectives of mosque administrations. Ethnic hegemony within mosques was expected. But with the growing movement to be open about the changes we need, fueled by the UnMosqued documentary, we're able to highlight with confidence some of the issues that may have been previously neglected.
However, though founded on a desire to right a variety of wrongs, the movement has primarily stagnated in the realm of crying victim by focusing its energy on relaying story after story of tragic mosque encounter. While important to acknowledge the dire need for change through the experiences of others, a shift toward envisioning a better future and progressive action is desperately needed.
Thus far, two trends seem to have emerged as possible approaches toward resolving the current dilemma: 1) a non-hostile takeover of mosque administrations, or 2) the development of separate mosques, i.e., "third spaces." Unfortunately, both options have the potential of harmful, though unintentionally so, consequences.
To usurp the power of mosques would mean the displacement of those members who look to their house of worship as a sanctuary of familiar cultural practices in a foreign, and sometimes-perceived hostile, land. Despite being painted as enemies of progress, we actually owe a debt and level of understanding to the elders who worked hard to bring foundational mosques to the United States.
It was they who immigrated to this country in hopes of providing a more prosperous life for their families. Yet when confronted with such a culturally opposite world, they built mosques not only as a place to connect with God, but to experience, even if only momentarily, the culture of their motherland and place of birth. As a white American convert (who is constantly reminded, in humorous fashion, of his imperial colonialist roots), to take that solace from them would be unjust. In essence, we would be committing the same crime of exclusion that we so vehemently detest.
Conversely, I see little benefit to severing ties with our local mosques in hopes of establishing new houses of worship. The primary issue would be building a community solely in reaction to the alleged faults of our current institutions, where instead we should build our communities with a vision toward a better future. The concept of Muslim unity is ever-present in the mind of the believer, and a serious question we would have to reflect upon when seeking to build another mosque is whether we are creating a solution or simply becoming part of the problem.
There are, however, more balanced approaches between the extremes of usurping power and complete dissociation. In many communities, such as my own, the power structure of the local mosques is firmly entrenched and shows little hope for improvement. In these types of situations, young adult Muslims could become quickly disillusioned when faced with the impossible task of engaging/changing their mosque's culture. And then they desert the community entirely.
Charles Turner did his B.A. in Political Science from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011 and is studying for his master's degree in political science at George Mason University.