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.
I heard about a woman who lived by a large suburban masjid. She had been raised in that community and accepted Islam as a young woman, walhamdolillah. She changed her name and her clothes and her lifestyle, but it created such a chaotic environment at home that she totally lost her family's support. Nonetheless, she persisted in her dawah to them and du'a for many years with little success. Then she stayed strong through 9/11 and the FBI interviews that followed. But the worst part was when she was bullied at her own masjid. She didn't just leave that mosque, she left Islam!
This woman shared her story with me through her tears and devastating pain. I wish I had recorded her story—I would play it again and again at that mosque which treated her so callously.
Look at what we are doing to each other!
Today, approximately 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 consider themselves to be "spiritual but not religious." That includes Muslims. They believe in Allah. They just don't think that our masjid will bring them closer to Him. People get disengaged from the masjid all the time. We get busy handling our home, school, and professional responsibilities and life simply gets in the way. But this woman wasn't pulled out by the world but instead, she was pushed out by the masjid. That is unacceptable.
I was upset, so I went to her masjid. I stomped in, ready to pick a fight. Where is the Imam? Where are the Board Members? Where are these women who appointed themselves as religious police? A man urinated in my Prophet's Mosque (S), and we are intolerant of crying infants? The Prophet (S) listened to people who were known hypocrites, and today we have Nail Polish Police!
And then a strange thing happened. A sweet old man opened the door for me. I walked in, looked around, and noticed that the mosque looked like the one I normally go to. And the people sounded like the same people I typically see in various masajed all over. The Imam wasn't there, but someone pointed out one of the board members—it was the same man who unlocked the door for me.
The primary purpose of a masjid is to point people to Allah. The masajed have been the hubs of Muslim society. That's where Islamic culture comes from. We all learned to take our shoes off, stand up straight, read a foreign language beautifully. Have you ever had a Ramadan without a masjid? Opening a long day's fast alone is anti-climactic. We need each other! We need each other. We. Need. Each. Other. We cannot do Masjid alone.
Will the Real unMosquer Please Stand Up
Many masajed today are running on autopilot. The sky has changed, and the terrain is very different. Let me illustrate what that means.
A friend at the gym surprised me during a workout when he said that he was Muslim too. When I asked him which masjid he went to he just shook his head and told me about the last time he attempted a visit. As he walked up the steps into the mosque, a guy approached him, put his finger on my friend's neck tattoo, and said to him that because of it, his prayer would not be accepted. He then turned around and never set foot in a masjid again.
There are dozens if not hundreds of stories like these, and some much worse. This is not about Islam. Our faith is tolerant, relevant, simple, fair, and gorgeous. Our faith is about covering each other's mistakes. Our faith is about acceptance and gratitude. The problem is not our faith, it's us. We are the issue. Let's start by admitting that we've got a problem.
The old ways are not working. Lectures about unity don't bring unity. Khutbahs about the importance of the Friday prayer don't bring more people to the Friday prayers. If you get nothing else out of this message, then know that if we don't make key lifestyle changes today, then these problems will be irreversible, destined to spread through our communities like a terminal cancer. There are few things in life as sad as watching a once great mosque grow irrelevant, and slowly pass away.
unMosqued, the Film
Ahmed Eid, his wife Marwa and I have created a film about our masajed today – it's called unMosqued. It is not a film about Islam. I repeat: This is not a movie about Islam—no ayat, no ahadith, no seerah. This is a film about the culture we have created in our American masajed. The word "unMosqued" sums up how so many of us feel. We love the mosque, but it hurts when people at the mosque bite.