A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trials with spirituality, and finding a place to belong! In particular, I talked about my masjid and what was wrong with it; and wondered to the world whether church could fill that gap! These questions still resonate, and There is more to be shared on this, but for now, I want to think about what is really wrong with the masjid; and (in my humble opinion), what would make the perfect mosque!
Firstly; the mosque/centre would be big! I don’t know how it is where you come from, but out here; masjids (especially shia centres) are housed in old, cramped, damp houses or government buildings that nobody wants! My dream masjid would be new, spacious and welcoming! It would have character (new doesn’t have to mean plastic and without feeling!), but it should look like a mosque from the outside (minaret etc), and would also be surrounded by a beautiful garden full of fruits, vegetables and fragrant flowers. This would make it appear from the outset to be a welcoming, homely place; while the community would be able to benefit from tending the garden and also enjoying the harvested produce!
Inside, the centre would be on 3 floors. The ground floor would contain masjid offices, a large library (with books, audio materials, computers and study rooms), funeral/washing facilities and 2 small meeting/counselling rooms.
The ground floor would also house the main masjid. The masjid is large, CLEAN! And elegant, there is art and calligraphy (but nothing too ostentatious or distracting!). There is thick comfortable carpet and chairs for those who need them. Now; I know what you are all thinking; a barrier, or not! My answer? Both! From my experience, I’ve learned that some sister’s like segregation, while some prefer to be housed in the main body of the masjid! I see both of their arguments, and therefore, would make accommodations for both! It would work like this; the ground floor (main masjid), would have the men’s prayer area, with a sister’s space, housed at the back and with a half-curtain in the front. This would provide some degree of separation, but also enable the women to see the imam clearly, while not being eye-invaded by unwanted advances!
The women would also have a gallery area above the main hall, which would not be masjid. This would house those sisters who were not praying, who had small children, and those who wanted to bring in guide dogs (I’m so sick of my blind friends being excluded from our centres just because of their mobility needs). Each prayer area would contain clean, spacious toilets and wudhu areas, places that are a joy to wash in and don’t leave you more filthy than you were when you went in, as is the case at my current Islamic Centre!
The basement level of the centre would contain a large open hall; with a fully functioning kitchen at the back. This hall also contains sound-proof partitions so that it can be separated in to workshop rooms for conferences etc. the all-purpose nature of this space means it can be used for Islamic classes, weddings, funerals, sports activities, classes, serving food and any thing else really!
Each prayer area would contain a room at the back, where the Muharram effigies are housed. These rooms could be used for smaller majliss programmes for 15 people maximum, or else just a space for people to enjoy some quiet prayer/reflection away from the main prayer areas.
Moving to the top floor of the building; this would contain 2 studio flats. One of these would be for the resident scholar, or for other scholars who might be visiting, while the second would be available to homeless Muslims, or any one in crisis who is homeless or requiring support. All Masjid activities would be broadcast via the internet, there would be wheelchair access to all parts of the building, and while it may not be practical for the building to be open 24 hours a day, it should at least be open 7 days a week, during office hours. Perhaps there might also be a system for members where they have keys and can access the building whenever they need to.
So; there you have it; my dream masjid! Of course; there is more to this story than the exterior; this dynamic building would have to house a community which is open-minded, forward-thinking, educated, inclusive and welcoming. While the centre would cater for cultural programmes and different language requirements, the main working language of the centre would be English, and the focus would be heavily placed on ‘Shia first; nationality/culture/tribe later (if at All!).
The centre would not simply be a Muslim space, there would be regular Interfaith dialogue and open-door activities for people of all faiths (or none at all!), while programmes would be welcoming of those from other schools/religions, whether they are interested in reverting to Islam or not!
Moreover, the centre would be much more than just a place to pray! It would be a place where people would socialise, chill out, spend time connecting and networking, people could study here, relax here, work/sleep here; it would be the heart of the community for young and old, with activities to interest each generation! Whether playing video games, knitting jumpers or learning qur’an; all would have a place in this sacred space!
Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but truly; I believe that if our centres took this line; the building, the circumstances; all wouldn’t matter! The community would easily rise above it all; and create an umma to be truly proud of! Sure this is my dream centre, but looking at the above; I don’t think its way beyond the sphere of the possible! It is our people/scholars who prevent these aspirations from growing; I can only hope and pray that this situation improves!
So; you’ve seen my dream masjid; how closely does it measure up to yours? And what is different/similar to your own vision of what makes the perfect Islamic Centre?