Islam is a religion that inevitably leads to the creation of a virtuous comprehensive culture and civilization which benefits not only Muslims, but also non-Muslims and all the other worldly creatures as well.
Islam also creates individuals who through a complex hierarchy of institutions and establishments are organized in a community (ummah) which is well equipped to meet the challenges of its and its members’ earthly mission. This is so because life in its totality is seen as both the field and a form of worship (‘ibadah) in Islam. Every life activity believers effortlessly transform into an act of worship. Every part of the earth where they live, believers, as a result, turn into a vibrant place of worship as well. They turn it into a mosque (masjid). Thus, Islam, believers, worship as a lifestyle, and the notion of the mosque, one originating from the other and each one needing the others for its functioning and continued existence, are inseparable.
Wherever Muslim believers live, there must exist a mosque, or mosques, to function as a symbol of their identity and as a ground and a facility for their implementation of scores of fundamental religious, social, cultural and educational obligations. Without mosques, Muslim believers’ lives are greatly impaired. Some of their basic human rights are thus denied. There can be no substitute for the lack of functional mosques. In the long run, the very existence of Muslims without mosques could be on the line. The Prophet (pbuh) has said: “If there are three men in a village or in the desert among whom the prayers are not offered (in congregation), the devil has got the mastery over them. So observe (the prayers) in congregation, for the wolf eats only the straggling animal.” Congregations and mosques are very similar to each other both in concept and practice. In view of that, Muslim believers never hesitated to invest heavily in building and maintaining mosques at all the levels of the Islamic presence. Investing in mosques meant investing in the future of the Islamic community (ummah). Neglecting mosques meant neglecting the community and, by an extension, Islam. In view of that, too, whenever there was a conflict between Muslims and some of their foes -- both in the past and at present -- it is not a coincidence that frequently mosques were one of the main targets by the enemy.
For example, during the aggression against Bosnia, between March 1992 and November 1995, over 3000 architectural monuments, mainly mosques and other religious edifices, were destroyed or damaged by Serbs. A British historian wrote in 1994, one year before the end of the catastrophe: “All over the country, mosques and minarets have been demolished, including some of the finest examples of 16th-century Ottoman architecture in the western Balkans. These buildings were not caught in the cross-fire of military engagements -- in towns such as Bijeljina and Banja Luka, the demolitions had nothing to do with fighting at all -- but were blown up with explosives in the night, and bulldozed the following day. The people who planned and ordered these actions like to say that history is on their side. What they show by their deeds is that they are waging a war against the history of their country.”
During the same conflicts between Muslims and their foes, however, mosques always rose to the occasion, inciting, guiding and spearheading the masses to defend their religion, lands, property and honor. Even the weakest and most wavering ones could not resist the charisma and authority of mosques. They, too, eventually were prodded into action earnestly defending their and their people’s interests, dignity and way of life. Mosques were the symbols of firmness and resistance. For example, the case of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, and its holy struggle against the French and British occupations of Egypt is well documented.
Another interesting example is prophet Musa (Moses) and his followers, the Children of Israel. Before their exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land, Musa and his brother Harun (Aaron), also a prophet, were instructed to provide the dwellings for the Children of Israel, making them into places of worship (mosques), as Pharaoh would not, sure thing, allow them to set up public mosques for the purpose. Those dwellings, cum mosques, were to be turned into the centers of spiritual development and the centers, as well as symbols, of resistance to Pharaoh and his tyranny. Allah says in relation to this: “We inspired Moses and his brother with this message: “Provide dwellings for your people in Egypt, make your dwellings into places of worship, and establish regular prayers: and give glad tidings to those who believe.” (Yunus, 87)
* Private Domestic Mosques
Mosques command a strong presence throughout the spectrum of the lives of Muslim believers. To begin with, in their private houses, they designate entire rooms, or large areas, or just bits of space – subject to availability -- in order for them to function as domestic mosques and thus aid the house institution to function as a family development center. This has more than a few implications for designing and planning Muslim houses which Muslim planners and designers must always be aware of and try to accommodate.
Private mosques are sometimes called masjids and sometimes musallas. Musalla is derived from the word salah which means prayer. Musalla thus means the place where prayers are regularly performed. In this case, to articulate either masjid or musalla pose no problems at all, as these mosques are private entities and people know best what they have at home and how their domestic spaces earmarked for worship function. There is no room whatsoever for confusion here. People are thus left free to use whichever term they want: masjid or musalla. Private masjids and musallas are part of the house’s carefully guarded privacy. It was nobody else but the Prophet (pbuh) who consented to the idea of his companions earmarking places of worship (‘ibadah) in their private houses. He is said to have graced some of such places by personally praying in them.
* Neighborhood Mosques
In neighborhoods, which consist of a number of houses, believers establish mosques which are relatively small and whose performances are raised to a much higher level than the level enjoyed by private mosques. While the latter caters to the needs of single families, the former caters to the collective needs generated by a group of families, or a neighborhood. Hence, the character of neighborhood mosques, both in terms of their functionality and their sizes and forms, is intensified and expanded considerably from the character of private mosques.
This type of mosques many people normally call musalla, although they may still refer to it as masjid as well – the matter varies from one place to another. Thus, musalla means a place for regularly performing prayers (salah) and some other basic religious, social, cultural and educational ceremonies and tasks. Musallas are neighborhood development centers. Many people prefer to call these mosques as musallas rather than masjids because their somewhat limited scope must be unmistakably spelled out so that confusion does not arise as to their underlining disposition. Musallas, though small, are still public institutions and can be accessed by anyone. One of the most important ideas that must be clearly disseminated to people, so that they are not misguided, is that Friday Jumu’ah prayers, the most important frequently recurring mass gathering of Muslims, are not performed in musallas.
The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have directed his companions to have this type of mosques built in their quarters, or neighborhoods, in Madinah and in its vicinity, and to cleanse and odorize them on special religious occasions. During the Prophet’s time, there were nine neighborhood mosques in Madinah, besides the Prophet’s principal mosque in the heart of the city. In those mosques, the people prayed based on the adhan (call to prayer) pronounced by Bilal b. Rabah, which sounded from the Prophet’s central mosque. Only in the Prophet’s central mosque, however, the Jumu’ah prayer was performed. One of the first instructions that the Prophet (pbuh) used to give to the visiting Muslim tribes from outside Madinah was to build, liven up and maintain (neighborhood) mosques in their respective communities.
* Jami’ Mosques
From private houses and through neighborhoods, the significance of the mosque institution grows and then culminates in the principal mosques of cities, towns and even large villages. It is here that the potent message of the mosque, and with it the message of Islam, becomes most apparent. These mosques are normally called jami’s. The term jami’ is derived from the word jama’ which means to gather or assemble. Thus, the word jami’ means a place or a thing that gathers people for intended purposes.
Jami’ signifies mosques with a universal appeal. It targets a multitude of people; in fact, all people. It invites them under its custody reminding them to discharge their duties towards Allah, self, other people and the natural surroundings. Jami’ beckons to people to come under its charge and to draw on the multiple benefits which its multiple and dynamic roles and functions have to offer. Jami’ beckons to people to come and attain salvation in, and with, it. Jami’ is an effective means of da’wah (propagation of the Islamic cause), just as it is an effective field for it.
Due to this, jami’ is always in the center of a city, town or a large village, placed at a most strategic location. Other urban components cluster around jami’, making, as a result, the cores of cities and towns, more often than not, ring-shaped. All the roads in Muslim settlements lead to and from jami’, causing street networks to be accomplished in a quite symmetrical and logical fashion. Jami’ functions as a community development center. It always bustles with life and vigor. It is the most active and productive urban constituent in a city. Jami’ is not just a place for prayers and other plain religious rites and ceremonies. It is a center and mirror of life. It is a center and mirror of Islam as a complete code of life. Everyone from all walks of life is welcome to benefit from what jami’ has to offer. At the same time, everyone is invited to contribute to sustaining the status and function of jami’. This reputation of jami’ mosques causes them to be meticulously planned and finely built, and to be richly decorated, dominating and superseding in terms of art and architecture its immediate built environment surroundings. A very few people frown upon this reality architecture and art-wise, as everyone is acutely aware that the form and outward appearances of jami’ mosques must correspond with their vibrant and sophisticated roles and functions.
Finally, there is a close relationship between the words jami’ and jumu’ah, the latter being the prayer conducted in mass congregations every Friday. In the past, the Friday Jumu’ah prayer could only be conducted in main city and town mosques. Those mosques, as one of the reasons, were thus called jami’ mosques. A very long time (several centuries) was needed for Islamic cities to have more than one jami’, and thus to have more than one Jumu’ah being simultaneously conducted in them. Even today, despite the number of worshipers and the sizes of cities and towns, not in every mosque is the Jumu’ah performed. Such is done only in designated mosques, in order that the projected effects of Jumu’ah prayers and assemblies are optimized. During the Prophet’s time, the Jumu’ah in Madinah was prayed only in his main mosque. The first mosque in which the Jum’ah was performed, aside from the Prophet’s mosque, was the mosque of ‘Abd al-Qays situated at Jawathi, that is a village at al-Bahrayn. The chief reasons that called for having more than one Jumu’ah prayer in more than a city’s central Jami’ mosque were related to the size -- if a city grew immense and sprawled, for example -- as well as to some natural factors, such as rivers and rough landscape which made access to central Jami’s hard and perhaps hazardous.
However, since the Jumu’ah prayer is performed in many mosques in Muslim cities and towns today, as well as in the past, which has been necessitated by rapid urbanization of ever-increasing Muslim population, not all such mosques are called jami’ mosques. They are called just masjids. But in order to maintain the primary meaning and spirit of jami’ mosques, all cities and towns still have their principal mosques which are often called jami’ mosques. These modern jami’ mosques, by and large, strive to emulate the functions of the jami’ mosques of the past, when cities and towns were much smaller and each city and town had only one jami’ mosque. In terms of their projected roles and functions, however, most of the modern urban mosques where the Jumu’ah is performed, but which are not outright jami’ mosques, could be seen as partly neighborhood mosques and partly jami’ mosques.
Many Muslim scholars of the past had some hard time reconciling between the demands of the Islamic Shari’ah and the demands posed by rapid cultural and socio-economic developments that were sweeping throughout the Muslim vast territories, and which impacted greatly on the volume and fabric of Islamic cities. With regard to the development of the notion of the jami’ mosque, and the notion of the mosque in general, the subject of the Jumu’ah prayer, which in terms of etymology, theory and service is closely related to the phenomenon of the jami’ mosque, is a good example of the intellectual challenges which confronted Muslims scholars through ages, resulting in a rich legacy of diverse ijtihadi (independent thought based on the Shari’ah) opinions. For example, some of the main conditions for conducting the Jumu’ah prayer and for its validity are related to the place and the minimum number of worshippers, which indirectly influences not only the concept of jami’, but also all the other types of the mosque. Regarding the place, the quandaries that occupied the minds of the doctors of the Islamic Shari’ah revolved around these issues: can the Jumu’ah prayer be done in cities alone, or in villages as well; can it be done in just any Muslim residential areas: in cities where there are many separate districts and neighborhoods, and in villages and suburbs; can it be done in permanent settlements and residential areas alone, or in temporary ones as well, etc.? Regarding the minimum number of persons making up a Jumu’ah congregation, Imam Shafi’i held that it is 40, Imam Malik held that it is 12, while Imam Abu Hanifah contended that it is only three persons plus a prayer leader or imam, etc.
* The Earth as a Mosque
The Prophet (pbuh) has said that the whole earth has been created as clean and pure (tahur), and as a place of worship, or a mosque (masjid), to him and his followers. Consequently, he used to offer his prayers wherever they were due, and he would pray even in sheepfolds. The Prophet (pbuh) was once asked about praying in places where the camels lie down. He replied: “Do not offer prayers in places where the camels lie down. These are the places of Satan.” He was asked about praying in the sheepfolds. He replied: “You may offer prayers in such places; these are the places of blessing.” That the earth has been made clean and a mosque to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers, such is one of several favors which from among all the prophets have been bestowed only upon the seal of prophets, Muhammad (pbuh).
With the exception of a few places, such as the places where camels lie down, graveyards and impure places, the whole earth Islam sees as a mosque. Muslims thus can pray virtually anywhere wherever the times of their prayers overtake them. The small exceptions mentioned above are due to the inherent pure state of earth being altered by certain occurrences and actions related to man or Satan. Otherwise, the earth, in principle, is entirely pure and clean, having been created but to worship its Creator and to be of service to man.
Not only that Muslims can pray everywhere on the earth, but also they can use some of its elements for purification purposes against the biggest of impurities, not counting water, of course. For example, tayammum, or the dry ablution, can be performed using sand or dust in place of ablution (wudu’) or ghusl (ritual washing of the whole body) if no clean water is readily available. Also, solid, dry and uprooting stones can be used for cleaning the private parts after urinating or defecating, although water is the best and most effective agent. This is so, perhaps, because man’s body is created from the earth, as revealed by Allah the Creator. His very self and the earth are not strangers to each other. Man’s body comes from the earth, lives on, and with, it, and at the end returns to it. Every man returns to the earth from which he has been made.
The tenet that can be derived from all this is that the whole earth is pure and a mosque, unless otherwise stated by the Islamic Shari’ah. In the same vein, and for the sake of sheer comparison, there is another similar tenet in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) according to which all things in life are originally deemed permissible as long as there is no Shari’ah text that prohibits them. If the Islamic Shari’ah is silenced on a thing, that thing remains in its inherent state, i.e., permissible.
Moreover, Allah explicitly says in the Qur’an that the earth and everything thereon incessantly in unison worships Allah, in ways suitable for them, which, however, are inaccessible to man and his limited intelligence and cognitive strategies. For example, Allah says: “Do you not see that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth: the sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the trees, the animals, and a great number among mankind; and many there are against whom chastisement has become necessary; and whomsoever Allah abases, there is none who can make him honorable; surely Allah does what He pleases.” (al-Hajj, 18)
“The seven heavens declare His glory and the earth (too), and those who are in them; and there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification; surely He is Forbearing, Forgiving.” (al-Isra’, 44)
“Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth declares the glory of Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (Saff, 1)
In that case, the whole earth is a place of worship, i.e., a mosque, where every being endlessly glorifies and prostrates in submission to its Creator and Master, Allah. Man, upon coming to the earth to serve his fixed tenure of vicegerency, is firstly through revelation made acquainted with this overwhelming reality, and is then invited and guided to via his own means and ways support and join, so to speak, the congregation of the animate and inanimate worshippers. Man spends his appointed earthly term as no more than a servant himself who closely and peacefully interacts with the rest of Allah’s “servants”, responsibly taking from them and their realms for his own benefit, and amply giving in return from his realm for their own benefit.
Man exists in order to worship Allah and to submit in his life undertakings to Him, on the one hand, and to be of benefit to other life realities around him, on the other. Whatever he procures for his self in the process signifies a means to sustain him and his mission. Amassing the material wealth is alien, and thus abhorrent, to this worldview and to those who subscribe to it. Muslim believers endorse and always tend to enrich the sanctity of the earth and its mosque. Building their own mosques throughout the earth’s vastness is the best evidence of it. Furthermore, the rest of the components of their built environment in no less remarkable fashion work as an evidence too. The lives of Muslim believers are their deliberate forms of worship, so their built environment which frames and contains such lives is equivalent to a place of worship (mosque or masjid), so to speak, as well. It stands to reason that believers’ houses, places of learning, places of work, recreational places, etc., are, in truth, all places of worship, i.e., mosques or masjids. Islamic cities, towns and villages could also be perceived as “mosques” which are multifaceted in nature and unified in meaning and purpose.
For that very reason, no sooner is a Muslim born, i.e., has arrived on the earthly scene, than he is welcomed to the community of this global earthly mosque by a recitation of adhan (call for a prayer) in his right ear and iqamah (announcing the commencement of a prayer) in his left ear. This way, every believer’s automatic membership to the chorus of the earthly mosque is being hailed, and the expectations for his imminent performances clearly set. Both the adhan and iqamah for a Muslim baby herald the beginning of its worshipping Allah, which is set to intensify as the baby grows. They will also serve as a defensive shield against various potential misfortunes, impediments and ailments so that when a baby is grown up, its performances as a servant of Allah, and as an active member of a global web of creation, can be optimized. This way, a believer always remains an asset to the community and, by an extension, to the whole of the earth; he never becomes a liability.
Besides, when a Muslim believer dies, the Funerary prayer (Janazah) is performed for him. Such an act denotes the end of one’s personal noble era and a mission. The Janazah signifies a farewell gathering for a righteous person whose righteous actions and contributions are thus fondly appreciated and will be missed, and who at the same time is prayed for and is wished a success and attainment of Allah’s pleasure in the next stage(s) of his journey, i.e., in the Hereafter. There is a genuine possibility that the adhan and iqamah, which indicate a call for and the beginning of a prayer, and which are pronounced in a Muslim baby’s ears, are actually meant for the Janazah which as a prayer has neither adhan nor iqamah. In this manner, every Muslim is constantly reminded of how short his tenure on earth in reality is. So short and precarious it is that a person can abruptly depart anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances from it. On coming to the earth, both the adhan and iqamah of a person’s farewell prayer, the Janazah, has already been pronounced and the basic preparations for his eventual and predestined departure from this life could soon slowly get under way. Indeed, this tenet will spur a believing person to waste no time in activating and living his vicegerency mission and dream, integrating his self into the global community of worshippers: humans and the rest of animate and inanimate beings. He will strive to be as pragmatic, active and productive a member as possible. He will not be inactive, sterile, unproductive and a person with unrealistic and foolish dreams and ambitions. He will perceive life as too short and too consequential to be wasted on vain and phony alternatives.
As a result, the departure of a believing person from this world is marked not only by men, especially believers, but also by the rest of the members of the earthly community and its global mosque. Infidels, on the contrary, are not grieved over. With regard to this, the Prophet (pbuh) has said that when an infidel or a profligate servant of Allah passes away, human beings, land, animals and trees get a moment of respite from him and his bad actions. Based on this, we can reason, when a dutiful servant of Allah passes away, the same creatures feel disheartened knowing that they have just lost a member and his pervasive benevolence.
The Prophet (pbuh) has also said that for every person there are two doors in the heavens: a door from which his sustenance comes out and a door through which his deeds and words enter. When a (good and obedient) servant of Allah dies, these two doors grieve for him and cry. However, in case of an infidel or a wicked person, neither the heavens nor the earth sheds a tear over him when he dies, as no good deeds or words were coming from him. As such, no worthy traces or effects could he possibly leave behind on the earth, and no good deeds were going through his personal gate in the heavens.
The Prophet (pbuh), furthermore, has said that the heavens weep because of a person to whom Allah gave a healthy body, an ability and ample means to enjoy eating and drinking, as well as a comfortable life, but he behaves unjustly towards people. The Prophet (pbuh) described such a person as violent, cruel and wicked.
And finally, the Prophet (pbuh) has said that when people observe a religious standard, or a restriction (hadd), such is dearer to the inhabitants of the earth than that rain is sent forty consecutive mornings upon them.
While erecting mosques for themselves, to aid and monitor the wide spectrum of their sanctified earthly commitments, Muslim believers know that what they produce is just a mirror image of what the fundamental nature of the earth is really like. What they do, moreover, connotes just an act of total compliance with the spiritual laws that govern the whole kingdom of earthly existence. The reality and mission of Muslim mosques symbolize the reality and mission of the global earthly mosque. Muslims’ vibrant lives of comprehensive worship that center round the mosque symbolize the equally vibrant lives of worship realized by the rest of the earth’s life forms. Muslim mosques are an extension of the domains of the earthly mosque. Muslim pious lives are an extension of the domains of the pious lives of the rest of the earthly creatures with which Muslims peacefully interact at different levels of their presence. A believer is a microcosm of the earth. What is more, he is a microcosm of the whole universe and the whole existence.
End of Part I, Stay tuned for Part II, to learn about the Universe as a Mosque.
By:Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
International Islamic University Malaysia
Posted on: June 15, 2012