The Mosque and Its Importance to Muslims

The Mosque and Its Importance to Muslims
Introduction A mosque is symbolically very important to Muslims, and is a humble way for man to recreate pure divine presence on earth. Mosques are not built according to divine patterns ? they are divinely guided. Nor are there very clear rules to what a mosque should look like, except on some few points. Mandatory elements are a structure that clearly indicates the direction of Mecca (this direction is called Qibla). The indication is in most mosques a mihrab, a niche in the wall. A mosque must have a roofed area in front of the mihrab. There can be no doors in the wall where the mihrab is placed ? for the other walls, there can be as many doors as the builders want.
There are 2 types of mosques: the main mosque is called jamaa, and is the one where the Friday prayer is performed. The jamaas are often richly adorned. [image]The other type of mosque is called Masjid, and are local and smaller mosques. While these can be richly adorned, the can seldom be compared to the jamaas. [image]Masjid is a word meaning ?place for prostration? and was used by the early Muslims for houses of worship, even for other religions. Today the Arabic ?Masjid?, and the English ?mosque? are used exclusively for religious houses in Islam. History and Development [image]The first mosque is the one in Mecca, defined as the area that surrounded the Ka?ba, the most holy shrine to Islam. But the model of early mosques was the courtyard of Muhammad?s house in Medina, which was constructed in 622 CE. This was organized with a Qibla, which at first faced the direction of Jerusalem. To the left of this Qibla, houses for Muhammad?s wives were erected. There were three entrances to the courtyard. An area of the courtyard was roofed, and here prayer was performed. After 1.5 years the direction of the Qibla was changed, to face Mecca. [image]This Medina mosque had social, political, and judicial functions, in addition to housing Muhammad?s family. The religious functions were mixed with other functions. Rules on prayers seem to have not been shaped at the first period, much because this was the period in which the Koran was revealed to Muhammad: the rules had not been given. Apart from the mosques of Mecca and Medina, we find in the sources indications to other contemporary mosques in other towns. [image]Mosques soon grew into becoming more complex and uniform in their shape. A minbar, the pulpit, from where the Friday prayer is held, was placed next to the mihrab. Within few years after the death of Muhammad, mosques became such important symbols, that when Muslim conquerors established themselves somewhere, a mosque was put up first, and then the military camp was built around it. This building process was inspired by the Madina example. But in the cases where the Muslims conquered principal cities, they constructed their mosque in the place that was the centre of former religions. [image]In the beginning of Islam, tribes and sects in Islam often marked their independence or their purity by putting up mosques of their own or by defining a certain part of the mosque as their part. These patterns have changed up through history, but the situation today is not as tolerant as it might appear. Muslims of all creeds are in theory free to enter all mosques, but a Muslim of one orientation will in reality find mosques used by Muslims of other orientations inappropriate. A travelling Muslim will try to find a mosque which is used by people belonging to his own creed (Sunnis, Shi?is, and Kharijis are the main division points. Other mosques are defined as inappropriate because they are under control of the government or dominated by Islamists). But most major mosques, the jamaa are seen upon as neutral, and are used by Muslims of all creeds. [image] Conversion from churches Many mosques of the first centuries were originally churches. When churches were converted into mosques, this was naturally against the will of the Christians, but this wasn?t always a big problem. In many regions, Christianity lost its position, and churches turned into mosques over time. Muslims could actually use the churches since they were religious buildings and since Christianity was considered as a kin religion to Islam. This also happened in full respect of Christianity and of the Christians. Over time, the Christians gradually converted to Islam, and one day there were no longer anyone using the church as a church, only as a mosque. [image]Most mosques today are closed to non-Muslims, but this was a regulation that was developed through the first century of Islam. There was an increase in the emphasis on the sanctity of the mosque, more and more elements of the mosque was regarded as sacred, and any mosque was commonly regarded as bayt Allah, ?House of God?. [image] 80 years of development The design of the mosques developed in short time from being very simple to becoming complex structures. In the first mosques in Hijaz there was minimal attention paid to the form of the mosques. The time of development of the mosque into the pattern that still applies, lasted for a period of only 80 years. The shapes of mosques came often as a mix between architectural shapes of the conquered territories and of the original patterns. [image] Introduction of the minaret The first minaret (the tower from which the prayer callings were made) came probably in 703, in Kairouan, Tunisia, almost 100 years after the Madina mosque. But there are written material suggesting that minarets were erected as early as 665 CE. [image]The minaret was absent in the early mosques, and its addition was inspired by religious buildings of other religions. The main influence came probably from the churches of Syria. The implementation of minarets was both for embellishment of the mosques, and for the functionality. When the muezzin called for prayer (the calling for prayer is adhan) from the ground level, but it could be heard more than a few blocks away from the mosque. But even for some time after the introduction of the minaret, the adhan was still performed with the muezzin walking through the streets while inviting for prayer. [image]The addition of adornments to the mosques was strongly discussed, and many Muslims opposed this process, and thought of it as a way of jeopardizing the purity of Islam, and they disliked letting Christian elements in, as well as using converted churches. [image] Extensions of the use of the mosque Over time, many rooms was added to the mosque, rooms used by people of different social classes, people performing their professions in the mosque, travellers, sick, and old. Devout and ascetics lived often in the mosque, and even in the minaret. [image]Other elements inside a mosque are: ? Dakka, a platform, from where the muezzin calls for prayer, after he has done this from the minaret. ? Kursi a desk and a seat, for the Koran and for the reader. ? Reliquaries, where bodies, parts of bodies, or belongings of religious personalities are kept. ? Carpets covering the floor of mosques ? Lights, both candles and lamps, used for illumination, but not ritually ? Incense, especially together with festivals ? Water in the courtyard, both for ablutions, and for drinking Administration[image] The mosques have often been built by rulers, and the administration of the mosques has been financed by waqfs, endowments bringing in revenues. [image]These waqfs were normally agricultural land, often administered by the donator, or members of his family, and could in some cases have a location far away from the mosque it financed. There could be more than one waqf to each mosque. Mosques with economical problems were often out looking for new donators. [image]While mosques officially have been under the rulers, direct control have been difficult, much because of the economical independence (through waqfs), as well as the mosque?s in popular opinion. The main donator, and his family, was in many cases legally considered the owner of the mosque. In other cases it was the qadi, the judge of Sharia, who acted as the main administrator, nazir, of the mosque. The power of the nazir was considerable, and the position of nazir has often given room for intense conflicts between individuals and groups. The factual leader of salat in the mosques was the ruler, who held the title imam. Local rulers had a parallel position, under the title ala salat. The position of khatib, is a result of the imam being unable to perform the salat of Fridays, the khutba. The khatib could be a qadi, and in larger mosques, several khatibs could be appointed. Rules Mosques are centres of cities, or of neighbourhoods in cities. This function does not always have to be structured, but can be connected to mentality, and the construction of a new mosque makes a centre emerge. Very few mosques lie in open areas, and very few mosques does not have shops and commercial activities in the streets around it. People?s houses are often lying in a second ?circle? outside the mosque and the shops. Other social functions have often been connected to mosques, schools, law courts, hospitals, and lodging for travellers. This pattern is based upon the Medina mosque, but is of less importance today, as city planning now often use Western models. [image]When entering the mosque, a person should take off his shoes or sandals. Entering the mosque shall be done with the right foot first, while one utters blessings to Muhammad and his family. Once inside the mosque, two rak?as (part of the salat) shall be performed. A person inside the mosque shall talk softly, not loudly, so that he or she does not disturb people praying. For the Friday prayer, nice clothes and perfumes are recommended. [image]Women are not prevented by neither the Koran nor the Sunna to enter mosques, but there are regulations on how a woman in a mosque shall behave. Mosques can be segregated, either in time, or in space. But through most of Muslim history, women entering mosques have not been welcomed by men. Mosques have in many cases been closed to women, either regulated by local rules or by habit. Women have therefore resorted to pray in their homes. [image]While the salat can be performed anywhere, it is considered more meritorious when performed in the mosque, i.e. together with other people. The Sunna states that salat in the mosque is 20 or 25 times more valuable than the one performed in the home. [image]The Friday prayer or sermon, khutba, is considered to be compulsory for all male Muslims. The regulations for the khutba developed over a long period, approximately 2 centuries. With the strong increase in jamacas (main mosques) from the 9th century, the term ?masjid? was more and more used for small and insignificant mosques. Etiquettes to be observed in the Mosque Throughout the history of Islam, mosques have always played an important social role. It has been a place of prayer, a centre of political and social activities, an educational institution, and the focal point of communal life. In Muslim countries, the mosque serves various functions depending on the political and social environment. The mosque combines religious and social activities that encourage active faith and strong community life. Because Islam preaches unity of the spiritual and the worldly aspects of life, community gatherings and mosque-related activities include both social and spiritual elements. Friday-noon prayer, at the mosque, is the most important socio-religious activity of the community. Mosque attendance contributes to a Muslim?s sense of religious identity. Although each member brings an entire lifetime of cultural experience into the mosque, separate past experiences seem to fuse as individuals join together on the basis of their common beliefs. Commitment to religious beliefs is one of the strongest factors influencing the preservation of Islamic Identity. In spite of the spiritual and social aspects of the Mosque, the Mosque still remains a place of sanctity. Cleanliness in all respects is paramount; purity of mind, body, thoughts and actions. Muslims are expected to be in a state of purity (body, mind, and soul), when he or she visits the mosque. In particular, Muslims perform ablution (washing of hands, face, arms, and feet) before performing prayer. Muslims prostrate in their prayer, and thus the mosque must be clean. Mosques in North America are carpeted and shoes are removed upon entering. Shouting or raising one?s voice unnecessarily, and using improper or foul language are abhorred. Modesty in dress is expected for both men and women. Visitors are welcome at mosques; however, visitors who are not familiar with Muslim religious practices should contact the administration of one of the local mosques for information and to arrange visits. The Ka?aba-Masjid al-Haraam [image]The Mosque is primarily a place of remembrance of God. According to Muslim tradition, the first mosque built on earth was Masjid al-Haraam ? located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Masjid al-Haraam is recognizable world-wide through photographs of the Ka?aba during Hajj - the pilgrimage to Mecca. It occupies a position of primacy in relation to all other mosques. Next in importance are two other mosques: Masjid an-Nabbi ? the Prophet?s mosque in a Medina, Saudi Arabia and Masjid al-Aqsaa (Al-Aqsaa mosque is known as the second house of worship on earth, and was the first direction of prayer [Qibla] for Muslims before it was changed to Masjid al-Haraam) which is next to the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. Masjid an-Nabbi As I mentioned before the word mosque comes from the Arabic word, Masjid, which means a place where one prostrates oneself, or a place of worship. The concept of the mosque originated during the life of Prophet Muhammad, who built the first mosque during his Prophethood in Medina. In the early Islamic period, the Masjid served many purposes. Not only was it a place if worship, learning and prayer, but it also functioned as a community?s political and social centre. It was where believers assembled for prayers, where the Prophet delivered his addresses to deal with issues surrounding the social life of the community, where he educated his followers, where he explained revelations, where he met emissaries and discussed the merits of his message, where he dealt with internal and external political activities. Al-Aqsaa [image]From the very advent of Islam, the mosque was the centre of worship and other activities of the Muslim community. It is the mosque or masjid more than any other institution that helps new Muslims in Ottawa adapt to their surroundings. The mosque facilitates the integration of new immigrants to their surroundings and new Muslims to the Muslim community. The mosque contributes strongly toward the institutional completeness of a community. The mosque functions as a religious institution, a social organization and educational resource. Dome of the Rock Throughout history of Islam, the mosque has always played an important social role. It has been a place of prayer, a centre of political activities, an educational institution, and a focal point of communal life. Now that Muslim communities have established themselves throughout Canada, the religion, and its primary institution, the Mosque, have had to adapt too many of the norms of their host country. Their success in doing so has created thriving Muslim communities, each one distinct form the other because of the unique blend of members and local traditions. Each mosque is designed to serve the specialized needs, individual and communal, of it population. The mosques in the Ottawa area are a reflection of the Muslim community?s identity as a distinct religious, cultural, and social group. The Ottawa Mosque (oma) [image] [image]East London Mosque East London Mosque is one of the biggest mosques in UK. It is very busy because it is near The City and is situated in Whitechapel. Whitechapel is an area where there is lots of Muslims and so the location of the mosque could not have been better.

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