Lessons Men and Men-Dominated Muslim Institutions Can Learn from a Women-Built Masjid
By Dr Aslam Abdullah
Las Vegas, Nevada
Masjid Ibrahim opened its prayer hall after a long wait of four years on January 29, 2016. It had existed since 1995 as a small facility for those who lived in its neighboring area in a single family residence with a huge lot. It served a small number of people.
In 2005, the person who had initiated it passed away leaving behind seven children and his widow. It was a tough time for the family. They were struggling to pay huge medical bills and the IRS and insurance companies were after them. But the family was committed to keeping the masjid running. It was paying for all its expenses and utilities.
It was in this situation that the lady of the house, the mother of seven children and the widow of Syed Haseebulah, thought of reconstructing the masjid and expanding the facility. She is a pharmacist and a real estate investor. Her approach for reconstructing the masjid was unique. "If you are really committed to a project, rely on Allah and on your strength to carry it on." So, she embarked on rebuilding the masjid in 2011.
It took four years and about three million dollars for the completion of the masjid. Sharaf Haseebullah spent her hard earned money to rebuild the masjid. She did not compromise on the quality of the material and she remained committed to her project through thick and thin.
Now the masjid is fully functional and is and would be known as the first masjid in the USA and Europe built by a woman with all her earned money. It is really an irony that women who are often discouraged to visit masajid in general and who are often forced to pray in total seclusion in often poor physical conditions would take the lead in rebuilding a masjid without any fundraising efforts through Sharaf. Indeed, it is a bright moment for Muslim women and the community at large. Indeed, this is unique moment in our Muslim history. Women have built masajid in India, Morocco as well as in Medina even during the time of the Prophet. But they were influential women. Either they were the rulers or the wives of rulers or they came from a family of wealthy merchants.
Sharaf was born in Bihar, India, raised in Pakistan and migrated to this country in 1974 with her husband with not much resources. Yet she built a facility for all. Initially she worked as a 4 dollar an hour worker. But in 40 years she built a fortune for herself through hard work and used it for the purpose of building a house of God.
There are few lessons that this masjid offers to generally male dominated Masajid all over the world. It is worth to notice them because what the Masjid plans to do is exactly what the Prophet offered during his time.
1. Do not underestimate the commitment of women to Islam. If they are given opportunities they can do wonders. Stop showing harshness toward them under a male-dominated leadership. Acknowledge the fact that they are the greatest asset of the faith and the community.
2. If you are interested in serving the cause of Allah, be prepared to give your resources without seeking any reward from anyone.
3. Do not rely on people's donations. If you are serious about building a masjid or an institution, go ahead with your resources. If people give the money, accept it with gratitude, but do not ask for it. It is the house of Allah and it should be built on taqwa, i.e., the ability to serve him on one's own free will and determination.
4. Do not turn masajid into a sectarian club. Open it for all. Do not promote a particular kind of ideology there. A masjid should not be labelled as African American or Pakistani or Arab masjid or a Tablighi or an Ikhwani Masjid. It is the House of Allah and Allah is not owned by a particular group. Let the people learn the two essentials of the faith, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
5. Do not limit the masjid to Muslims only. Let people of other faiths come and seek the guidance of God in their own way provided they follow the rules of the facility
6. Let there be no walls for those who come to offer prayers in the masjid, men or women. Women stand behind because of specific reasons and men stand in front not to demonstrate their superiority. There should not be any partition to separate them because there was none at the time of the Prophet.
7. Offer separate facility in the masjid to women where those who want to offer prayer separately can pray.
8. Do not have partition in the prayer hall to prevent women from seeing the rituals of the prayer and listening to the speaker during sermons and lectures.
9. Let men and women come to the masjid from the same door.
10. Make sure that people are informed of donations they offer to the Masjid. There should be absolute financial transparency.
11. Welcome everyone with open arms even if that person comes from a different theological tradition.
12. Let the masjid also serve the local community through programs that benefit them.
13. Develop a working relation with other places of worship in the area and through them develop a program to support the local community.
14. Encourage people to develop a community rather than an audience or a crowd. Encourage them to learn about each other.
15. Focus on providing education more than preaching to the community. Let them learn the essentials.
16. Avoid keeping any literature other than the Qur’an and the authentic books of ahadith in the masjid.
17. Don't let the mosque administration act in a dictatorial manner. There is a difference between serving people and dictating them.
18.When you are building the masjid, make sure you put the best material and you do not compromise on quality.
19. Always be thankful to God for what he has given you for building his house.
20 Remain humble. Show your humility to yourself, to God and to others. (The author is the editor of the Muslim Observer, Detroit, as well as director of the Islamic Society of Nevada)