Finding the participants for this roundtable was exciting. It gave me the chance to speak to people I respect and admire as well as meet some amazing new ones. Their reflections vary, but are equally provocative — and despite differences of opinion and experience, there’s no denying an overwhelming consensus that many mosques are disconnected from their communities.
But before we get too far into the discussion questions, I’ve asked each participant to give us a brief description of who they are by way of introduction. Please join me in welcoming:
Ify: Washington D.C. A Muslim convert and registered nurse.
Randy Nasson: San Francisco. Husband, Father, Son, and Brother. I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like. And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
Maryam: Canada. An editor who wishes there was more time to write.
Javed, aka HijabMan: Southwest Virginia. I focus on believing in God, doing good, and cloth diapering.
Omar: Calgary. A Muslim professional with sarcasm to spare.
Sajida: New York City. Graduate Student. Field work nomad.
Furakh: US East Coast. Wandering student, hoping to land my feet somewhere.
Ida: Ottawa. Doctoral candidate, youth worker and humanitarian.
Khaiam: Toronto. Studying to be a Muslim Chaplain after years of feeling like an outsider in his own religion. Gave up Islam, but Islam didn’t give up on me.
When was the last time you went to a mosque? Were/are you involved in Muslim community events?
Ify: My last visit to a mosque was about two weeks ago for a Friday evening lecture by a visiting speaker. I used to be active in my local mosque and attended regularly for prayers and activities. Now, I only go for specific events or programs. I’m involved in other programs within the Muslim community that take place outside of the mosque environment.
Randy: The last time I was at a mosque was for Eid ul Fitr in 2012. However, I used to be extensively involved in Muslim community events. I worked at Zaytuna Institute for 2 years from 2004-2006 in a fundraising/development role, and was immersed in the Bay Area Muslim community and exposed to many other communities around the United States.
After leaving Zaytuna, I was involved with a social group in San Francisco called SF Muslims, which facilitated parties, volunteering, and other community events. Prior to the birth of our son, my wife and I attended the annual AMILA retreat, a weekend of reflection and focus at the start of Ramadan. Until very recently, we were both involved with a weekly halaqah that began seven or eight years ago. Over time, our meetings became more infrequent due to changes in family life, member relocation, and professional demands.
Maryam: The last time I went to an actual mosque was probably about a month ago, just because it was the most convenient place to pray near where I was. I normally go to a university nearby for juma, which used to be great (the space is decent, and the khutbas were often really good), but the khutbas have gone downhill over the past year, and I’ve felt generally uninspired about going lately. The only thing that (sometimes) keeps me going there is to meet up with friends for lunch afterwards.
I also used to go fairly often to a Sufi centre, which is lovely in so many ways, but there’s been too much sexism (among other problems) expressed in some of the talks lately, and I’m unfortunately needing to take a long break from that at the moment.
Javed: A few months ago for a free food thing in the mosque basement. I’m generally not involved. At one point I helped start an alternative prayer space in my house, but I lost interest.
Omar: I went to the mosque this past weekend. I am involved in Muslim community events that are usually not related to mosques.
Sajida: A couple of weeks ago. I was really involved in various communities while researching in Toronto. I went to Jummah either at the University of Toronto, El-Tawhid Jummah Circle, or the Noor Cultural Centre. In terms of events, I went to classes held by the Muslim Chaplain (Amjad Tarsin) at the University of Toronto and MSA dinners.
Furakh: The last time I went to a mosque was in my parents’ town. I had gone for jummah, but I ended up simply praying dhuhr by myself since I didn’t feel comfortable with the set up for congregational prayer there.
As for being involved in Muslim community events — I finished my undergraduate this past December, and while I at university, I had an on-and-off relationship with the Muslim Students’ Association. I started to get involved with organizing events in the MSA, but that tapered off after a semester or two. The attitude of the group just didn’t end up being one that suited me — the checks and hoops to pass through to maintain the MSA’s image and reputation weren’t things I felt I wanted to devote my time to. My personal policy ended up being that I would help out if someone asked me to do a particular task — those tasks usually involved quick posters or taking photographs — but nothing more than that.
Ida: Last time I went to the mosque was this winter break when I was in the Middle East.
I am very involved in youth work in the Muslim community here in Ottawa — I coordinate a halaqa for university students, am working on a city-wide youth committee, and help organize a winter youth camp during the reading week weekend. I attend Muslim socials on occasion.
Khaiam: Can’t remember the last time I went to a “mosque” event in a religious context.
Read more in this series: