un·mosque·d – adjective \-ˈmäsk\: not connected with a mosque or masjid, people who do not regularly attend masjid services. (source)

A still from the Unmosqued trailer.

A still from the Unmosqued trailer.

While descriptive of many people who feel excluded from mosque culture and who experience community and spiritual fulfillment outside the mosque, the term “unmosqued” is problematic for those who were never “mosqued to begin with.”

For some, women in particular, culture and preference dictates that worship and community building happens in the home or at organized, private functions outside the mosque. Some women have never been inside a mosque — and their first experience is when they come to North America.

Others have never had a mosque community to begin with, or by way of circumstance, can’t settle down in one place long enough to become an “insider.” There are those who love attending mosques, but can’t reconcile feelings of being unwelcome with the “expectations” of finding serenity in communal worship.

And depending on one’s geographical location, sometimes the one mosque in town is the only place to meet another Muslim, and regardless of community problems and challenges there is no option to leave. Others, like myself, mosque-hop around the city — not belonging to any one community, but picking and choosing where to fulfill different spiritual needs.

The motivations and reasons why Muslims are, “emotionally and physically disengaging from their communities” vary greatly — but it may be fair to say that the now empty mosques were unprepared to service the needs of a very diverse community.

Then there are those who don’t feel unmosqued in the slightest and are enjoying a rich and fulfilling communal and spiritual life with their mosque community.

Have you left the mosque? Do you think this phenomenon is a fair representation of Muslims in North America? Share your stories and experiences in the comments below and check out what our participants have to say!

What are the factors that have led you to becoming “unmosqued”?

Ify: Initially, for a number of years after my conversion, the mosque served as a welcome safe space for me to explore, learn, and deepen my faith and build friendships and a support network. Once the luster wore off, I began examining my beliefs and the mosque and community with a more critical eye.

Questions or reservations that I had previously ignored or suppressed began to re-surface. I was not satisfied with the second-class treatment I experienced as a woman and as an American convert. I found the overt racism highly offensive and the cultural norms isolating. The mosque rather than being a source to deepen my faith was becoming associated with a crisis of faith, it became a source of tremendous pain, easier to avoid than to engage.

Randy: To be honest, I never really considered myself “mosqued” in the first place.

At their core, mosques provide a communal prayer space, which is both admirable and appealing. However, because many mosques are defacto cultural centers for immigrant communities, and because so many Imams spent the majority of their lives living abroad, there is often a dramatic disconnect between the environment created within the mosque by the Imam, and societal context outside it.

When women and small children are relegated to a small room in the back, I find this offensive; while a private space should be made available to those who prefer it, it should not be imposed. Many Friday sermons are given in Arabic, which is of no use to me as I am not an Arabic speaker. Even when delivered in English, the content and duration of the sermon is often disappointing rather than inspiring; routinely consisting of political litanies or quaint anecdotes with little-to-no direct relevance to my life in 21st century American society. In sum, I find mosques to be marginally relevant, often uninspiring, and stubbornly exclusive. There are exceptions, of course, but the sad fact is that they are exceptions.

Maryam: I think being unmosqued, for me, is mainly about the space. If I wanted to watch a khutba on a screen, I could just stay home and go on YouTube. It’s so hard to feel like you’re fully part of the congregation when you’re having to be in another room, often on another floor. I know that some women prefer a completely segregated space, and that’s fine, but I really wish that wasn’t the only option. And it’s not just the segregation itself — it’s that the women’s spaces (whether in a separate room or not) very often have poor quality sound, not enough space, sometimes they’re dirty, etc. In other words, the problem isn’t only about being at the back or in another room, but also about the implications of that for our ability to actually participate in what’s happening.

That said, I’ve also been really discouraged lately by some of the things that I’ve heard people say in religious spaces, so even when the physical space is okay, I’ve had some situations lately where the khutbas were really problematic. It’s hard to focus on prayer or on learning from the khutbas when I’m feeling hurt or angry because of something the imam said, so I prefer to just remove myself from some of those spaces and pray alone instead, rather than going there but feeling really negative about it (and potentially passing that negativity on to others).

Javed: The overall vibe in many mosques I’ve attended is cold and unfriendly. Even though my wife doesn’t care where her space is, I feel weird having my wife behind a wall. Separate and unequal bothers me.

Omar: People sometimes expect more from the Mosque than what the mosque can offer (like counselling, support, etc). Generally a mosque is setup in a community by individuals who just want a place to pray and to “raise their kids Islamically.” These individuals are not necessarily trained in leading a community or fostering an environment for healthy community.

I feel that mosques usually do events to benefit the actual mosque and not necessarily the community. So it’s always about the “number of people attending” or how to attract people rather than, “this is what our community needs.”

On the flip side, “unmosqued” people should not label a mosque/community because of the actions of a single individual (which is usually the case). If someone wants to pray at a mosque, they cannot be stopped. Yes, people can say things to discourage or turn others away, but they can still come pray, ignoring everyone else. So, if someone is “unmosqued,” they have made a choice, and that is their own decision.

Just because a mosque does not meet an individuals expectations, this is not a good enough reason to become “unmosqued.”

Sajida: In a way, circumstance has led me to becoming “unmosqued.” I have been a student for my entire life. So I haven’t been able to settle down anywhere long term. And for the past year and a half, I’ve literally been popping in and out of different field work locations for my dissertation research, so I am unable to really consider myself part of a “community.”

But aside from that, I haven’t found many places where I could feel truly comfortable considering myself a full “insider.” In the past, the reasons for my discomfort have been ideological (usually related to gender — either in terms of segregation, space, or leadership issues). Sometimes it’s been because of a dearth of quality leadership (khutbahs are uninspiring, or worse, focused on “fire and brimstone,” “haram haram haram” perspectives, rather than constructive and pertaining to our context).

Furakh: If by “unmosqued” we’re talking specifically about what’s pushed me away from mosques — frankly, I don’t feel welcome in the culture that’s found in many mosques. I feel like the house of God should be a place of peace and worship — where we’re mindful of the Creator in not just in trying to continually keep the wudu areas clean, but in treating all of creation with compassion, in having meaning and intention when we greet each other with “Assalaamu alaikum.” There’s a dissonance between what my expectations of the mosque environment are and what I’ve experienced, and I find it hard to ignore that dissonance when I’m supposed to be focused on God.

What affects me most is the treatment of women in mosques — while shoving women (and often their children) into a room separated from place of congregational prayer (where the imam is) seems to be convention, it certainly isn’t tradition, and entering those places feels as though I’m accepting this notion that women do not belong in mosques, that their spirituality is inferior to men’s, etc. I’ve had this concern brushed aside as me being “too sensitive,” “too Western/secular,” or “(too much of) a feminist.” The responses aim to invalidate rather than answer or discuss, and that’s problematic when you’re trying to form a community.

There’s more than just the issue of how women are treated in mosques, and I’m not sure I can go into the list without sounding bitter (because, honestly, I am). In the end though, it all culminates in an environment that is judgmental and where not everyone feels welcome, often to the extent that even talking about this issue seriously is a taboo or a futile endeavor.

I’ve tolerated a lot of the negative emotions I feel when I enter mosques in the past, but recently I’ve decided that it makes little sense to endure situations that adversely affect me spiritually or emotionally when I’m attending a place of worship. It seems counterproductive. I’m still happy to go to mosques when I just need to pray by myself if the physical space is respectable (clean, well-kept, not a closet, and what-not). The experience of being in the mosque is something that I treasure — as long as I can keep it separate from the unwelcoming air that has, in my experience, often permeated those sacred spaces.

Ida: The term unmosqued is interesting. If it’s “un” like unhappy or uninterested at the moment, then I think its fair to say that where I currently live now, I am unmosqued. If the term was “exmosqued,” as in expel or former, I wouldn’t like to be characterized as that. In principle I would go to the mosque everyday if it was one that I felt comfortable in and if it gave me warmth in my heart.

I like to reflect after prayers. Unfortunately at the mosque closest to my house and at my university, right after we give salaams at the end of prayer the noise level shoots up exponentially. There is no time to take in the moment. Rather, right away you have people rushing to leave and an announcer trying to go through his list of community events. It’s too chaotic. As a result of all of this, my mosque attendance has dropped with time. Because I am still part of community events though, I still feel very much connected with Muslims.

Khaiam: I don’t know if I can say it was a decision. I don’t even know if I can say that I ever felt unwelcome, but I can’t say that I felt welcomed either. I can say that I always (and in some cases still do) felt like I never belonged at the mosque.

The company can be boring at these places. I’m not saying all pious people are boring, but because of the culture of fear, being an imperfect Muslim, stops brothers from being human.

There is no talk of art, or culture, or anything. Work, and maybe sports (basketball above all other sports). For someone like me, those people are BORING. I understand they’re trying to be good Muslims, but this fear-inducing mosque culture that I’m familiar with creates zombies — they’re not dead, but they become much too fearful to ever live. Just because we’re not supposed to get lost in the Dunya doesn’t mean we should sit in a mosque and wait to die, afraid of life outside the mosque. But some of them don’t see it that way.

Read more in the series:

Unmosqued: A Roundtable Discussion

Meet the Participants

Finding Community

Making the Mosque Relevant Again