SILENT MINBARS

Our current Muslim diaspora has monumental challenges barring the development of communal success, from community leaders making odd statements of neutrality towards obvious haram, to imams being disempowered from preventing tangible harms in their communities. As Muslims in the West, we are not effectively stopping these negative trends and are not establishing practical, effective solutions to reverse them in our local masajid. Masjid administrators, with a wide range of qualifications and responsibilities, take to our minbars to guide and teach the community through khutbahs and classes, yet there are certain matters that escape the minbar. What are those matters and what challenges are faced by those who bear this responsibility? What can be done to alleviate them?

According to a 2020 ISPU report, we can estimate there are about 3000 masjids in North America, with 4+ million Muslims from another Pew report. Rounding up to an average of 1400 people per masjid, not accounting for actual masjid sizes, we get a ballpark scope of responsibility for every community leader. Assuming each masjid has a head imam leading prayers and tasked with general guidance for community members ranging from marriage to funeral services, not accounting for non-orthodox sub-groups that conflate these numbers to some degree, which nets us a rough figure of 3000 Imams covering North America. That’s each with an average scope of responsibility of over 1400 Muslims across North America who are primarily navigating communal issues. The ISPU report also found congregants identify the Imam to be the “leader” of the masjid (fulfilling the bulk of responsibilities) only about a third of the time, while non-imam administration(s) are seen as the leader(s) of the masjid 70% of the time. Local Imams and/or administrators are tasked with, and many times overwhelmed by, dealing with community needs on the ground, for individuals, from family to family, for matters relating to marital discord, business dilemmas, youth challenges, along with teaching and general responsibilities — all while on lower middle-class salaries. Local-level imams rarely deal with intra-communal issues or macroscale matters that affect their province/state, let alone any regional or national responsibilities.

Disorientation

Macro-level issues, while affecting communities on a micro-scale, without a central authority to affect how to navigate problems, imams will usually be out of sync on how to handle various matters. For this reason, “councils” of jurists have been formed across the West, that function to pass fatwas on matters of family and finances, etc. Individually, each imam being on the front line of fitna in each of their respective communities, they do not necessarily have the training to deal with the underlying problems and flaws of thought that drive it. Scholars trained in classical Islamic jurisprudence often lack the academic training to navigate issues pertaining to liberalism, feminism, secularism, and many other isms plaguing the Muslim zeitgeist. These ideas spreading among young Muslims are further exacerbated by the internet, while an Imam, despite being the most equipped to make guiding moral decisions, may not be adept in realizing the full depth of a question a troubled youth may have.

Echo Chambers

In non-Muslim regions, where customs and laws challenge the Muslim lifestyle, Muslim communities with wide arrays of scholarly differences of opinion find themselves surrounded by the mires of factionalism. To whatever degree factionalism persists in communities, there is a distortion of the full spectrum of debate which drowns out valid views—increasingly making normative, orthodox, and correct opinions seem contrarian or taboo. Such factionalism persists while surrounded by a liberal atmosphere of political correctness. The West persistently dictates normative orthodox Sunni positions to be criminal, criticized as “Islamist,” some level of offensive, or at the very least against the grain.

Liberalizing Muslim interests leverages these circumstances to put blinders on community leaders and propel un-islamic narratives and standards. An example is academic congregants, often not very committed to Islamic mandates and lifestyles themselves, pressure Masjids to accept the un-islamic liberal narratives regarding gender/sexuality, preventing orthodox Muslim positions against “LGBT” interests. This dynamic effectively makes for environments in masajid to become like silos with warped perspectives where only the liberal voices are politically correct and normative orthodox opinions are ostracized as not fitting the apparent political needs of a community. A masjid loses its sanctuary, where the curious and disheartened among those interested in Islam would come to find answers for how to fix it, but instead by trialed with liberal misguidance.

Financial Risk

The work aspects of community leadership as an imam are time intensive and occupy them around the clock. Typical salaries average well under 100k for almost all Imams, the position in and of itself is replaceable in general skills and duties, and it’s typically the singular source of income for them. This creates a massive risk for maintaining orthodox positions in a fast-liberalizing social masjid environment. There are many public incidents of imams that have been fired from their positions, much to the dismay of their families, for upholding Islamic standards. Take for instance the Imam who speaks against the prohibition of selling alcohol or dealing in usury during the Friday sermon, which then upsets congregants who are big donors to the masjid and are effectively paying the Imam’s salary–a clear conflict of interest. As some wealthy community members conflict against these pertinent sermons, this often leads to the termination of an upright imam, who may not otherwise have any different area of expertise to rebound towards financially. As masjid admins and board members have this conflict of interest between their wealthy donors and community guidance, it’s often considered “bad for business,” in order to keep their masjid well-funded.

This conflict is further seen in the phenomenon of ‘fatwa-shopping,’ or seeking rulings that would permit one to engage in activities normatively impermissible or doubtful. Fatwa shopping is so pervasive that it creates a conflict of interest with imams who are entirely financially dependent on congregations—meaning the larger the congregation, the better off an imam is. This leads to further enabling fatawa and community policies that are liberally bent to appeal to the desires of the Muslims surrounded by social decadence. Another financial conflict is in banks refusing service to masjids inexplicably. There are reports of many masjids losing access to necessary services at banks for unexplained reasons. Many masjids will receive “notices” from local law enforcement authorities to not platform one speaker or other, all without any legal public explanation, that speculatively coincide with these banking issues.

Censorship, Queitism & Over-precaution

Masjid administrators will seek to censor certain pertinent topics from the minbar that pose a conflict of interest with administrators and are abandoned as ‘unimportant’ or ‘dangerous’ without explanation. Topics relating to interest, alcohol, proper dress, fornication, or others can at times be prevented from being spoken about varying from mosque to mosque. One example is the silence on proper dress, the lack of which can be observed in the trend of Muslim women publicly wearing increasingly attractive (tights, etc.) clothing under the guise of pseudo-modesty. Fear of discussing these matters by Imams leads to omittance of doctrinal information, or opting out from crucial questions entirely. Risking future generations, this can (and often does) lead youths to end up adopting narratives from biased or nefarious sources and result in having a poor understanding of matters with possible influences from liberalism, feminism, or Kharijism. Lack of discussion leaves a vacuum of information that fills with conflicting or deviant misguidance. Though a masjid may enable political speech concerning Palestine or rarely even against American foreign policy (even though Citizens have that right), Muslims overall experience far fewer discussions relating to a correct understanding of conflicts happening in Muslim countries — often leaving Kharijite narratives to surreptitiously float around. Another muted topic is speaking out against the “LGBT” political projects in the past decade. This vacuum has enabled open calls for non-action (even by scholars) in opportunities to vote against the movement for the legalization of “same-sex marriage.” Proponents of that now reversed community trend, previously cited protecting the institution of marriage as a whole for Muslims, where there was never any real verifiable bill, article, or political rhetoric attacking the normative institution of marriage in the first place.

Cultural Cohesion

Muslim leadership often prioritizes social and ethnic cultural cohesion over establishing orthodox standards for the community that remain over time, with a willingness to lose appeal in favor of retaining those standards. The inter and intra-communal culture dictates the tone, word choice, plans, and projects that the community undertakes. While the inter-communal cultural differences are glaring, the intra-communal mores are where this bias for cohesion affects community administration and youths alike. A congregation’s youth have little other culture to adopt except that of their family, friends, and Western culture—the least pervasive being family. Youths often are easy prey to liberal surroundings which leads youths to question Islamic ordinances related to Hijab, Marriage, and so forth. Some go so far as to leave Islam altogether in favor of their surrounding liberté. Ultimately, in the efforts for cohesion, an erosion of Islamic values is adversely promoted for many Muslim communities in North America, furthering the demand on Imams.

Ostracism

Speaking out against negative trends within communities has led to boycotting of other Muslims. As the most pronounced liberalizing voices curb Muslim speech within the limits of Western political correctness, the ones who do speak out are ostracized, boycotted, uninvited from community events and activities, and not allowed to voice their opinions (even if those “opinions” or grounded in orthodoxy and orthopraxy). The silo effect that overtakes these masjids stops just short of prohibiting masjid attendance, but still effectively boycotts those who call for adherence to orthodox teachings that counter liberal narratives. Matters relating to free-mixing, music, hijab, gender roles, and many others — are all challenged by orthodox Ahlul-Sunnah teachings. Liberal practices can be set and even enforced as the norm in a masjid environment to purvey “enablement” for youths to attend masjids. It becomes paradoxical that if one were to forbid evils and vocalize against certain haram matters, they may ostracize those hesitant congregants who would otherwise benefit from the masjid. Oftentimes, such concerned callers to sunnah are labeled in heavy terms with unfounded accusations of some form of extremism.

INSIGHTS & RESPONSES

Considering that about 75% of North American masjid leadership is considered to be in the hands of boards of directors and executive committees, the rift between imams and admins on following normative Islamic guidelines is necessary to examine further. The bulk of masjid decision makers are not Islamically specialized––as masjid administrators and coalitions set shura structures to navigate issues, the ultimate regulation is not necessarily subject to a prioritizing Islamic standard assessed by a qualified and unbiased imam, but 3 quarters of the time it is to the non-Islamically specialized admins. Imams cede control of the administration due to financial, political, and social risks. A solution may be to organize congregant groups that work to engage community admins to correct social and family problems a community is facing, through weekly town-hall-like shuras. However, the greater challenge of masjid coalitions has been forming over the past decade, where coalition head administrators over a region oversee and enforce apparent liberalizing standards. Further study is required to examine these coalitions. The erosive elements in the rise of counter-Islamic values in Muslim communities have risen dramatically over the past two decades. Given all these trends of openly accepting counter-Islamic values, it is important for a central orthodoxic/orthopraxic policy to be instituted throughout North American masjids to be positioned as a standard. Congregants should work to encourage adherence to Sunnah in their communities. It is of the utmost importance to prevent and reclaim communities from being controlled by individuals who do not maintain the standard.

“People pleasing” is a potent poison in a society when having Sunnah-oriented attitudes is considered against the grain. One might assume there is no way devout Muslims would forget the original priority to please Allah in the first place. The feeling of disempowerment is something Muslims commonly feel in an era of diaspora, and it pervasively affects much of our community’s decision-making, socio-political foresight, and pedagogical standards. However, to affect these notions of defeatism, we must remember, with actual yaqeen, that we have Allah! These seemingly insurmountable challenges are not what they seem, and by the will of Allah, we can find solutions with great ease. The same pure sincerity of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) that brought Islam far and wide across the world, can surely overcome the fitan that we face today. It’s crucial for us to see the big picture, and never lose our confidence in resolution from Allah.

Abdul Muhaimin is a student of knowledge, software developer, founder, author, and martial artist. He writes at BuildUmmah.com and posts on X/Twitter @AbdulBuilds

Sources:

American Mosque Survey 2020 Report 1

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2017/07/26/demographic-portrait-of-muslim-americans/