A Tribute to Masjid Uncles

Note: I’m writing in the context of my own personal experiences as the child of immigrants who was raised in masājid founded by immigrants.

It is very common for us (children of immigrants in their 30s and 40s) to complain about the way our masājid are run; they are mismanaged, disorganized, unprofessional, wasteful, non-transparent, unwelcoming, lack priorities, the board doesn’t know what they’re doing, and the needs of the community are not being met. Interestingly, a lot of these complaints come from those who aren’t really involved in the masjid. I would describe them as casual attendees; they will come for Friday prayer, some programs, and maybe a prayer here and there throughout the week.

I strongly feel that this negative attitude we have towards our most important institutions is a by-product of the self-obsessed and individualistic culture of today. Now don’t get me wrong, I agree that there are several problems with the way our masājid are run and there’s definitely room for a lot of improvement.

Having said that, I believe it is important for us to take a step back and appreciate what our parent’s generation has done for the community. They came here as immigrants – as college students and fresh graduates – seeking better economic opportunities. As they settled in and started their careers and families, they developed a genuine concern for their faith and dīn and the faith and dīn of their children. This concern was usually shared with close friends and eventually led towards the establishment of a local masjid.

Our parents didn’t necessarily have formal Islamic education and training. They were not trained in fundraising, community building, project management, and non-profit work. But there was this sincerity and concern that led them to sacrifice their wealth, time, energy, and skills to establish the House of God.

I know of uncles who donated their entire savings, emptied their bank accounts, took out equity from their homes, and gave whatever they could to fund masjid projects. They would readily fill any gaps in regular funding to make up for any shortcomings in paying the bills – gas, electricity, water, insurance. etc. They served as de-facto event organizers, sound engineers, carpenters, speakers, khaṭībs, Sunday school principals and teachers, secretaries, treasurers, accountants, fundraisers, security, janitors, custodians, and cooks. I have seen engineers and doctors setting up chairs and tables, putting them away, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpets, and mopping the floors. They did all of this on a 100% volunteer basis because of their love of the masjid, commitment, and concern. They didn’t take a dime for all of the countless hours they spent serving the House of Allah. I have seen uncles sacrifice certain luxuries because they believed the House of Allah was more important than their own home. They would give more time to the masjid than they would their families. They literally put their blood, sweat, and tears into building and establishing the masājid. 

I would also like to appreciate the immense and invaluable sacrifice and contribution of our aunties. That generation of aunties were super-women; they were expected to cook, clean, do the laundry, fold the clothes, make the beds, while simultaneously raising children that would go on to the best colleges and universities. They donated their gold jewelry and sacrificed so that their husbands could dedicate countless hours to building and establishing masājid. 

I understand when our elders feel hesitant handing over the reins to a generation that hasn’t put in the same amount of sacrifice. When was the last time one of us emptied our savings to contribute to a project? Who is willing to take out equity for their home to fund the masjid? Who is willing to have a lien* on their own property to serve as a guarantor on behalf of the masjid? Who is willing to commit to taking care of any monthly shortfall in funding? Who is willing to sacrifice several hours a week without any compensation or recognition to make sure the masjid is operational? When was the last time we cleaned a masjid bathroom? Vacuumed the masjid carpet? Mopped the masjid floor? Who is willing to volunteer their Sundays to teach children the basics of Islam? Who is willing to sacrifice their time after work to attend meetings and plan events? 

Next time we feel the urge to complain, I want us to think about the above. Instead of complaining we should be more constructive and work towards providing solutions. It’s very easy to be an arm-chair critic.

*Lien: A right to keep possession of property belonging to another person, until a debt owed by that person is discharged.

Photo via Imad Alassiry

About the Author: Shaykh Furhan Zubairi has a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine and graduated from Dār al-ʿUlūm in Karachi receiving an ʿĀlimiyyah degree (Masters in Arabic and Islamic Studies). He currently serves as the Dean of the Seminary Program at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA and is the author of several works on various Islamic disciplines. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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