The ‘Unmosqued’ discussion

The ‘Unmosqued’ discussion

by Shabana Mir


We had a viewing of the documentary Unmosqued at our Islamic Center tonight.

It resulted in, on the one hand, the release of pent-up energy and input that I have never seen here (and long-standing members said they hadn’t seen in ages). On the other hand, the rather negative note on which the documentary concludes – with rather sparse indication of possible routes to the future – meant that the viewing also resulted in a sense of despair and a sense of unresolved polarization.

I am hopeful that we will have more community discussions similar to the one we had today.

The brief ensuing discussion (cut short by ‘isha prayer and the lateness of the hour) revealed a polarization around a) a profound sense of pain, alienation, and disconnect and b) the reaction of gatekeepers (which is a relative term), one of resentment toward the negative emotions (see a). We didn’t have the opportunity or the leadership to resolve this polarization either.

I am left, wistful, with one of the last comments in the documentary – a young man who said that the current mosque culture would not change or shift but simply die, and be replaced by something different.

Rather optimistically, I thought, another young man said that Muslim Americans would be leading and creating the mosques of the future. Yes, I thought, but only if those mosques are very different creatures. I certainly can’t see a lot of young Muslim Americans of the future sidle politely into the back of the congregation, to listen quietly to some man (week after week, some man) rehearse his oddball views on life and Islam. They will either depart, or (if we are lucky) they will become part of a very different mosque.

One thing is certain:

The defensive reaction of the “choir” is not going to help resolve the polarization. If someone has been hurting, who has been urged and yelled at to be invisible and inaudible for years in this space, you cannot scold them for being in pain. You cannot scold them for being absent at the meetings (where their views are shrugged off anyway). You cannot judge them for being uninvolved in the mosque when the cultural setting of the mosque, the cultural language or style of the mosque is alien to them. It is a man’s space. It is a middle-aged man’s space. The unconventionally religious, the female, the youthful, the Black, the convert, etc. have been excluded and marginalized a long, long time. So don’t tell women (for instance) that it’s their own fault for not charging into the man-dominated crowd and making their mark on the mosque. I will not have it. I have served, I have worked, I have represented, I have smiled through the pain a million times, and I am the community. I will not be scolded for not doing enough. I will not be told off for having been thrown out of this space years ago.

And one more polarization:

Some women do feel a part of the mosque community and they are happy to serve (or be permitted to serve in subsidiary roles). I understand. But I do not wish to help my husband with his mosque work. I wish to have my own role in the mosque. I do not wish to cook or serve food. It’s not one of my talents. Gardening and lifting heavy objects are not my talents either. But I can lead discussions. I can teach. I can evaluate the Sunday School. Oh, and I can write khutbahs and deliver them. [Do I hear terrified silence?]

Also, ladies, I do not want to hear the words “Sisters’ Representative” ever again. No. You are not my representative to the Men. Thank you, but no. It is 2015. No more of that rubbish please.

So with all love and respect to those who are content with the status quo as well as to those who offer cultural spaces in the existing mosque – it’s just not enough. I want more. And I am not alone. I am the majority – the absent majority. If I am to contribute (as opposed to just show up for the occasional Friday congregation, gripe about the irrelevance of the sermon, and leave), I must have more. I will not settle for less.

Call me impious, call me a discontented shrew if you will, criticize me for my clothing if you want. I am hardened from years of practice. But for my daughter’s tomorrow, because I know she will flee the mosque if it is anything less, I will continue to show up in my own clothes, in my own style, and I will continue to demand MORE.

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Update: OK. It seems that this post really spoke to some people. I want to add a couple of things:

First, I think our local mosque and Islamic Center is head and shoulders above the dreadful experiences I’ve had before. But as I said (repeatedly), we need MORE. The choir is happy or content with what we have. But they are unaware of the crowds that, unlike even me, are completely disconnected from the mosque.

Second, in case anyone got the wrong impression, I think the documentary is excellent. It is the perfect catalyst to break through smooth exteriors beneath which there lurks turmoil. But once people have got back in touch with their pain, they must have leadership and facilitation.

With polarized perspectives, that is one thing that we must have: facilitation. I wish I’d been It at our discussion, but there just wasn’t enough time.

OK, I was also simmering in my pain.

That pain. The moment I saw those images of barriers, walls, dividers, and CCTV. It all came back to me. Hours of service, immersed in the mosque community, running over to the mosque -like a mother hen – the day it was vandalized, iftar dinners in the freezing women’s space during winter Ramadans … And hours of argumentation, men saying (in various accents) that women didn’t belong in the main space, in the executive committee, anywhere except the women’s prayer space, the fury, the impotent fury and disbelief that this was happening in my beloved mosque space.

So excuse me for being in pain, and for my tone being a little unbalanced. I promise, next time, I will be a calm and empathic facilitator. Give me a chance. Another discussion, okay? A second viewing of Unmosqued and I will be better.

Because I really, truly believe that at our mosque, Unmosqued allowed for the best, most powerful, most energetic flow of ideas I have EVER seen.


Please visit Shabana Mir’s excellent blog Koonj—The Crane where you will find many such informative articles.


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