The masjid is the fortress of faith; the guardian of virtues; the home of the pious; the meeting place of Muslims; the centre of consultation and mutual advice, and the first school from which the Muslim graduates. The masjid provides relief and respite to the needy and the distressed. Muslim armies sprang from the masjid and spread the message of Islam to all parts of the world within a short time.
The masjid occupies a prominent place in Islam because prayer is the second most important pillar of Islam and the masjid is where it is performed. In fact, the word masjid is derived from the word for prostrate: Sajada. The masjid symbolises Islamic monotheism and the unity of the Muslim ummah. When the call to prayer is made five times a day, the community comes together in the congregational prayer and all Muslims regardless of their race, colour, social, and economic status stand before their Lord in response to His call to prosperity. The masjid has certain functions and etiquette which must be taken into consideration when attending it:
a) Congregational prayers: Islam has made performing the prayer in congregation one of the most important duties of a Muslim. Abdullah Ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “Prayer in congregation is better than prayer performed individually by twenty-seven degrees.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). In addition, prayer performed in larger congregations and more distant masjids carries more reward.
Thus, the masjid serves as a meeting place for Muslims where they get to know news of each other and the community at large. Congregational prayer obviously has many spiritual and social benefits. It reinforces the unity and co-operation of Muslims as it strengthens the ties of brotherhood among them. After the prayer, Muslims exchange greetings and inquire about one another’s well being. Thus, it becomes easy to notice community members who may be sick, in difficulty, or in need.
b) Entering and leaving the masjid: When going to the masjid, one is encouraged to proceed with calmness and humility. He should make supplications on his way. One of the supplications the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used to make was: “In the name of Allah, I put my trust in Allah. There is no power or strength except with Allah.” (Related by Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Nasa’i). When entering the masjid, one should begin with the right foot first and say: “Oh Allah, forgive me my sins and open for me the doors of Your mercy.” Similarly, when leaving the masjid, he should step out with the left foot first and say: “O Allah, forgive me my sins and open for me the doors of Your bounty.”
If a person enters the masjid when the prayer has already started, he should not rush to catch up as he might distract those in prayer. Once, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, noticed the sound of people rushing to join a prayer in progress and he said to them: “...When you come to the prayer, come with calmness and tranquillity. Perform whatever part of it you can (with the congregation) and complete what you have missed.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
c) Greeting others in the masjid: The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, stressed spreading the greeting of peace, “as-salamu alaykum,” at all times. He said: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I direct you to something which if you do, you will love one another? Spread the greeting of peace among you.” (Related by Muslim). So, upon entering the masjid, it is appropriate to greet those who are already there.
d) Performing two Rak’at as a greeting to the masjid: When one enters the masjid, it is a Sunnah to perform two rak’at - which serve as a greeting to the masjid - before sitting down. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “When one of you enters the masjid, he should perform two rak’at before sitting down.” (Related by Al-Bukhari). However, if one enters the masjid after the iqamah (call for commencement of prayer) is made, he should not initiate any other prayer. On the other hand, if he begins a sunnah prayer and the iqamah is made before completing it, he may either proceed to finish it quickly, or discontinue and join the congregation. The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “If the iqamah is made, then no prayer other than the obligatory one should be performed.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
e) Straightening the rows: Before starting the prayer, the congregation should stand in straight rows without leaving any gaps in between. The Prophet used to make sure that all the lines were in order and he said: “Verily, making the rows straight is part of the proper performing of prayer.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). He also said: “Be close together and straighten your rows.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). The rows symbolise the unity, equality and brotherhood of Muslims. There are no privileges or reserved places within the rows. Muslims of all races and nationalities - rich and poor, powerful and weak - stand next to each other in obedience to Allah. They stand shoulder to shoulder, face the same direction, and follow the same imam in unison.
f) Distracting other people in the masjid: The Muslim, while in prayer is in private conversation with his Lord. It is therefore not permissible to distract him in any way. Disturbing someone praying even with audible recitation of the Qur’an is discouraged. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, heard people reciting the Qur’an aloud while others were praying and he said: “Verily, each one of you is in private conversation with his Lord. So, you should not disturb each other. And you are not to raise your voices against each other in the recitation.” (Related by Abu Dawud, Al-Nasa’i, Al-Bayhaqi, and Al-Hakim).
On the other hand, Islam does not forbid engaging in lawful conversation in the masjid provided someone in prayer is not disturbed. Jabir Ibn Samurah, radhiallahu ‘anhu, narrated: “The Prophet would not rise from the place of the Fajr prayer until the sun had risen. And when it did, we would talk and laugh about the days of ignorance (pre-Islamic times) and he (the Prophet) would smile.” (Related by Muslim). Furthermore, it is permissible to lie down, sleep, eat and drink in the masjid. Abdullah Ibn Al-Harith reported: “During the time of the Messenger of Allah, we would eat meat and bread in the masjid.” (Related by Ibn Majah). But the sacredness of the masjid should always be borne in mind and hence it must never be misused.
g) Maintaining the cleanliness of masjids: Many of the teachings and practices of Islam emphasise cleanliness and general hygiene. In the Qur’an, the believers are addressed to adorn themselves with their best clothes when going to the masjid. Allah says: “O children of Adam! Adorn yourselves fully with your best clothes to every place of worship,” (Al-A’raf, 7:31). masjids being houses of worship deserve the utmost attention of every Muslim to make sure that they are free of any filth or offensive smell. Jabir reported that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “Whoever eats garlic, onion, or leek should not come close to our masjid for the angels are harmed by what harms the children of Adam.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Another hadith states: “...whoever eats upon (onion and garlic) should suppress their odour by cooking them.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad, and Al-Nasi’i).
It must be noted that maintaining the masjid is the responsibility of every Muslim. Indeed, Muslims must safeguard the premises and property of the masjid better than even their personal belongings. There are several Ahadith indicating the importance of caring for the masjids. A’isha, radhiallahu ‘anha, reported: “He (the Prophet), ordered us to build the masjids in residential areas; to build them well and purify them.” (Related by Abu Dawud). In another Hadith, Anas Ibn Malik, radhiallahu ‘anhu, reported: “The rewards of my ummah were placed before me, even for removing a speck of dust from the masjid.” (Related by Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Khuzaymah).
Children in the masjid
Children are leaders of the future and the bearers of Islam to posterity, and they must not be denied the blessings of the masjid which nurtures the Muslim mind. Islam pays utmost attention to the proper bringing of children, such that the virtuous Islamic morals and character are instilled in them at tender age. Usually, the formative years of the child are the most vital in shaping his future personality. Parents should therefore allow their children (male and female) to accompany them to the masjid so that they get used to the Islamic acts of worship and grow up with obedience to Allah.
Children used to go to the masjid during the time of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and he used to treat them kindly. Anas reported: “I have never seen anyone kinder to children than the Messenger of Allah.” (Related by Muslim). Also, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used to take his grandsons to the masjid. Abu Hurairah reported: “The Prophet was delivering a sermon and Al-Hassan and Al-Hussayn (the Prophet’s grandsons) came wearing two red shirts and they were tripping while walking. The Prophet came down from the pulpit, picked them up and placed them in front of him. Then he said: “Allah and His Messenger have told the truth. Verily, your wealth and children are a trial. I looked to these two children walking and tripping, and I could not be patient, so I cut off my sermon and went to pick them up.” (Related by Abu Dawud, Al-Tirmidhi).
To show his concern for children, he used to say: “Verily, I start the prayer intending to prolong it. But when I hear the crying of a child, I shorten it knowing how his crying disturbs his mother.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Training our children to attend the masjids with us is more crucial. Parents and elders should bear the children’s distractions as this is the only way to prepare our future generations for their responsibilities towards this religion. On the other hand, children should be taught to respect the masjid and observe propriety to the test of their ability. Child should be taught to identify with the masjid and take proper care of its property.
Women and the masjid
The Islamic Shari’ah permits women to attend the masjid to benefit from the lectures, sermons, and lessons offered there. However, it is preferable for them to pray in their houses. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “Do not prevent your women from coming to the masjid, but their houses are better for them.” (Related by abu Dawud). In another hadith, he said: “If the wife of one of you asks permission to go to the masjid, he must not prevent her.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
However, women should dress modestly with hijab and should not use perfume when going out. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said to the women: “When one of you (women) comes to the masjid, she must not use perfume.” (Related by Muslim). Women used to attend the masjid during the time of the Prophet to learn about religious matters. The Prophet set special lessons for them and also tailored part of his sermons to address women’s issues - especially on Eid days (festivities).
Today, Muslim women are in need of Islamic education more than ever before. Furthermore, the mother is regarded as the first and most fundamental school for her children and she should have the necessary access to learning so that she, in turn, transmits that knowledge to them. Also, Muslim women can teach young Muslims, new Muslims and organise women’s programmes in the Islamic centres and masjids.
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