In the last couple of years, the US Muslim Community has seen a growing movement emerging within young Muslims, particularly women, who have become increasingly disillusioned with traditional Mosque structures, governance and set ups. This ‘Un-Mosquing’ movement is a way for young Muslims to make a stand against what they see to be flaws in Mosques around issues of transparency and equality.
Leading Imams in the American community are aware of this growing trend and are honest in their approach to the need for change within Mosques. Imam Mohamed Magid of the ADAMS centre is just one of these Imams. Imam Magid has witnessed the broadening of the American Muslim identity first hand. As he put it, “There has been no institutional absorption of this changing identity.” American mosques are still largely run by first-generation American Muslims, which means there is usually little English spoken and the social expectations are more traditional. As a result, many young Muslims simply opt out of practicing Islam. According to Imam Majid, “All or nothing is not good for the Muslim community in America.”
Imam Magid understands that this is “an important challenge” to the Muslim community. “It is forcing us to push the envelope even inside our institutions,” he said. Imam Majid hopes to change the way Muslims perceive Islam. He has started holding what he calls “spiritual hangouts” each week in peoples’ homes. “Many people express the desire to separate themselves from institutional religion these days, we have to respond to that. We have to make it relevant.”
Imam Zia Makhdoom, shares this insight and wants to see Islam, as it is practiced in the U.S. today, become more accessible and appealing. He thinks mosque boards should include women and young people (his own board has an equal number of men and women serving on it). He also believes that as long as women dress appropriately to pray, it does not matter if their sweaters do not cover their entire wrists. He thinks Muslim communities should open their doors to divorcees if they consider themselves Muslim.
One way that Imam Zia tries to achieve that is through writing his sermons by committee. He has a group of volunteers who help draft content for it each week. He admits it is unusual—he hasn’t heard of any other religious leader doing anything like this—but, he said, “When you have a group of people acting as conduit to the community, the suggestions they give you are going to reflect what the community needs.” It makes his sermons feel “rich and refreshing,” he says, and that is what he hopes more people will feel about Islam as a whole.
These initiatives and this move towards making Mosques much more inclusive ties in with ISNA’s recently launched Manifesto, backed by leading US Imams and Scholars, which looked specifically at ensuring Muslim women are made to feel to welcome in Mosques and given positions of decision making within Mosque committees.