Friday, November 30, 2007

Etiquette at the Masjid

I really like that women are generally welcome at my masjid and not prevented or discouraged like they might be "back home." Attending the masjid in this predominantly non-Muslim environment can really benefit women, new Muslimahs. In fact, part of the benefit for them is the presence of other Muslimahs who can help them as they begin their journey in Islam.

However, it is unfortunate to see poor etiquette at the mosque, even more so to see it from women. Such behavior adds fuel to the fire of ignorance--of people discouraging women's presence. They begin to say foolish things like "women don't know how to behave" or suggest that women aren't intelligent enough to act appropriately at the mosque... and other things of that nature. It's truly unfortunate.

But I myself have a problem with women who attend prayers, jummah, lectures, etc., and misbehave. Being permitted to come to the masjid, they have failed to adopt a proper etiquette and end up disturbing other worshipers. One suggestion to our mosque's 'education committee' (who recently surveyed the masjid to gather input for new classes and activities) was to teach the sisters etiquette of attending the mosque. What sort of etiquette should be observed? I thought I'd make my own suggestions here. (And by the way... this goes for men too!)

If you have any corrections please let me know; otherwise inshaaAllah I may make individual posts on each of these, backing them up with evidence so it's more than just my opinion. If I said anything wrong, please forgive me (and correct me.)

  1. Ibaadah is first priority. The purpose of the masjid is ibaadah (worship). Everything else has lower importance--basketball or other sports, getting food from the kitchen, socializing, etc. Ths masjid should remain a suitable environment for the worship of Allah. Inside a masjid this typically means prayer and reading or reciting Qur'an.
  2. Quiet during adhaan. It is appropriate to listen to the adhaan and even quietly recite along with or repeat after the muadhdhin (caller). Trying to talk through or over the adhaan is not appropriate.
  3. Quiet during salaat. Shouldn't this go without saying? I mean during the jama'at prayer, there is no good reason for making a lot of noise while people are trying to pray. Sometimes the prayer might extend out of the general musallah, or have open doors. People can thus hear conversations in other rooms, like the lobby or even in the "dining area" at my masjid. Sometimes children are running around and screaming, which is distracting for everyone who can hear it, or who is bumped into. They should, instead, be trained to stay near their parent in salaat if possible, or if not--should not be brought to the masjid to pray. Sorry, but it's not a playground, and all that running around is distracting. Sometimes the child gets hurt or lost and begins screaming for his/her parent or sibling, which is very distracting to everyone--and seriously, everyone can hear it. Or sometimes the child will scream to be held or something else and the mother or father refuses to acknowledge him/her. This only makes the child scream and fuss even louder--to the parent: you are not doing anyone any favors by letting your child scream like this.
  4. Not speaking in a loud voice. Because people often perform prayers throughout the day--not just during the congregtational prayer times--speaking in a loud voice in the masjid, especially in the prayer hall, can be very distracting to those trying to pray and read Qur'an. Especially when sisters are separated by a partition but in the same room, brothers and sisters need to be more careful because it's quite possible there are others in the hall who cannot be seen. Naturally, this excludes classes and lectures which might take place in the prayer hall.
  5. Refraining from idle talk. While on the topic, though, idle chatter should be avoided in the prayer hall, as it might distract people trying to worship. In a quiet space even soft voices can carry. Because the masjid is ultimately for ibaadah, it would be better to take casual chat conversations to a place where they won't be a bother.
  6. Punctual attendance at lectures and classes. This includes jummah. Late arrivals disrupt the class already in attendance, and sometimes require the speaker to repeat or review material already covered initially. In that respect it is rude not only to the teacher but also to the rest of the class or audience. (Especially at jummah, brothers and sisters arriving late are all distracting to the sisters in the back, who have to watch people standing and praying in front of them, obscuring the view of the speaker.) Of course for jummah, there are angels sitting at the door to record who comes in, and at the adhaan they go inside to listen to the khutbah. So if you arrive after that... your name is not written down. More incentive to arrive early!
  7. When arriving late for prayer. If you do arrive late to a prayer, please be courteous when joining. Make takbeer and join the congregation in the salaat. If a raka was joined after ruku', then the entire raka needs to be repeated after the prayer. So when the imam finishes with "salaam..." then you should stand up and make-up what you missed, quietly. It is appropriate to join the back row and fill in all the spaces. If there is no more room, then a new row should start directly behind the imam, and more latecomers fill out to the right and to the left. Sisters, if the row starts in the back, should begin a new row in front.
  8. Straighten lines and fill in gaps. When standing for prayer in congregation, the line should be straight, standing side-by-side, starting behind the imam and filling out to right and left. Everyone in the line should move towards the center to fill in gaps so there are no large spaces between anyone. In a mixed congregation, men should begin their rows in the front, and women from the back, to ensure separation and space. For sisters, if the rows start in the back and are full, you must begin a new row, in front of the previous row. They should also not block entrances if the doors are in the back, preventing rows from being formed in front.
  9. Praying with a sutrah. Because Muslims are not supposed to walk in front of a person praying, if an individual is praying outside of the congregation (sunnah prayers, or fard prayers alone), he should either pray close to the wall in the direction of qiblah, or place an object in front of him while praying, so people do not walk in front of him to disrupt his prayer. If someone does not have a sutrah in front it is best to place one there for them or walk a safe distance in front so as not to bother them even though they were negligent to demarcate their space. I have heard that if they have no sutrah, then there is no harm in walking in front of them. It is not necessary to have a sutrah if praying on congregation, except for the imam, whose sutrah acts for the congregation.
  10. Wudhu facilities. I have heard it is better to make wudhu before going to the masjid to pray. However, if one is making wudhu at the masjid, he should be courteous and clean, not leaving a mess or puddles behind for anyone who comes in afterwards.
  11. Obstructing entrances. It is common for entrances/exits to become blocked by crowds, especially after a prayer or event, as people greet each other on their way out. However, they tend to block shoe racks and the door, making it difficult for others to leave. If anyone wishes to socialize immediately afterwards, it would be better to do so away from the doorways.
  12. Shoes. In order to keep the carpet clean, because many people are pressing their faces against it, it is appropriate to remove one's shoes before entering the prayer hall. This goes for children as well, who may unwittingly drag dirt all over the carpet--not to mention that they shouldn't be running around inside the prayer all, as I think I mentioned elsewhere. Many masajid have a rack for shoes--this should be utilized to keep the space clear of shoes in walkways and other spaces. It also makes it easier to find shoes later on.
  13. Watching children (keeping them quiet). I am sad to say that I have seen children running around unsupervised in the prayer hall during lectures (not to mention prayer!) They had no parent watching them and they would run in and out of all the doors, playing (at times roughly) with each other and not keeping quiet either. This is a distraction to people trying to pay attention, or to pray, and it is also not safe for the children. The masjid is not a babysitter, and unless a child is left with babysitting, there is no guarantee anyone is watching him. I have also seen children running around and playing before, during, and after prayers, inside the musallah! It is a prayer hall, not a playground, and should be treated as such.
  14. Parking. This shouldn't have to be said, but it is very inappropriate to avoid parking rules when visiting the masjid. Handicapped spaces should be reserved for those who need it. No parking zones should be respected, as well as the streets and driveways of the neighbors of the masjid. Parking in illegal zones is a quick way to earn a fine, but also the scorn of the police, and can make it difficult for the masjid administration to deal with the city leadership.
  15. Door for sisters. Many masajid have a door designated for the sisters--it is allowed for women to enter through other doors, and getting a smirk and curt reply "This is a door for brothers only, you have to go around back," is very rude. What if the sister were handicapped and the only space was in the front? Or it was raining? The door for sisters is to allow women to enter without having to mix with the men, if they find that uncomfortable. For that reason, brothers have no business using that door.
  16. Two rakaat to greet the masjid. It is appropriate, when arriving at the masjid for a lecture or prayer, or to recite Qur'an, etc., to "greet" the masjid with a two raka' supererogatory prayer before sitting down. Generally times "not" to pray, though, are after 'asr before maghrib, and after fajr before sunrise, and also during sunrise and sunset, and as the sun is at its zenith. This should even be prayed if one is late to jummah.
  17. Not talking during khutbah or lectures. Talking during the khutbah will invalidate the jummah for that person--even giving salaams! Everyone should be quiet and listening--not socializing, catching up on the latest news or gossip, disciplining their children, etc. Talking disturbs the people around you--yes, they can hear--and at times can even bother the speaker. Necessary conversations should be taken outside.
  18. Mind your BO. Especially before jummah and eid it is good to take a bath (ghusl), and even make oneself smell nice (although women shouldn't wear perfume if going out in public.) Eating a lot of raw garlic and onions can give a person a sort of odor which is unpleasant to be around, and would be distracting to those praying beside. Similarly cigarette smoke has an odor which can also be smelt by those standing in prayer around someone who has just smoked. So out of consideration, we should try to be clean before going to the masjid to pray.


Maya said...

All I can say is, word.

Amy said...

Like, it ought to be obvious and needn't be said?

Or I shouldn't have even gotten started?

Manas Shaikh said...

What about what one SHOULD do at the masjid?

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mummyjaan said...

That's very useful, Amy. Thank you.

I have another suggestion: I think small pamphlets about masjid etiquette should be printed and made available in all mosques and Islamic centres.

Amy said...

Manas -

Some of the points are things one SHOULD do at the masjid: like two rakah salaat before sitting down... keeping quiet. InshaaAllah later I will add more: greeting people inside with salaam when arriving and leaving. Entering with the right foot first, leaving left food first, saying a du'a upon entering... but it seems to me that these are the bigger problems. Kids running around, people talking loudly while others are praying, leaving the place dirty, etc.

Amy said...

Mummyjaan--having pamphlets is a great idea!!

Anonymous said...

I think Aaminah really sums up my feelings about this topic being over hyped and simultaneously not dealt with--we whine and nag, but obviously we won’t have our "ideal" Masjid anytime soon as there are just too many variables to consider.
For instance, your generalization about "back home" is just furthering stereotypes. Granted in some masjids in some countries (or towns/villages/counties/juristictions) women are not welcome at the masjid--but "back home" is a sweeping generalization. Lumping all non-American/Non-English/Non-Whatever "Western" Muslims into one group doesn't help to understand why there is so much dissention in American/English/Whatever Masjids--because there is immense diversity.
The thing about Masjids "back home" is that they are used specifically as a place for prayer, where as "in the West" they serve dual functions also as a place for socializing. For instance buffet style iftars in the Masjid are unheard of "back home." Maybe you grab a date and a sip of water at the Masjid, but after you pray, you return to your home--which is within walking distance of the Masjid--to eat with family and guests. Can you see why some folks would not be able to maintain strict boundaries of "Masjid behavior" and socializing?
Please don't misunderstand and think that I am suggesting free-for-all behaviors in the Masjid--I am trying to illustrate that things are not so cut and dry. If we expect to hand out pamphlets and have overnight complete change--well expectations are unfulfilled resentments. Really, modeling "good behavior" is the proven best method and from the Sunnah. Being uppity just puts people off and builds those walls a little higher.
Love and Peace,
~Brooke AKA Ummbadier

Amy said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for the comment.

But I disagree.

I think these things ARE dealt with. And bringing them up makes people more aware, so I don't mind that they are brought up frequently (and I THINK THEY SHOULD BE!)

First of all, they remind me, even if nobody else, to improve my behavior at the masjid. Especially since I'm there pretty often and people have gotten the idea that I'm somehow someone important in the masjid (though I'm not.) So if I do something bad, I'm afraid they will see it and think oh, if Amy did that then it's okay. So first of all it reminds me.

My other post focused more on adab, by the way, than just real annoyances. And that is helpful for people who want to show more respect to the masjid when they are there.

But I think issues like masjid behavior need to be brought up regularly, because it's regularly a problem, and the more people hear it, the more it sinks in. Plus, proper etiquette in the masjid implies proper etiquettes towards friends, family, and visitors. And good conduct is becoming of a good Muslim.

So I don't think this issue can be harped on enough!!

Nonetheless, thanks for your comment.

Aaminah said...

Asalaamu alaikum.

I guess I should clarify that my post stating that I'm tired of reading about the problems in the masjid is specific to sisters who just vent and vent. Yes, we are all aware of these problems, but I am tired of reading blog posts that are little more than our tendency to "go off" on how miserable our latest trip to the masjid was. I much prefer posts (like this one) that actually point out solutions, reminders of what to do, etc.

I do completely agree with Umm Badier though that the masjid's in America are forced to serve multiple purposes and need to be recognized as such. For many Muslims, especially women, without the masjid they never see another Muslim. There often aren't any halaqas or other study groups run out of homes, and we can become isolated very easily. So the masjid does serve as a social gathering place as well. What I wish I saw (and probably this does exist in other communities) is more masjids that were large enough to have separate classrooms and social areas so that the actual masjid worship area was kept free and available for ibadat and not overrun with other socializing/gathering/etc.

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Aaminah,

And thanks for your comment. I know I have a tendency (as do others) to gripe about things that go wrong at the masjid. But you're right, this post (and its follow up) are a more constructive approach.

Alhamdulillah, the masjid here is now large enough for many groups to have their own space, when most people gather on Friday nights. There is a class for adults, youth programs, a class just for women--but both musallahs are empty. People can socialize in other places--there are classrooms being utilized and then free space just to hang out.

Anonymous said...

Assalamualaikum sister,
These are all good points, please add ringing cell phones as well, cell phones should be on silent or on vibrate when coming to masjid if one must carry one at all times. Sisters please putting your cell phone in the purse with the volume on high doesn't help, everyone hear it especially during salah!