Functions of the mosque

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Functions of the mosque

Question: What were the functions of the mosque during the time of the noble Prophet? How can it be possible to re-vivify mosques with respect to both architectural features and their place in social life?

Answer: Those blessed places are referred as “cami” in Turkish, which means “one that gathers together.” There is also the original Arabic word masjid, which means “place of prostration.” Mosques are not named after words related to bowing or standing. Although these are among the essential movements in Prayer, they can never be compared to prostration, which is a person’s closest state to God as stated by the noble Prophet himself,[1] because prostration combines both meanings of expressing God’s greatness and admitting one’s own pettiness. When these two considerations unite, they form the closest state to God. They complete one another and bring the person closest to God. When a servant prostrates oneself in modesty, humbleness, and humility, with the intention of placing one’s head even lower if possible, it results in closeness to God. In other words:

Head and feet both on the ground, the Prayer rug kisses the forehead. Closeness to Him is through this road.[2]

In this respect, we can say that “mosque” is the name of the blessed place where those who put an end to separation and seek closeness to God—ones who take this closeness as an elixir—run to be discharged from strain and find relief; it is a place of spiritual recharge for them.

Matters resolved in the embracing atmosphere of the mosque

As we have stated above, a mosque is a place where believers gather together. However, understanding this “gathering” only as praying in congregation will mean narrowing the issue. We need to understand the purpose of the mosque in a wider sense. Naturally, in order to understand such functions of the mosque, it will be wiser to take a look at the time of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him. When we view that golden age in this respect, we see that the noble Prophet gathered his Companions in the mosque for different purposes, like consulting on certain matters, putting his decisions to practice, and finding alternative solutions to a problem. Therefore, in addition to its function of bringing people together for Prayer, it was a place where different matters were resolved. According to need, that blessed place can serve as a school, a Sufi lodge, or a place of worship. In addition, a mosque is a place people use for spiritual retreats as itiqaf, a place where—in the words of Bediüzzaman—people leave aside their animal side and physicality, ascend to the life level of the heart and spirit, and continue their journey accordingly.[3] In this respect, the mosque is not a place exclusive to men. As far as the proper manners and conditions are maintained, mosques are blessed places of worship for ladies as well; this was the case during the Age of Happiness.

Let us elaborate these points further: In the Prophet’s Mosque, people gathered in circles for the remembrance of God Almighty through different Divine Names. In addition, they also gathered to listen to the talks of the blessed Prophet. A newcomer would be included in the circle right away. The Messenger of God would sit at a spot where everyone could see him easily. Even seeing him effected relief in souls; seeing him is a part of insibagh—taking on the spiritual hue prevalent in the presence of a true guide.[4] The Pride of Humanity had such seriousness, such stance before God Almighty that an unbiased person could accept his being God’s Messenger immediately upon seeing him.[5] His Companions, who were well aware of this fact, would eagerly follow him attentively, even noting the slightest movement of his eyes. The noble Prophet would pour the pure inspirations of his heart into those souls turned to him. God’s Messenger gave so much importance to the talks that he once expressed deep appreciation for a man who did not give up until finding a place and joining the circle; he stated that it was indolence to take a back seat. He warned his Companions about the situation of a man who went away after not finding any place for himself: “He turned away, and God turned away from him.”[6]

Foreign delegations accepted in the Prophet’s Mosque

Besides what we have mentioned, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, accepted envoys in the mosque. Groups of people came from all corners in order to see him, listen to him, understand him correctly, and directly witness his virtuous character. Although he had declared Medina as an area of sanctity,[7] the noble Prophet accepted foreign envoys and delegations there. As mentioned in most reliable sources of reference, the noble Prophet accepted a Christian delegation from Najran and they stayed in the mosque for days.[8] The Christians from Najran ate and slept there, and they also offered their worship in the Prophet’s Mosque.[9] This way, they had an opportunity to observe how that blessed one spent his night and day, and recognized him better. Although they did not become his followers, the noble Prophet succeeded to soften their hearts and they appreciated his teaching. Eventually, when he suggested praying together[10] with their women and children, and invoking God’s curse upon those who lie, they could not accept the challenge but preferred to depart with the promise of not confronting him.[11] Later on, they also joined the growing number of Muslims. As it is seen, the Mosque had a very extensive function during the blessed Prophet’s time. It was the place of learning the Qur’an and Sunnah, of developing the thought of Islamic jurisprudence by reasoning and deductions, and of germinating Islamic thought. There, a drop grew into a sea, and an atom transformed into a sun. Unfortunately, we closed the gates of mosques over time and only opened them during the Daily Prayers.

An architectural understanding welcoming all

I meet all works of the Ottomans with appreciation; they served very well for the sake of believers for ages. On the other hand, I think they lacked an architectural philosophy to let everyone, women and children, easily offer any kind of worship in the mosque. I wonder why those mosques lack the facilities to let women act comfortably without worrying about their privacy. I wonder why women have been deprived from such services. During the time of the noble Prophet, women would join the Prayer in the mosque at the rear.[12] I presume none of us can claim to be more sensitive than the Companions at practicing religion. The dirtiness to be witnessed in the markets and streets, together with the spiritual life of Muslims contaminated and darkened there, gives us a sufficient idea of the present. In my opinion, not considering women’s needs in mosques in every respect is a serious lack in terms of the completeness of the mosque. For this reason, fascinating beauties of our mosques should be accessible to beholders, including visitors from other faiths. Everybody must be able to savor those blessed places’ dizzying material-spiritual beauties, aesthetic aspects, and architectural perfection. In order to realize this goal, it is necessary to form the suitable grounds for thinking and discussing the architectural philosophies behind mosques and the meanings conveyed by domes, vaults of Prayer niches (muqarnas), decorations, and lines.

Going to the mosque and manners to be observed

As a matter of fact, the address of a verse in the Qur’an alludes to the fact that doors of mosques must be open for everyone: “O children of Adam! Dress cleanly and beautifully for going to the mosque, and (without making unlawful the things God has made lawful to you) eat and drink, but do not be wasteful (by over-eating or consuming in unnecessary ways): indeed, He does not love the wasteful” (al-A’raf 7:31). As we see here, the address is not directed to “Muslims,” “believers,” or “those who observe the Prayers” but to all people as conveyed by “children of Adam.” Preference of such general address via the name of Adam can be taken as a sign to open the doors of mosques to everyone, including non-Muslims. This way, it will be possible for some people who hold biased opinions against religion, religious people, and mosques to be freed from their negative feelings by the charm of the mosque; they can love that beautiful place and melt in its warm and welcoming atmosphere. The verse continues with the demand for taking care of one’s clothing while going to the mosque, a place of gathering. As also required by the prevalent understanding today, people do not attend a meeting with their daily working clothes, but dress more elegantly. When we view the hadiths related to the Friday Prayer, we see that the issue is given further care. The Messenger of God advised Muslims who will go to a Friday Prayer to have complete body ablution, brush their teeth, put on a fragrance, and dress for the Prayer.[13]

If we take the issue from the perspective of another hadith, some people from the Mudar tribe came to the Prophet’s Mosque one day. They were clothed in wool out of poverty in spite of the hot weather. As they perspired, the heavy odor began to spread in the mosque. The Messenger of God was moved to tears, and he asked the Companions to support them to change such clothes with more suitable ones.[14]

As mosques are places of gathering, one should avoid from going there in a state to disturb others. What befalls believers is to put up with some occasional inconveniences like odor of sweat or bad breath. On the other hand, we need to avoid leaving others in such situations. How much sensitivity does this issue take? Excuse me, but if there is any disturbing odor caused by a health problem like chronic pharyngitis or another, one should seek ways for treatment and find a solution without losing time. Nobody has the right to disturb a fellow Muslim standing beside them. Such factors can distract others who are concentrated on the Qur’an and worship. In this respect, people going to the mosque should put on the cleanest and best clothes, put on a fragrance if possible, and go there in a pleasant condition. Such behavior conveys respect for fellow believers as well. On the other hand, it is unbecoming to go to the place of prostration, a person’s closest state to God, with bad odors and dirty clothes. We tidy up ourselves even before going to the presence of an important person; Prayer means standing in the presence of God. After all, it is a form of the Ascension (Miraj).[15] Is not somebody making such an important journey expected to show utmost care out of respect for God Almighty? The verse also makes a warning about wastefulness. That is, put on your clean and beautiful clothes when you go to the mosque; be in your best-looking form. On the other hand, do not be wasteful about clothing, eating, or drinking, and keep up moderation. As in everything else, God does not like wastefulness in these issues either. For example, thoughts as “I will put on a new coat every day,” or “I will iron my clothes every day for going to the mosque,” can be counted as excessive. So the verse warns us about the issue of eating and drinking along with the issue of clothing; it tells us not to give up moderation and always keep following the Straight Path.

[1] Sahih Muslim, Salah, 215; Sunan Abu Dawud, Salah, 148; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Mawaqit, 35; Tatbiq, 78
[2] Gülen, M. F., Kırık Mızrap, p. 382.
[3] Nursi, The Gleams, p. 189
[4] Nursi, The Words, p. 507
[5] Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 42; Sunan ibn Majah, Iqama, 174; Darimi, Salah, 156
[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, Ilm, 8; Sahih Muslim, Salam, 26
[7] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jihad, 74; Sahih Muslim, Hajj, 475
[8] Sahih al-Bukhari, Fada’il al-Ashab an-Nabi, 21; Maghazi, 72; Sahih Muslim, Fada’il as-Sahaba, 54–55
[9] Ibn Hisham, As-Sirat an-Nabawiyya, 3/112–114
[10] See Al Imran 3:61.
[11] Fakhruddin ar-Razi, Mafatihu’l-Ghayb, 8/71; Az-Zamahshari, Al-Kashshaf, 1/396
[12] Sahih Muslim, Adhan, 132; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Salah, 97; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Imamah, 32
[13] Sahih al-Bukhari, Jumu’ah, 2; Sahih Muslim, Jumu’ah, 1–12; Sunan Abu Dawud, Salah, 219
[14] Sahih Muslim, Zakah, 69; Sunan an-Nasa’i, Zakah, 64; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 4/358
[15] Fahruddin ar-Radi, Mafatihu’l-Ghayb, 1/214; As-Suyuti, Ash-Sharh as-Sunan ibn Majah, p. 313