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Faith

From membership to discipleship: How are we acting in our mosques?

Practices are the behaviors that embody and sustain a way of life in a community shaped by a particular moral purpose. This emphasis on practices has helped people think about Islam not so much as a set of beliefs but as a way of life.

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Practices are the behaviors that embody and sustain a way of life in a community shaped by a particular moral purpose. This emphasis on practices has helped people think about Islam not so much as a set of beliefs but as a way of life.

ู‚ูู„ู’ ูŠูŽุง ุฃูŽูŠู‘ูู‡ูŽุง ุงู„ู†ู‘ูŽุงุณู ุฅูู†ูู‘ูŠ ุฑูŽุณููˆู„ู ุงู„ู„ู‘ู‡ู ุฅูู„ูŽูŠู’ูƒูู…ู’ ุฌูŽู…ููŠุนู‹ุง ุงู„ู‘ูŽุฐููŠ ู„ูŽู‡ู ู…ูู„ู’ูƒู ุงู„ุณู‘ูŽู…ูŽุงูˆูŽุงุชู ูˆูŽุงู„ุฃูŽุฑู’ุถู ู„ุง ุฅูู„ูŽู‡ูŽ ุฅูู„ุงู‘ูŽ ู‡ููˆูŽ ูŠูุญู’ูŠููŠ ูˆูŽูŠูู…ููŠุชู ููŽุขู…ูู†ููˆุงู’ ุจูุงู„ู„ู‘ู‡ู ูˆูŽุฑูŽุณููˆู„ูู‡ู ุงู„ู†ู‘ูŽุจููŠูู‘ ุงู„ุฃูู…ูู‘ูŠูู‘ ุงู„ู‘ูŽุฐููŠ ูŠูุคู’ู…ูู†ู ุจูุงู„ู„ู‘ู‡ู ูˆูŽูƒูŽู„ูู…ูŽุงุชูู‡ู ูˆูŽุงุชู‘ูŽุจูุนููˆู‡ู ู„ูŽุนูŽู„ู‘ูŽูƒูู…ู’ ุชูŽู‡ู’ุชูŽุฏููˆู†ูŽ

Say: O people! surely I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, of Him Whose is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth there is no god but He; He brings to life and causes to die therefore believe in Allah and His messenger, the Ummi Prophet who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him so that you may walk in the right way. [Qurโ€™an 7:158]

ูŠูŽุง ุฃูŽูŠู‘ูู‡ูŽุง ุงู„ู†ู‘ูŽุจููŠู‘ู ุญูŽุณู’ุจููƒูŽ ุงู„ู„ู‘ู‡ู ูˆูŽู…ูŽู†ู ุงุชู‘ูŽุจูŽุนูŽูƒูŽ ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ู…ูุคู’ู…ูู†ููŠู†ูŽ

O Prophet! Allah is Sufficient for thee and those who follow thee of the believers. [Qurโ€™an 8:64]

The word(s) “follow” appears 204 time(s) in 182 verse(s) in the Quran in the Yusuf Ali translation. Additionally, the word(s) “Islam” appears 39 time(s) in 38 verse(s) in the Quran in the Yusuf Ali translation.

This emphasis in many mosques has been inverted. Being a Muslim today does not necessarily entail being a follower โ€“ a student โ€“ a disciple or apprentice of Muhammad (S).ย 

For most intelligent and sincere Muslims, the turn to discipleship does not mean focusing primarily on eternal salvation being a selfish version of applying Islam but rather suggests a way of life here and now. The former version of Islam says to Prophet (S), in effect: โ€œIโ€™d like little of your Sunnah, but I donโ€™t care to be your studentโ€ฆIn fact, wonโ€™t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.โ€

Discipleship builds on the longstanding mainline emphasis on Muhammad (S) as a teacher and an example. The theme of discipleship builds on the now generation-long emphasis on faith as a set of practices. Practices are the behaviors that embody and sustain a way of life in a community shaped by a particular moral purpose. This emphasis on practices has helped people think about Islam not so much as a set of beliefs but as a way of life.

A focus on discipleship can move congregations beyond the mosque-as-club image. Symptoms of the ill image include the idea that the main point of the mosque is to provide for the comfort and satisfaction of its members, that imams are hired to provide religious services, that length of congregational membership is more important than faith or faithfulness, and that the history and lore of the particular jamaโ€™at override and supersede the importance of its mission.

Another way to name the tendency of mosques nowadays is to speak of a โ€œmembership culture.โ€ In mosques with a membership culture; people come to think that mosque offers staff, services and programs for its members. Guests are welcome, but can stick around only if they pay their dues. A reliable indicator that a mosque is becoming a club is the default form that introductions take: Introductions will often begin with a person stating how long he has been a member (โ€œIโ€™m Hassan, and Iโ€™v been a member here since 1982โ€) rather than reflecting on his own life as a follower of Prophet Muhammad (S).

In the mosque as club, the question โ€œWhy are we here?โ€ tends to be answered with โ€œto meet the needs of our membersโ€ or โ€œto be a caring community.โ€ When the focus is on discipleship, a more likely answer is โ€œto be and make disciples of Prophet Muhammad (S) โ€“ to prolong the mission of Allah in making followers.โ€

However, the moment when the imam says to himself, โ€œThis isnโ€™t workingโ€ โ€“ โ€œthisโ€ being โ€œthe institutional mosqueโ€ or โ€œthe program mosque,โ€ support for the budget is down, people seem unwilling to serve on boards and committees, all sorts of other interests and commitments are eclipsing mosque attendance and participation.ย 

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โ€œIt was sometime in 1993,โ€ writes an imam, โ€œthat I verbalized a thought that had been gradually forming in my mind for a number of yearsโ€ฆ. When I said it board members were taken aback. I was shockedโ€ฆ. The statement I made that fateful night was: virtually all the old answers about what it means to be and run mosque donโ€™t work anymore.โ€ย 

For some at least, a breakdown leads to a breakthrough. It leads to ways of running mosque in a new time. Often the breakthrough involves turning to the theme of discipleship.

It turns out that the mosques lack vitality via simplicity and are not working especially for the youngsters. The purpose is not clear.

A shift from programs to process would be welcomed by our children. โ€œA simple mosque,โ€ they insist, โ€œis a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.โ€ It may be a process, as one jamaโ€™at frames it, of โ€œconnecting, growing, and servingโ€.

Our vision of leadership is one that offers mosque board work as an integral part of an imamโ€™s effort to inspire and deepen the faith of our members, and ultimately renewing our mosque.

From shifting emphasis from program to process, one should urge:ย 

โ€œDonโ€™t focus on growing a mosque with programs, focus on growing people with a process.โ€ย ย 

The new focus on the old theme of being followers promises to be fruitful for congregations and a possible bridge between motivated imams and mainline liberals. For a long time we have listened to the stories of perfect examples on the concept of followings realized by the great companions (sahaba), followers (taabiโ€™een), and followers of the followers (tabiโ€™u taabiโ€™een).ย 

Making followers is not only more faithful, but a good deal more interesting.

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”ย  (From The Great Law Of The Iroquois Confederacy).

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