The fall of an American mosque and what we can learn from it

It is the sad and all too familiar story of another mosque that has been losing its young folks and is marred by internal politics.

It is the sad and all too familiar story of another mosque that has been losing its young folks and is marred by internal politics.

Today I’m bringing you a wake-up call of an all-too-familiar story. Many people by now have heard the story of the Imam in LA that was publicly insulted during a Ramadan program. The story has spread to a variety of circles as a result of its audacious nature. 

The details shouldn’t concern us and readers interested in the story can always contact members of the Islamic Center in San Gabriel Valley Mosque where it took place.

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Being familiar with some attendees of this mosque and knowing its previous popularity, I took interest. A single dramatic incident at a mosque may not be news to our readers. However what I found out as I researched the incident turned out to be the real story. 

It is the sad and all too familiar story of another mosque that has been losing its young folks and is marred by internal politics. The more I speak with members of this mosque and many others, the more I find the same tales of unfit Board members, young people leaving, and communities being divided.

At this point, I felt it was high time to address this epidemic issue using San Gabriel Mosque as a centrepiece. I have listed some thoughts below:

1) This is a large community in one the most active Muslim regions in the USA, in Southern California and within the County of Los Angeles. 

2) It is a huge, beautiful mosque and from what I have heard it has a rich history and vibrant community. 

3) Generous men and women have contributed quite a lot towards funding to get the mosque up and running, even making it visible from a popular LA freeway. As a matter of fact, years ago it was known even in my area for their Young Muslim programs that were later emulated in other Muslim communities. 

4) Accusations of membership tampering for votes is one of the most peculiar parts of the story. There is a serious claim that at least a few of the mosque leaders were obtaining votes by convincing people to support them and then having their memberships paid for. While I could not completely verify this claim, it was disturbing to hear it from multiple people of merit whom I know to be honest. Thus I leave it to mosque members to get to the bottom of this issue. 

5) We have seen the mosque Imams and the youth leaving mosques in all too similar cases in Orange County, Northern Cali, Texas, Boston, Midwest, and so forth.

6) Dozens of high school and college age members of the area have complained about poor mosque leadership causing them to abandon the mosque. Leaders everywhere should find this point the most disturbing.

7) The individual who publicly berated the Imam is not a Board member. Yet I am told some key mosque Board members are subservient to him and are unwilling to correct his outburst despite communal uproar. Why, you may ask? I was told that “money talks”. This is shameful if true. 

8) Finally, while I may not be personally close with the Imam who was accosted, I have met with people he has counselled and numerous other Imams familiar with him and they have all left me with a strong positive impression. The strongest point for me is that I have personally seen this Imam to be one of the few who has done work with the inner-city indigenous Muslim communities for over a decade. Long before this became a trend. That speaks volumes in my book.  

Such reasons have lead me to take it upon myself to advise the San Gabriel Mosque Community and all American Muslim Communities with similar problems. At one point this mosque was a model for many Muslim communities. While I do believe that can be the case again, it makes sense to address these negative issues and help the mosque struggling to overcome them. This allows the San Gabriel Mosque to be a model in another way – showing how to overcome divisions and rebuild a community.

I advise the following: as American Muslims we need to ask ourselves these simple questions: 

  1. Are Mosque Board leaders the end-all-be-all for Islam in America? 
  2. What determines the qualification of a Mosque Board leader?
  3. Is it normal for one non-elected individual to control a Mosque because of financial or political influence? Is it acceptable, and if not then why is it so common?
  4. How can we get the right men and women in the driver’s seat?

For this mosque in particular, it may be a glimmer of hope that I have been told many of the Board members are fantastic folk albeit subject to a few bad apples on top spoiling the bunch. So the members of this mosque need to come together and take decisive action to end the streak of trauma and revive their community through the appropriate channels and grassroots empowerment of those fit and willing to steer the mosque in the right direction.

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Now I want to reiterate that I could only do so much investigation into this community and verify the minimal things I am writing on. At the end of the day, the duty belongs to the community. Organize and be a part of the change to take back our mosques. 

Readers, does this sound familiar to you and your local mosque as well? If it does then rest assured the duty belongs to you as well. 

As this article and incident gets spread around the country I have one last piece of advice to those reading it: Take a stand! Whether young or old, take a stand, because this is an epidemic we are experiencing as American Muslims. The good news is that the cure to this ailment of our once grand mosques is within our joined hands Allah Willing.

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