Islam Question: The Function Of The Mosque

In Christianity, a church is not only the building where Christians worship, but also the community of Christians who worship at the building. Not only do Christians go there to worship and be edified, but they also go there to network with other Christians, participate in community events (potlucks and whatnot), do good works (food drives and the like), and so on.

Does a mosque function in the same way? Do the worshippers go there simply to pray, hear the sermon, and head home? Or does the mosque also serve as a focal point for a community of believers, in the same way that a Christian church does?

It can. It depends but since there is no Church in the organizational structural sense as in the Christian model, it is most common for the mosques to be either organized within the local community or supported by a Habous / Waqf (a kind of foundation) set up by a wealthy person. Before the modern bureaucratic state and its taking control of the most important mosques, this was the sole way the mosques existed except for those sponsored by a ruling family.
It was historically also the place of learning and schooling like many of the original European medieval universities.

Someone may soon be by with a more personal connection, however …

Definitely, after mosque services, there are refreshments served. Especially after Friday services, there is often a luncheon of ethnic food that really attracts people to Mosque.

Funny story. A lady told me how, upon arrival in the US from India, after mosque refreshments were “different.” When served coffee and coffee cake, she really felt like, “Welp, we’re Americans now.”

It doesn’t seem to happen at Churches as much, but Mosques, Synagogues, and even Churches to an extent, do have educational services. A downstairs library, or attached school, or just a source of books, in addition to Koran/Torah/Bible, that someone might need.

Errr… this is the pure American. It is not standard at all.

We do not serve ‘refreshments’ after the prayers and certainly it is not part of the friday khutba.

the idea of services is very christian itself not matching our practice in concept except for the friday jumaa prayer

Perhaps when you write “the idea of services” you are thinking of the singing/psalms/instrumental music?

An idea of “services”, that is, a “congregational meeting” with a “minister of the word” is certainly common in mosques here in Melbourne.

Given the size and diversity of the Muslim faith, I would be surprised if all mosques operated with the same customs.

Ramira, I thought there was some type of organized “service” associated with Friday prayer at mosques? Or does that vary by belief and practice in the same way the some Christians do? For example I understand that Quakers simply stand up and speak “as the spirit moves them,” where on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the pomp and ceremony of a traditional Catholic service.

Also, it’s not unusual for Christian churches to have some educational component attached–bible classes for little ones, or weekly CCD as we called it in Catholicism; Catholics are well-known for having private Catholic schools, Episcopalians have something similar, and I know there are evangelical Protestant private schools.

I was just talking to a Muslim friend about the religious school option for his kids, and that I was considering Catholic school for my daughter. Neither of us are big believers though (me not at all) so we were just talking about educational quality, it would never occur to me to ask him what “services” are like at his mosque. I suspect he only goes when his wife makes him.

I can understand Ramira’s frustration. Many people from Christian culture backgrounds (like 99% of the people on this board) simply presume that a Mosque is a like a church, with minrates and funny named people going inside. In many Western countries, that’s basically what mosques become, an imitation of Churches.

Mosques elsewhere, in actual Muslim countries, don’t operate that way. There are many different types of operating methods, depending on the place, but the Churches as seen in Europe/N America is not one of them. In a deeply rural area, a Mosque often doubles as a community centre. In an Urban area, you have dozens of mosques, in a small area and anyone can go in and pray, no one has much if any link to their local one.

One thing remains true. Even the smallest, Church is much more ornately decorated and fitted than the vast majority of Mosques. Mosques are typically very spartanly made.

And an American regionalism at that. And referencing some but not all American Christian churches. An American mosque in a majority-Catholic area might not have even considered having refreshments.

You’re mixing the two main meanings of “church” there. “Sunday school” (to use a generic name) is religious teachings attached to a church-building, but in a Christian-based school, the “church” that’s important is the community: the church-building (the school chapel) is secondary to the school. It is not a school attached to a church-building but a church-building attached to a school.

Just a single anecdote, but I know one Christian European who was perplexed, if not offended, by the American notion of hanging out at church chit-chatting with people and eating snacks. She wanted to go to church to pray to God.


In Islam there is no idea of services, there are the five prayers and the tradition of the Friday khoutba - this is the closest thing but is not organized in the way of the Christian ‘congregation’ - even the idea of ‘congregation’ is weird.

There is the normative Islam and there is the local custom. But in no standard Islam is the Christian idea of services a standard.

You can of course decide to argue with me, fine, believe what you want.

The Friday khoutba - the sermon - at what is often called the Friday mosque (a bigger one), although you can do your Friday dhuhr (afternoon) prayer and then go off without bothering with the khoutba. although if you bother to go to the mosque for the Friday dhuhr prayer…

This is really not like any usual Christian concept of ‘service’

ETA: the closest thing in my Maleki tradition are the Tariqas (the soufi orders) ceremonies and the special khoutbas for the grand holidays like Eid El Adha. There is becomes more like your concept of service in the ordering and ceremonialism.

The Tariqas are much more like your western church ideas of congregations and services.

Yes exactly.

The mosque operation in the Western countries of immigration gets influenced by the outside culture, but if one is answering the question for the majority of the Islamic experience it is not the correct answer. It is not to say this is good or bad, but i tis a mistaken impression.

Although AK is on the other side of the world from me, this sounds correct - although I could identify a tendency of certain neighborhoods of the rural immigration to have the mosque that acts more like the village when the neighborhood has many of the rural immigrants from specific areas.

So a city Muslim will just go a mosque at random? Forgive me, but that seems contrary to human nature - people like going to the places they know, with the people they know. Given two identical options, your average person will still grow to eventually prefer one and dislike the other.

Not at random per se. But you will go to one near where you happen to be.

To take my own example; I have one near my office, one near my house, several near various Court Complexes. For Friday prayers, I will go to the one nearest where I happen to be and where I happen to be *is dictated by whatever business that I have at *that time, not by the fact I need to go for prayers. For instance, last week I was in a different city, so it was inside a prayer area in a mall.

People do have preferances. There is one mosque near my parents house, which I avoid if I can help it; I don’t like the current Khateeb’s sermons. The point is that someone in an urban area will typically not have a connection to his/her local mosque as someone in another area and that mosques are not like Churches.

Also, while prayer times are fixed, when there is a “service” (for the want of a better term) tends to vary by mosque. If you have multiple mosques in an area, they will tend to stagger their times of services.

During ordinary prayers, convenience is more likely.

For the Friday dhuhr prayer and the Khoutba, there if the person actually is the type to stick around for the Khoutba, then it is much more likely to go to the mosque where there is the sermon and the Khatib that you like as AK says (or maybe that you at least do not actively dislike). Of course if you are not the type who sticks around for the Khoutba and slips away, then you don’t care that much.

Of course in places where there are more different sects, like between the Shia and the Sunni, it is likely there is more preference. But for the ordinary sunni outside of the Khoutba on the Friday… it’s not like there is a great difference.

Of course for things like the Dhikr or the practice of the Tariqas of the Sufi, then there is strong preference. But this is not really “The Mosque” in the christian way of a Church.

The word umma refers to the community of Muslims. So it’s likely that the word mosque refers just to the building. So a Christian might identify himself as part of a church while a Muslim would not identify himself as part of a mosque; instead he would call himself part of an umma.

Christians are likely to have one or more locations they usually attend, but also to go to different ones all the time for reasons ranging from traveling to convenience of service hours.

There’s a parish in my hometown which is pretty much empty on Sunday mornings, but gets a good showing on the afternoons and more in the summer. They always get stuck with the worst priests in the diocese (which explains the general lack of attendance) but happen to have the latest Mass in town (hence why that’s the one where you can actually see people, many of whom will be from other parishes).

Yes, but the Umma as in theory there is only one… (in theory of course but ideology is the shapper of the language).

I dunno, my local library has several branches. I usually go the main branch, which is nicest in many ways, but if another branch happens to be convenient, I’ll go to that one to drop off my books and browse for something new.

I don’t think of myself as a “member of the main branch”, they are all my library.

I imagine mosques can be similar – convenient places to perform your prayers.

Although, living in the US burbs, I happen to know that my local mosque also functions as a local community center for Muslims who live near it. Perhaps it models itself on local churches, or maybe there’s just a need for an Islamic community center, for the few Muslims who live amidst gazillions of Christians.

It is logical for the mosques in situations of isolated minority communities to have the role of the community center in a fashion that in the majority case is not needed or done - and the american church model is without a doubt a model.

If you are a Sunni, would you only go to a Sunni mosque, and same thing for Shi’a?

Also, do you celebrate Communion every Sunday or just on special holidays? (that was a joke!)

There’s no real differences in the buildings. Shi’ites put their heads on a turbah, which is a sort of tablet representing direct contact with the earth. Sunnis in a Shi’a masjid will just cover the turbah with a cloth or paper towel. So, as long as they’re in an area where there aren’t active hostilities between the two (and sometimes even then) it’s not a big deal to share.