Islam Question: The Function Of The Mosque

(Traditional Jew, here. Hi, everyone!)

To prevent misunderstandings, and to “fight ignorance” in the Straight Dope way, I suggest we might spend some time defining our terms. In particular, the word “services”.

To me, the word “services” connotes not just prayer and ritual, but organized prayer and ritual. In Judaism, we have a set bunch of prayers which can be said alone (at home or wherever), but if the prayers are in a “service”, that means it is done as a group, and (more-or-less) in unison. Everyone will be saying (or trying to say) the same prayers at the same time (excepting those who for whatever reason might be slower than the others). Some prayers might be said out loud, or quietly, some might be said standing and some sitting, but basically, everyone will be on the same page. There will be a person who is saying the prayers louder than everyone else, so that people will follow his lead and keep pace. That person (and sometimes others too) will also say particular prayers and/or do particular rituals (including, perhaps, a sermon of some sort). And that’s a very generic description of what Jews mean when they talk about “services”.

Ramira, when you write that “In Islam there is no idea of services”, do you mean that each person is on their own? Is nothing said in unison, or in some other sort of group format? Is the khoutba the only time that a leader speaks and the others listen? If so, I am not complaining or objecting in any way, I’m only trying to clarify what you mean by “services”.

yes useful.

Yes I understand the christian context of the organized prayer led by a priest or the equivalent and with the ritual process, and at the scheduled times, opened by the priest etc. I do no think it is purely the Roman Catholic.

This is an alien idea to Islam mostly although of course it is adopted sometimes from the outside influences.

I suppose for this in some ways the Friday prayer comes close, but there is not really necessarily the leader and there is not really the rituals at all. The Khoutba after the prayers of course, but people can and do execute the normal dhuhr earlier or later and show up or not for this.

It does not have to me the sense of the one orgnanized “ritual” of the christian service.

Western christians get the ideas of the Friday prayer based on just saying there is the Prayer and the Khoutba that it has the look and the feel of their Sunday service. It does not really mostly.

What meets this idea very much better are the prayers around what my usage calls the Moualids and the Eid El Adha and the Eid El Fitr. - Around the great holiday / Eids.

Also the approach of the Tariqas, the soufi orders.

So mostly this is more commmon.

The idea matches more closely the prayer and sermon approach around the Eids and Moualids, the specific religious special days. There it is in my opinion much more like the western christian idea of the service, indeed the same.

Only is maybe too strong. It is usually this however…

thank you.

**Ramira, Keeve **was talking about Jewish prayers. Why did your response keep mentioning Christian prayers?

Becuase the majority of the readership here are the Christians or coming from the very christian cultural context which organizes their understandings. His jewish references are useful and as usual the resemblance is greater than with the christians.

I was not meaning to be commenting on his jewish references directly.

One other thing that bears mentioning here: most Christians today are either Catholic or Orthodox, and for them (as well as for some Anglicans) the sermon / singing / preaching isn’t really the core element of the ‘service’. The core element is the Eucharist (i.e. re-enacting the sacrifice of Jesus in the form of bread and wine). This is something that I don’t think has any equivalent in Islam or in (post-70 AD) Judaism, although it certainly has equivalents in Hinduism or in pagan / animistic religions.

TLDR: for Catholics and Orthodox, priests are really “sacrificing priests”, analogous to the Jewish High Priests back in the First Temple age, not “ministers” equivalent to a Protestant minister, Muslim imam or Jewish rabbi.

The technical term in Arabic for the worshipers gathered to pray together is جماعة jamā‘ah, from the verbal root meaning to gather, to form a group. So I must beg to differ with **Ramira **here: “congregation” is the accurate translation in English for a mosque jamā‘ah. More generally, jamā‘ah just means ‘group of people’. The name for Friday congregational prayer is جمعة jumu‘ah from the same root, and a large central mosque that can accommodate a large congregation on Friday is termed a جامع jāmi‘. You’re supposed to attend jumu‘ah prayer on Friday; the mosque holds the other prayers 5 times every day, but optionally you can pray anywhere.

In Judaism, the minimum number of worshipers together is 10, to make a minyan; in Islam the minimum number for a jamā‘ah is 2—one to lead and one to follow. If nobody else is around to join you, you just pray solo. Anyone who knows how to pray can be an ad hoc prayer leader. This can be in a mosque or any ad hoc place where you happen to be come prayer time. It only takes about 5 minutes. Everyone prays exactly the same: the prayer leader’s function is simply to coordinate/synchronize everyone.

Not all mosques are spartanly decorated. Many are quite opulent, but always with non-figural, geometric art and calligraphy.

Yes, I have to say, I’m not seeing a major difference between a Jewish service and your description of a Muslim one. We do need 10 worshipers, but anyone can lead a service (many Jews do so to celebrate their coming of age – that’s what typically happens at a bar mitzvah) and the people praying often don’t stay together, some read faster or slower. I suppose we also sing and usually show off the physical torah. Still, it doesn’t sound all that different.

I enjoy attending a variety of religious services. I consider a religious service to be a pre-arranged gathering of people for the purpose of group prayer. I’ve been to a Buddhist service that was mostly people reading prayers in a language they didn’t understand, with some burnt offerings at the end. I’ve been to a Mormon service which was mostly a handful of members standing up and testifying about their relationship with God. Those are probably the two extremes I’ve seen.

Hector_St_Clare has an interesting point about how some services have an officiant who is really separate from the other worshippers, and in some sense intervenes between them and God. (Rather than just someone who is more practiced at the prayers, and/or has something interesting or valuable to say to the other people.) I guess that’s true to varying degrees at different kinds of services, but I don’t think it’s common at non-Catholic Christian services in the US.

Not in any of the Reform or Conservative temples I’ve attended. It’s certainly different from a Christian service, but it follows the same structures and norms. It may be quite different in an Orthodox shul, but in my experiences nothing happened without the direction of the rabbi or cantor, who create the service.

As for the mosque functioning as a community center, serving coffee and food in the basement hall like any church in America: Yes, that is the American way in religion. For a mosque to adopt that doesn’t make it un-Islamic. It just makes it culturally different from Arab culture. Which, it must be stressed, is not synonymous with the religion of Islam itself. Worldwide, Islamic practice has always been adapted to the local culture and society. For example, in Malaysia they announce the call to prayer by beating huge drums: the sound carries better in the rainforest environment than the voice which gets absorbed by the foliage. Arab culture cannot just be transplanted wholesale to America. For Islam to take root anywhere, its praxis has to be adapted to local customs. The mosque as community center/gathering place/Sunday school*/library is fully in line with other American religious praxis, including churches, synagogues, Hindu & Buddhist temples, etc. It’s still the same Islam regardless.

*Yes, Sunday school. Even though Sunday is not a special day in Islamic religion, it is when kids and grownups all have the free time to gather in the mosque. It’s what works, and that is America for you: what works. If nobody does that in Arab countries or Malaysia or wherever, it doesn’t matter to Islamic praxis. American mosques still hold the standard jumu‘ah khutbah & prayer at midday on Friday, for anyone who can get away from work to attend. I knew of an African-American based community mosque that held a fish fry in the basement hall every Friday afternoon. Not as in Catholic fish on Friday, but a post-jumu‘ah fundraiser, entirely Islamic, and well assimilated into African-American culture.

I’ve been to lots of conservative and reform services. Have you never been to a bar mitzvah where a 13 year old led most of the service? Most reform and conservative Jews aren’t prepared to run the service, and they hire staff too do that for them, but fundamentally, any adult Jew (male, if orthodox) can do that.

Yes, of course there is one person designated to say “please turn to page 148”, but it could be anyone.

In my youth we did all read together, in sync, like the Christians. But I haven’t heard that in years. Now, except for the songs, participants each read at their own pace, some a bit ahead, others a bit behind.

One function of church communities in America is to create a level of community between “family” and “city”. It gives you a body of people to call on that is bigger than “family” but still small enough to feel personal. People without Churches often find other organizations–their school, their kids’ school, their work community, their 12-step program–that satisfy that need.I know flat-out athiests who go to church to find community. I know lots of people that go to the church with the community they like even though they disagree with the nuances of the dogma. If in urban areas, people have no particular mosque community, then how do people self-organize into these sorts of groups? Or do they?

Nope, I’ve never seen that. Certainly I led some prayers and read my torah portion at mine, but the Rabbi called everyone up for their aliyah, was in charge of taking the torah out, directed the service, etc. I was the main participant, but not the leader. And in the many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs I’ve been to I haven’t seen that.

Not at a regular Sabbath service either, and certainly not at a holiday service. The Rabbi uses the various parts of the service to teach and give moral instruction.

I’ve read that Americans feel less of a sense of geographical community than people in other countries generally have. The theory was that people in other countries feel a stronger sense of community with the people who live on the same street than Americans do. Americans are more mobile so we don’t have as much of a sense of identity with the location where we live and the other people who happen to live nearby. We tend to substitute organizations like work, school, or church as a source of social relationships.

Said exactly like that it’s pretty stupid. The same town, the same area of town maybe although that’s ignoring a lot of communities from ethnic areas to college ones. The same street? Why would someone who lives in Avenida Diagonal 17 feel community with someone who lives in Avenida Diagonal 1871? It’s 5km away and has half a million people in between.

I think by “street” he means “block”.

I guess the services I usually go to are more diffuse in leadership. The Cantor calls people up for aliyah. The assistant rabbi takes charge of removing the Torah from the ark, and putting it back. If it’s a bar mitzvah, the rabbi and the celebrant share the jobs of leading prayers, including telling the congregants what page they are on. And while the rabbi is usually responsible for most of the teaching and moral instruction, a key part of every bar mitzvah I’ve been to (except two) was the moral teaching/Torah exegesis delivered by the bar mitzvah celebrant. I know I spent a ton of time researching to write mine.

(The two exceptions were a lubuvitcher bar mitzvah, where apparently they all read part of the rebbi’s bar mitzvah speech, and the bar mitzvah of a mentally disabled child.)

Our streets are shorter than yours. Even if the road continues, it will acquire a new name when it crosses town lines.

In Islam, if one is not practicing at least the 5 pillars then he or she is outside of the religion so they’re not really Muslim. You can’t just be Muslim without actually practicing the actions that differentiate Muslims from nonMuslims. Men are required to go to the mosque on Fridays for Jumah. It is not obligatory for women to go although they can if they want. So it is more likely the his wife is not making him go to the mosque because she probably isn’t even going herself. If he is a practicing Muslim then he probably goes on Fridays because it is obligatory for men. At my mosque there may be 10 or 20 women at most and loke 80 to 100 men

So do those in Spain. Diagonal is that long but it’s all in a single town. And some streets in the US aren’t what I’d call short; how long is New York’s Avenue of the Americas? Miami’s Calle Ocho? Philadelphia’s Market Street?

Sixth Avenue (AOA) is only three miles long, and virtually all of it is commercial properties anyway.

Don’t nitpick. When somebody says something like “He lives down the street from me” it should be obvious they’re not talking about somebody who lives five kilometers away. But you can substitute neighborhood or block for street if it makes you feel more comfortable.