Our Invisible Masajid

It was a late afternoon in the beginning of August, the first day of Ramadan. The slowly drowning sun, which had pulled one of its longest shifts of the summer, cast a golden haze above the horizon. While lazily sinking lower, the sun whispered its departure, teasingly unaware of its fulfillment of the day reserved for spiritual sustenance for millions of Muslims.  As the glare of the sun was fading on his GPS monitor, Tarek felt the urge to speed up his search for a mosque. He abstained from food, drinks and many other things for the whole day. It was the time to break his fasting, but there was no sign of a mosque.

Amidst the busy traffic of Arlington, GPS was the only hope for a new driver like Tarek, who recently migrated to the States and accepted the job of driver in a food delivery service in Arlington. He was able to deliver food to remote nooks and corners of Arlington in heavy rain or in dark evenings solely counting on GPS. Yet this very moment GPS failed to locate a mosque. No mosque was listed under the option of “Point of Interest.” He didn’t have any Muslim friends either to call up and find out the direction. He was already tired of a lazy, lengthy, heated day. As the golden haze was soaked up by the darkness, Tarek had no other choice but to give up his mosque search. He bought some food with the money kept aside to donate in the mosque and had ifter in his apartment, alone.

Meanwhile, only a few blocks away, Ahmed, an IT consultant, who never misses any opportunity to brag about his smart phone with fast-speed internet in addition to GPS, was also experiencing the same dilemma of finding a mosque online. What exacerbates this irony was that his search result returned a mosque with no physical address, but a P.O. Box address instead.

Ahmed called up his friends to find out the direction. Lost in a maze of crisscrossed streets in Arlington, he didn’t expect a big dome for the mosque in such a busy place, but at least a sign on the street would have helped him locate the hiding mosque in a residential neighborhood. In the following week he went to Alexandria to meet his clients and had a similar experience too.

There is no scientific count, but there is no disagreement that the Muslim population is growing. About 7 million Muslims have established more than six hundred mosques and centers across the United States. All these mosques are not just the centers for worship anymore. They are working diligently to model the Muslim society in the North America. Sunday school for kids, adult education in the evening, and computer education for the youth are only a few to name among hundreds of community engagements to foster Islamic dynamics. Yet, even with all this attention being paid to religious phenomena, mosque committees and attendees seldom turn their attention in any depth toward establishing the public presence of the mosque itself.

Usually in metro areas, large numbers of people travel, work, or for some other reason are unable to pray at home or in the local mosque. In such commuters’ areas, mosques need to be available to welcome those wanderers, without whom a multitude of viewpoints, ideas, and energy will be opt out; the opportunity to enrich a culture of brotherhood will be deprived. Nonetheless this cannot be the face of our da’wah, exclusively for local neighboring communities only. The impulse to enlarge a congregation is inevitable, which can also be found in a number of hadiths and Quranic references. Therefore the left out potentials need to be approached, whether out of scholarly courtesy or out of concern for religious thriving to cultivate the true culture of Islamic da’wah.

Situations like Tarek’s or Ahmed’s are not scattered or occasional. These are everyday stories of thousands of Muslims around the country, for which very easy and simple solutions exist. A street sign could have been a savior for both of Tarek and Ahmed, and at minimal cost.
Sometimes developing a website and having it up and running could be expensive for the mosques, many of which survive mostly from the members’ donations. However a number of online sources offer free website development, hosting etc. If these stuffs seems a jargon to anyone, then consider those organizations who volunteer to develop and host mosque website.  Such websites might not be robust with databases, and might have additional limitations in changing colors and fonts, but at least these will serve the purpose of our da’wah as well as inviting potential members.

If having a website seems still overwhelming, listing a mosque on a search engine like Google could be a useful compromise with no cost at all. From Google home page, go to “Business Solution”, and then “Google Places”, which requires you to log in to bring up the page to enlist in Google. (Google home  Business Solution  Google Places  add new business  fill up the form with organization’s info  validation process).

Another important note to consider while listing any mosque on the web is to list it as “mosque” instead of ”masjid” or other foreign spelling or even as a Islamic community center to sting out the struggle of the search process.

While bewildering with posting street sign, listing online or developing website, hardly any of us have the leisure to envision a resolution for Tarek to let him find a mosque in GPS. But few considerate Muslim brothers are working towards Tarek’s dream with a full head of steam.  In POIfriend (www.poifriend.com), two fascinating efforts for USA and Canada, not only to find a nearby mosque, but also to display an icon are being developed, which require our cooperation to accumulate information. Yet the lack of our earnest response is quite a mystery, yet to penetrate. 

We know that our message of da’wah must never change, but the method to deliver the message must be amended for the new millennium. We have to overcome the hurdle to adopt the technical advents to amplify the reach and effectiveness of the message of Islamic Da’wah.


Rasheed Al Rabbi is an Information Technology specialist and PhD student in Software Engineering at George Mason University. He can be reached at rrabbi@gmu.edu .