Since the mosque phenomenon was the nucleus of the Muslim life and activities, a code of ethics for establishing and using it had to be created under the guardianship of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and divine revelation, lest some people might start misusing it, intentionally or otherwise, or might start developing a code of moral principles on their own which, as a rule, would have been dictated by the norms and rituals of the jahiliyyah (ignorance) era. However, as the religion of Islam was revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) gradually and in stages, through instructions, responses and answers to various dilemmas and developments confronting the nascent Muslim community, introducing and fully activating the phenomenon of the mosque, the ground for the implementation of many a regulation and teaching of Islam, could not likewise be an exception to the rule of gradual revelation and application of Islam. Such was a gradual process too, certainly no less painstakingly undertaken than the other aspects of Islam and its civilizational mission. While subjecting the evolution of the mosque to the golden principles of gradation and educational transformation, the Prophet (pbuh) proved to be very sensitive and responsive to the needs and capacities of the young but fast expanding Muslim community. In doing so, he was not hasty, impatient or autocratic. Rather, he was prudent, compassionate, resourceful and farsighted. He was the greatest teacher, pedagogue, reformer and psychologist. Definitely, the code of conduct for establishing and using mosques which was constructed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) under the aegis of revelation, is universal and timeless, applying to every time and space, as it is the case with the whole corpus of Islamic beliefs, values and principles.
The following are some examples of the general and enduring code of ethics for the optimizing of establishing and using mosques, based on a blueprint provided by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunnah, and whose ethos and credence were valid and in force not only during the Prophet’s time and immediately afterwards, but also in every subsequent age and generation, including ours.
- Mosques are to be kept clean and tidy, for cleanliness is part of faith (iman). In and around every mosque, there should be enough facilities and resources meant for the purpose. The Prophet’s mosques had water jugs, both inside and outside, which were regularly supplied with water for the cleanliness of the mosque and also the people. Some water wells near the mosque served the same objective. Mosques are to be perfumed, especially during some special occasions, such as Friday Jumu’ah prayers. The Prophet (pbuh) said that the rewards of his people had been presented before him, so much so that even the reward for removing a mote by a person from the mosque was presented to him.
- The Prophet (pbuh) said that no admittance to the mosque was allowed for those who have eaten beforehand of either of the two: garlic and onion. The hadith message, however, comprises not only these two vegetable plants, because of their strong smell and flavor, but also everything else, eaten or worn, the smell of which may in one way or another disturb the people. Towards this end are the Prophet’s words: “Were it not hard on my ummah (community), I would order them to use the tooth-stick (to brush teeth) at the time of every prayer.”
- Women, too, are encouraged to avail themselves of the multiple benefits which the mosque offers. In a hadith (tradition), the Prophet (pbuh) explicitly encouraged women to participate in the good deeds as well as the religious gatherings and activities of the faithful believers (da’wah al-mu’minin). The Prophet (pbuh) said that if a woman asks for permission to go to the mosque even at night, she is to be allowed. The Prophet (pbuh) is also reported to have allocated some time during every week for teaching exclusively women. A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, once remarked about the native women of Madinah: “Blessed are the women of the Ansar (Helpers). Shyness did not stand in their way of seeking knowledge about their religion.” Moreover, women may perform their obligatory prayers in the mosque, although the best prayers for them by far are those which they perform at home. The Prophet (pbuh) once went so far as to say that the prayer of a woman inside her house is better than in the courtyard of the house, or near the house’s main entrance, that is, in the places of the house where woman’s privacy is most vulnerable. However, a woman’s prayer in her bedroom, or inside those inner spaces of the house where she is hidden most, is better yet. The Prophet (pbuh) also said that a woman is closest to her Lord when she is inside her house (that is, inside the family development center, or institution, performing her duties as the center’s leader and supervisor). Surely, in Islam the house is so much more than just a shelter.
The Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. On 24 April 2013 the minaret was reduced to rubble during a battle between government forces and rebels as part of the ongoing Syrian civil war.
- On one occasion the Prophet (pbuh) retired to the mosque and heard some people reciting the Qur’an in a loud voice. He told them, promoting order, peace and serenity in mosques: “Everyone of you should call his Lord quietly. One should not trouble the other and one should not raise the voice in recitation or in prayer over the voice of the other.”
- The Prophet (pbuh) also prohibited that quarrels, noisy arguments, fights and punishments take place inside the mosque. Anything that can generate harm to the people or to the mosque and its surroundings, both natural and man-made, is to be shunned in mosques.
- Every illegitimate action committed in mosques is to be corrected with a great degree of patience, wisdom and kind advice. The sanctity of mosques is to be honored in the process and at the same time be imparted in the most beautiful and effective ways to those who are yet to perceive and imbibe it.
- The Prophet (pbuh) insisted that mosques belong to everybody and that reserving certain places for certain people — like a camel which fixes its place — is not acceptable. All the artificial and superficial worldly categorizations of, and differences between, the people come to an end once the people find themselves in the ambit of mosques. The mosque is blind to worldly status, titles and designations.
- Certain supplications have been prescribed for entering and leaving the mosque. On entering the mosque, Muslims are advised to pray before sitting two rak’ahs, or two units, of a prayer called tahiyyah al-masjid (a way of greeting and honoring the mosque). On the way to the mosque, another supplication is to be recited. Mosques are to be entered with right leg, and exited with left leg.
- The mosque is not to be made a thoroughfare. However, a person can go through a mosque, without praying or performing any other act of worship inside it, only if he or she has no other alternative.
- When coming to and entering the mosque, Muslims are bidden to portray a sober, calm and dignified deportment. No running or scrambling is allowed. One is not to enter the mosque unconsciously, talking and laughing loudly and loosely, as if one is not aware of the place where he actually is. Going to the mosque means subjecting one’s self to a spiritual process which intensifies as one approaches the mosque, and which reaches its acme when one enters the mosque and starts to pray. Muslims should do whatever it takes so that this spiritual process is optimized. Everything that hinders, it follows, is to be avoided.
- When going to the mosque, Muslims are advised to wear their beautiful adornments and apparel. However, even here when one solemnly applies his mind to the presence of Allah, the caution against excess applies (al-A’raf 31). Once the Prophet (pbuh) was in the mosque when a man came in with disheveled hair and beard. The Prophet (pbuh) motioned with his hand that he should be sent out to groom his hair and beard. The man did so and then returned. The Prophet (pbuh) thereupon said: “Isn’t this better than that one of you should come with his head disheveled as if he were a shaytan (Satan).”
The Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. Picture taken before the ongoing Syrian civil war.
- Sleeping and eating inside the mosque are not disallowed, especially when they are part of, or are integral to, some either obligatory or voluntary worship activities, such as praying, reading the Qur’an, contemplating and studying; when a person is a traveler and needs rest; and when a person performs the al-i’tikaf (full-time retreat in the mosque especially during the last third of the holy month of Ramadan) which is a highly recommended voluntary act. However, for a person to go to the mosque just to eat or sleep there without intending to perform any worship deed, that is not recommended.
- Reclining in the mosque for the purpose of resting is generally allowed. However, general ethical norms apply here, such as not doing it when there are serious functions going on and there are many people around, ensuring that one’s ‘awrah (parts of the body that must be properly covered in certain situations and under certain circumstances) is not exposed, etc. In short, one’s self-respect and his respect of others ought to be duly observed.
- A Muslim man with janabah, or ritual impurity caused by the discharge of semen or by sexual intercourse, cannot stay in the mosque for whatever reasons until he performs ghusl or ritual bath. However, he can pass through the mosque if he needs to by entering from one door and leaving from the other (al-Nisa’, 43).
- A Muslim woman, too, is not allowed to enter the mosque when she is menstruating or bleeding following childbirth. However, simply passing through is allowed, if she needs to and she is certain that she will not make the mosque impure, i.e., by drops of blood falling on the floor.
- The needed mosques are to be earnestly built, whenever and wherever that becomes necessary. Building needed mosques is a wajib (obligation) for which the people are abundantly rewarded, and the negligence of which incurs a big sin. Every Muslim is to make a contribution, proportionately with his or her abilities, to building and maintaining mosques. Mosques are to be built so as to function as they are meant to function, i.e., as community development centers. They are not to be built in order to signify mere symbols, landmarks or monuments. Mosques are not to be turned into white elephants (burdensome possessions). Mosques are to be Muslims’ assets, rather than their liabilities.
- Mosques are not to serve any person’s, or any group’s vested interests or private damaging agendas, much less to serve as a ground for sowing, cultivating and disseminating confusion, mischief, or schism among Muslims. Places like that are not mosques in the first place. They do not deserve to be called as such. Rather, they are depositories of some worst forms of evil and sin. They are thus to be rectified and set right without delay.
- Mosques should occupy as much as possible the central and most strategic locations in villages, neighborhoods, towns and cities. They should be accessible, pleasant and convivial. They should contain as many components and facilities as possible in order to function as vibrant and effective community centers. They should provide a wide range of activities, benefits and services to their users so that mosques become resourceful, relevant, lively, valuable and alluring to both men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, the busy and idle, and to the exemplary and average Muslims. All roads are to lead to mosques. What’s more, all the attention and interests of Muslims are to lead, and be attached one way or another, to mosques. A mosque is to function as a community center in such a way that its users no matter what they might do, and no matter where they might go, always eventually end up in their mosque for reasons that are directly or indirectly related both to their mosque and to some of their day-to-day life activities. A mosque is to become so meaningful and useful to its people, furthermore, that every time a person feels that he has nothing to do, or he does not know where to go, he eventually ends up going to his mosque, busying himself with something there knowing with confidence that his free time will be well-spent and his happiness and self-contentment ensured. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said that there will be seven categories of the people whom Allah will shade in His shade on the Day of Judgment when there will be no shade except Allah’s shade. One of those seven categories is “a man whose heart is attached to the mosque when he leaves it until he returns to it.”
The Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. Picture taken before the ongoing Syrian civil war.
- Mosques are not to be locked unless really necessary due to some genuine safety, security and maintenance reasons.
- Mosques are to be ingeniously and skillfully planned, designed and built so as to satisfy the religious, social, educational and welfare requirements of the people. In Islam, blind following in planning and building is an abhorrent act. This is so because the worldview of Islam and the total Islamic spirit teach Muslims to know no bounds or constraints when it comes to originality and creativity while inventing and using the legitimate matters and aspects of culture and civilization, with art and architecture being their integral part. However, when it comes to religion: its permanent belief system, standard practices and the body of spiritual values and principles, there is no room whatsoever for any even slightest compromise or disregard in terms of their proper interpretation and application. Following without inventing in religion, as well as inventing without following in sheer worldly matters, which, admittedly, from time to time was ingeniously combined with borrowing from others, was the Muslim rule of the early days of Islam and its civilization. Without a doubt, this was a sign of Muslim devotion, dynamism, progress, enlightenment and maturity. It was a sign of their strength and the strength of Islamic civilization. It could be suggested, therefore, that the opposite of this rule, i.e., blindly following others and borrowing from them in worldly matters, together with irresponsibly inventing in religious matters — which is exactly the opposite of what Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) called for — was one of the causes of the Muslim subsequent decline, and is a major cause of the inability of today’s Muslims to pick themselves up, make their voice heard by others, and to start making a notable civilizational headway.
- Islam prohibits extravagant mosque beautification and decoration, more so when the same is done for advancing the personal interests of some people, or for any other reason that may cause even a slight harm to the well-being of Muslims and their community. Mosque decoration is not prohibited (haram) on account of it having been overlooked by the Prophet (pbuh). The most that has been said about mosque decoration is that it is an abhorrent act (makruh). Decoration must not interfere with the people’s concentration in prayers, and in the other worship activities of theirs. It must not be extravagant so that wastefulness is committed. Mosques are not to be decorated at the expense of providing some other societal facilities and services. Moreover, mosque decoration is never to supersede in importance the primary functions of mosques. Appropriate mosque decoration signifies that the mosque institution, together with the ideals that called for its existence, is honored. Moderate mosque decoration is acceptable provided it becomes essential to the structure and serviceability of mosques. In other words, not only should the decoration of mosques not become a liability to mosques, but also it should not stand out as just a surplus to the requirements of mosques. Rather, mosque decoration must function as “a constitutive element, not an accident, an adjunct of structure, a help in the additional but not necessary art of beautification.” And finally, given that decoration must not interfere with the people’s concentration in prayers, the decoration carved inside and immediately next to the mihrab (the imam’s or prayer leader’s niche) section, in particular, and on the front qiblah wall, in general, should be minimized and should be positioned way above the eye-level. The best thing, nonetheless, will be if the mihrab area and the whole qiblah wall are left devoid of decoration altogether, and that the rest of the mosque contains a minimum of decoration which will be reasonable, economical, agreeable and meaningful.
- Mosques cannot be an avenue for instituting, practicing and promoting religious deviational traditions and innovations. As a matter of fact, mosques must be detectors and annihilators of such practices and customs. One of such deviational traditions or innovations is building mosques in association with the graves of certain persons, incorporating such persons’ graves inside mosques. Tomb-mosques or shrine-mosques are abominable to the tawhidic nature of the Islamic message. The Prophet (pbuh) emphasized time and again that one of the reasons why the Jews, the Christians, and many other earlier nations had gone astray, was their excessive reverence for the graves of some prophets and virtuous men, which they eventually converted into places of worship. Definitely, not by chance did the Prophet (pbuh) communicate this message for the last time and in a forceful language during an illness which overpowered him and from which he never recovered, to be exact, five days before he died. Evidently, the Prophet (pbuh) was very much concerned about the fate of his followers. The last thing he wanted to befall them was that they commit the same blunder as many other nations and communities had done before. Towards the same end, surely, are the Prophet’s instructions that prayers cannot be performed in graveyards, nor that any building activities are to be carried out over graves. The Prophet (pbuh) cursed those who build mosques over graves.
The Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria. Picture taken before the ongoing Syrian civil war.
- In terms of planning, designing, building, using and maintaining mosques, a culture of comprehensive excellence is to be promoted and upheld at all levels. This is so because comprehensive excellence (ihsan or itqan) is one of the most important Islamic values. It saturates every aspect of the Islamic message. Deliberate mediocrity, conversely, is abhorrent to Islam and its worldview. It is a sin. Since Islam is a complete way of life, it follows that excellence is to be felt in all life’s spheres.
- Mosques must be environment conscious and friendly. They must be energy efficient, especially today when the people face more and more problems with reference to energy production, distribution and consumption. Deliberately or thoughtlessly failing to produce energy efficient and environment friendly mosques could be seen as a serious flaw and a sign of mediocrity which is alien to Islam and its corpus of teachings and values. Such could further be seen as a mode of extravagance and wastefulness which Islam abhors so much calling spendthrifts the brothers of Satan (ikhwan ash-shayatin) (al-Isra’, 27). Mosques should be sustainable too, because the core of the idea of sustainability and sustainable development — i.e., the preservation of the interests and wellbeing of the present and future generations, as well as the preservation of the personal, societal and natural wealth and resources for the benefit of all – lies at the core of the mission and objectives (maqasid) of Islam.
- Establishing, building and utilizing mosques call for establishing a delicate balance between sophistication in mosque architecture and avoiding some major transgressions often associated with the built environment. It is true that Islam regards architecture in general and mosque architecture in particular, as an inevitable pursuit. It also calls for the idea of excellence to pervade all the aspects and dimensions of architecture. However, one must not be so obsessed with the matter of building, or architecture, that some of the serious transgressions such as wastefulness, exercising and promoting egotism and haughtiness, mutual envy, schism between the people, bigotry, discrimination, corruption, dishonesty, fraud, rivalry in building, destroying nature, etc., may possibly be committed, even moderately. The Prophet (pbuh) warned: “The Hour (Day of Judgment) will not come to pass until the people vie with each other in (building) the mosques.” The Prophet (pbuh) is also reported to have said: “A time will come when the people will vie with each other in (building) the mosques but very few will attend (the mosques).”
- Mosques should give some serious considerations to the needs of the physically disabled and elderly people.
- Mosques should be youth and to some extent even children friendly – although children should be accompanied and supervised by their parents or guardians. The ways in which mosques are planned and built, and the ways in which they function, should be appealing to Muslims, especially to the youth and to some extent children. In this particular regard, the creativity and inventiveness of Muslim planners, designers and architects should know no bounds. In the process, however, they must remain faithful to the original message, mission and role of the mosque which cannot be compromised even in the slightest.
- Mosques must possess the highest safety and security standards. The absolute wellbeing of the people is the primary objective of Islam. It follows that the same must be the objective of whatever man, Allah’s vicegerent on earth, does and creates on earth.
- There are many divergent opinions on whether a non-Muslim can enter the mosque or not. Almost absolute prohibition is advocated by the Maliki madhhab or school of law or fiqh (jurisprudence). Conditional permission is supported by the Shafi’i and Hanbali madhhabs. And finally, almost absolute permission is endorsed by the Hanafi madhhab. At any rate, non-Muslims are allowed to enter mosques but under certain conditions. Those conditions revolve around the following matters: that they are given permission beforehand; that their entering is justifiable; that they are acquainted with the dos and don’ts inside the mosque, their stay and their activities inside the mosque are overseen by Muslims.
This article is an excerpt from the author’s book “Studies in the Islamic Built Environment“,
Dr. Spahic Omer, a Bosnian currently residing in Malaysia, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design, International Islamic University Malaysia. He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and philosophy of the Islamic built environment. He can be reached at spahicoyahoo.com; his blog is at www.medinanet.org.