A Code of Conduct for Establishing and Using Mosques

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Email: spahico@yahoo.com


Since from the very beginning the mosque institution 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, so that the heart of the Prophet (pbuh) and the hearts of his followers could be calmed, strengthened and galvanized, likewise the introducing and fully activating of the phenomenon of the mosque, the ground for the implementation of many a regulation and teaching of Islam, could not 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 so doing, 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 must 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.[1] At the beginning, however, some people were not cleanliness-conscious and they needed some time to develop certain manners. They were most likely of those who have freshly entered the fold of the new religion. Among other things, they had a habit of spitting phlegm inside the mosque without doing away with it afterwards, or covering it up. The Prophet (pbuh) disliked the habit very much. Nevertheless, the habit needed to be overcome gradually and with a great deal of wisdom and goodly counsel. The Prophet (pbuh) thus advised such as were prone to doing this that phlegm be scraped off and the place dirtied to be overlaid with saffron (za’faran) or anything pleasant and fragrant. The Prophet (pbuh) himself on a couple of occasions scraped off some people’s spits after having seen that they had been left behind. He would likewise shower with praises those who did the same.[2] Towards this end is a hadith or a tradition wherein the Prophet (pbuh) has said that whoever does away with a disturbance from the mosque, Allah will build a house for him in Paradise (Jannah).[3] During the Prophet’s era, an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) woman later took up the chore of looking after the cleanliness of the Prophet’s mosque (some believe it was a man). So high a regard did the Prophet (pbuh) have for her that he told her one day that a double portion of reward awaits her. When she died, some people treated her affairs as of little account and buried her without informing the Prophet (pbuh). Nonetheless, on discovering that she was missing, the Prophet (pbuh) asked concerning her. When told what had happened, he replied that they should have informed him. Then, he asked to be shown her grave where he prayed for her.[4] As a small digression, prior to the Hijrah (migration), Madinah is said to have been a dirty place, which the migrants from Makkah could hardly come to terms with. Thus, the Prophet (pbuh) ordered that the city be cleaned and its dirt and filth removed. A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, said: “We came to Madinah and it was the most polluted land of Allah. The water there was stinking”. In order that the rigorous Islamic cleanliness requirements could be duly met, the Prophet (pbuh) also asked his companions to dig wells in different parts of the city. It is reported that more than 50 wells were opened in the city of Madinah and there was enough clean water for everyone.[5]
    • 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.[6] 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.”[7]
    • 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).[8] We have seen earlier that the Prophet (pbuh) said that if a woman asks for permission to go to the mosque even at night, she is to be allowed.[9] 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.”[10] Moreover, women can even go and perform their obligatory prayers in the mosque, even though 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.[11] The Prophet (pbuh) also said that a woman is closest to her Lord when she is inside her house.[12] It has been reported, furthermore, that some women came to the Prophet (pbuh) telling him that their men get a hold of the best of deeds in the form of struggling and fighting for the sake of Allah (jihad). Thus they queried if there was a feat which they could accomplish and attain thereby the huge reward reserved only for jihad. The Prophet’s reply was: “If you stay at home (i.e., to do what is required and expected from you to do, that is, activating and optimizing the house phenomenon to function as a family development center), you will surely attain the reward of the men who struggle and fight for the sake of Allah (mujahidun).”[13] It was because of this nature of Muslim women’s primary — albeit not exclusive — contributions to society that the Prophet (pbuh) has said that while men are guardians of their families in general terms and are responsible for them, women are guardians of their husbands’ houses and children, and are responsible for them.[14] Moreover, while utilizing mosques for diverse religious, social, welfare and educational purposes – and while drawing on the potentials of the other legitimate social institutions, as well — Muslim women have been instructed to always behave and dress themselves properly as Islam commands them (the same injunction applies to men too). Muslim women cannot apply perfume when going to the mosque,[15] or indeed anywhere else outside their own houses. Thus, the plans and designs of mosques as community centers must take duly into account the position and role of Muslim women, their vast potentials as well as noteworthy contributions to the development of the Muslim community.
    • Since the mosque and what goes on in it is an extremely serious affair, children and madmen are to be kept away from it whenever considered necessary. Unless they are supervised by a parent or a guardian, children are not to linger there.[16]
    • 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.”[17] The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “One who recites the Qur’an in a loud voice is like one who gives alms openly; and one who recites the Qur’an quietly is like one who gives alms secretly.”[18]
    • The Prophet (pbuh) prohibited buying and selling in mosques, announcing aloud about a lost thing, reciting valueless and objectionable poems, and sitting in a circle on Friday before the Jumu’ah prayer.[19] The Prophet (pbuh) prohibited the recital of worthless and objectionable poems in mosques as he felt that such was nonsensical and did not serve the cause of Islam. As for sitting in circles on Friday before the prayer, it was prevented because it might disturb those who used to cram the mosque as early as possible and their spiritual activities, as encouraged by the Prophet (pbuh). That some special attention has been given to public gatherings and the ways people ought to behave in them, may be corroborated by the following Qur’anic verse: “O ye who believe! When you are told to make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you. And when you are told to rise up, rise up: Allah will raise up, to (suitable) ranks (and degrees), those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge. And Allah is well-acquainted with all you do.” (al-Mujadalah 11)
    • The Prophet (pbuh) also prohibited that quarrels, noisy arguments, fights and punishments take place inside the mosque.[20] Anything that can generate harm to 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 purged 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, imparted in the most beautiful and effective ways to those who are yet to perceive and imbibe it. A companion of the Prophet (pbuh), Anas b. Malik, reported that while they were one day sitting with the Prophet (pbuh) in the Prophet’s mosque, a desert Arab came and stood up and began to urinate in the mosque proper. The companions of the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Stop, stop!” They even rushed to beat him. But the Prophet (pbuh) asked them to leave the man alone telling them that they had been chosen and sent to make things easy for the people and not to make things difficult for them. To the man, when he finished urinating, however, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “These mosques are not the places meant for urine and filth, but are only for the remembrance of Allah, prayer and recitation of the Qur’an.”[21]
    • 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.[22] All the artificial and superficial worldly categorizations of, and differences between, people come to an end once people find themselves in the ambit of the mosque. The mosque is worldly statuses, titles and designations-blind.
    • About begging in the mosque, Ibn Taymiya, as reported by Sayyid al-Sabiq, has said: “Begging is forbidden whether it is in the mosque or outside it, unless there is a real need for it. If necessary, one may beg in the mosque as long as one does not harm anyone and does not lie in begging, or disturb the people by stepping over them or with one’s loudness, for instance, when the people are listening to Friday khutbah (sermon), and one distracts them by one’s voice.”[23]
    • 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).[24] 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.[25]
    • 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.[26]
    • 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. When coming to or leaving the mosque, men and women are not to mingle freely in the road. They are to keep to different sides.[27] 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. Allah says: “O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” (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).”[28]
    • 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 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.[29]
    • 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 majority of scholars disapproved of stretching legs towards the qiblah (direction of prayers) either in sitting or reclining postures.[30]
    • 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 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. 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. If that fails to deliver, however, and no other options are left, those places could even be considered to be razed to the ground altogether so as to put a stop to committing and spreading malevolence and crime. People are to be swayed neither by the glitter and impressive appearances of the form of such structures, nor by the sweet talk and flattery of those who stand behind and sustain them. In a well-known incident during the Prophet’s time, the hypocrites of Madinah built a mosque in Quba’, a suburb of Madinah, which was called the “Mosque of Mischief” or “Masjid al-Dirar”. The mosque was set to function as an opposition to the first mosque which the Prophet (pbuh) had built also in Quba’ following his hijrah or migration from Makkah. The mosque which the Prophet (pbuh) had built in Quba’ was called the “Mosque of Piety”. This way, the hypocrites — on the word of the Qur’an the worst category of people qualified for the most excruciating punishment in the Hereafter (al-Nisa’, 145) — pretended to practice and advance Islam, but in reality they intended to cause harm to the young Muslim society by dividing its members and pitting them against each other. Eventually, through the means of revelation, Allah ordered the Prophet (pbuh) to demolish and burn the structure before it set out to malfunction, confuse and mislead the masses.[31] Allah says about this episode: “And those who built a mosque to cause harm and for unbelief and to cause disunion among the believers and an ambush to him who made war against Allah and His Messenger before; and they will certainly swear: We did not desire aught but good; and Allah bears witness that they are most surely liars. Never stand in it; certainly a mosque founded on piety from the very first day is more deserving that you should stand in it; in it are men who love that they should be purified; and Allah loves those who purify themselves. Is he, therefore, better who lays his foundation on fear of Allah and (His) good pleasure, or he who lays his foundation on the edge of a cracking hollowed bank, so it broke down with him into the fire of hell; and Allah does not guide the unjust people. The building which they have built will ever continue to be a source of disquiet in their hearts, except that their hearts get cut into pieces; and Allah is Knowing, Wise.” (al-Tawbah, 107-110)
    • Mosques should occupy as much as possible the central and most strategic locations in villages, neighborhoods, towns and cities. They must be accessible, pleasant and convivial. They must contain as many components and facilities as possible in order to function as vibrant and effective community centers. They must 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 the 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. In addition, the small mosques or musallas in shopping centers, sport and recreational complexes, airports, train and bus stations, schools, hospitals, factories, etc., are to be strategically positioned. They too are to be accessible, friendly, inviting, helpful and practical. This is so because one of the fundamental traits of a true believer is that his heart is attached to the mosque. It is right there that he feels most peaceful and most contented. When he is not in the mosque, a true believer’s heart yearns for it. The longer he stays away from the mosque, the more restless he becomes.
    • 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 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.
    • As regards mosque architecture, Islam did not instruct Muslims how to build mosques, but it did instruct them to build mosques and to make them function as places of collective worship and community development centres. As seen earlier, the Prophet (pbuh) built quite a number of mosques in Madinah, which was the prototype Islamic city and played the role, firstly, as the city-state, and later as the capital of the ever-expanding Muslim state. The functions performed by the mosques built by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), particularly his mosque in Madinah, were so powerful that they epitomized the multifaceted societal dimensions of Islam. The primary aim of all the mosques built afterwards was to emulate the Prophet’s example in this regard. Although the initial forms of the mosques built during the Prophet’s era were simple, such by no means was meant to be the case forever. Nor does it mean that the early Muslims in their building approaches and practices were subscribing to certain established building standards and norms on the basis of some rigid religious precepts and values, which must be blindly and rigidly followed by all the subsequent generations of Muslims. Because that was not the case, things pertaining to mosque architecture, shortly after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), were gradually changing with the drastic changes in the living conditions of Muslims. The language of mosque architecture was evolving commensurately with the evolution of the rest of physical and spiritual constituents and facets of Islamic culture and civilization. It must be emphatically stated here — as a permanent lesson in mosque architecture — that when the rich and versatile language of mosque architecture evolved, the new developments signified people’s answers and solutions to the challenge of maintaining mosques to function as the centres of Islamic worship and as the centres for community development, while, at the same time, conforming to the requirements of the climate, geography, traditions, economy and building technology of the places where Muslims lived. The net result of this approach was that there emerged many ways of building mosques, such as those in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, Malaysia, China, etc., but the soul and fundamental nature of all those mosque types were always the same and are easily recognizable by those familiar with the character of Islamic worship and the character of Islamic cultures and civilization. Eventually, what became to be known as the language of mosque architecture, such as the minaret, courtyards, the minbar (pulpit), the mihrab (praying niche), domes, arches, iwans, certain decorative styles, etc., must be seen as the best solutions and facilities that Muslims have evolved over centuries for themselves so that the projected roles of mosques are ensured. Such solutions, services and facilities must not be seen as religious symbols containing some ontological bearing. Nor are they to be held as the prescribed language of mosque architecture that cannot, if necessary, be revised, enriched, improved and adjusted, thus accommodating the provisions presented by the advances made by science and technology, and generally by the implications of the time and space factors. After all, what matters most is making the mosque institution with its demanding civilizational mission as effective, dynamic, relevant and attractive as possible through a range of available means and methods. This is exactly what Muslims were up to while evolving the rich and colourful language of mosque architecture, in particular, and Islamic art and architecture, in general. And this, furthermore, is exactly what the contemporary Muslims must be up to while trying to restore and revitalize the roles and functions of the mosque institution today, making it again a catalyst for an all-embracing Islamic reform and revival. Indeed, this truth must be properly comprehended and imbibed by all the relevant parties in the field of mosque architecture: patrons, planners, designers, architects, structural engineers and, of course, the users. This truth must feature prominently in the general education of Muslims.
    • 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 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. 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.”[32] And finally, given that decoration must not interfere with 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. The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “I am not asked to erect monumental mosques.” The narrator of this hadith, Abdullah b. ‘Abbas, commented: “You shall certainly end up adorning your mosques as both the Jews and Christians did.”[33] The Prophet (pbuh) is also reported to have said that whenever a people’s performance (‘amal) weakens, they then start decorating their mosques.[34] In another tradition (hadith), the Prophet (pbuh) has said that one of the signs of the imminence of the Day of Judgment will be when people start boasting against one another with regard to building pursuits,[35] including planning, construction, decoration and everything else related to the built environment. This applies very much to the mosque institution as well.[36]
    • 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. On one occasion, after he had been told of the beauty of a Christian church in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and how wonderful its paintings were, the Prophet (pbuh) observed: “Those people are such that if a pious man amongst them died, they build a place of worship over his grave and paint these pictures in it. Those people will be Allah’s worst creatures on the Day of Resurrection.”[37] Towards the same end, surely, are the Prophet’s instructions that prayers cannot be performed in graveyards,[38] nor that any building activities are to be carried out over graves. The Prophet (pbuh) cursed those who build mosques over graves.[39] This truth also must be notably represented in the general education of Muslims.
    • 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. When the angel Jibril (Gabriel) asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) what excellence is, the Prophet’s reply was: “Excellence is to worship God as if you see him, for if you do not see Him He sees you.”[40] In Islam, life with all its dimensions is worship (‘ibadah). There is no life activity that can be completely extricated from the concept of worship and, by extension, from the concept of excellence. Excellence is prescribed (kataba) to Muslims as explicitly as the other fundamental obligations, such as praying (salah), fast (siyam) and the struggle for the holy Islamic cause (jihad). The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “Indeed, Allah loves when one of you does something that he does it to perfection.”[41] He also once supplicated: “May Allah have mercy upon him who excels in his profession (tasks).”[42]
    • Mosques must be environment conscious and friendly. They must be energy efficient, especially today when 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 must 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 which revolve around  the upholding and preservation of a person’s religion, life, intellect, wealth, and progeny or future generations.
    • 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 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.”[43] 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).”[44]
    • Mosques must give some serious considerations to the needs of the disabled and elderly people.
    • Mosques should be youth and children friendly. 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 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 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.
    • Mosques should be planned, designed and built in such a way that in praying halls or areas the number of columns and pillars is kept to minimum. This is because a multiplicity of columns, especially when they are inconsiderately planned and arranged, tends to interrupt and fragment the rows of worshippers (sufuf), which the Prophet (pbuh) disapproved of.[45] Surely, it was because of this, among other issues, that in mosque architecture employing domes became very popular and so widely embraced. Huge central domes were able to help vast praying halls to be roofed without much interruption of columns – other factors which contributed to the proliferation of domes in the language of mosque architecture were related to lighting, air ventilation, acoustics and aesthetics. In this fashion, the usage of the spaces inside mosques was greatly optimized. The existence of domes also enhanced and facilitated communication purposes, which was very crucial due to the dynamism and diversity of the roles and functions of mosques. The culture of domes thus should continue. Likewise, other viable alternatives presented by the available building technology and engineering ought to be delved into as well. However, when the presence of columns and pillars becomes inevitable in the praying hall of a mosque, apart from keeping their number to minimum, they also should be carefully planned so as to create a minimum negative impact on the formation and performances of the rows of worshippers, and on the overall happenings and goings-on in the mosque. We have seen earlier that the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah was shaded by erecting palm trunks and wooden cross beams covered with palm leaves and stalks. On the Qiblah side, there were three porticoes, each portico had six pillars.[46] It was those pillars that the Prophet (pbuh) had in mind when he directed his companions not to pray between the columns, and not to allow those columns to fragment their rows (sufuf).[47] Fragmenting the rows of worshippers is considered a detested act (makruh).[48] Nonetheless, if a person prays alone in a mosque, there is nothing wrong for him to pray between columns, walls or enclosures. There is nothing wrong too for the imam (the one who leads a congregational prayer) to pray between columns, walls or enclosures.[49] Hence, nobody is known to have really objected to the idea of the mihrab (the imam’s or prayer leader’s niche) when it emerged and started to become an integral part of the language of mosque architecture, in all probability towards the end of the first hijrah century during the caliphate of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid b. Abd al-Malik (86-96 AH / 705-715 AC).
    • 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.[50] At any rate, the most correct view is that 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, lest the mosque’s purity and sanctity might become violated; and that their whole stay and their activities inside the mosque are overseen by Muslims. Indeed, there are many pros and cons in relation to non-Muslims and their entering mosques. However, if properly perceived and effectively made use of, non-Muslims’ visiting and entering mosques could be turned into an excellent avenue and means of da’wah islamiyyah (propagation of and calling people to Islam). This is especially so today when a majority of the Muslim countries and their cities are flocked with non-Muslim visitors and tourists. This is especially relevant today, furthermore, when misconceptions and misinterpretations about Islam and Muslims abound, and when Muslims find it very hard to elucidate and dispel those errors and misunderstandings. More often than not, a number of both historic and modern mosques are the target of those people’s touristic visits and attention. Visiting those mosques is a must on many non-Muslim visitors’ list of things to do. When they come to a Muslim country, most of them do so keen to witness, pay attention to and try to understand only authentic things and issues. After all, they pay handsomely for what they are up to. Muslims do not have to go to non-Muslims to tell them what Islam actually is, and what and who they actually are. In fact, non-Muslims keep thronging to Muslims’ midst, so Muslims must make the most of the superb opportunity at hand to promote Islam’s and their cause. As a result, each and every one of the mosque institution, tourist agencies and various government bodies in the Muslim world, should coordinate their sincere and well-devised plans and efforts, and should employ only highly qualified and trained personnel for the purpose of guiding those people — who are not only visitors, but also guests — and explaining thoroughly to them everything about Islam, Muslims, Islamic history, culture and civilization, and all of which the mosque institution as a community center unmistakably exemplifies. Accordingly, each and every “significant and attractive” mosque ought to have a few highly educated and trained guides — in addition to the tourist guides of a same caliber employed by both tourism and government agencies who will be with the visitors (guests) most of the time from the moment they arrive till they depart — who should speak fluently a couple of leading world languages. When a group of non-Muslim visitors come to a mosque, a guide will warmly, politely and intelligently welcome them and then accurately and scientifically explain to them about the mosque and what it stands for, and about anything else Islamic which may appear relevant to a particular group of people, or which may pop up during the visit and during the ensuing interactions and conversations between a guide and the mosque visitors. Plenty of free pamphlets and other reading materials in various languages should be made available and distributed to the visitors as per their needs and interests. The management of a mosque should strive to spur the curiosity and interest of the visitors, leaving then no query or need of theirs unfulfilled or unattended to. The visitors should up to designated points be admitted inside mosques, after having been duly informed of, and after having duly complied with, a code of ethics for doing so. Just properly explaining a code of ethics for visiting mosques, which is always bound to trigger a host of questions, in a casual way furnishes visiting non-Muslims with lots of information and truths about Islam and Muslims. Besides doing a great service to Islam, this way a great service to the country and the government will be rendered as well, as many job opportunities will open up, resulting in the tourism industry to become even more meaningful, interesting, thrilling and of course more profitable for all the parties involved. Even non-Muslim visitors and tourists will appreciate the trend, as they will be exposed to, and acquainted with, the real things and genuine issues, and so will get value for their money. The tourism industry thus must not be spoken of only as a great revenue source, but also as a great source and means of enhancing the reputation of Islam and Muslims in the eyes of non-Muslims. The tourism industry is to be turned into a great source, strategy and means of da’wah islamiyyah, with the mosque institution at its heart, which if properly optimized has the potential to yield arguably more benefits than a great many conventional, but more challenging and more costly, da’wah islamiyyah sources, strategies and means.
Finally, as a small digression, Allah says: “And if one of the idolaters seeks protection from you, grant him protection till he hears the word of Allah, then make him attain his place of safety; this is because they are a people who do not know.” (al-Tawbah, 6) This verse stipulates that when for legitimate purposes non-Muslims in general visit Muslims and Muslim lands, both in war and peace, they are to be granted absolute protection and be treated with respect. At the same time, they are to be exposed to the truth and light of Islam as much as possible, and to be provided with enough opportunities to hear, understand and witness the powerful impact of the Word (revelation or the Qur’an) of Allah on the lives of Muslims. Truly, there is no better place for fulfilling this task than the realm of the phenomenon of the mosque, and there are no better people to do it than those who patronize the mosque in their hearts, minds and deeds. Moreover, as far as those non-Muslims who peacefully on a permanent basis co-exist with Muslims are concerned, they too are to enjoy on a permanent basis absolute protection and respect from Muslims, and are likewise to be exposed to the truth and light of Islam on a permanent basis. This is to be achieved, most effectively indeed, through the ways Muslims live their virtuous lives and their institutions operate for their own and for the universal good, rather than through mere words, or slogans, or symbols, which are not backed by concrete initiatives, actions and tangible results. Here, again, the role of the mosque institution as a community center and as a symbol and microcosm of Islam and the Muslim existence, will always be paramount. Not exposing wisely and effectively non-Muslims to the light and guidance of Islam is a serious spiritual failing in Muslims. It also signifies a serious act of injustice being inflicted on non-Muslims.



[1] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 461.

[2] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1997), vol. 2, p. 656-661. Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 390.

[3] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Masajid wa al-Jama’at, Hadith No. 749.

[4]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 438.

[5] Spahic Omer, The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Urbanization of Madinah, (Kuala Lumpur: International Islamic University Malaysia, 2005), p. 149.

[6] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 814.

[7] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 47.

[8] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 6, Hadith No. 321.

[9] Ibid., vol. 1, Book 12, Hadith No. 824.

[10]Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Hayd, Hadith No. 649.

[11] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 483.

[12] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, (Beirut: Dar al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1981), vol. 3 p. 94.

[13] Ibid., vol. 3 p. 93.

[14] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 46, Hadith No. 730.

[15] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Tarajjul, Hadith No. 4162.

[16] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Masajid wa al-Jama’at, HAdith No. 742.

[17] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 1327.

[18] Ibid., Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 1328.

[19] Ibid., Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 1074.

[20] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, vol. 2 p. 608.

[21] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith No. 149. Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 559.

[22] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 861.

[23] As-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, (Indianapolis: American Trust Publication, 1991), vol. 2 p. 72.

[24] Al-Bukhari Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 435.

[25] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, vol. 2 p. 608.

[26] Ibid., vol. 2 p. 608.

[27] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Adab, Hadith No. 5252.

[28] Malik b. Anas, al-Muwatta’, Book 51, Number 51.2.7.

[29] Mahmud b. Husayn al-Hariri, Ahkam al-Masajid fi al-Islam, (Riyadh: Dar al-Rifa’i, 1990), p. 247-252.

[30] Ibid., p. 127-132.

[31] Muhammad Jamaluddin al-Qasimi, Islah al-Masajid min al-Bida’ wa al-‘Awa’id, (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1978), p. 165.

[32] Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Islam and Architecture, inside: Fine Arts in Islamic Civilization, edited by M.A.J. Beg, (Kuala Lumpur: The University of Malaya Press, 1981), p. 115.

[33] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 378.

[34] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Masajid wa al-Jama’at, Hadith No. 733.

[35]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith No. 6588.

[36]Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 379.

[37] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jana’iz, Hadith No. 1255.

[38] Ibid., Kitab al-Tayammum, Hadith No. 323.

[39] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Jana’iz, Hadith No. 3230.

[40] Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Book 01, Hadith No. 01.

[41]Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, (Kuala Lumpur: A.S. Noordeen, 1983), p. 325.

[42] Al-Samahudi, Wafa’ al-Wafa, vol. 1 p. 333.

[43] As-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, vol. 2 p. 70.

[44] Ibid., vol. 2 p. 70.

[45] Ibrahim Muhammad Barudi, Tashil al-Maqasid li Zuwwar al-Masajid, (Riyadh: Dar al-Sami’i, 2007), p. 404.

[46] Abbas Hamid, Story of the Great Expansion, p. 226.

[47] Ibrahim Muhammad Barudi, Tashil al-Maqasid li Zuwwar al-Masajid, p. 404.

[48] Mahmud b. Husayn al-Hariri, Ahkam al-Masajid fi al-Islam, p. 205. Muhammad Jamaluddin al-Qasimi, Islah al-Masajid min al-Bida’ wa al-‘Awa’id, p. 104.

[49] As-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh al-Sunnah, vol. 2 p. 74.

[50] Mahmud b. Husayn al-Hariri, Ahkam al-Masajid fi al-Islam, p. 289.

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