Islam and the Significance of the Mosque

 

The earth as a mosque

 

The Prophet (pbuh) has said that the whole earth has been created as clean and pure (tahur), and as a place of worship, or a mosque (masjid), to him and his followers.[11] Consequently, he used to offer his prayers wherever they were due, and he would pray even in sheepfolds.[12] The Prophet (pbuh) was once asked about praying in places where the camels lie down. He replied: “Do not offer prayers in places where the camels lie down. These are the places of Satan.” He was asked about praying in the sheepfolds. He replied: “You may offer prayers in such places; these are the places of blessing.”[13] That the earth has been made clean and a mosque to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers, such is one of several favors which from among all the prophets have been bestowed only upon the seal of prophets, Muhammad (pbuh).

With the exception of a few places, such as the places where camels lie down, graveyards and impure places, the whole earth Islam sees as a mosque. Muslims thus can pray virtually anywhere wherever the times of their prayers overtake them. The small exceptions mentioned above are due to the inherent pure state of earth being altered by certain occurrences and actions related to man or Satan. Otherwise, the earth, in principle, is entirely pure and clean, having been created but to worship its Creator and to be of service to man.

Not only that Muslims can pray everywhere on the earth, but also they can use some of its elements for purification purposes against the biggest of impurities, not counting water, of course. For example, tayammum, or the dry ablution, can be performed using sand or dust in place of ablution (wudu’) or ghusl (ritual washing of the whole body) if no clean water is readily available. Also, solid, dry and uprooting stones can be used for cleaning the private parts after urinating or defecating, although water is the best and most effective agent. This is so, perhaps, because man’s body is created from the earth, as revealed by Allah the Creator. His very self and the earth are not strangers to each other. Man’s body comes from the earth, lives on, and with, it, and at the end returns to it. Every man returns to the earth from which he has been made.

The tenet that can be derived from all this is that the whole earth is pure and a mosque, unless otherwise stated by the Islamic Shari’ah. In the same vein, and for the sake of sheer comparison, there is another similar tenet in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) according to which all things in life are originally deemed permissible as long as there is no Shari’ah text that prohibits them. If the Islamic Shari’ah is silenced on a thing, that thing remains in its inherent state, i.e., permissible.

Moreover, Allah explicitly says in the Qur’an that the earth and everything thereon incessantly in unison worships Allah, in ways suitable for them, which, however, are inaccessible to man and his limited intelligence and cognitive strategies. For example, Allah says: “Do you not see that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth: the sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the trees, the animals, and a great number among mankind; and many there are against whom chastisement has become necessary; and whomsoever Allah abases, there is none who can make him honorable; surely Allah does what He pleases.” (Al-Hajj, 18)

“The seven heavens declare His glory and the earth (too), and those who are in them; and there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification; surely He is Forbearing, Forgiving.” (Al-Isra’, 44)

“Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth declares the glory of Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (Saff, 1)

In that case, the whole earth is a place of worship, i.e., a mosque, where every being endlessly glorifies and prostrates in submission to its Creator and Master, Allah. Man, upon coming to the earth to serve his fixed tenure of vicegerency, is firstly through revelation made acquainted with this overwhelming reality, and is then invited and guided to via his own means and ways support and join, so to speak, the congregation of the animate and inanimate worshippers. Man spends his appointed earthly term as no more than a servant himself who closely and peacefully interacts with the rest of Allah’s “servants”, responsibly taking from them and their realms for his own benefit, and amply giving in return from his realm for their own benefit.

Man exists in order to worship Allah and to submit in his life undertakings to Him, on the one hand, and to be of benefit to other life realities around him, on the other. Whatever he procures for his self in the process signifies a means to sustain him and his mission. Amassing the material wealth is alien, and thus abhorrent, to this worldview and to those who subscribe to it. Muslim believers endorse and always tend to enrich the sanctity of the earth and its mosque. Building their own mosques throughout the earth’s vastness is the best evidence of it. Furthermore, the rest of the components of their built environment in no less remarkable fashion work as an evidence too. The lives of Muslim believers are their deliberate forms of worship, so their built environment which frames and contains such lives is equivalent to a place of worship (mosque or masjid), so to speak, as well. It stands to reason that believers’ houses, places of learning, places of work, recreational places, etc., are, in truth, all places of worship, i.e., mosques or masjids. Islamic cities, towns and villages could also be perceived as “mosques” which are multifaceted in nature and unified in meaning and purpose.

For that very reason, no sooner is a Muslim born, i.e., has arrived on the earthly scene, than he is welcomed to the community of this global earthly mosque by a recitation of adhan (call for a prayer) in his right ear and iqamah (announcing the commencement of a prayer) in his left ear. This way, every believer’s automatic membership to the chorus of the earthly mosque is being hailed, and the expectations for his imminent performances clearly set. Both the adhan and iqamah for a Muslim baby herald the beginning of its worshipping Allah, which is set to intensify as the baby grows. They will also serve as a defensive shield against various potential misfortunes, impediments and ailments so that when a baby is grown up, its performances as a servant of Allah, and as an active member of a global web of creation, can be optimized. This way, a believer always remains an asset to the community and, by an extension, to the whole of the earth; he never becomes a liability.

Besides, when a Muslim believer dies, the Funerary prayer (Janazah) is performed for him. Such an act denotes the end of one’s personal noble era and a mission. The Janazah signifies a farewell gathering for a righteous person whose righteous actions and contributions are thus fondly appreciated and will be missed, and who at the same time is prayed for and is wished a success and attainment of Allah’s pleasure in the next stage(s) of his journey, i.e., in the Hereafter. There is a genuine possibility that the adhan and iqamah, which indicate a call for and the beginning of a prayer, and which are pronounced in a Muslim baby’s ears, are actually meant for the Janazah which as a prayer has neither adhan nor iqamah. In this manner, every Muslim is constantly reminded of how short his tenure on earth in reality is. So short and precarious it is that a person can abruptly depart anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances from it. On coming to the earth, both the adhan and iqamah of a person’s farewell prayer, the Janazah, has already been pronounced and the basic preparations for his eventual and predestined departure from this life could soon slowly get under way. Indeed, this tenet will spur a believing person to waste no time in activating and living his vicegerency mission and dream, integrating his self into the global community of worshippers: humans and the rest of animate and inanimate beings. He will strive to be as pragmatic, active and productive a member as possible. He will not be inactive, sterile, unproductive and a person with unrealistic and foolish dreams and ambitions. He will perceive life as too short and too consequential to be wasted on vain and phony alternatives.

As a result, the departure of a believing person from this world is marked not only by men, especially believers, but also by the rest of the members of the earthly community and its global mosque. Infidels, on the contrary, are not grieved over. With regard to this, the Prophet (pbuh) has said that when an infidel or a profligate servant of Allah passes away, human beings, land, animals and trees get a moment of respite from him and his bad actions.[14] Based on this, we can reason, when a dutiful servant of Allah passes away, the same creatures feel disheartened knowing that they have just lost a member and his pervasive benevolence.

The Prophet (pbuh) has also said that for every person there are two doors in the heavens: a door from which his sustenance comes out and a door through which his deeds and words enter. When a (good and obedient) servant of Allah dies, these two doors grieve for him and cry. However, in case of an infidel or a wicked person, neither the heavens nor the earth sheds a tear over him when he dies, as no good deeds or words were coming from him. As such, no worthy traces or effects could he possibly leave behind on the earth, and no good deeds were going through his personal gate in the heavens.[15]

The Prophet (pbuh), furthermore, has said that the heavens weep because of a person to whom Allah gave a healthy body, an ability and ample means to enjoy eating and drinking, as well as a comfortable life, but he behaves unjustly towards people. The Prophet (pbuh) described such a person as violent, cruel and wicked.[16]

And finally, the Prophet (pbuh) has said that when people observe a religious standard, or a restriction (hadd), such is dearer to the inhabitants of the earth than that rain is sent forty consecutive mornings upon them.[17]

While erecting mosques for themselves, to aid and monitor the wide spectrum of their sanctified earthly commitments, Muslim believers know that what they produce is just a mirror image of what the fundamental nature of the earth is really like. What they do, moreover, connotes just an act of total compliance with the spiritual laws that govern the whole kingdom of earthly existence. The reality and mission of Muslim mosques symbolize the reality and mission of the global earthly mosque. Muslims’ vibrant lives of comprehensive worship that center round the mosque symbolize the equally vibrant lives of worship realized by the rest of the earth’s life forms. Muslim mosques are an extension of the domains of the earthly mosque. Muslim pious lives are an extension of the domains of the pious lives of the rest of the earthly creatures with which Muslims peacefully interact at different levels of their presence. A believer is a microcosm of the earth. What is more, he is a microcosm of the whole universe and the whole existence.

 

The universe as a mosque

 

As a matter of fact, the earth is just part of another bigger mosque, that is, the whole of the universe. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly asserts, as mentioned earlier, that everything in the universe: the sun, the moon and all the stars, including the earth itself, incessantly glorifies, sings praises and prostrates itself to Allah, the Creator, Master and Sustainer. A hint as to the way in which Allah created the heavens and the earth and how obedient and devoted they are, Allah says: “Then He turned to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: “Come both of you, willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We come, obedient.” Then He ordained them seven heavens in two periods and inspired in each heaven its duty and command; and We adorned the lower heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower.” (Fussilat, 11, 12)

“To Him belongs every being that is in the heavens and on earth: all are devoutly obedient to Him.” (Al-Rum, 26)

By the universe and its numerous worshippers, we do not mean only the celestial planets, stars and other objects, but also all the physical unintelligent living things therein. It is exceptionally interesting that Allah in His Qur’an is explicit about this aspect of His creation. He says: “And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and what He has spread forth in both of them of living beings (dabbah); and when He pleases He is all-powerful to gather them together.” (Al-Shura, 29)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali commented on this verse as follows: “Life is not confined to our little planet. Though no scientific demonstration is possible, it is reasonable to suppose that life in some form or other is scattered through some of the millions of heavenly bodies scattered through space. What a wonderful sign of Allah! The Almighty Who created such countless beings has surely the power to bring them together.”[18]

We maintain that those faithful and obedient life forms scattered through space, which render the universe a place of worship (mosque), are unintelligent, in the sense that they are dissimilar from and cannot possibly rival man, because the presence of man for whom, and because of whom, the universe has been created, is confined to the planet earth alone. This has been explicitly and in various contexts divulged by Allah, the Creator, time and again in the Qur’an. He said, for example: “Behold, your Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” (Al-Baqarah, 30)

We also maintain that those extraterrestrial life forms are physical, which exclude angels and jinns who are spiritual beings, because the word used in the verse quoted above is “dabbah” which normally means any type of animals, or mammals and reptiles that crawl or walk on two or four legs.[19] Allah says: “And Allah has created every animal (dabbah) from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills for verily Allah has power over all things.” (Al-Nur, 45)

The universe, thus, is replete with “aliens” which may or may not be similar to what exists on the earth. However, those “aliens” are non-human and, in all likelihood, unintelligent animals. Their forms, lifestyles and the environments in which they live have been designed in such a way that they perfectly suit and support each other.[20] As another possible hint at this remarkable truth, Allah says that He creates many other things, apart from what is known to man, of which man has no knowledge whatsoever. (Al-Nahl, 8) Allah also affirms that of knowledge it is only a little that has been communicated to man (Al-Isra’, 85), and regardless of what his achievements and discoveries might ever be, man will never be able to triumph over this inborn “ignorant” state of his.

Besides, to the virtually infinite kingdom of the heavenly mosque we can also add the world of angels many of whom, although spiritual beings created from light (nur), reside in the heavens and some even on the earth due to a number of assignments given by Allah to them. They by nature endlessly worship Allah never experiencing any deficiency or fatigue in their total and incessant devoutness. They are Allah’s most obedient servants who are unable to err. The Prophet (pbuh) has said that in the earthly heaven (al-sama’ al-dunya) there is no as big a space as a span of a hand which is vacant. It is all occupied by angels who continuously and in different postures worship Allah.[21]

The Qur’an makes a reference to the al-Bayt al-Ma’mur (the Oft-Frequented House) (al-Tur, 5), or the seventh heaven’s holly mosque or the Ka’bah, of which the Prophet (pbuh) also spoke. The following is an extract from Ibn Kathir’s commentary of the Qur’anic verse in which a reference to the al-Bayt al-Ma’mur has been made: “In the two Sahihs (the Sahihs of al-Bukhari and Muslim) it is confirmed that the Messenger of Allah said in the Hadith about al-Isra’, after ascending to the seventh heaven: “Then, I was taken to al-Bayt al-Ma`mur. It is visited every day by seventy thousand angels who will not come back to visit it again.” The angels worship Allah in al-Bayt al-Ma`mur and perform tawaf (circumambulation) around it just as the people of the earth perform tawaf around the Ka`bah. Al-Bayt al-Ma`mur is the Ka`bah of those who reside in the seventh heaven. During the Isra’ journey, the Prophet (pbuh) saw Ibrahim al-Khalil, who was reclining with his back on al-Bayt al-Ma`mur. It was Ibrahim who built the Ka`bah on earth, and surely, the reward is compatible with the action. Al-Bayt al-Ma`mur is parallel to the Ka`bah; every heaven has its own house of worship, which is also the direction of prayer for its residents. The house that is located in the lower heaven, is called Bayt al-`Izzah.”[22]

The Prophet (pbuh) has also said that the earthly Ka’bah was built directly under the heavenly al-Bayt al-Ma’mur. If the latter falls, it would fall directly on the former. Such is the arrangement between the two holy mosques, or Ka’bahs, that despite the constant movement of all the heavenly bodies, including the earth, the two mosques always remain one above the other.[23] Prophet Adam too is said to have worshipped Allah in the al-Bayt al-Ma’mur prior to his descent to the earth.

In this context we can also mention the world of jinns many of whom are believers and who constantly roam the earth and the heavens for different reasons. They are made from fire (nar). The believing section of jinns, though spiritual beings, certainly helps in rendering the universe an infinite and a very amazing and complex place of worship, or a mosque. But then, truly, a very amazing and complex every mosque in the hierarchy of mosques is, because they are all patronized not only by believing men and women, but also by angels and even believing jinns. Every mosque is honored with the title of baytullah which means a house of Allah.

In addition, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been sent to convey Allah’s final revealed message to both men and jinns. In the Qur’an there is an entire chapter dedicated to jinns. It is called “al-Jinn” (jinns). Allah says, among other things, about them: “Say: It has been revealed to me that a company of Jinns listened (to the Qur’an). They said, ‘We have really heard a wonderful Recital! It gives guidance to the Right, and we have believed therein: we shall not join (in worship) any (gods) with our Lord. And exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son. There were some foolish ones among us, who used to utter extravagant lies against Allah. But we do think that no man or spirit should say aught that untrue against Allah… And we pried into the secrets of the heaven; but we found it filled with stern guards and flaming fires. We used, indeed, to sit there in (hidden) stations, to (steal) a hearing; but any who listen now will find a flaming fire watching him in ambush. And we understand not whether ill is intended to those on earth, or whether their Lord (really) intends to guide them to right conduct. There are among us some that are righteous, and some the contrary: we follow divergent paths. But we think that we can by no means frustrate Allah throughout the earth, nor can we frustrate Him by flight. And as for us, since we have listened to the Guidance, we have accepted it: and any who believes in his Lord has no fear, either of a short (account) or of any injustice.” (Al-Jinn, 1-5, 8-13)

By these and similar Qur’anic truths, believers have been invited to constantly reflect on their surrounding earthly and heavenly realities in order to try to comprehend them and their own position in the matrix of creation, and to try to comprehend the nature and framework of their relations with the other protagonists of life. They are thus to always grow, to be optimistic and visionary. Being passive or static is uncharacteristic of them. Believers’ growth starts from their private domestic mosques, and via the neighborhood, jami’ and the earthly mosques, it culminates in the highest levels of spiritual meaning and experience, a state which transcends their physical contexts dominated by the time and space factors. These are typified by the nature and expanse of the heavenly mosque which extends as far as the furthermost frontiers of the phenomenon of creation and towards which everything earthly aspires and aims. The supreme heavenly mosque signifies the limitless potentials of the truth and its seekers, as well as that there are neither insurmountable obstacles nor unreachable goals in a believer’s quest for enrichment, success and growth. Even the sky does not constitute the limit. Believers aim higher than that.

True believers, when all is said and done, live such a life because they have Allah on their side as their protecting Guardian, and because they have their mosques as a stimulus, a guidepost and the nucleus of their existence, and which are the houses of Allah. Thus, he who associates himself with Allah and His houses, i.e., mosques, will always prosper. Allah says: “Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.” (Al-Baqarah, 257)

“That is because Allah is the Protector of those who believe, but those who reject Allah have no protector.” (Muhammad, 11)

“And that the mosques are Allah’s, therefore call not upon any one with Allah.” (Al-Jinn, 18)

The companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to say that mosques are the houses of Allah on the earth. Whosoever enters and visits Allah in them, Allah will surely honor and compliment him.[24]

The difference between the approach of a Muslim believer to the issue of life realities in the universe and that of an atheist will be that a believer knows what the truth exactly is, due to the revealed knowledge which has been passed to him by Allah through the Messenger. He will not be skeptical in the slightest for nobody knows creation better than the Creator and Master. The questions arising in his mind will never be like “is there anything out there?”, or “are we alone in the universe?”. Rather, the questions arising will be to the effect of how to understand some of those undisputable revealed secrets and how to develop resources and means to do that, what their implications for man’s life mission and purpose could be, and how to capitalize on those secrets for the optimization of the same mission and purpose of man. A believer will then try to rationalize and substantiate that revealed knowledge by some empirical evidence that he might have access to. The goals of such epistemological efforts of a believer will be to know his self and others, including the extraterrestrial physical beings, better, to understand and appreciate his Creator and Lord better, and, finally, to make sure that the first two propositions cause him to foster strong and sound relationships with his self, others and, most importantly, with his Creator. In other words, the approach of a believer is one of conviction and faith, from the beginning till the end, and he only goes from strength to strength. He knows the ultimate end and the truths of things; he just wants to reason them better and to get as closer to them as possible.

The approach of an atheist, or an unbeliever, to the theme of life in the universe, on the other hand, will be one of skepticism, uncertainty, egotism and ignorance. He will rely solely on rational and empirical methods and data which, however, will always remain short of correctly recognizing, appreciating and making the most out of some of the biggest and most important secrets of existence. Whatever knowledge is thus attained will also be applied for a perceived purpose and mission of man’s existence, but which, contrary to the case of believers, will be anchored in doubt, self-centeredness, hedonism and the reckless exploitation of nature and the universe. In this case, the future of man will frequently turn bleak, and his life course will always drift from one ambiguity, insecurity and even misery to another. He will never know the ultimate end and the truths of things; nor will he even be able to get close to them. Allah says: “They know only some appearance of the life of the world, and are heedless of the Hereafter.” (Al-Rum, 7)

“And they ask you about the soul. Say: The soul is one of the commands of my Lord, and you are not given aught of knowledge but a little.” (Al-Isra’, 85)

“Most of them follow not but conjecture. Assuredly conjecture can by no means take the place of truth. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do.” (Yunus, 36)

“Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return.” (Al-Rum, 41)

As an illustration of the latter approach to life in the universe, based merely on rational and empirical conjectures, an astrophysicist, for example, has said that “the chemistry that underlies life on earth is abundant throughout the universe — in comets, in the interstellar medium, in the atmospheres of planets, in the outer solar system bodies and in living organisms. If these are made everywhere, perhaps life is everywhere. You have the chemical foundation spread throughout the entire galaxy. We’re not special. I would bet — if I had a million dollars — I would bet that life is widespread across the universe.”[25]

 

 


[1] Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2003), vol. 6 p. 175.

[2] The Encyclopedia of Religion, (New York, Macmillian Publishing Company, 1987), vol. 10 p. 122.

[3] Asim Zubcevic, Islamic Sites in Bosnia: 10 Years after the War, http://www.islamonline.net.

[4] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Masajid wa al-Jama’at, Hadith No. 146, 747, 748.

[5] Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Jum’ah, Hadith No. 542.

[6] Al-Kattani, al-Taratib al-Idariyyah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1980), vol. 1 p. 77.

[7] Taha al-Waliyy, Al-Masjid fi al-Islam, (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li al-Malayin, 1988), p. 146.

[8] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith No. 657.

[9] Mustapha Ben Hamouche, Fiqh al-‘Umran al-Islami, (Dubai: Dar al-Buhuth li al-Dirasat al-Islamiyyah wa Ihya’ al-Turath, 2000), p. 58.

[10] Conditions of Jumu’ah Prayer, http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/index.php?page=showfatwa&Option=FatwaId&Id=82835.

[11]Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tayammum, Hadith No. 323.

[12] Ibid., Kitab al-Ansar, Hadith No. 269.

[13] Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Taharah, Hadith No. 184.

[14] Al-Bukhâri, Sahîh al-Bukhâri, Kitâb al-Riqaq, Hadîth No. 6031.

[15] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, vol. 3 p. 303.

[16] Ibid., vol. 3 p. 534.

[17] Ibid., vol. 3 p. 57.

[18] Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings and the Commentary, see the commentary of the verse no. 29 from the al-Shura chapter (surah) (Commentary No. 4569).

[19] Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab, vol. 4 p. 276.

[20] Muhammad Sulayman Abdullah al-Ashqar, Zubdah al-Tafsir, (Amman: Dar al-Nafa’is, 2002), p. 486.

[21] Narrated by al-Tirmidhi in Sunan al-Tirmidhi. http://guideangel.com/Al-Malaa%27ikah-Angels-Islam.html. Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, vol. 3 p. 193.

[22] Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, vol. 3 p. 388.

http://www.tafsir.com/default.asp?sid=52&tid=50629.

[23] Ibid., vol. 3 p. 389.

[24] Ibid., vol. 2 p. 130.

[25] Dan Whipple, Life in the Universe Could be just About Everywhere, http://www.spacedaily.com/news/life-04zw.html.

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