Sunday, January 31, 2010

Muslims in NYC Masjids: Living Our Lives As Strangers... To Eachother

To live your entire life of being a stranger is hard. Granted that we all know from the hadith that Muslims may come to be seen as strangers at a time but will we become strangers to each other as well.

I speak with first hand knowledge of the situation of many NYC masjids. I've been going to one for almost 16 years yet when I walk in there I feel like a stranger.

Few want to look me in the eye or say a word to me.

Its not as if they don't know me. They know me. They've seen me come to that same Masjid since I was in elementary school.

I remarked to a friend of mine how unfortunate it was that I often feel that the mood/atmosphere of the masjid is depressing. I rarely see people smile or laugh.

The look on people's faces is gloomy.

At times I felt betrayed by my community in the Masjid. I felt that very few cared to do anything positive in the Masjid by creating an inviting environment to the teenagers, youth, and even to the non-Muslims in our community.

I'm not talking about Inter-faith but at the least to try to do some dawah type outreach to the others surrounding us.

These 2 days I realized with a heavy sad heart that our community Masjid has failed our community.

Perhaps we, me included, have failed because our community is nothing more than the sum of all our efforts.

I thought about this happened and came to this conclusion.

NYC Masjids are immigrant masjids and as such, the faces of their parishioners reflects their daily struggles and uncertainties as immigrants in America.

This is a fact. Everyone in our Masjid is an immigrant. Mostly South Asian immigrants but there are a few African immigrants and a handful of immigrant Arabs as well.

I rarely see the children of these immigrants.

I know what the children think and their parents think.

They want to escape from this masjid and community. They want to 'make it' out with better jobs and their own house; not the crowed apartments and manual labor jobs their parents and them currently live and work.

To move to middle class Muslim communities of Long Island or NJ where they won't be reminded of their current lives struggling as lower working class people living in the current community and nearby Masjid is a dream.

Is that the answer for me too? To leave this community and Masjid for another?

And what about for now? I once thought about how and what I could do to make our community Masjid better... I now realize that people don't want to make this Masjid better.

Our Masjid is seen as the immigrant working class.

Immigrant dreams are to become part of the American middle class and this Masjid is not something they want to remind themselves of but rather to escape it.

And so, we will continue to be strangers to each other.


At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's terribly sad but it's nothing new. We have youth programs in our Masjid so that the middle/high school kids get attached to the Masjid. Sometimes they spend the night there too like when it's a long weekend and have a Pizza party as well as halaqas. They are also given the opportunity to freely express whether they're having trouble with their Muslim identities and some kids even convinced their school principals to have a Jummah Khutab at their highschools which is awesome Alhamdolilah.

The answer to your problem is obvious, either you take the initiative and talk to the Board Members of the Masjid or do Hijrah if it's within your means. A strong community breeds a strong generation and if you're planning to settle down soon in this area, you might as well start thinking about such things for your kids or others' kids. Since you've realized the problem, now it's your duty to become part of the solution. [That's my more than just 2 cents. I'm just wordy. Sorry abt that.]
And Allah knows best.

At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really feel your pain. I live in Seattle, WA and my family and I emmigrated to this counry 16 years ago. But, we still live around an immigrant community and the local masjids are about 90% immigrants each. If you drive up to the east side or north side of the state, thats where all the "middle-class", predominantely college educated Muslims live. This divide produces a huge strain on the welfare and health of my community also. Its at the point that different Islamic events are sponsored by different communities, hardly is it a joint effort. I make dua for Allah to mend the hearts of your "immigrant" masjid and the masajid that are like this all over the country. Ameen.

At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Sincerity said...

I just had to make a comment on this as I am probably in same city as you.

I can relate to the struggles of first generation immigrants as my parents went through the same. If I can sum up the last 20 years of their lives then it would be to purchase a house in NYC and the dream only turned in to reality after I finished school and started working full time. (part 2 later)

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also attend a masjid in a very low income project area 99.9 % immigrants and their children.

But over the past few years some youth who want to make change basically got together and took over.

They clean the masjid and take care of it. They also built a relationship with the parents in order to start programs where the ones in their early 20's mentor the teens and younger kids.

Alhamdulilah I have seen alot of change and the masjid is now full of children when I go there and a great sense of community.

Maybe you can get some people together and start to come up with idea's its much better then just accepting this situation while their is so many youth being lost.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Sincerity said...

How could you make a sweeping generalization that they dont want to make their Masjid better? In most cases, everyone is waiting for someone else to come & clean up after them.
I think Arab Immigrant Masajids are doing much better then Desis Masajids in Brooklyn as Desis (& Im from Pak.) do not have a concept of Masjid more then ''Musallah'' and that is pretty much reflected in Masajids across Brooklyn. They only have Salah and thats about it (even than they fight over the proper way of praying). Every time I mention it to my father, he dismisses it by saying, ''they r all struggling to put food on table, do u really think they have time to do anything more?''
I think our parents generation has done whatever they could have done (ie built Masajids) and now its our responsibility to develop those Masajids and turn them in to community centers. Oh & answer certainly doesn't lie in running away, rather its better to be part of the system and try to change it internally (my family could have brought the house in NJ/LI, however we decided to spend double and stay here as our community needs us and if all those (who could have brought change) started running away then who will address these issues? Who will guide these immigrants to think beyond food & shelter for their kids? What good is providing food & shelter if their teenage kids do not even recognize la ilaha illelah..My father sums it up best & I translate ''we came here to look for gold but ended up losing diamons'' (k sounds much better in Urdu)

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Dunia's Stranger said...

To Sincere Sis,

Thanks for you comments.

Its not a generalization when I say "many masjids."

These are the conditions I've observed first hand from many Masjids, particularly South Asian masjids.

Perhaps the Arabs run their masjids better. What good is that if all their programs are just in Arabic.

With regards to "our responsibility" to develop the masjids.

I'd like you to try that. First, you as a woman wouldn't even be welcome in our Masjid because there is no official place for women to pray. Women are discouraged from even attending the Friday Khutbah.

With regards to the youth taking over, I find it hard because the Board/Management of the Masjid is elderly immigrant men who are distrustful of the youth.

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Sincerity said...

Alhamdulillah we have already started many initiatives in different Desi Masajids (with some help from ICNA Aunties) to start Sunday School for kids, Saturday Halaqas for English speaking crowd and Friday nights for sisters.
Was it easy? Of course not, we had to go through many of ''u Wahabis'' ..''do it @ home'' however consistency and patience paid off as we are currently running these classes in 4 different Masajids in Brooklyn =D Alhamdulillahi Rabbil Alameen


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