Mosques are the epicenter of Muslim religious and social congregation. Mosques are the place of worship where Muslims in a community gather five times a day for daily prayers and for the weekly Friday afternoon congregations or for the larger prayer congregations for Ramadan and Eid festival (the two Islamic festivals in a year).
Mosques are comprised of separate prayer halls for men and women, having a wall marked with a “mihrab”, indicating the direction of Mecca for Muslims to face when praying, a place for ablution, toilets and banquet area. Some Islamic centers also provide gymnasium and Islamic library. Often a separate building or rooms are built as a living area or home for the Masjid Imam.
Although in America it’s not very common, however, some of the larger mosques with bigger communities also comprise external architecture like Minarets (tall slender tower) and Domes (Qubba in Arabic). Domes are a symbolic representation of the vault of heaven. The minaret is one of the earliest characteristics of Islamic architecture and is used by the muezzin, the person who chants the “Adaan”, inviting and announcing the worshippers for prayers. In America, the public announcement is not legal and hence the minarets only have an architectural and symbolic significance.
In America, mosques also known as Islamic Centers are not just the place for worshipping. They offer the communities to gather for activities like Ramadan Fast-breaking (Iftar) parties, weekly or monthly potluck, Muslim party rentals, study and learning programs from SAT to leadership courses or for lectures from prominent national and local Sheikhs on Islamic and social topics and issues.
Many Islamic centers invite local political leaders like mayors and state governors to mobilize the community for political engagement and for election campaigning. There are also yearly carnivals, family nights and picnics arranged by various Islamic Centers in America.
There are 2,106 mosques in the United States as of 2010, and the nation’s largest mosque is in Dearborn, Michigan. There are over 100 mosques in five boroughs of New York City. According to some sources, the first American mosque building was built in Biddeford, Maine founded in 1915 by Albanian Muslims.
Mosques have also received scrutiny and resistance from the American population and law enforcing agencies over the years and particularly after 911. The latest such resistance was recorded back in 2010 with the opening of “Ground Zero mosque” few blocks from 9/11 memorial. A conservative blogger Pamela Geller during her 2010 “Stop the Islamization of America” campaign, planned the protest rallies to what she termed as “resistance to an effort to insult the victims of 9/11”.
Since 911, NYPD ran covert operations to spy on Muslims collecting intelligence on ordinary people at mosques and Islamic Schools. It was reported that the surveillance extended across at least 20 mosques. Last year in 2018, NYPD settled the lawsuit from 2012 after the report revealed that NYPD illegally spied on mosques and student groups in New Jersey. As per NYPD, the blanket surveillance failed in producing any significant intelligence lead.
Since 911, there are many Islamic center sites across the country that have been targeted for vandalism and criminal acts and also there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion.
Government officials in some areas have yielded to this religious bigotry by treating Islamic centers and mosques differently by denying zoning permits citing objections like traffic, parking and noise levels without the compelling interest that is required by the law. Organizations like ACLU have come to the help of the American Muslim community by defending their rights infringed by the government or private citizens.
According to the FBI, 94 percent of terrorist attacks carried out inside the United States between 1980 to 2005 have been by non-Muslims. American Muslims condemn and deplore terrorism of all forms irrespective of where it happens and by whom its conducted. There has not been a single case of terrorism in the US that has been reported to have been hatched and framed within the walls of Islamic centers or Mosques.
Muslims in America hate organizations like ISIS and AlQaeda as much as any other American. We urge our non-muslims fellow Americans to read and study about Islam and Muslims instead of relying on mainstream media organizations and unethical politicians who are selfish and wicked opportunist for their vested interest.
Xenophobia plays right into the hands of organizations like ISIS who want to see divisiveness in a western society based on religion. Terrorist ideology can be fought by uniting against it and not by hate and discrimination against the fellow Muslim citizens. Americans need to stand up together as one body against any kind of hate and violent extremism.