Salam Dear Sister,
Thank you for contacting us.
In Islam, mosques are not just places for prayers. Mosques are meant to be—in modern terminology—community centers.
In my view, the role of the mosque in Islam is one of the major things that have to be reformed before the Muslim nation is capable of recovering from its present status.
How do we Muslims judge what the role of the mosque is from what is not?
The answer is clear: by referring to the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him). A quick survey reveals the following roles for the Prophet’s mosque during his lifetime.
A place for prayers for all
The mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the main place for the believers to meet for collective prayers five times a day.
This is, sadly, the one and only role that most mosques are playing now.
However, there is still a major difference, which is that the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was opened for everybody, men and women, old and young, Arab and non-Arab.
For evidence, refer to numerous hadiths narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, for example, under the chapters referring to mosques.
There are currently shortcomings in mosques in this area in the following senses:
The Prophet’s mosque was different. There was only one area for everybody to pray.
Women prayed behind men in their own lines, and the rationale was clear: Islam avoids that men and women have close physical contact while praying to God.
Praying around the Ka`bah is an exception to this rule for the obvious reason of space limits.
Banning women from mosques happened a couple of decades after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) despite the protest of some Companions who narrated the hadith:
Do not prevent the maids of Allah from visiting the houses of Allah (the mosques).
The Arab Mosque, The Indian Mosque, The Somali Mosque…
We see, especially in the West nowadays, mosques for Arabs and, in the same vicinity, mosques for Indians, mosques for Turks, and yet others for Africans, etc. All of this is non-Islamic.
The Prophet’s Companions were from all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life, and they all prayed together.
No Mosque for Small Children
We also see some people banning small children from entering the mosque, which is also contrary to the tradition of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
According to several hadiths, the Messenger of Allah welcomed children to the mosque.
The Messenger of Allah came out to us for one of the two later prayers [Thuhr Asr], carrying Hasan or Hussein. The Prophet then came to the front and put him down, said Takbir for the prayer and commenced praying. During the prayer, he performed a very long prostration, so I raised my head and there was the child, on the back of the Messenger of Allah, who was in prostration. I then returned to my prostration. When the Messenger of Allah had offered the prayer, the people said: “O Messenger of Allah! In the middle of your prayer, you performed prostration and lengthened it so much that we thought either something had happened or that you were receiving revelation!” He said: “Neither was the case. Actually, my grandson made me his mount, and I did not want to hurry him until he had satisfied his wish” (Reported by Nasaa’i, Ibn Asaakir, and Haakim).
A place for socialization
The praying community used to connect in the mosque.
And it is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to ask about any Companions (male or female) whom he missed from the mosque for a day or two to help them if they needed help or visit them if they were sick.
A place for da`wah (calling to Islam)
There are several authentic hadiths that demonstrate that the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the normal place for those who would like to ask about Islam to come and ask.
Non-Muslims were not banned or discouraged from the mosque as we, sadly, see today.
A place for celebration
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised the Companions to “announce the wedding ceremonies, hold them in mosques, and make them known by beating the drums,” and the mosque is the place for all that.
`Eid day was also a celebration day when the “Ethiopians used to play with their spears in the mosque,” as the Prophet’s wife `A’ishah narrated.
She also reported that she watched them while standing beside the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the mosque.
A place for meetings and deliberation
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to gather his Companions in the mosque to discuss serious matters (like wars, treaties, famines, etc) and come up with decisions about them.
The mosque was also the mustering place for the soldiers of the Islamic army, from which they started their march for wars and to which they returned when they came back.
A place for medical care
Before the Islamic civilization developed hospitals a couple of centuries later, the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a place for care of the wounded in wars and similar crises.
A place for education
The illiterate used to learn how to read and write in the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Muslims developed their whole Islamic civilization based on the education they got in mosques.
The oldest existing university was founded by a Muslim woman!
The only activity that was forbidden in the mosque—in addition to the forbidden immoral acts—was buying and selling and related things.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) made it a point that mosques are not to be used for material gains. Otherwise, there is much evidence that the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was simply a “community place” that was full of all sorts of activities.
I hope this answer is satisfactory. Thank you and please keep in touch.
(This is from AboutIslam’s archives and was previously published.)