How to Create More Welcoming Mosques for Converts?

The Institute for Social Policy & Understanding (ISPU) conducted important research relating to mosques in America. Reimagining Muslim Spaces addresses how to make mosques more welcoming to women, youth and converts.

ISPU researchers asked American Muslims what would a dynamic, inclusive and welcoming mosque look like? When Doors Reopen after lockdown, how do we create more welcoming mosques for converts?

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In this recent webinar, ISPU discuss their findings for converts, and interview three guests from the USA. Dr. Ihsan Bagby, Dr. Tamara Gary and Sheikh Abdullah Oduro gave their insights and creative ideas on how to make mosques comfortable and inclusive for converts to Islam.

We often find mosques alienating to some people, especially women, converts and youth, who end up leaving the mosque altogether. They become “unmosqued”.

Mosque leaders have complained about the lack of volunteers for organizing special events and programs for converts. They also see a lack of commitment from attendees to the mosque. And mosque attendees complain about the lack of unity and the lack of sense of belonging to the mosque. So how do we improve the current situation?

Below are some of the findings of this research, followed by the insights of the three guests.

Why it Matters?

One of the biggest turn-offs for converts is to visit a mosque and then be criticized, frowned upon, or rudely corrected.

A welcoming, inclusive, and supportive environment is necessary for converts to build lasting friendships and feel truly connected.

How to make mosques welcoming?

– Increase volunteers

– Sustain donors

– Increase cleanliness

– Increase spiritual engagement

– Promote stronger more vibrant communities

– Build hubs for hope

– Provide sanctuaries of support in hostile environment

– Grow the next generation of Muslim Americans.

How to foster a welcoming environment?

Form a welcoming committee which will:

– Give salams and assistance to all who enter for Jumu’ah prayer and other events

– Strike up conversations afterwards

– Find out their interests and expertise

– Encourage people to be involved.

According to Pew research, one in five Muslim adults were not raised a Muslim. So, is teaching them most important or socialization?

– Address the social needs of converts

– Develop a mentoring program

Mentors should be trained to shepherd new converts through the initial phase of conversion, and socialize with them, share meals, do activities together and support them.

Dr. Ihsan Bagby

Dr. Ihsan Bagby was the first speaker in this webinar. He shared what he considers the most important factors for converts to feel welcome and engaged in a mosque:

  1. Have a mentor in your mosque who will develop a relationship with the new convert. Socialization is the most important aspect in the life of a convert. The job of a mentor is to be with a convert for a year, contact them, meet them, and befriend them, then educate them.
  2. Develop a support group for converts, whether formal or informal. The mentor is to identify other converts who are interested in helping converts. This group provides a support group to meet at least once a month.
  3. Make sure that every mosque has proper educational material, recommended websites, has good facilitates for their educational experience.
  4. Hold social events for converts especially around major holidays (during Ramadan, American holidays especially Christmas…) events that can give them a sense of belonging to a group. 

Dr. Tamara Gary

The second speaker, Dr. Tamara Gary, then suggested three key factors for making mosques more welcoming for converts:

  1. Reflect on what’s our concept of the sacred space, and what is the purpose of the mosque. The main purpose of the prayer hall is prayer, worship and khutbah. We have to make sure that converts have access to that main space.
  2. Cultural familiarity and positive nostalgia triggers. Converts come to the mosque with certain cultural expectations, which very often are not met. We need to think about what things trigger nostalgia and where converts can really have good feelings in the masjid. We need to think about food, good scents.
  3. Remember that this is a social center. It’s urged to include activities and events that address the social and emotional needs of converts.

Sheikh Abdullah Oduro

The last speaker, Sheikh Abdullah Oduro, recalls his experience with mosques while he was studying in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. He recommends providing videos, seminars, and presentations for those that are in their beginning stages of learning and practicing the basics of Islam.

Also, the cultural relevance is particularly important as that’s the lens in which people look to accept something in general.

These findings are summarized in this ISPU Infographic.

To watch the full webinar, click here.

What else do you recommend our mosques should do to welcome new converts to Islam?

Send us your ideas and thoughts to [email protected]