Feeling Welcome at the Mosque 

Are More Younger Muslims Disconnecting?

By Kiran Ansari

May/Jun 2024

On the first Friday of Ramadan, California-mom Shereen Masood was excited to take her children to the mosque. But instead of being motivated about making the most of this holy month, she was asked to move to the back because she had kids with her — even though her shy daughter didn’t make a sound. 

Her second disappointment was when the khateeb dedicated the sermon to fundraising for another wing at an already large mosque. “They even wanted to raise money for a skiing trip!” Masood recollects. “The imam said you all work for Apple and Google, surely you can donate $1 million.” She now prefers to attend jummah at a multifaith facility where her kids also feel welcome.

The Prophet used to shorten his prayer if he heard a child crying, because he understood the concern the child’s mother would be feeling. He once said, “I begin the prayer, intending to make it lengthy, but then I hear a child crying, so I shorten my prayer because I know the stress facing the mother because of his crying” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Saih Muslim and Sharh al-Sunnah, 3/410, Kitab al-Salah).

Islam does not prohibit women from attending mosques. Ibn Umar (radi Allahu ‘anh) reported, “The Prophet said, ‘Do not prevent women from their share of the mosques, if they seek your permission’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Bk #12, Hadith #824; Sahih Muslim 442-136).

However, women also have the option to pray at home. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, PhD, a former ISNA president, states that while there is no prohibition, Friday congregational prayer isn’t obligatory upon women (“Abu Dawud,” Book 2, Hadith 567). Women used to attend jummah and other prayers in the Prophet’s Mosque during his lifetime. 

Maria Iqbal left the mosque when her kids were little — a time when she really wanted them to have a positive association with the house of God. “Growing up in Pakistan, I used to hear the adhan and was familiar with an Islamic environment. I wanted to replicate that …”

She recalls that all mothers with young children were ushered into the “mommy room,” where chaos reigned. Some mothers weren’t watching their kids, there was a stench of unchanged diapers, the plastic sheet on the floor made a crackling noise anytime someone walked and the sound system was terrible. 

“One Ramadan, I thought ‘I’ll go pray in the larger musalla,’” Iqbal said. “One auntie asked her young daughter why she didn’t have a headscarf. Another one had an issue with her doll. I just felt like there is no place for mothers in this masjid.” 

Although she had a better experience at another mosque, she didn’t feel as connected. “We had donated time, effort and money to the first mosque, and I wanted it to feel like ours. We saw it come up before our eyes, but sadly we couldn’t enjoy any of the facilities we had supported. I know I wasn’t the only one who stopped going there.” 

Iqbal and other young mothers believe the environment needs to be better to make children feel welcome, and that crying children should not be a huge issue. She suggested there be some “father’s rooms” (gasp!) or hired babysitters who could keep the children engaged while parents prayed. 

“I admit Ramadan is usually a mess in the sisters’ section,” said Mufti Wahajuddin (imam, Tawheed Center, Farmington Hills, Mich.). “This Ramadan, we made arrangements for the women in the gym so that they have a larger space for prayer.” 

He believes all mosques should have specific programming for different demographics like reverts and sisters. His mosque’s empowerment committee, led by a revert sister, helps plan the mother-daughter and mommy-and-me events. 

“The group that I feel is getting a little distant in my mosque is the youth. But again, I think that’s across the board,” Wahajuddin said. “Most mosques are trying to do as much as they can to attract youth, but they either get influenced by their friends or go to the masjid closest to the best basketball court.” 

Reverts Feel Sidelined

Kansas City, Miss., mother Kaitlin stopped going to the mosque regularly ten years ago, after she had her son. 

“As a revert, I was totally new to learning a lot of things,” Kaitlin shared. “People’s way of correcting me put me off, because it would go from one person from one madhhab (school of thought) correcting me to another person from another madhhab correcting me again. Had I not had the support of other friends through MSA and the ICNA revert program, things would have been much harder.”

She also felt that mothers with children were not welcome, for the designated area was uncomfortable, cramped and lacked rules. Some kids were left unattended and people were either shushing kids or shaming mothers. 

“The kids were just being kids. They were not really disruptive,” Kaitlin said. “I was very disheartened when I was shamed for nursing my baby modestly in an all-women’s section. It was the ‘masjid regulars’ who were doing this. The same faces were shaming other younger women too.”

She moved to another masjid, one whose imam gave specialized classes for reverts and taught Arabic and Islam from a revert’s lens. However, “mosque politics” led to his dismissal. “The political motives were really upsetting for us reverts,” Kaitlin added. “He was providing a service that we were unable to find elsewhere.”

She then tried the town’s newest mosque. However, her hopes were dashed. “We didn’t feel as represented in the programming,” she recollects. “Most people were from one ethnicity, either a physician or engineer, and contributing to a certain monetary level. We felt like outsiders.” 

Other issues were being asked if they were a “member.” Some guest speakers made them feel alienated. They felt the board members were dismissive of diversity of thought. They wrote [unanswered] letters to the board. It felt like “a monopolized old boys club,” usually consisting of mosque founders. Even though they had one or two women on the board, no allowances were made for their schedules.

Kaitlin enjoyed the vibes in the different mosque-scape she saw in Washington, D.C. and Dallas. It could be because she was a visitor, but the programs seemed very accommodating and it looked like everyone was welcome.

She happily reports that she finally found a place she likes. “The new imam seems like a breath of fresh air! It’s quite the drive for me, but since they have programs for all ages and backgrounds, I have made my way there.”

A People Problem, Not a Mosque Problem

To be fair, not every Muslim feels unmosqued. In fact, many keep attending despite some issues. 

Aliuddin Hassan believes the mosque is a sacred place where one comes to pray and connect with God. He feels that sometimes we forget that its purpose isn’t to be a social center. Socializing may occur, but we shouldn’t forget its main purpose. 

“What do you mean by feeling unwelcome?” Hassan asked. “People can be rude and unfriendly, but that’s a people problem, not a masjid problem, unless there are specific rules that outcast you. In general, I don’t like correlating people’s actions with a masjid’s character.”

For instance, when his wife attends Mosque A, she feels women stare at her in a strange way when she isn’t wearing a black abaya. … However, she won’t stop going because of that. She just prefers to go to Mosque B.”

Hassan understands that this is only possible in larger cities with multiple mosques. He reminds us that Abu Hurayra (radi Allahu ‘anh) reported that our Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “From the people that will be granted shade under Allah’s throne on a day where there will be no shade but His, is someone whose heart is attached to the mosques (“Sahih al-Bukhari,” “Sahih Muslim” and “Riyad al-Salihin,” Introduction, hadith 449).

Buraidah (radi Allahu ‘anh) reported, the Prophet said, “Convey glad tidings to those who walk to the mosque in the darkness, for they will be given full light on the Day of Resurrection” (Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud, “Riyad as-Salihin 1058, Book 8, Hadith 68).

“Now I need that shade and that light on the Day of Judgment, so becoming unmosqued isn’t an option for me,” concluded Hassan. 

Getting Involved

“When I manage to get to jummah early, I see (imam and religious director) Sheikh Hassan (Mostafa Ali) and Sheikh Tariq (Musleh), outreach director of the Mecca Center in Willowbrook, Ill., outside the musalla greeting everyone,” said Rukhsana Iqbal. “They know me through my work, as I serve on a couple of committees at the mosque. However, I often see them greeting families before and after salah every week. Perhaps this is another nudge to get involved.” 

Wahajuddin notes, “There’s usually a demographic at every mosque that complains a lot, but doesn’t really get involved in helping out.” 

For 19 years, Nadia Ahmed has been attending the same masjid, one associated with a long-standing Islamic school that she didn’t attend. Many of the attending families are its former students, family members or alumni who make it feel like they “own” the place. Even though Ahmed has volunteered for several years, she always felt sidelined. That didn’t deter her. 

“I feel I’m serving the House of God, so I continued,” Ahmed said. “Thanks to some volunteer training at college, I was also able to win over the difficult aunties at jummah and taraweeh.”

Now she’s a regular attendee, finds her spot to pray, says salam to whoever is on her right and left and focuses on her ‘ibada

“I don’t wait for others to initiate salam, as we don’t know what anyone is going through,” Ahmed said. “My focus is just to find some peace and focus on traditional ‘ibada (worship). I don’t feel the need to be welcomed …. I feel welcomed by God. So many people don’t even go for jummah. The fact that we frequent the mosque is because God has opened our hearts toward it, and that is a huge blessing.” 

Whenever she has suggestions, she goes to the mostly male management — and they have listened respectfully. She has even seen some of her suggestions implemented. 

“I’m not super religious or anything, but some life lessons have taught me to be more grateful for what we have instead of complaining about what we do not.” 

Kiran Ansari is the assistant editor of Islamic Horizons. She feels blessed to raise her children in the suburbs of Chicago, which is home to mosques in every shape, size, and structure. 

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