When I received an email newsletter from a student organization this morning, my eyes were caught on this:
Friday March 12: "Mosque Open House"
Yea, that's right... Friday during the Juma'ah prayer time, the Muslim community decides to hold an open house. Now, how can that be? Would the Non-Muslims then listen to the Khutbah (sermon) delivered by the Imam? Why not? As far as my experience goes with the previous "Mosque Open House" occasions, things went pretty well. Chairs were lined up just like the saffs (the formation of straight lines of prayer); non-Muslim men with Muslim men in front and non-Muslim women with Muslim women at the back.
The event attracted many curious minds certainly and of various religious backgrounds and ethnicity. Caucasians are common sight, but there are also people of Japanase and Korean origin. By the way, the "Open House" is for "Islam Awareness Week" program for the campus. So, this week is kind of special with more stuff going on around the Mosque and campus with speeches, seminars, performances and exhibitions regarding Islam. But even during "normal" Juma'ah prayer, there will be chairs readily lined up (though not as many as the Awareness Week) for visitors who would like to come and lend their ears to the Khutbah.
Why not we emulate this example back home? No, the point is not with the intent of proselytize (convert) the visitors (I refuse to say da'wah because da'wah can be interpreted much larger in context other than to proselytize alone). Rather, to introduce the visitors to what Islam is and who the Muslims are. One of the best way to do this is to open the door of the House of God so that the visitors themselves may witness how the Muslims pray, what kind of speech does the Khatib (the ones who give the sermon) may say, the many kinds of Muslims of various ethnicity and background, and yes, the beauty and vibrant dynamic of the Mosque institution itself.
Every year, we have "Hari Raya Open House" (as well as other festivals) in Malaysia. That is good enough. Why not we expand the already ingrained openness and acceptance in our culture to the Masjid institutions as well? That way, with good intent, more understanding can be achieved. We are rife with the rhetoric of religious diversity and harmony, but if we are asked about what our neighbors and friends who are non-Muslims about what they believe in what are they religious taboos and practices, how many would be able to answer? On the same account, so are theirs.
In Malaysia, we have great opportunities because of the omnipresence of Mosques, unlike in the West where one almost need to pinpoint the location to find a Mosque just to pray. From the humble ones at the corner of a Kampung, to the elegant ones in Putrajaya, each and every Mosque is unique in their own ways in terms of representing the local culture of Muslims inhabiting the particular area. I understand Masjid Putrajaya are open to tourists for viewing, but to reflect the spirit of Islam, there is more than about beautiful marble stones and intricate calligraphy.
Here during Ramadan, you will see people (Muslims and non-Muslims) flocking to the Masjid for good food. Thanks to diversity of Muslims here, we have rotations from Bangladesh food, Arab food, Indonesian food, Pakistani food, American food, etc. etc. that makes us students can't thank God more for free and sumptuous food! Of course, at times, the food are humble or 'not as expected'. But my point is, there is always food during Ramadan, and the food is shared for all. Yes, this is the effort of the community - the local Masjid here does not receive a cent from the government for their activities and maintenance, the wealth comes from the resource of the people.
We can certainly emulate this! You know, in Malaysia, our Bazaar Ramadan is filled with us and certainly there are food provided by the local Masjid. Why not we invite, a day or two, our local non-Muslim neighbors and friends to come to the Masjid and eat with us during the iftar? Even better, invite them to fast for a day (I can tell you youths and teenagers would love this as a challenge to them) with us? Even if they refuse, it is fine because sharing the joy of breaking the fast during Ramadan is what counts... after the hunger and all.
Let us move beyond terms, speeches and languages that may scare and hence prevent our non-Muslim (or even some Muslims!) friends and neighbors to visit and know the Masjid. The Masjid is supposed to be the heart of particular Muslim society who reside at that particular area - it reflects Islam in context of practice within that community. If the Masjid is like a Forbidden Palace, a place reserved and enclosed but to the "elites", then how do we expect the perception of others about Islam to be any different?