UnMosqued film stirs debate among N.A. Muslims

UnMosqued film stirs debate among N.A. Muslims
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UnMosqued’s Atif Mahmud and Ahmad Eid with Chaplain Amjad Tarsin

(March 9, 2014) – UnMosqued, the documentary film that aims to highlight the growing need for reform in North American mosques, is being screened in cities across the continent and generating intense discussions in Muslim communities.

“If you have some tie to the masjid, don’t you want it to become alive and fresh and vibrant – wouldn’t you want that?” Atif Mahmud, a producer of UnMosqued, asked the audience at the Toronto screening held at the University of Toronto on March 4th.  “Would you like to see this thing that my parents and your parents built go away? Would you like to see in 5 years, when you are driving around with your kids saying, ‘we used to pray in that building’; ‘I used to mow the grass of that building a long time ago.’ “

“I don’t want to say that,” Mahmud added. “Instead, I want to say that I did something here.”

According to the producers of the film, the purpose of the documentary is to engage Muslims who have been disconnected from their local mosque and explore the various reasons that have led to this sentiment.

The film has led to a growing ‘unmosqued’ movement across the continent that captures the growing frustration among second- and third-generation Muslims with mosques, a sentiment articulated by the Ahmed Eid, UnMosqued Director, at the Toronto screening.

“I went with my three-year-old daughter to the mosque one day to pray,” said Ahmed Eid. “I turned around and saw the barrier and I started thinking that eventually she will have to go behind the barrier when she gets older and she will not have the same access that I have to the speaker – she will have to sit at the back and listen to him on a TV screen.”

UnMosqued Poster

The documentary addresses the hot button issues of women and youth participation in mosques, transparency of governance, and the hiring of imams who understand the North American context.

According to the American-Mosque 2011 report study, in a little over 30 years, Muslims have established over 2,000 mosques all across the country, and today, only 10% of all Muslims in America attend these mosques.

“The way that the masjid has been built has been very reactionary – a certain number of Muslim gathered in that area and they decide that we need a place to pray,” said Ahmed Eid. “Twenty years later, their kids have to go to school so they built an Islamic school – it is very reactionary.”

“There is no sort of long-term thinking when it comes to these mosques,” added Eid. “We are not really focused, there is no long term vision.”

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UnMosqued screening at University of Toronto

According to The American-Mosque 2011 report, “3/4 of all mosques are dominated by one ethnic group. In most cases this one group is either South Asian, Arab, or African American.”

As Muslims become integrated within North American society and grow up in a diverse multi-racial environment, they have become increasingly uncomfortable to enter a mosque that is predominated by a certain culture, according to the film.

“Millenials and Generation Xers do not have as strong of a relationship with their parents’ country of origin which exacerbates the discomfort they feel when entering ethnic-based masajid,” said Ahmed Eid.  “It may be the degree of friendliness or a lack of ownership that breeds this feeling.”

“Masajid may not be doing enough to attract and retain the youth, which further alienates the future members of the community from using the mosque space for their spiritual growth,” he noted.

While the documentary was produced to stimulate discussion, the producers feel that Muslims are indebted to the sacrifices of the first generation of Muslims who built up the community infrastructure with mosques and Islamic schools. 

“We have to respect the older generations and all the sacrifices that they made, we just can’t ignore them,” said Ahmed Eid. “There is a place for everyone at all times.”

[Photo credit: Qurrat Ansari, The Muslim Chaplaincy at University of Toronto]