Yousef Abdallah is the northeast regional manager for Islamic Relief. He has travelled the world raising money for the world's neediest children and has travelled across the USA performing fund raisers and raising awareness of some of the hardships others across the world are going through. He had visited hundreds of masajid over the last few years.
You have travelled the entire country and have seen many, many different mosques. What are some common problems that you have noticed?
There are overarching problems and there are individual problems. The problems really depend on who is in control of the masjid. The overarching problem or issue that is facing the masjid today is that the time of the individual masjid has passed. The masjid couldn't adapt to this new change for a need to be a part of something bigger, a bigger vision. Masjids today as just one component or a separate entity. They are like small governments that do not want to merge into a larger government, or group. I believe now as a muslim community, we are at a time where we need institutional work. Those small groups, or the individual masjids, played their role and they were really useful in the past thirty years but now they are having problems accepting the fact that it needs to change. The masjid has to become a small component of a larger picture, of a larger umbrella. That umbrella, institutional work, is not there, and this is creating a huge problem for the masjid because the masjid had a certain capacity to answer to the needs of the community when the community was small, but now the communities are large.
We're no longer the immigrant generation anymore- we have second and third generations who have completely different needs and the masjid is not able to answer these needs. So, yes there are overarching goals which is moving from one stage to another and the whole community is failing to find or establish institutions and the masjid is also having a hard time transitioning from small masjid controlled by a board of a few number of people to a masjid that is part of a bigger picture and a bigger message. On an individual level, financial problems really effect every single masjid. The masjids and schools in America are always in debt.
Do you see the second and third generation suffering from the lack of foresight that some of our masajid have in choosing to stay ethnic based?
The second generation is in much better shape than third generation. The third generation is really suffering. The masjid was built for the immigrant community, definitely. Some masajid were able to transition and deal with the second generation- some, but very few- I can count them on my right hand in the US. Probably in every state, you will find 2-3 masajid that can deal with the second generation, yet they are not able to deal with the third generation. The second generation has a mix- they received a lot from their parents- the immigrant parents, so they have the mix between the American society and the old way of thinking so they are able to survive. The third generation will not be able to survive if we keep running the masjid the way we've been running it.
Many masajids speak their own native language, whether it's Arabic, Bangladeshi, Urdu, Turkish and our children are having a hard time understanding the message or getting the message through that language . We have to realize that we cannot be hard-headed and say, "This is the way…either you understand Arabic…or you can't." We have to deliver the message, it doesn't matter the language. God did not specify a language making due towards Him…the message has to go to people in the language they understand and they understand best- the third generation understands the English language the best. So we have to be able to transition to that level.
We respect the immigrant generation, and you know, I am one of them. I'm sure the 2nd and 3rd generation realize the value the first generation added to this country. But it's about time for us to start including others. I cannot stay stuck in the past with one generation. I have to be able to add and accept everyone. Among this acceptance, I believe masjids have to start within their organization providing support for this generation, whatever it takes- from the Friday sermon, to adding new programs, hiring people from the 2nd and 3rd generation- not just hiring them, but the board. The board is playing a huge role in the masjid in America. And if you go to the boards, 99% of the board members are immigrant generation. How can an immigrant generation be able to understand what the 2nd and third generation needs are? We need to include them in every level of our work. From the board, to the hiring, to the volunteer level- everything.