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Mosque

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The Oxford Dictionary of Islam What is This? Covers the religious, political, and social spheres of global Islam in the modern world

    Mosque

    The English word mosque comes from the Arabic word masjid, which means “place for (ritual) prostration.” Jami designates the mosque used specifically for Friday communal prayer. Musalla is used for informal areas and open-air spaces for prayer. The mosque's main purpose is to serve as a place for formal worship in daily and Friday prayers. Both men and women attend, although women are typically segregated in a separate area. Mosques often sponsor Quranic recitations and Sufi dhikr (prayer) rites. They are the recommended location for retreats and voluntary vigils, especially during Ramadan. They serve as centers for the collection and distribution of alms and provide shelter and sustenance for the poor and homeless. Pilgrims often visit their local mosques prior to and upon returning from the hajj and lesser pilgrimages. Marriage and business agreements are frequently contracted there, and the dead are brought for funerary prayers. Mosques also serve as educational centers and central meeting points for government opposition in times of crisis. In principle, every knowledgeable Muslim is qualified to preside over ritual prayer and preach, but the leader, or imam, is supposed to be the most learned among them or his designated deputy. A woman may act as the imam where only other females are present.

    Mosques are typically built wherever Muslims have settled in large enough numbers. In some cases they began as prayer spaces in military camps and evolved into buildings as cities developed. In other cases they were built over the sites of temples, churches, and palaces. There are two types of mosques: large state-controlled mosques used for Friday prayer and major communal assemblies, and smaller, private mosques built and operated by civilians. Most were founded and maintained by private charitable donations and waqf, or religious endowments. Shiis and Sufis have been particularly active in the construction of mosques over the tombs of Muhammad , his family, and other holy people. These sites serve as pilgrimage locations and congregational mosques. The mosques of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem hold special status. The Kaaba in Mecca became the center of the hajj, or pilgrimage, rites and the direction to be faced during prayer. Muhammad is buried in the mosque in Medina. The al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem was identified as the site of Muhammad's miraculous Night Journey and ascent into heaven.

    The mosque's central feature is the minbar, or steps from which the Friday sermon (khutbah) is delivered. The minbar emulates the stone platform that the Prophet ascended to give his sermons. It stands next to the mihrab, an ornamental arched niche set into the qiblah, or wall, that indicates the direction of Mecca. Mosques also contain ziyadahs, or walls that hold the ablution facilities, and minarets (towers from which the call to prayer is issued).

    Mosques provide two types of religious education: talim, or instruction in the Quran, hadith, and sometimes law; and tarbiyah, or the building of a moral personality. Historically, scripture and law were taught by individual shaykhs, jurists, or ulama (religious scholars) to students assembled in circles around them according to their own choice. Students often traveled great distances to study with highly reputed scholars. For those coming from the countryside or urban lower classes, mosque education cost little and was the only path to upward mobility. For the urban upper classes and the ulama, mosque education provided access to important positions in the judiciary, state administration, and religious education. Lodging by region of origin and food for the students were provided by revenues from charitable endowments, gifts, donations, and legacies given by the wealthier classes. Upon completion of study, the student was awarded an ijazah, or written statement certifying that the student had successfully studied certain texts with a particular teacher and was now allowed to teach these same texts. At the turn of the nineteenth century the major Sunni mosques providing education were the Great Mosques in Mecca and Medina, Cairo's al-Azhar mosque, Zaytunah in Tunis, and Qarawiyin in Fez. In modern times mosques have continued to serve as centers of religious instruction, inquiry, discussion, and debate, but religious education on the higher levels has been transferred to modern Islamic universities, institutes, and faculties of Islamic religious studies and shariah.

    In modern times, governments have attempted to control mosque administration, the appointment of its officials, and the content of the khutbah in order to direct and control the nature of Islamic debate in society. Preachers are considered to be government employees and are encouraged to discuss religious topics, such as fasting, praying, and respect and obedience to those in authority, rather than current political issues. In contrast, the popular khutbah, which is uncontrolled by the government, is often a highly emotional and topical speech that combines discussions of mainstream Islamic thought and history with national problems and crises interpreted in the context of local politics and international crises related to Muslims. Common themes include the eternal, universal struggle between good and evil, where the West, especially the United States, symbolizes moral and spiritual decadence, and the necessity of jihad, or holy struggle, in the face of injustice. The analysis is usually presented in black and white terms and targets corrupt rulers, inequalities between rich and poor, and the inefficiency of government. Many of these popular preachers oversee large congregations and become prominent social and political voices.

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