In Western Society, It Takes A Mosque to Raise Muslim Family

By , Staff writer of the Christian Science Monitor and Lamis Andoni

EVERY day after work, Ma'een and Fayzeh Khalifa take their three children to the mosque here for prayers. On weekends the children go to the mosque for Arabic classes and other regular community events.

If Mr. and Mrs. Khalifa, who come from Lebanon and the African Mauritius Island, were in their native lands, they would rarely visit the mosque.

But the 1,260 mosques in America are increasingly a focal point of social and family life for Muslims - an emerging subculture of support and community.

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"The activities at the mosque provide us and our children with the opportunity to mix with other Muslims and to uphold Islamic values," says Mrs. Khalifa, wearing a dress coat and an off-white hijab.

The increasing importance of the mosque in America is a revival of a traditional Islamic concept of community worship called Jama'a. In Arabic this means "a like-minded gathering."

At a Friday sermon at the Islamic Center for Southern California in Los Angeles, for example, prayer leader Maher Hathout expounds on the concept to some 1,000 worshippers from various ethnic backgrounds: "We come here to pray for Jama'a ... a cohesive group. If we do not cement relations among individuals ... we defy the notion of Jama'a."

The mosque subculture provides family counseling that public social services could not. Families contribute to the construction and upkeep of the mosque and community buildings. A member who is a carpenter or accountant may render these services as a form of zakat, or mandatory contribution.

Mosques also act as a way station for traveling Muslims. In mosques visited around the country, men stretched out the floor, not only for prayer but also in sleep, having arrived from trips.

At an Orlando, Fla., mosque a weary young Moroccan has just come from Denver to "work for the Mouse" at Disney World. He will stay in the mosque until a fellow Muslim helps him find housing.

Larger Islamic centers use commercial services to help cover expenses. The Khalifas, for example, rent an apartment from the Tempe mosque board of trustees. Indian and Middle Eastern restaurateurs rent space near the mosque to serve worshippers.

Most important, the new subculture offers haven from what many Muslims see as the negative commercial and permissive atmosphere of the larger culture. Parents send teens to mosque activities to keep them from dating and from common adolescent temptations. Families might watch "Islamically correct" videos, use the library, or share a pot luck with other families.

IN addition, the physical structure of the mosque in America has taken on its own identity. American mosque architecture is evolving in a way unique in the Muslim world.

"An American style is emerging," says Omar Khalidi, a specialist on Islamic architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "The style is functional, cost-effective, with fewer embellishments and less decoration."

One feature missing from some US mosques is the minaret, the tall sliver of stone that Muslims climb to call out prayers. In some cases, zoning rights for minarets have been denied when neighbors worried that the prayers might be blasted loudly. Muslim officials, though, say the minaret in America is not used for prayers but is symbolic.

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