It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I had decided to take my three-year-old daughter with me to the mosque to pray dhuhr (the afternoon prayer). While we were there, my head in prostration, my daughter running around in the vast open space, I began to wonder what her relationship with the mosque will be when she becomes older. As I sat and reflected, I saw the curtain that separated the women's section from the men's. I thought to myself that it wouldn't be long before my daughter would be separated from me and praying behind a curtain that would prevent her from gaining direct access to speakers and/or people of knowledge. Unfortunately, the issues didn't end there.
Oftentimes I would find myself leaving the mosque annoyed at the cliques and exclusivity that prevented anyone from a different background to feel a strong bond with its community members. I started wondering if others felt the same way. As a second generation American, I did not want to affiliate with a specific ethnic based mosque. Nor did I believe that it was in the spirit of Islam for mosques to have this type of segregation.
My wife and I started having conversations with friends and family who shared common grievances they had with their local mosques. It soon became apparent to us that many of our peers felt the same way but didn't have an avenue in which they felt empowered to voice their concerns. Some friends mentioned the fact that they didn't necessarily have any bad experiences at their mosques but it just didn't feel like a relevant part of their daily lives, and others had found their spiritual edification through community activism outside the walls of the mosque. We felt the need to document these experiences and UnMosqued was born.
UnMosqued is a documentary film which aims to answer the question, "What is the role of the mosque in America?" According to a 2012 Pew Research Study, more and more young people in America are claiming no religious affiliation. Muslims living in America are not immune to this phenomenon. The goal of the film is to shed light on some of the internal struggles we are facing as a community in order to spark a conversation that will allow us to course correct our future and retain our Muslim youth. This means we need relevant and engaged Muslim communities that are open to have this dialogue.
We began this project 9 months ago, and have since traveled to many states across America in an attempt to understand why people are not engaged with their local mosques. We began to see patterns in mosques that are consistent with those found in the mosque studies of 2011. Most mosque leadership is above the age of 52 and is disconnected from the realities of what young people growing up in America really face, that there is an extremely high number of walls/barriers in mosques that deter women from attending, a lack of fiscal transparency, and the fact that many communities do not feel a real need for convert programming thus not retaining many converts that often find themselves without a strong support system as they embrace a new religious identity.
It is no secret that as American Muslims, we face many external struggles. Some of these include Islamophobia, government spying, the extra time we spend getting patted down by TSA agents, the recent NYPD surveillance, Bill O'Reily, Pamella Gellar etc. However, we believe that the best way to resolve our external problems is to develop internally healthy communities. This cannot be done without having the difficult conversations that lie ahead. We have to claim our narrative by being honest with where we are while maintaining steadfastness in changing the status quo. Let us not settle for mediocrity. Instead, let us strive towards building amazing mosque communities across the nation that are part and parcel of our everyday lives.
We have launched a kickstarter campaign to help with the post production funds needed to complete the film. We expect to release UnMosqued in 2014.
Follow Ahmed Eid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AhmedGEid