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The Globalization of Islam >
Institutionalization: The Creation of the Mosque Culture

The majority of Muslim migrant laborers in the West—whose primary focus was the country they left behind, where they hoped to return with enough assets to restart their lives—demonstrated very little interest in establishing Islamic institutions. Once they decided to settle and raise families in the West, their concern centered on maintaining their children in the faith and creating space for communal activities. Their initial efforts to build mosques were generally hampered by lack of funds. In Europe the early mosques were constructed either by or for diplomats or by the Ahmadiyyah movement in Islam, which sought to convert western Christians to Islam by initiating a mosque-planting program in Europe and North America. Most of the Muslim immigrants in the West today came from Islamic states in which the government organizes, subsidizes, and administers religious institutions. In most of these states civic organizations, especially private Islamic institutions, are deemed suspect and a potential source of undermining the government's legitimacy. Furthermore, the majority of the immigrants are Sunnis, who believe that there is no clergy in Islam; thus the creation and maintenance of Islamic institutions in the West is a new experience for the majority of the Muslim diaspora community.

There is no consistent model or pattern in the West for the establishment of mosques. Each European and North American nation-state, in its efforts to provide for freedom of religious faith and practice, appears to have particular policies that govern the formation, administration, and the tax-free status of religious organizations. Every Muslim community in the West is thus predisposed to organize itself within the juridical boundaries of the place of emigration. The nature and form of its institutions are dependent on what the host country's legal system recognizes as the jurisdiction of Muslim authority. The space as well as the nature of the organizations that can be developed are constrained by the legal parameters of the relationship between the state and religious institutions in each nation-state as well as the policies that each state has toward the immigrant community. This has challenged the Muslim community to ascertain that in the process of taking advantage of or adjusting to these laws, the institutions created in the West are grounded in Islamic precedent and prescriptions. Muslims thus face a variety of legal statutes that govern the establishment of communities and regulate the construction of buildings. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a difference in the kind of jurisdiction that the government has in regulating associations and foundations. The executive of an association is elected by the membership of the group and is accountable to them for changes in policies, while the executive of a foundation can appoint himself or herself. If the leader in any way contravenes the statutes, the membership can protest only through the court system. Thus, while in the 1970s the trend for Muslims in the Netherlands was to incorporate themselves as foundations led by individual leaders, the need for more democratic forms of organization became evident in the 1980s as more groups incorporated themselves as associations.

Institutionalization: The Creation of the Mosque Culture

The founding of mosques is a key method of reinforcing Muslim identity. The mosque is often marked by a tall minaret, the signpost of Islam in the cityscape. The glass-fronted mosque at Kingsland Road, Hoxton, London, has a three-story pencil-thin minaret modeled on those found in traditional Ottoman mosques.

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Both western Europe and North America have the expectation that the organizational unit for religious communities would be an institution similar to the church. Thus, for example, in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands the host governments, as well as concerned church groups, encouraged the establishment of Muslim prayer centers and religious services. Part of the incentive was the need to develop leadership and to locate interlocutors who represent the group. Also operative was the growing apprehension of the potential for the growth of Islamic fundamentalism among the marginalized guestworkers. This eventually led to arrangements with the Turkish and Moroccan governments to supervise the community's religious affairs. Both Morocco and Turkey welcomed the opportunity in an effort to blunt the growth of fundamentalism and to curtail its dissemination in their countries by returning laborers.

Muslim immigrants in the United States began building mosques during the Great Depression, when they realized that they were not returning “home” soon. They held annual conventions to provide a venue for celebrations and an opportunity for their children to meet suitable marriage partners. Women were very active in mosque activities and in fund-raising. By 1954 there were fifty-two Islamic mosques and centers that were members of the Federation of Islamic Associations of the United States and Canada. In 1957, for example, a mosque was built in Washington, D.C., financed and furnished by various Muslim nations to serve the diplomatic community. By 1998 the Muslim population in the Washington metropolitan area had grown to about 50,000, and it is now served by more than 30 mosques and centers that cater to different ethnicities, nationalities, and ideological preferences. With the reopening of the doors of immigration and the repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act in the 1960s, the makeup of the Muslim community in both countries changed dramatically. The new immigrants were scandalized by the compromises made by those who preceded them in integrating into the society, and they set out to create their own ideological mosques with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Jamaat-i Islami of Pakistan.

Institutionalization: The Creation of the Mosque Culture

Most people assume that mosques must have domes and minarets, but actually they can be built in any style or reuse existing structures. This Islamic center in Evansville, Indiana, was a church that has been converted to Muslim purposes.

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The dramatic growth in the number of mosques and Islamic centers in Europe and North America since the 1970s is indicative of the rapid growth of the Muslim population that they serve in the West. This growth is also more directly affected by other factors, such as the availability of funds for such projects. Raising funds locally was an formidable task, given the fact that most of the immigrants were poor and conditioned to have governments provide for their religious needs. Both foreign donors and European governments stepped up to the task. In the 1980s there was a concerted drive to organize Muslims into congregations and to establish institutions in Europe and North America. This mosque movement was spurred by a confluence of a variety of interests, including Muslim governments flush with cash (including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates) and eager to support the nascent Muslim communities in the West. Also actively supporting such efforts were various Christian denominations and Islamists. A few European governments—the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and France—also provided funds for the construction of Islamic centers and mosques. The estimated number of mosques, Islamic centers, and prayer halls currently in the West include 2,000 in Germany, 1,450 in the United States, 1,000 in France, 600 in Britain, 350 in the Netherlands, 300 in Spain, 200 in Italy, 200 in Belgium, 100 in Canada, 100 in Denmark, 40 in Norway, 40 in Switzerland, 40 in Austria, and 35 in Sweden. The ideological mosques established in both Europe and North America have been able to provide a religiously based sense of solidarity in the Muslim community that is capable of transcending ethnic, linguistic, and national divisions. They have been able to integrate a diverse membership that is generally disenchanted with the leadership of the country left behind and therefore lacks the commitment to preserve its national identity. These communities generally believe that nationalism and ethnicity are “un-Islamic,” and they are also opposed to the cultural reproduction of music, dance, art, celebrations, or other forms of entertainment that serve to bind people of the same ethnic or national background.

In many places, the professionals who belonged to the ideological mosques were unable to cater to the needs of the new immigrants. Policies of family reunification which brought large contingents of relatives (aunts, uncles, and grandparents from the subcontinent), as well as the growth of the refugee population from southern Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, have brought to the West a substantial number of people with little or no education. This chain migration has led to the splintering of the mosque population into distinctive groups that identify by nationality, ethnicity, or language. In the process this has also made it possible for Muslims to re-create the sectarian, ideological, and theological divisions that exist overseas; thus the development of mosques or centers persist that identify as Barelwi, Deobandi, Jamaat-i Islami, Ahli Hadith, Shiite, Ismaili, Ahmadiyya, Alawi, Tableeghi, Tahrir, or Hizbollah or affiliate with one of the various Sufi organizations.

Institutionalization: The Creation of the Mosque Culture

The Dar al-Islam Foundation Islamic Center Village was built in Abiquiu, New Mexico, in 1980–1981. Designed by the renowned Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, the mosque is the centerpiece of a complex that includes a school, a clinic, a shopping center, and other public buildings.

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Institutionalization: The Creation of the Mosque Culture

In Europe, ethnic background has generally determined who attends which particular mosque. The mosque on Shearbridge Road in Bradford, England, is a converted church, and most of the Muslims gathered for Friday prayer are originally from Pakistan, as shown by their distinctive clothes.

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Although some of these groups have reestablished themselves in different parts of Europe, on the whole the European patterns have been different, given the fact that the Muslim population was recruited from specific countries. Ethnic backgrounds have therefore generally determined the constitution of the mosques in Europe. In Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany the Turkish mosques are mostly under the supervision of the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Ankara, Turkey (Diyanet Baskanligi). The second largest organization is the Sulaymanci, which runs Quran schools. Also operating among the immigrants are the politically active Milli Gorus and the apolitical Risale-i Nur movement, which is now attempting a reconciliation of religion and science.

Although mosques and Islamic centers cater to about 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population in the West that is involved in organized religion, they meet other needs as well. The mosque functions as a social center, where the community meets for a variety of events that help to cement relationships and to provide communal celebrations. It has become the center for Islamic knowledge and education, where Islam is taught to the next generation and where people can reflect on Islam's meaning in the new environment. The mosque has also become an island of sanity where people's humanity is respected, a haven of security where their self-esteem is restored, where they can find respite from the harassment, discrimination, and humiliation of the social environment. It is a venue for the sharing of experiences, the ratification of norms, and the validating of values, a place where people's identity is affirmed in the community of friends and family and, most important, in the company of fellow believers. As such, the mosque has become a center for the confirmation as well as the dissemination of shared social and cultural values, where community is forged and formalized, where common concerns and visions are shared and reaffirmed. The mosque structure has become the primary symbol not only of the presence of Islam in the West but of its permanence and its future. Its cupolas and minarets are fixtures in the Western urban skyline, set in stone, tile, brick, steel, or concrete. It is the place where the demarcation line between the community and its surrounding culture are located and emphasized, or where they are carefully negotiated and formalized.

Although the message preached in the mosque may vary according to the leadership's ideological commitment, there is a consensus among some religious leaders that Islam is the antidote to what ails Europe and North America. They present Islam as the divinely sanctioned alternative to what prevails in the degenerate society in which many Muslims consider themselves living. Islam stands in condemnation of Western culture, which is depicted as hedonistic and morally depraved, with dysfunctional families, people hooked on drugs, sexual immorality, meaningless lives, and psychological disorders. Islam offers a moral order and promotes a collective responsibility that keeps the youth from being lost. Islam calls for an equitable and just society, obedience to parents and respect for elders; it restores the authority of the parents and provides a sense of purpose in life.

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