We’d like to say that the role of the mosque, as far as Islam is concerned, is not restricted to being a place for performing Islamic rituals as it also plays an important social and political role. Moreover, praying in congregation in the mosque teaches people unity. The mosque also serves as a meeting place where people discuss their problems and try to find solutions for them.
The late Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali, a prominent Egyptian Muslim scholar, states the following: Allah Almighty says: ((This lamp is found) in houses which Allah hath allowed to be exalted and that His name shall be remembered therein. Therein do offer praise to Him at morn and evening.) (An-Nur 24:36)
The “houses to be exalted”, referred to in the above verse, are the places where people pray to Allah where before they were just normal grounds with no restrictions and later have become places restricted only to people who have performed ablution. And after being ordinary places they have become places that connect people to Allah and bring them closer to Him. They have become places of spiritual transcendence where people’s souls move from this material world and supplicate to Allah and glorify Him.
On entering the mosque one day, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) found a man called Abu ‘Umamah sitting, so he said: “Why are you sitting in the mosque while it is not prayer time?” Abu ‘Umamah replied, “I am heavily in debt and overburdened with worries.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Shall I teach you words that if you say them, all your worries will go away and your debts will be paid off?” He said, “Yes, Prophet of Allah.” He said, “You should say in the morning and at night: ‘O Allah! I seek refuge in You from distress and sorrow, from helplessness and laziness, from miserliness and cowardice, from being heavily in debt and from being overcome by men.’” He pronounced this and he was able to pay off his debts and became free of worries and sadness.(Reported by Al-Bukhari)
This is an example of a man who was exposed to the hardships of life but instead of seeking help from a rich person he sought refuge in Allah who did not disappoint him.
It is true here that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was surprised to find a man at the mosque before prayer time, but he always urged Muslims to go to the mosque for the prayer.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The congregational prayer exceeds that of individual prayer by twenty seven degrees. Whoever performs ablution properly then goes to the mosque, every step that he takes erases one of his bad deeds and elevates him a degree (in Paradise). If the person enters the mosque and starts praying, the angles will implore Allah to forgive him and have mercy on him saying: ‘O Allah! Have mercy on him and forgive him.’ And one remains (receiving an equal reward as if he is still) in prayer as long as he is awaiting (the coming) prayer.”
Muslims should go to the mosque day and night and should love being there. `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud says: “No one should miss the prayer at the mosque except the ill and the hypocrites.” He also added that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us the means to guidance and one of these means is praying at the mosque.
`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud also said that every person has a place for prayer at his house, but if people stop going to mosques and pray in their houses, they will be abandoning the Prophet’s Sunnah, and if Muslims abandon their Prophet’s Sunnah they will go astray.
The majority of jurists are of the opinion that praying in congregation at the mosque is a confirmed Sunnah and that gathering people is one of the objectives of Islam.
In this way, Islam fights those who claim to be religious while isolating themselves from society, claiming that they are much more pious than those around them, and that interacting with people would impair their faith. It also fights those who claim to be religious yet are afraid of facing society and interacting with others. Maybe they are the people referred to by ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) when he was asked about a person who fasts and stays up all night praying but does not go to Friday prayers at the mosque or join any congregational prayers. He said that he was among the people who will be cast in Hell-Fire.
The role of the mosque is not to amass people and make it crowded. It is meant to encourage people to interact with each other on a basis of love and cooperation and seeking Allah’s pleasure. Actually, every Muslim should try to reach such a level of harmony with others, and get rid of selfishness that isolates him from others. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah supports those who unite, and those who split from the group will be cast in Hell-Fire.”
One of the roles of the mosque is teaching Muslims discipline by standing in rows. Unfortunately, Muslims do not respect this in spite of the great stress that Islam makes on discipline and standing in rows in mosques. Ibn Mas`ud reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Stand in line and stand shoulder to shoulder. Do not leave gaps for the devil to stand in. Whoever fills a gap in a line, Allah will reward him. And whoever breaks the line, Allah will turn away from him.”
I have read that during the war in Persia lines of Muslim fighters were drinking at a river. When one soldier dropped his cup in the river, the whole row would wait for him till he got it back then they all would move together again. In this way they acted with the spirit of the group and were not fragmented. It is a shame to see Muslims nowadays fragmented and overwhelmed by selfish desires with everyone caring about his own interests, regardless of others. This selfishness is what kills tens of people while performing the rituals of Hajj. Thus the mosque is not doing its role properly.
One of the roles of the mosque is to raise the cultural standard of people through two main ways:
First: dwelling on the meaning of the verses recited during prayers as well as listening to the Friday sermon (Khutbah). The Qur’an is a comprehensive Book that tackles tenets, rituals, morals laws, things pertaining to international and local affairs, and descriptions of the universe; and it tells us of past history just as it tells us about Allah and His attributes.
Actually, the Qur’an was the main source of knowledge for our predecessors because mastery of language allowed them to derive everything from its verses. It is no wonder that those who listened to the Qur’an recited by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) attained the highest degree of intellectual and moral sublimity and later spread guidance all over the world.
Second: listening to the lectures that were regularly given at mosques in all fields of knowledge. Even poetry used to be recited at mosques, and the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to listen to Hassan ibn Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him) while reciting his political poetry.
Moreover, it is well known that the four famous schools of thought started at mosques, and the great Imams used to give their students lectures about Jurisprudence (Fiqh) that contains everything related to man from the cradle to the grave.
The mosque is the spiritual stronghold that produces fighters in the cause of Allah. Al-Azhar resisted the French occupation two centuries ago and the British colonial masters in the beginning of the 20th century. It embraced the Egyptian Copts who helped their Muslim brothers and participated in the resistance against the British occupation.
It is worth mentioning here that during the Crusades, a Muslim woman who was praying in a mosque listened to the Khutbah on Jihad, so she cut off her braids and went to the Imam asking him to use them as a bridle. Such a move aroused men’s enthusiasm and motivated them to fight. And this spirit was the reason behind defeating the occupation forces.