The Community’s Responsibility in Regard to the IAGD Expansion in Light of the Fatawa

by Sharif Gindy, Ph.D.

When the expansion committee discussed moving the prayer area to a different location, some of us on the committee felt that we should probably get some information on the fiqh of that issue, but it did not seem to be a big issue to any of us then. However, a few members of the community were extremely opposed. The committee honestly brushed their concerns aside and opted to avoid ‘fiqh shopping’ by avoiding the issue entirely. To the committee, it seemed logical that changing the purpose of one room in the building and relocating the prayer area to another part of the building was no big deal. Prayer wouldn’t be interrupted we weren’t planning to tear down the building or abandon it, just repurpose a couple of spaces inside the same building.

As time passed and other concerns about the expansion began to arise, more voices were heard. The small group of stalwarts continued to insist that ‘once a prayer area, always a prayer area’ and it would be unacceptable to repurpose it. A larger group began to wonder, but felt the issue was a ‘gray area’ and it could be avoided with a different floor plan. The larger portion of our community didn’t think it was an issue at all.

The protest of the expansion has continued and people from each of those three groups have tried to find ways to halt the administration’s plans in favor of alternate plans that would cost less, be built more quickly and that could avoid the fiqh issue entirely. Some individuals took it upon themselves to get fatawa to be sure we, as a community, got sincere guidance. May Allah SWT bless those people… they woke us all up.

The first fatwa from Jamia Darul Uloom in Karachi, Pakistan was received in August, 2012. (Plans for expansion had begun in 2009.) That fatwa helped differentiate a shari masjid (as a place built and established as a masjid) from a mussalla (temporary prayer area). After establishing that definition, the fatwa said: The ruling of a shariah masjid is that it stays a masjid until the Day of Judgment.”  Digest that concept for a moment.

The fatwa went on to say: “…it is not permissible to use the old shariah masjid for any other purpose than a masjid. And at this place, it is not permissible to do any type of work that is against the etiquettes of the masjid. In this case, converting the old masjid into a social hall or classrooms is absolutely not permissible. Instead, it is mandatory that this prayer area be included in the new masjid.”  The implications of this means much of what currently goes on at IAGD needs to be rethought. We refer to the entire building as ‘the masjid’ and treat the prayer area as one component of the building, but we need to rethink what is done in every corner of the building, relearn the etiquettes of the masjid, and more.

The fatwa was given to community leaders in Ramadan. Within 24 hours a copy of a personal email with an ‘opinion’ from the secretary general of the North American Fiqh Council was sent out to the community as the ‘proof’ our leadership was using to justify the existing expansion plans.  The expansion committee and the Board of Directors were unaware an opinion has been sought from the Fiqh Council. Later, in the Trustees’ letter to the community, fatawa from the Indian subcontinent were demeaned as outdated and irrelevant.

In September, 2012, I went to Cairo and sought a fatwa on our specific situation from Al-Azhar. That fatwa also said that a masjid could never be repurposed. Once a masjid, always a masjid.  By this time, many people who felt the repurposing of the sanctuary was ‘a gray area’ had begun to see there was more importance to this issue than they had first realized. People began to do research on their own and ask more questions. We recently received another fatwa from Australia also saying that the sanctuary could not be repurposed. A masjid in Atlantic City, New Jersey received a fatwa not permitting them to abandon their masjid even though it is being surrounded by a casino complex, unless it becomes absolutely positively impossible to operate in the old site. A mufti from England has contacted Sr. Ann in his research on a similar issue and found 26 fatawa totally opposed to repurposing a masjid or even the space above or below it…and not one fatwa supporting moving or repurposing the sanctuary.  Yet the IAGD leadership is still willing to move forward with their expansion plans.

The more this debate continues and the administration stubbornly persists, the more people are coming to their senses and realizing that this is not an issue to brush aside lightly. Thanks to a few individuals’ staunch concerns, the community is becoming enlightened. Those ‘ultra conservatives’ were right all along. It was arrogance and ignorance that chose to dismiss their concerns.  Some of us are waking up to our responsibility in light of the fatawa.

With the fatawa answers, we now know what we did not know before, admittedly I also learned from these fatawa answers. We no longer have the excuse of being unaware or ignorant. As a community, we have a solemn responsibility to avoid the abyss our leaders are pushing us toward. We are in the midst of an election to place new members on the Board of Directors. We have an opportunity to enact change there now. We cannot continue with leaders who will follow the same path. It’s a fard ‘ayn (duty of a Muslim)to cast your ballot with conscience and vote for those who will respect the ulema, listen to the community and seek a well thought out solution to the expansion issue with care, study and imaan.

Even individuals who frequent the masjid but are not members have a responsibility. While they do not have voting privileges, they are still Muslim brothers and sisters and their voices cannot be dismissed. They have the duty to educate, discuss with wisdom, and give good advice to those who are still confused. This advice was also included as part of the Azhar fatwa.

I support Fasahat Hamzavi, Wajahat Khan and Asim Shuttari and recommend that you vote for them. I have worked with these brothers and trust they will be sensitive to all the issues and help lead us out of this quandary into a brighter future, insha’Allah.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Stalwart 1 on November 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I just wanted to share another important aspect of the evolution of FIQH ( Islamic jurisprudence ) . The base of any Fiqhi ruling ,given by any MADHAB , is either Quran or Sunnah or any judgement given by the righteous califs [Abu Bakr (R), Omar(R),Othmaan(R) and Ali (R)] or other SAHABAH. It is necessary to reason the judgment with any of the three if one can not find any reason in these three than it is unacceptable .
    These are not my words , it is a pre-requisite for an Islamic ruling .

    I want to see the reasoning for Mr Zulfiqar Ali Shah’s opinion.


  2. Posted by Maulvi Bashar on November 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Jazak’Allah brother Sharif. Your article very accurately summarizes this issue. I think you only missed one important point. The last line of the Al-Azhar fatwa reads, “and strike on the hand of the transgressor.” This makes the issue fard kifaya, or a collective duty of the community, to stop by any means possible the changing of the masjid to a social hall.

    I do not understand how the board of directors or board of trustees can think that it is okay to proceed with their plan. We now have over 30 fatawa saying that it is absolutely not permissible to change the masjid to a social hall. The only opposing opinion is from the fiqh council, which does not look official.

    I am surprised that our imams have not made their positions clear on this issue. It is the duty of the community to ensure that the masjid is not changed to a social hall. Our masjid will remain a masjid until the day of judgement and we cannot allow our leaders to do something that is so clearly not permissible.


  3. Posted by Anonymous on November 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    It is unbelievable to see that the elders and decision makers of a religious organization are not paying any heed to a major religious concern .Not even this but they don’t even have a logical reason to counter the raised concern and they still want to work according to their plan.
    I hope they can learn from books where arrogance leads ….


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