A mosque is a place for the worship of God used by Muslims. The English word "mosque" is derived from its Arabic original "masjid", which means place of prostration. In the mosque that Muslims perform their prayers, a part of which includes placing the forehead to the floor.
Mosques play a vital role in the lives of Muslims in the United States. The primary function of the mosque is to provide a place where Muslims may perform Islam's obligatory five daily prayers as a congregation. A mosque also provides sufficient space in which to hold prayers on Friday, the Muslim day of communal prayer, and on the two Muslim holidays, called "Eid", or festival.
A mosque is a place that is specifically dedicated as a place of prayer. However, there is nothing sacred about the building or the place itself. There is no equivalent of an altar in a mosque. A Muslim can pray on any clean surface. In the Muslim world, people often pray in public spaces.
In the U.S., mosques vary in size from tiny storefronts serving a handful of worshippers to large Islamic Centers that can accomodate thousands.
Mosques in the U.S. welcome visitors and can arrange for tours of their facilities. It is always best to ask mosque administrators before arriving so that your visit is fully enjoyable.
The "musalla" or prayer hall in each mosque is oriented in the direction of the holy city of Mecca, located in what is today Saudi Arabia. Muslims face this direction during prayers. In North America, Muslim worshippers face northeast.
The prayer halls are open and uncluttered to accommodate lines of worhippers who stand and bow in unison. There are no pews or chairs. Members of the congregation sit on the carpeted floor. Because men and women form separate lines when they stand and bow in prayer, some mosques will have a balcony or reserved for women. Other mosques will accomodate men and women in the same musalla or they may have two separate prayer halls for men and women.
All mosques have some sort of "mihrab", or niche that indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. The mihrab is often decorated with Arabic calligraphy from the Qur'an, Islam's sacred book. Its curved shape helps reflect the voice of the "imam", or prayer leader, back toward the congregation.
Many mosques also have a "mimbar", or pulpit, to the right of the mihrab. During the Friday prayer service, the imam delivers a sermon from the mimbar.
Though it's main function is as a place of prayer, the mosque plays a variety of roles, especially in the U.S. Many mosques are associated with Islamic schools and day care centers.
Mosques are also providing diverse services such as Sunday schools, Arabic classes, Qur'anic instruction and youth groups. Marriages and funerals, potluck dinners, and Eid prayers and festivals are also to be found in U.S. mosques. They are also sites for interfaith dialogues and community activism. Many mosques serve as recreational centers for the Muslim community and may have gymnasiums, game rooms and weight equipment, as well as library and classrooms.
Men and women should always dress conservatively when visiting a mosque, covering their arms and legs. Examples of inappropriate clothing would be shorts and short skirts. Shoes are always left at the enterance to the prayer area so as not to soil the rugs or carpets. Women should cover their hair when visiting a mosque. Visitors to mosques should behave as they would when visiting any religious institution, but should feel free to ask questions about the mosque, its architecture, furnishing and activities. Muslims will be happy to answer questions about their faith.
The Islamic Center contains a large "musalla" or prayer hall with a balcony, washrooms with facilities for "wudu", ritual ablutions, a lounge, office, library and classroom, social halls, kitchen and storage areas, and a rental apartment. The Islamic Center also has its own parking lot and small backyard.
Masjid Al-Farooq is named after Umar al-Khattab, the second caliph or leader of Islam after the death of Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him. Umar al-Khattab's honorific title was "Al-Farooq", meaning "one who distinguishes truth from falsehood."
Acknowledgement: to Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and its editor Greg Noakes
for the permission to use part of the article, "The Mosque: A Vital Part of Islamic Life"