As the American Muslim demographic rapidly expands, Islamic community centers and mosques have failed to provide adequate support to address their growing needs. American Muslims are young, diverse and highly educated. They need their Islamic centers to revamp their basic services and minimal outreach so that they are more inclusive and relevant to their lives.
The following are 10 initiatives every Islamic community center and mosque should look to launch:
1. Install a Welcome Sign
All Islamic community centers and mosques should have a visible sign that reads “All are Welcome” outside their door. This will help more local Muslims and non-Muslims alike feel more eager to visit for the first time. An additional sign explaining appropriate dress code can be installed to help strangers who don’t know much about the faith learn about what to wear when visiting.
2. Accessibility to the Outside World
It should be easy for people inside and outside Islamic centers to communicate and collaborate with one another. All outside parties, whether they belong to other community centers or nonprofit organizations, should be able to get in touch with the administration of Islamic centers without difficulty. Also, setting up good social media strategies can help form much needed unions with outside organizations and help break unnecessary barriers. Simple measures like offering free Wi Fi to members, regularly issuing press releases and organizing press conferences to address major issues impacting American Muslims can also go a long way to strengthening our demographic and communication with our neighbors.
3. Involve Youth with Recreational Space
All Islamic community centers and mosques should have a dedicated space assigned for recreational activities. If they do not currently have one, they should plan on creating one in the immediate future. Without offering space for sports and fun, the youth will not come because there is no entertainment for them. As of now, the majority of the space in Muslim centers is used for Friday sermons and Sunday schools. This space will have to be reengineered so that it is more appealing to the new generation who are our future.
4. Involve Senior Citizens with Relevant Services
The American Muslim community has an increasing number of senior citizens, many of whom feel detached to their local Islamic centers and mosques. Initiatives should be developed to keep them engaged, starting with regular meetings where they can voice what can be changed so that they feel more involved. Weekly lunches can also be arranged where senior citizens can meet with other senior citizens and discuss issues important to them.
5. Feed the Hungry
One in eight Americans face hunger. Islamic centers should offer soup kitchen services where people facing poverty can come in for a good meal at least once a week. Not only will this help alleviate the hunger problem, it will also help us build solid relations with others.
6. Put Up a Suggestion Box
Many members of the American Muslim community, especially women and the youth, rightfully complain that they feel voiceless in their local Islamic centers. A simple solution to this problem would be to put up a suggestion box next to the donation box where everyone can offer their input on how governance and services can improve. All serious suggestions should be taken seriously and implemented. This way, everyone will feel heard and those who aren’t able to dedicate lots of time volunteering can still make a difference and feel included.
7. Get Entrepreneurial
Young Muslims are interested in careers outside of medicine and engineering. They have an array of entrepreneurial interests that Islamic centers and mosques should support. Our community centers can offer classes where successful entrepreneurs guide other aspiring entrepreneurs in their careers. Monthly breakfasts can also be organized so that entrepreneurs in the community have a platform to regularly network.
8. Organize Marital Events
One of the greatest crisis’ our youth faces today is finding a spouse the halal way. We must offer young, American Muslim men and women an Islamic platform where they can seek potential lifetime partners. Monthly breakfasts can be arranged and people can be screened beforehand for safety purposes.
9. Offer Interest Free Education Loans
Education is becoming immensely expensive and soon it will become totally unaffordable for common citizens. Tuition increase will undoubtedly affect American Muslim students, some of whom may not even go to college because of the high fees. Islamic centers and mosques can help combat this problem by setting up endowment funds that offer interest-free loans to needy students.
10. Launch Women Empowerment Initiatives
There is a general consensus in our community, the American population and the media that Muslim women are not treated equally. This is why Islamic Community Centers and mosques need to set up women empowerment initiatives that are led and supported by women in our community. It should be a safe platform for Muslim women to share their issues and challenges and offer services that empower themselves and other women.
These initiatives offer the basic framework to help develop our American Muslim community. Each initiative offers viable solutions to serious problems and should be looked into and redesigned wherever necessary.
Edited by Mahvish Irfan. Photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler.