Many times we get eager and excited to build a masjid. We get excited when the cement foundation is placed and see the walls go up and the roof and get super excited when the masjid is complete. However, prior to even building a masjid the community and the masjid board needs to ask itself a couple of tough questions which if asked prior to the first brick being laid down will help the masjid prosper longer and grow much faster.
1) Why Are we Building a Masjid?
To some this is probably a simple or unnecessary question, but at a very fundamental level it will help keep the community and the masjid board focused for many years to come. It also helps orient the intentions of the community and masjid board to be for the sake of Allah instead of for egos or recognition. A part of this step would be to develop a mission and vision statement for the masjid. These two statements will help the masjid keep focused in achieving its goals.
2) Are Our Constitution and By-Laws Solid?
Having a strong and clear constitution along with by-laws that are clear and easy to understand can help avoid several problems in the near future for your masjid. Some (if not all) masjids have some pretty awful constitutions and by-laws that are extremely narrow-sighted and short-sighted and limit the ability for the community to grow, function or operate properly.
A well-written constitution and by-laws will take into account the expansion and growth of the masjid and truly understand how to operate the masjid efficiently and effectively. A strong constitution and by-laws are the foundation on which a masjid is built. If the foundation is faulty the operations and execution of services and programs will suffer immensely over time and the masjid will never truly be able to realize its full potential.
3) Can the Community Afford the Masjid?
Building a masjid is obviously a major expense for the entire community. It’s not easy to gain the funds necessary to build a masjid. Thus, it’s important to see if the community is able to afford the intiail costs of building a masjid.
4) What Facilities in the Masjid are Critical for its Operations?
Sometimes in our efforts to build a masjid we build huge beautiful structures and facilities, but often build masjids that don’t necessarily meet the needs of the community. Building a musallah (prayer area) is an obvious feature of a masjid, but our communities with the way they are developing need a lot more than a simple musallah. We need gyms, babysitting rooms, meeting rooms, conference rooms, classrooms, and other facilities critical to the operations of a functioning masjid.
Thus, it becomes important prior to laying the first brick to know the needs of the community and meet those needs while keeping in mind future expansion and growth of your community.
5) Are We Leaving Space for the Masjid Facility to Expand?
Many masjids make the mistake of not leaving enough space land-wise to expand their facility or plan for their community to grow. Thus, in the blueprints or planning of the masjid facility it’s important to plan for the future growth and expansion of your masjid and community. In 5-10 years your community may grow, but will the infrastructure of your masjid grow with it? If not, then you need to begin planning how to accommodate the needs of the community as it grows.
6) How Will the Masjid Operational Costs be Maintained?
Many masjids make the mistake of building huge facilities which the community can more often than not afford to maintain. It’s embarrassing to see masjid fundraisers year after year begging the community to donate or the masjid operations will grind to a halt. Begging year after year for masjid operational costs isn’t just embarrassing and unsustainable, but makes the community lose its confidence in the masjid board and leadership to make smart financial decisions for the community and also make community members question how the donations and funds are being allocated and spent.
7) What is the Long Term Financial Sustainability Plan for the Masjid?
This brings us to the next question: how do you plan to financially sustain the masjid? Masjids in this day and age should not be operating on a fundraising model of depending on donations from the community. There needs to be long-term planning where masjid funds are being spent or invested in opportunities to generate revenue for the masjid operations and expenses. This may include but not be limited to investing in buying rental or commercial properties that can be rented out to gain revenue for the masjid or building an endowment which funds masjid operations and expenses. Continuously begging and demanding funds from one’s community builds donor fatigue and frustration long-term when the donors don’t see progress.
8) What is the Community Demographic the Masjid will be Serving?
Knowing your community demographics is so important not just in helping you understand what facilities to have in your masjid but also help you develop programs and services that meet the needs of your community. It makes no sense to build a gym when the majority of your community is elderly Muslims in their 60’s or 70’s. Likewise it makes no sense to create programs and services targeting families when the majority of your congregation and community is high school or university students.
Understanding and knowing your community demographics and their needs is critical to building a masjid that is effective in meeting the needs of the community. Conduct surveys or studies on your community to simply understand who you are serving and what their needs are. Getting community input and feedback is critical to becoming an effective masjid. Demographic studies should be conducted every two years to keep pulse about how your community is growing or changing.
9) What will the Role of the Masjid Be?
Masjids have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Every masjid should identify its strengths and play towards it. Strengths may include location of the masjid or certain resources within your community you could use. For example, if your masjid is located in the middle of a city —perhaps your operations, programs and services may need to be different than one located in the suburbs. As for internal resources in your community perhaps you have a lot of doctors who may be able to provide a free healthcare clinic in your city/community.
10) What Services and Programs Will You Provide and How?
The basic obvious services a masjid needs to provide are: prayer, marriage services, zakat collection and distribution, Islamic classes, and funeral services. Beyond this the masjid leadership and community need to figure out what services or programs are needed to serve the community. This would require a survey to be conducted to figure out what the community needs.
11) What is the 5 Year Plan for the Masjid?
A 5 year plan for your masjid can assist and give you a roadmap of where you want your masjid and community to be. Simply keeping a status quo for 10-20+ years makes your community members lose faith and confidence in the masjid board’s ability to make decisions for the betterment and growth of the masjid and community.
12) What are Critical Staff (And Skills) Are Needed to Run the Masjid?
Many masjids simply think an imam is the only position truly needed full time to be a masjid employee, but honestly if we truly understood the needs of the community we would realize that masjids need upwards of 10-15 full-time employees to fully function and be effective. Simply having one imam at a masjid expecting them to do everything from the adhaan (call to prayer), khutbahs (sermons ), cleaning and maintaining the masjid, conducting classes, and other responsibilities is simply not fair to the imam nor is it sustainable or effective.
There are so many critical services that masjids need to provide. We need to understand the needs of the local communities in which our masjids are built to provide critical services. Full-time staff with the necessary skills need to be hired who are given good salaries, benefits, and incentives to perform at a high-level and truly work towards meeting the needs of the community. High turnover can kill the progress of a masjid’s operations—thus hiring the right employees/staff is important and keeping them happy is critical to keeping operations smooth and consistent.
13) How do we Plan to Build a Community?
This is probably one of the most important of the questions in this list. We can build a beautiful masjid, but having the masjid empty 90% of the year except for Ramadan and jummahs then what’s the purpose of building the masjid in the first place? Our goal should be to have the masjid that is busy with programs and events throughout the week. There should be proactive efforts to build a community that is inclusive, warm, welcoming and compassionate to all Muslims.
We may invest in beautiful masjid architecture, but do we invest in our communities? Do we invest in full-time staff to help build communities? Do we invest in full-time staff to connect the hearts of the Muslims to the masjid or do we feel that building beautiful masjids with soft carpets and expensive chandeliers are sufficient for our community?
14) Who are Our Neighbors and How Can we Work with Them?
While it’s important to build a community from within it’s also to understand the community that surrounds your masjid as well. If your masjid exists and is built and none of your neighbors know you exist then that’s problematic. Muslims should be known as community-changers and beneficial citizens to the communities in which they live. Your neighbors close to your masjid should be proud and happy that a masjid is being built in their vicinity because they know tha masjids are great resources that produce Muslims who contribute to the communities in which they live.