The growth of Islamic community centers, Muslim sports teams and youth groups and religious discussion groups, are finding a following among younger Muslims who might find mosques confining and the wider society inhospitable to Islam, reports The Christian Science Monitor Weekly (Feb. 17).
Many less-than-40 Muslims regard mosques “as little more than sites for weddings and convenient places to pray. When it comes to figuring out to knit together their Muslim and American identities, they do not always find mosque leadership and message relevant, and many women chafe when required to pray behind a petition or wall,” writes Lee Lawrence. Islamic community centers, youth programs at mosques and alternative forums are filling the gap between strict observance and assimilating too completely to American mainstream society.
Lawrence cites the example of MakeSpace in Alexandria, Virginia as one such “third space” for Muslims, as it encourages dialogue and exploration to “put the unity back in community” as its website says. Friday prayers take place in a banquet hall of a local restaurant, and discussion groups, known as halaqas, convene in a borrowed office space. A women’s halaqua is especially popular, drawing about 50 thirty- and twenty-something Muslims who span the range of observance and head covering styles.
The unity emphasis is important, seeing such groups as moving beyond petty points of etiquette and sectarian divides in order to help Americans be better Muslims. Infringements on observances tend to be downplayed with participants assured they might not always be able to reach the ideal in practice. A model for these groups is the Islamic Center for Southern California, considered one of the country’s most progressive mosques. On a more social level, organizations such as the National Muslim Basketball Tour aim to teach Muslim youths about their religion through sport.