What is the True Purpose of a Mosque?

Note: All photos used in this article are copyrighted material and must not be reproduced without express permission.

The opening ceremony of the Bait-un-Nasr Mosque was held on 30th September, 2011. This is the first purpose built Mosque constructed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Norway and it stands as the largest Mosque in the country. The mosque itself is situated on 7759 square meters of land. A total of 2250 worshippers can offer prayers simultaneously in this Mosque. The dome of Mosque is five meters tall and there is a library, offices and a large kitchen on the premises. The Mosque is located on a motorway en route to the Oslo Airport. About 80,000 cars etc. pass by every day. A reception was organised in the evening in which dignitaries, prominent personalities, professionals, neighbours and local residents were all invited by the Ahmadiyya Community. The proceeding started with recitation of Qur’an. Mr. Zartasht Munir Ahmad Khan, National President of the Ahmadiyya Community in Norway, described the financial sacrifices made by members of the Ahmadiyya Community to materialise this project. Mr. Roger Kaliff, Senior Member of the Social Democratic Party of Sweden conveyed his congratulations at the opening of the Mosque and expressed his gratitude to His Holiness, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), for providing him with the opportunity to speak at the reception. The Norwegian Government was represented by Mrs. Grete Faremo, the Defence Minister. In her address she welcomed Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba), and read out the message sent by the Prime Minister of Norway, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg. Some of the distinguished guests who attended the event included:

Mrs.  Grete Faremo ~ Defence Minister, Norway
Mr. Roger Kaliff ~ Senior Member, Social Democratic Party of Sweden
Mr. Age Tovan ~ Mayor of Lorenskog
Mrs. Ragnhild Bergheim ~ Deputy Mayor of Lorenskog
Mrs. Mette Korsrud ~ President of Social Friends Party
Mrs. Turid Kritensen ~ President of the Conservative Party and Councilor
Mr. Stein Kirkeby ~ Councilor
Mrs. Maria Oppegard ~ Councilor
Mr. Tom Nordvol ~ Councilor
Mr. Trygve Bekkesletten ~ Councilor (KRF)
Mr Per Hoibraten ~ Councilor
Mr. Kbut Jan Nielsen ~ Director of Investigation, Police
Mr. Erik Anderson ~ Director, Oslo Police

The transcript of the keynote address of the evening delivered by Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V(aba), Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is presented below.

After reciting Tashhahud, Ta’awwudh and Bismillah, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba) said:

“All distinguished guests:  Assalamo ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahe Wa Barakatohu – peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you here today who are attending the opening of the Bait-un-Nasr mosque, and joining us on this joyous occasion. This is an event which is a cause for great pleasure for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community here in Norway, whereby we have been able to, with Allah’s Help, build our first ever purpose built mosque in this country.

If I may for a second, explain the literal meaning of the word “mosque”. The Arabic word for “mosque” is ‘Masjid’, and in English it is translated as ‘Mosque’. The word ‘Masjid’ means a place of worship. Therefore, the inauguration of this mosque is not a worldly or material event, rather it is in fact a purely spiritual and religious occasion.

Thus, today we are gathered here to inaugurate the place of worship of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at in Norway. All of you have come to attend this function, despite the fact that you are not Ahmadi Muslims. This proves that you are open-minded and enlightened people. It proves that all of you desire to uphold human values, and that you care for the feelings of one another. Towards achieving this, you realise it is imperative that as a community we share in each other’s times of happiness and times of grief, irrespective of differences of religion. It is upon such noble principles that love and peace can flourish within society. Therefore, from the depths of my heart I wish to thank all of you for attending today.

This heartfelt gratitude is not expressed merely out of routine moral courtesy, but actually being grateful to all of you is a religious duty. This is because our master the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), instructed all Muslims that to offer thanks was a virtue and indeed essential. He taught, so beautifully, that a person who is ungrateful to his fellow man is in fact ungrateful to God. As the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at (or Community), I cannot in any way tolerate or afford being deprived of the blessings and rewards of the One God, whom I worship and who I constantly remind the members of the Community to worship. This is why being sincerely grateful to all of you is essential.

Furthermore, the Holy Qur’an, which is the basis of all Islamic teachings, has very clearly stated that Allah the Almighty has said that if you exhibit the quality of gratitude, then He will grant you even more blessings and rewards. Therefore, I will say once again that my expression of thanks to all of you is not a mere ritual or convention, but instead, the gratitude I am expressing emanates from the depths of my heart. Through this gratitude it is my hope that God Almighty will be pleased that I have sincerely expressed my appreciation to His righteous and sincere people. Certainly, God Almighty is pleased when His Creation show love to one another.

The vast majority of the Ahmadis living here in Norway are originally from Asia. And so I am extremely pleased to find that despite this difference in ethnicity you have all joined together, both Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis, as the people of one nation. It is very heartening to see that regardless of differences of colour and race, you are all collectively working towards the progress of the nation. All of you, who are our guests, have come here today due to your relationship with various members of the Ahmadiyya Community and so you have responded to the love shown by Ahmadi Muslims with love itself.

I would now like to return to the topic of what a mosque truly is. As I mentioned earlier, the word ‘mosque’ means ‘a place of worship’. I would like to briefly speak further about this. It is most unfortunate that when non-Muslims hear the word ‘mosque’, often extremely strange and terrifying images enter their minds, and they become deeply frightened. When they see that a mosque is being built, their immediate reaction is a sense of fear and panic that, God forbid, this mosque could pave the way for terrorism and extremism. In this context it is essential that I briefly clarify what a mosque actually means to a true Muslim. To help you understand I shall refer to the literal lexical definition of the word.

If you consult the dictionary the word ‘mosque’ is defined as a ‘house of prayer’. As I have already explained, the Arabic word for the mosque is “Masjid”, and “Masjid” is derived from the Arabic word “Sajada”, which literally means ‘he prostrated himself’. So, if we analyse the literal meaning of ‘mosque’, it leads us only towards a path of prayer and prostration. One question that naturally arises is how should such prostration be performed? The answer is that when a Muslim bows down in prayer his whole body should be encompassed by absolute humility, and he should consider himself to be worthless. In this spirit of humility he should prostrate before God with total submission and obedience. In this subservient state he should pray to God that may He enable him to follow God’s every command, perfectly. Thus, this is what a true mosque is, a place of total humility to bow before God Almighty.

Tragically, there are many opponents of Islam who are actively seeking to defame its pure name and are consumed by spreading false propaganda that, God forbid, the Holy Qur’an promotes bloodshed and teachings of terrorism. With great regret I must at this point add, that certain Muslim groups have time and again given the opponents of Islam the opportunity to defame the religion through their erroneous and hate-filled terrorist activities. This is a point that I have made repeatedly in various speeches throughout the world.

Let it be absolutely clear that these so-called Muslims are not working out of a love for Islam, but are motivated only by their own selfish desires and vested interests.

Bearing all this in mind, I would request all those people who wish to know about the true Islam that they should not focus on the hate filled acts of terrorists, or the various means of propaganda against the religion, because they are not the correct sources for judging the religion in a fair and just manner. Instead, I would urge people who have a thirst for hearing about Islam to study its real teachings. The most authentic source of Islamic teaching is of course the Holy Qur’an, which was revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw).

When we find the concept of Jihad and religious wars in the Holy Qur’an; on those very rare occasions where the Qur’an has permitted Muslims to wage war, then this permission has been granted, only, with extremely strict conditions attached, and, only, in very rare and specific circumstances.

Flower march in downtown Oslo in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Norway. An estimated 200,000 took part.

Furthermore, if we assess this in a balanced manner we will find that other sacred religious texts, including the Bible, have also given permission to fight wars and battles. At this time, however, I do not wish to enter a discussion about what other religious books say in this regard. Instead, I only wish to say that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at represents the true and original teachings of Islam. The Founder of our Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian, spoke extensively about religious wars and Jihad. He taught that the circumstances that exist today do not permit religious wars to be fought. Indeed, he taught that the era of religious wars has come to an end. As a means to help you better understand Islam’s peaceful teachings, I will also speak briefly about the actual circumstances in which the Holy Qur’an permitted religious wars in early Islam.

However, before proceeding to that, I would like to speak of that horrific tragedy that occurred here in Norway just a few months ago, on 22 July 2011. Further, from the depths of my heart, I would like to respectfully offer my most sincere and deep condolences over the tragedy that took place, in which so many innocent people lost their lives. For the entire Norwegian nation it was, and remains, a day of deep sorrow and grief. From the perspective of our Community, every Norwegian Ahmadi Muslim, from whichever country they originate, feels the utmost pain and grief in their hearts over this horrifying incident. Love for one’s country and love for mankind are essential parts of faith for any true Muslim believer. This is because the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) very clearly stated that love of one’s nation was a fundamental part of one’s faith. Therefore, in whichever country a Muslim lives and is a citizen, and from whichever he derives benefit, it is absolutely necessary for him to genuinely love that country. If he fails to manifest this love and loyalty to his chosen country, his worship will be devoid of the necessary submission and obedience. Thus, for such a person coming to the mosque will be a worthless exercise.

Makkah as seen from Jabal al-Nur

A very well-known injunction of the Holy Qur’an warns us that when a person kills another without reason, it is as if he has killed all of mankind. On the other hand the Qur’an states that he who gives life to another, his act is so beautiful, that it is as if he has given life to all of mankind. This injunction is given as a means of safeguarding human values. Therefore, as we reflect on the abhorrent tragedy that occurred just a few weeks ago, let it be clear that it is not only the Ahmadis here in Norway who have felt this devastation and grief, but in fact, all Ahmadi Muslims throughout the world, feel your loss and share in your grief. This particular terrorist attack was not conducted by a Muslim; however, if ever a terrorist seeks to attribute or link himself to any particular religion, it should be remembered that no religion permits such violence, and thus the reality is that such terrorists have no religion whatsoever. I have already sent my condolences to the Norwegian Government; as the respected Defence Minister has already mentioned, however, I would like to take this opportunity to once again express the heartfelt condolences of myself and every Ahmadi Muslim throughout the world, to the families of the victims, to your Government and indeed to the entire Norwegian nation.

I would also like to reassure all of you that all Ahmadi Muslims here in Norway will stand side by side with your Government and law enforcement agencies, in an effort to fight terrorism and extremism, just as all Ahmadis are doing throughout the world. We express our total contempt and condemnation of all forms of terrorism, whether political terrorism or terrorism perpetuated falsely, in the name of religion.

Let me return now to the actual circumstances in which the early Muslims were permitted to fight in wars. The Holy Qur’an is an open book and every aspect of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) is also clear and open for all to see. No part of Islamic teachings or Islamic history has been concealed. Any historian or researcher who studies fairly and objectively will soon realise that the Islam commonly portrayed in the media, as an extreme religion, is a completely unfair and inaccurate portrayal. Indeed, many non-Muslim scholars and academics have actually written in support of Islam, and have rebutted the many allegations that are levelled against it. Such scholars include people of various religions including Christians, Hindus and others. Sir William Muir was a well-known 19th century Orientalist. Originally, he also sought to find and level various accusations against Islam. However, after due consideration based on his studies and research, he came to be very positively influenced by the teachings of Islam and in particular he was compelled to praise its kind treatment of slaves and prisoners of war.

If we take a glance at the current era, we find that Karen Armstrong has written extensively about Islam and in particular the excellent qualities demonstrated by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). Another well-known academic in the United Kingdom is Professor Richard Bonney, who has come to have deep knowledge of Islam. He has actually acquired the title of ‘Reverend’ from the Church of England and he is a leading member of various societies. Professor Bonney has written at length about Islam and in particular about Jihad. After much research and analysis, he has concluded that the interpretation of Jihad given by extremists is a complete misrepresentation of Islam. Indeed, he has actually cited our community – the Ahmadiyya Community, as positive evidence towards his conclusions. Thus, in short, no fair minded and just person can deem Islam to be a religion that preaches or promotes any form of terrorism or extremism.

Panoramic view of Masjid Al-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque, Madinah.

The question though remains that in which circumstances were religious wars permitted in early Islam? To understand the answer to this question we must study Islam’s very early history, where the disbelievers of Makkah targeted the Muslims with all forms of cruelty, barbarity and torture. Yet, in the face of such desperate circumstances the Muslims continued to display total patience, and they did so due to the instructions of the Holy Prophet(saw). On many occasions the Muslims would ask the Prophet(saw) as to whether they could retaliate and defend themselves. When addressing him, they reminded him that they too were citizens of Makkah, and they too belonged to the same tribes as the oppressors. They also said that due to their similar backgrounds with the Makkans, they too knew how to wage and fight wars. However, each time they inquired, the answer of the Holy Prophet(saw) was the same, which was that they must remain patient, because he had not been commanded by God to fight back. Such forbearance has never been witnessed in the entire history of mankind, as was displayed by the Holy Prophet(saw) and his Companions.

It is my view that within the decision of the Holy Prophet(saw) to show such restraint lay a golden principle and lesson for future times. This principle was that no matter who governs you, you should never display any form of rebellion that will lead to further disorder within the state. This principle is particularly worth remembering in today’s world, where internal rebellions are occurring in various countries.

At that time, the Muslims continued to face bitter cruelty and many sacrificed their lives in this cause, and still they continued with their magnificent show of patience. This fortitude was not limited to just a few, but was displayed by all the Muslim men, women, children and the elderly. After years of intense persecution, the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) and many of his companions migrated to the city of Madinah. A large community of Muslims, therefore, was established in the city, to the extent that a treaty was established between the Muslims and the Jews of Madinah. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy Prophet(saw) was made Head of the Government. Due to the prevailing conditions in Madinah, the Muslims were able to live in relative peace, and were able to propagate Islam’s teachings, and so Islam began to spread at a rapid pace. When news of the success of the Muslims and their peaceful living conditions reached Makkah, the disbelievers decided to wage war on the Muslims of Madinah. It was at this point that Allah the Almighty finally gave permission to the Muslims to defend themselves, for the very first time. Regarding this permission, the Holy Qur’an states:

Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged – and Allah indeed has power to help them. Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ – And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. (Ch.22:Vs.40-41)

Inside the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

If we objectively analyse the meaning of these verses that I have just narrated, then the circumstances faced by the Muslims at the time becomes clearly evident. The disbelievers of Makkah were set to exceed all bounds and limits, in their pursuit of the Muslims. Thus, Allah commanded them that it was time to bring a halt to their cruelty. Failing to do so would not just endanger Islam, but would mean that no church, synagogue, mosque or any other place of worship would remain safe. In other words, those who desired to worship God Almighty would be eradicated. If we actually reflect on this beautiful teaching, we realise that when permission to fight was finally granted to the Muslims, it was not given to only protect Islam, but was granted as a means to protect all religions and all places of worship. For this reason, when we think of a mosque, the honour and sanctity of all places of worship, regardless of religion, enters our minds.

Another allegation is sometimes levelled unfairly against Islam that the Muslims of Madinah had become very powerful, and so for this reason they themselves decided to wage war. This assertion is totally wrong and is contrary to all of the facts of the time. In fact, it was the disbelievers of Makkah who attacked Madinah, and so in no way were the Muslims the aggressors. As far as material power is concerned, the Makkan army continued to have far greater numbers of soldiers, cavalry and weaponry (the defence minister sitting here knows what these things really are). In comparison to their huge stock of arms, the Muslims had only three swords and a few horses. History bears true witness to the fact that both in the time of the Holy Prophet(saw) and in the eras of the rightly guided four Khulafa (the Successors who came after him), they adopted very strict rules of engagement, wherever the circumstances for defensives wars arose. For example, they very strictly instructed that no harm should come to any place of worship, to any priest or religious leader, to any woman, to any child or any elderly person. Indeed, they were strictly ordained that no non-combatants should be harmed, and furthermore no person should ever be compelled to convert to Islam. Additionally, it was not just buildings and people who they protected but also the environment. Hence, they even instructed that trees should not be felled nor damaged during or after a war, no matter whether the tree was a fruit bearing or normal tree.

In respect of the allegation that Islam was spread by the sword, one Christian historian has written that if the Muslims had been forcefully converted to Islam through cruelty or oppression, then they would have left the religion at the first opportunity, and not shown any loyalty towards it. Yet on the contrary, those early Muslims were ever ready to sacrifice everything for their faith; therefore, their conversions could not have been forced. Rather, a true revolution had taken place in the hearts of those people.

Due to the limited time available, I cannot discuss this in any further detail at present. But I am sure that it has become very clear from the verses of the Holy Qur’an that I have quoted, that Islam protects the places of worship of every religion. Thus, a true Muslim who enters a mosque to worship God can never even contemplate or imagine harming another person or engaging in cruelty. I mentioned earlier the Qur’anic decree that to kill a person without legitimate cause is like killing all of mankind. Therefore, it is clear that Islam does not permit murder in any shape or form.  In the same way, being cruel or unjust to even one person is akin to being cruel and unjust to all of mankind.

Islam does not permit any form of cruelty or revenge being adopted, even with those people who have been cruel to you. The Holy Qur’an in fact teaches us to be fair and just, even with our enemies. In this regard, Allah the Almighty commands in the Holy Qur’an:

O ye who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do. (Ch.5:V.9)

Keeping in mind these excellent teachings, how can anyone allege that Islam’s teachings usurp the rights of people and encourage terrorism? Yet there continues to be many people here in Europe who worry that if the Muslims are able to establish various centres and mosques, it will lead to disorder and strife in the Western world, as has been witnessed in the Muslim world. They hold these fears even though Islam’s teachings are of love and affection, which all of you have observed in the verse that I have just quoted, whereby Muslims are instructed to be just even to their enemies, and to fear God and to worship Him alone.

As mentioned, Muslims are instructed to worship God, and it is a natural progression that he who worships God, also in turn loves God’s creation. Allah the Almighty commissioned the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) as a messenger for all mankind. Because of this, he had unparalleled love for all humanity in his heart. He had a fervent desire and longing that each and every individual should recognise his Creator, should worship Him and build a loving relationship with Him. In pursuit of this he spent his entire nights prostrated in prayer, and he was grief stricken by this desire for man to recognise his Creator. Referring to this anguished state of the Holy Prophet(saw), Allah the Almighty states:

Haply thou wilt grieve thyself to death because they believe not. (Ch.26:V.4)

From this verse, we can see just how much heartache the Holy Prophet(saw) felt when he saw that all around him the disbelievers were engaged in associating partners with God and idol worship. The fact that they were not inclined towards God Almighty at all left him grief stricken. It is also clear from this verse that the Holy Prophet(saw) had absolute belief that if and when a person moves away from God, he can become liable to His punishment. Hence, the Holy Prophet(saw)’s pure heart desired that every person should recognise God and have perfect belief in Him. He did not try to convert people to Islam through warfare, but through his fervent prayers. Today, this is the exact same approach followed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which makes our Community unique in this era.

I hope and expect that the points I have briefly raised illustrate that a true Muslim, who worships Allah, and who constructs a mosque for the sole purpose of worshipping Him, can never contemplate even the slightest degree of hatred towards any other religion, or indeed any other person. Certainly, due to our love and compassion towards mankind, we the Ahmadiyya Community, are compelled to preach our message so that people can come towards God Almighty. We follow the best example, which is the example of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). Thus, as he prayed, we also pray for the entire world, that may mankind come to recognise its Creator and seek His guidance and so worship Him.

A further point that I wish to clarify, is that sadly throughout history there have been certain mosques that have not fulfilled their true purpose. Instead, those buildings have been used to propagate disorder and cruelty. Such mosques have been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, as having been built by people who did not have the fear of God in their hearts. The Holy Qur’an has forbidden true Muslims from entering such mosques, and unfortunately such mosques exist today as well. Therefore, in light of this Qur’anic instruction and in accordance with a society’s laws, a government has a right to shut down such mosques. However, this step should only be taken after a comprehensive and just investigation has taken place, which proves that the said mosque is being used to plot and scheme against a country and its people, rather than for worship. However, we should not move to the other extreme, whereby a negative image of every mosque and every Muslim is built up on the basis of mere rumours and hearsay. Certainly, brandishing all Muslims together in such a negative light is against all forms of justice.

It is my heartfelt request to the people of Norway that they should not be fearful or develop any negative impression of our Ahmadiyya mosque. This mosque has been built with the sole purpose of worshipping the One God and Him alone. From here you will hear only a message of peace, love and reconciliation. From this mosque the flag of tolerance, compassion and justice will be raised. Rest assured, every Ahmadi Muslim who enters this mosque will have a true and deep love for mankind, and will also fully comply with the laws of this nation.

In this era, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at, who we believe to be the Promised Messiah(as), has portrayed to us the real and beautiful teachings of Islam and presented them before us. It is upon this true representation of Islam that all Ahmadi Muslims have been united by him. Bearing all this in mind we have been left with just two basic tasks. First of all, we must fulfil the right of worship owed to Allah the Almighty, and secondly, we must discharge the rights owed to His Creation. This is a beautiful and everlasting teaching, and if the world comes to understand and embrace it, then all societies will become filled with love and affection. Instead of brutality and war, we will see peace and harmony. We should not look enviously at the wealth of other parties, and similarly, we should not seek to usurp the rights of others. Instead, we should seek to establish and maintain human values and mutual love.

These days certain powers of the world are engaged in warfare in an attempt to establish so-called peace. Such misguided policies are the result of the lack of justice and a failure to believe in God. It is my ardent prayer that the world comes to understand a crucial point upon which the survival of the world depends, that mankind must establish a relationship with God Almighty.

If, God forbid, it fails to do so then remember the world will continue to move towards its current path of destruction at a great pace. This destruction will not be caused by any mosque, but simply due to a lack of justice, and as a result of the failure of God’s Creation to recognise its Creator.

At the end I would like to once again thank all of you, who in my eyes are all honourable and respected guests, who have given their precious time to attend our function today.”

The word ‘Sajdah’ was previously used in this article.  This had now been corrected to ‘Sajada’.  The Review of Religions takes full responsibility for this error in print.