In thinking about the public relations nightmare surrounding Islam and Muslims, the author of this column considered it to be a result of a lack of an organized religious body in America that can speak on behalf of America’s Muslims. In times like these, it would be nice if Muslims could have a formal body of clergy possessing all the might of the Vatican in Rome. But, as it is, Muslims in America are so independent of each other that trying to organize them would be like animal control attempting to herd a bunch of stray animals.
In a brief e-mail conversation with Shaykh Mustafa Umar of Anaheim, he commented that he actually likes how decentralized Muslims are. That has to do with his love of mosque hopping. Mosque hopping is a time-honored tradition for some Muslims. It’s “hopping” from mosque to mosque rather than just sticking to your own.
In Shaykh Mustafa’s opinion, Muslims have one up over a lot of Christians. When he was younger and living in Corona, he realized that many Christians only went to churches specific to their own denominations. Catholics would only go to Catholic churches, Baptists to Baptist ones, and so on. He had this to say about that intriguing revelation: “As a Muslim who likes to masjid-hop, that was shocking.” Masjid is the Arabic word for mosque.
Because of how decentralized Islam is (no formal clergy system), people don’t often feel a need to go to only one kind of mosque. Mosques are not typically sect specific, though there are many sects within Islam. In other articles, *Paul mentioned in his travels that he had gone to all kinds of mosques around the country, where the ethnic makeup and disposition of the people varied greatly. Just like people, all mosques have their own unique fingerprints.
The point is that if Muslims in America were to suddenly organize themselves, rather than just have a bunch of unregulated mosques with their own flavors and styles, it would be helpful simply from a PR standpoint. There would be appointed clergy to speak for Muslims of specific communities. However, would that actually keep Muslims separated and stuck in their own spheres? Would Muslims become similar to Christians who will only attend sect specific churches? Getting rid of one problem might just create another.
Nader Nasr, a young Muslim man in his 20s, jokingly commented that a college MSA (Muslim Students Association) is an “advanced civilization” compared to the general Muslim community. That’s probably because an MSA also has a formal hierarchy (president, vice president, etc.). While Muslims certainly do have a problem with organization, due to a lack of formal hierarchy, perhaps it has also protected the informal tradition of performing the mosque hop. Certainly, all three of the above mentioned men have confessed to enjoying hopping from mosque to mosque.