After the recent string of violence, destruction and vandalism at houses of worship across America, stepping-up security at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro – which opened its doors Friday after two years of intense controversy, including angry protests, lawsuits and even a burnt down tractor – seemed like a no-brainer.
Tensions in this "Buckle of the Bible Belt" have indeed been high as many local politicians, media outlets and even religious leaders stoked the flames of Islamophobia in their drive to shut out the mosque.
While some common-sense security measures were in order for the safety of worshippers, God, the owner of the mosque, has provided us with his own instructions on how to protect the sanctity and well-being of his house.
And it's not by putting up barriers.
It's by relentlessly calling for and striving towards the establishment of the universally accepted principles of social justice in society. The mosque is supposed to be a beacon, refuge and hope for the growing numbers of poor, needy and disenfranchised, thereby building bridges with the most oppressed segments of society
God: "Say (O Muhammad): 'My Lord has commanded justice; and that you set your whole selves (to Him) at every time and place of prayer.'" (Quran 7: 29)
The mosque established in Medina by Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago sets the example. Shortly after erecting a simple congregational prayer room and adjacent living area for himself and his family, the prophet ordered the construction of a platform (suffa in Arabic) for the local homeless.
The prophet, who used to sit, converse and share the best of his food with these refuge-takers, chided those who avoided them: "Do you fear that the poverty of the poor will be transferred to you?"
And he did not stop there.
Prophet Muhammad challenged the status quo and strove to change the conditions perpetuating injustice in society. Our mosque must do likewise by raising objections to all forms of oppression and coming up with creative alternatives to the failed systems of capitalism and imperialism wreaking havoc around the world today.
Prophet Muhammad: "A moment of justice is better than seventy years of worship in which you keep fasts and pass the nights in offering prayers and worship to God."
With the country's economy, morality and health care in free fall, our society is in desperate need of such solutions, and it is the duty of the mosque to provide them. One frustrated rural town in Mississippi, for example, is already adopting an Iranian model of preventive health care to better serve its poor.
Indeed, it takes strong conviction, moral courage and perseverance to stand up to oppression, especially in an atmosphere like ours charged with hate, racism and xenophobia. That's why most U.S. mosque leaders (90 percent by some estimates) forego this God-given responsibility to the detriment of themselves and their communities.
"These mosques have become burial grounds for today's Muslims," says Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center in Washington. "They go there to bury their heads, conceal their thoughts and cover their minds."
Ali, the husband of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times, tried to reinforce the social fabric of the mosques during his tenure as leader of the Muslims but faced immense resistance from the old-guard creeping back into power. Ali was eventually assassinated (in these last days of Ramadan) while praying in the mosque but he did not give up even then.
While lying bloodied by a poisoned sword, Ali saw that the rope tying the hands of his captured assassin was tight and cutting into his flesh. He immediately ordered the people to loosen it and treat the murderer more humanely, thereby fulfilling God's orders:
"Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just…." (5:8)
We must do the same.