“Fundraising During Ramadan”
By Irfana Hashmi
Letter to Masjid ‘Eesa Ibn Maryum (Jesus the son of Mary) Mosque, sent in Ramadan 2014
I came to this masjid because I truly appreciate the beautiful recitation of Quran here and the mosque has a reputation for being women-friendly. However, I am writing in part due to tonight’s events. Tonight is an odd night. It saddened me greatly to find myself at the masjid, where 30-40 minutes was spent asking people to donate to the masjid’s long-term expansion plans to build a space for the handicapped and women. While those are indeed commendable plans, the manner in which they were executed grieved me deeply.
Odd nights are for prayer and for Allah. People come to the masjid to pray, to congregate, and to learn. To fundraise during the break in the prayer and then to ask for donations sets up an extremely coercive environment, where people are given the message that unless they donate (a certain amount), they will not be able to resume the prayer. People of course want to give, but there are better ways to plan fundraisers. You could ask the congregation to pay annual dues, per individual, per family, etc.. You could have a fundraising dinner, and invite well-known scholars and charge by the table, distribute gifts, etc. You can invite people to come for a talk before taraweeh. There are other organizations in the city that have excelled in using professional fundraising techniques, without alienating their congregants.
Sometimes I think that some mosques fundraise between taraweeh prayers because they know people can’t leave. If that is the case, that is by definition coercive and no longer about and for Allah azza wa jalla. It is a well-known fact that this kind of fundraising is done on the 27th night of Ramadan at masjids across the city, except for places with a better endowment base (for example, 96th Street in Manhattan). But we can’t have the Kuwaitis funding our masjids. We do not want to disenfranchise communities. For fundraising to occur on other nights in Ramadan means that it is becoming an acceptable practice.
I think this activity should seriously be questioned from an adab perspective—proper adab in the mosque, proper adab with one’s community. I refer also to the occasion when the charity organization was invited in the first week of Ramadan, and the speaker fundraised, quite aggressively. I thought I was at an auction. Wa la iyadhubillah. From a religious perspective, there is unresolved tension between the citation and quotation of ayahs and hadiths about giving for the sake of Allah, freely and from your own volition, and setting up an environment where you are made to give or be penalized—with a delayed and *very fast* prayer to make up for the lost time.
I left today with the second half of my taraweeh unfinished. I came to the mosque to do taraweeh. I expected to find more peace. As I am writing this, I would like to add that, out of mercy and compassion, you may consider giving a talk about the plight of Muslims worldwide, Gaza, Syria. Even for 10 minutes. A masjid, especially in Ramadan, should be an outlet for the strong emotions that Muslims are feeling, and their strong desire to express solidarity with Muslim brethren everywhere. You do not have to be political (nor do you have to tell me people to engage politically but not to do so threatens our existence as a community with a unique voice in America). There are various ways (hopefully not polarizing, to frame the situation), but I think not saying anything stands to make this particular masjid and its talks irrelevant to our 21st century reality. You have to be relevant to your community. Having said that, I am extremely grateful that the imam performs a du’a qunut every day in Isha prayer. But I know for a fact that many do not understand the importance of this du’a, why we are doing it now, why it is continuing every night, much less that it is extremely relevant.
Finally, I would like to humbly suggest something, regarding the limited space. It seems that management of a mosque should at least consider the fact that if the imam prayed in the gym (and with him the brothers), and the space was transformed into a male space, then everyone in the gym and everyone behind the imam in the mosque proper would pray a valid prayer and we would use all the available space. However, this type of action would require very different type of thinking by the management.
* Irfana Hashmi, Ph.D., wrote this letter to ‘Eesa Ibn Maryum (Jesus the son of Mary) Mosque in Hollis, Queens. It was her second time attending this mosque during Ramadan. However, she considers herself “unmosqued,” meaning she has no connection to any particular mosque.