Notes From the Sacred Space Symposium at BYU: Hamid Mavani, ““The Prophet Muhammad: ‘The Whole Earth is a Mosque (masjid) and is Sacred’”

By June 3, 2009

Hamid Mavani, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, Claremont Graduate University spoke on the sacred in Islam. In essence, he argued that sacred space is defined by intent in Islam.  My reformulated notes:

I should let you know that I am the only Muslim speaker; you can be assured that what I say is the absolute truth [laughter].

In Islam, like Mormonism, there is the belief that where truth is it should be taken and used.  There is a Quranic concept of a premortality.  The concept of no original sin is Islamic, you have the concept of original purity.  All are infused with divine spirit, start with a clean slate. The hajj, pilgrimage, has parallels to the temple and the concept that good deeds must be expressed, which was embodied in the Humanitarian Center mentioned before.

Islam is a comprehensive way of life to aid in attaining close proximity to God, evolving into a perfect human being.  The same kind of progression you have in the temple.  To evolve to a perfect human being, Islam provides instructions that are religious, economic, political, etc.  All acts that are performed with sincere intention to gain proximity to God constitute worship in Islam.  Not just ritual in a mosque or temple, but anything that removes oppression and inequity, provided that the intent is to praise God not gratify pride.  Otherwise there is no utility in it and it is void.  If the intention has been distorted, the act is nullified.  This worldview that Islam is all encompassing and has been used by activists to change a mosque from a place of worship to a place where all social, educational, social, etc, activities evolve.

The sacred and secular are amalgamated in the concept of sacred space.  Muhammad said that the entirety of the earth is a mosque and sacred, depending on the purpose for which it was established and in the manner in which it is utilized.  Every act of a human being is evaluated on the degree of the sincerity of the intention. Muslims are thus, at ease performing prayers irrespective of their location.

It is more meritorious to pray in congregation because the community informs that worship.  Just like in the Mormon Temple, all worship together, in the mosque, even a CEO will pray with the rest.  There is no space between shoulders or feet, that is a sign of arrogance.  Worshipers are seen as melted together. Congregation prayers offered in a mosque, but that is less about the place than about the congregation, the community.  A place is consecrated as a mosque after a special dedication after restrictions are placed on its usage.  Restricted in prayers, not for mundane conversation, must be guarded against profaneness.  Entrance should not be given to those who are not Muslims. But an Islamic center is different, caters to different needs as well as the prayers.

The prophet at one point refused to set foot in Mecca because it was defiled, but the cave he fled to became holy. All this because of the intent of its use.  Mecca had been invalidated as a holy place because of how it was used and the cave was elevated.

These audacious claims of holding the one truth is, in Islam, spiritual arrogance. In Islam, only God can judge who is acceptable for him. Men should not talk about who gets into heaven and who not.

The sacred mosque with its cubical structure, has a special place in Islam, seen as the fist temple, the house of God, absence of embellishment, to reinforce monotheism, god is transcendent and unique, and very close to his followers. Sacred space must be empty of any pictures or distractions from the one true God.  Seen as first place of worship by Abraham.  Pilgrimage to Mecca constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are able to perform this pilgrimage and are mandated to do so. Many give their life savings to do it.

The mosque in medina is second, where Muhammad was buried and the third, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  Then you have mosques.  Jihad is often misunderstood. It is a striving.  There is missionary jihad, jihad of the tongue, green jihad, etc.

On a point of caution, as mentioned, sacred spaces are powerful, they do not operate in a vacuum but are informed by dynamics of power.  The concept of sacredness is not bound by land and space, but by objective in Islam. As human beings we create space and use them and can use and misuse them.  It behooves us to be on guard, introspective, that sacred space is not exploited to take advantage of the weak and defenseless.

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