“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.” (Holy Qur’an 16:125)
Bismillah ir rahman ir raheem,
As salamu ‘alikum wr wb.
One of the tragic situations of the Muslim community are the ample opportunities and situations that arise that give us a chance to represent our faith in a beautiful and appealing way.
I’ll give an example of one such situation and how that was turned around. Al-hamduillah.
In Singapore tourist can visit Churches, Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist temples. Yet not until very recently could they go inside of Mosque.
The situation is thankfully now changing in Malaysia. There are still signs many places that say “Non Muslims not allowed!” Imagine the impression people walk away with.
So I attended a program called “ATMT” Awareness Through Mosque Tour in Manama, Bahrain.
We learned about this ingenious program started by Ustad Syed Ali. Ustad Syed Ali was at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey and he saw hundreds of buses of tourist pouring in every day. He witnessed that people had genuine questions about Islam and Muslims but the tourist were neither trained to engage them and many times were apathetic.
Thus,Ustad Syed Ali decided to initiate a program called ATMT (Awareness Through Mosque Tour).
Think for a minute sisters and brothers how many Mosque there are in your country. Now imagine for a minute how many of them actually open the door to the Not-Yet-Muslims so that they may experience the serenity of the Mosque?
So now back to Singapore this brings us to three Mosque which tourist tend be quite curious about.
Masjid Chulia (in China Town)
Sultan Mosque (in Bugis)
Masjid Abdul Ghafour (Little India)
And I watched on several occasions as tourist tried to approach the Mosque some angry uncles clapping their hands at them (like you would pigeons or a pack of dogs) and even saying “Kafir cannot enter”.
One man even told me “How do we know that they don’t have ‘many’ (sperm) in their pants?” I exclaimed: “How do you know I don’t?”
Thankfully after sitting down with Mosque Management of Jamae Chulia and the Sultan Mosque they were very open to allowing ATMT Daw’ah program. I was a daiee at the Jamae Chulia mosque for some time. After time spent being a daiee I than started to volunteer at the Sultan Mosque.
They had been having a ‘docent’ tour guide program initiated by the ATMT program some time back; but not much follow up.
None of the volunteers were properly trained but Al-hamdulillah, any presence is better than no presence at all. May Allah swt bless them for their efforts.
So thankfully (Al hamdulillah) I managed to become a volunteer there. I did well enough and was dedicated enough that they (The Mosque Management Board) created a new position never before created at Sultan Mosque: “Executive Docent Officer”.
So effectively I had to do the following duties:
Recruit and train docents.
Give presentations to MNC, Embassies, Churches, Temples, and other statutory boards and local government organisations.
Do my regular guiding of tourist
Maintain a balance between the local mosque membership and congregation and the public.
In other words it is important for the public to know this place (the mosque) is not a museum it is a place of worship and for the jamaat (the congregation) to have their sensitivities respected.
Make sure proper attire was available for the tourist. This was very challenging because many people wanted to come in they had shorts and other clothing not appropriate. The robes were constantly used throughout the day (washing them was sparse and few in between). Thus, imagine putting on a robe with someone else’s sweat and in a humid environment of Singapore, indoors with no air-con.
You think in such humid attire you ready to have time to discuss about anything? Not really.
We made sure we greeted the tourist in their language, German, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian etc…. and we explained where they could or could not roam.
We gave them a choice of three options.
1) They can learn the history of the Mosque.
2) They can learn a bit about the architecture of the Mosque.
3) They can learn about Islam.
They can also be left alone (to their own devices).
No one was keeping numbers but I when I tabulated the guest book for a period of 11 months we received between 18-25,000 tourist per month! Than I created pie charts based upon continents, countries and language demographics coming to the Mosque.
I held monthly docent meetings to keep the morale up and share feed back and encouraged the docents to keep private journals of their experiences with tourist.
All I can say about the docents the volunteers is that they were an amazing team of beautiful and extraordinary people. I don’t think a better team could have been assembled any where. I was and I am and always will be so very proud of them. Al hamdulillah!
One of the initiatives I had was the “Sultan Mosque Mini Gallery”. As you walk into the Sultan Mosque on the right and the left there are two stair cases (well there was they have been doing renovation).
There were two corners and when the uncles would do tahil prayers and prayers for the deceased they would often times leave food in the corners. You could smell briyani after it has set in humid conditions for 1-2 days. Same of us as Muslims say that tourist are unclean but look how we treat the Mosque at times.
I once witnessed a German man with his son come to the Sultan Mosque. He instructed his son to remove his shoes and place them nicely in the rack. We as Muslims often throw our shoes here, there and any where.
So these corners were eye sores and nothing was being done with them. So than I proposed the Sultan Mosque mini-gallery. I stayed in the Mosque even after work for a period of a few weeks going over ideals and concepts.
The idea was to look at the posters from the perspective of a Western and an Asian , from a possibly less educated back packer to a more educated person. The idea was also to approach some aspects of Islam using an angle Muslims may find refreshing as well.
The other issue was the careful selection of pictures. They say a picture is worth 1000 words. So I allowed the pictures to speak for me (due to limited space).
The project cost the Sultan Mosque 30.000 Singapore dollars. Well we have two ‘tabong’ areas for donation inside of the Mosque. Usually the congregation puts donations in there. However; the tourist were so pleased with what they learned they began dropping cash in there. 10 dollars, 50 dollars and more!
With in a period of several months the money from the tourist (who were not charged but gave of their own volition) paid for the cost of the mini-gallery.
So each side of the gallery has 8 panels for a total of 16.
I will give examples of three panels. These are from the high resolution PDF files that I did and than this was converted to a special paper for posters and encased in the glass with lighting. (That the contractor did).
So now when the tourist.come in (we cannot possibly engage them all) this is what you call ‘passive daw’ah’. People have found these to be highly educational and enlightening.
It has been 3 years since the Sultan Mosque let me go due to some complaints about me posting Prima-Qur’an thoughts on Facebook. Some local Arab family (financial benefactors to the mosque) made a fuss about my post. Likewise another individual who has made allot of fitna -division for people in the Muslim community in Singapore likewise wrote to the Sultan Mosque.