Given the negative rhetoric about Islam and Muslims that has been increasing in American society, many people associate mosques with terrorism. Lots of non-Muslims have asked me if I belong to a mosque and whether mosques are safe or are actually brainwashing children to become killers.
As you may know, Muslims gather for sermon and prayer services every Friday midday, similar to how Jews attend synagogue on Saturday and Christians go to church on Sunday for Mass.
Every Friday morning, it became a habit of mine to make an extensive search online for mosques within 30 miles of my home to go to for prayer in the hopes that I would find the perfect one that I have been looking for all my life. So far I've visited over 20 mosques within the U.S. and they all seem to have the same problems.
Odds are many of the Donald Trump followers and other people are advocating for the closing of all mosques in the U.S. have never even visited a mosque before. If they did, they might learn that the biggest challenges mosques face have little to do with making bombs in the basement.
Let this article be a guide for the uninformed about some of the common issues that mosques really have to deal with. Most of them are the same you'd encounter at your local church, synagogue or temple. A few are rather more serious.
Dear fellow Muslims: Please tell me—what’s up with the double parking? Parking lots are small and limited but that does not give you the right to park behind my car and block me from leaving after prayer. I know many people rush from work to the mosque on Fridays on their lunch break to catch prayer on time. But it's those same people that double park and then take up to 2 hours socializing and saying hello to everyone before leaving to move their cars afterwards.
Mothers: Your yelling, jumping, tag-playing kids are distracting everyone in the women's section from praying and concentrating on spiritually getting closer to God. And yeah, it would be great if you could hold your toddler so they are not digging in my purse while I am praying. Did I mention the day a child stole my car keys and hid it behind the bookshelves? It took me a good 30 minutes and a mini-heart attack to find the keys!
You are in the house of God. Stop gossiping and pointing out your nemesis’ patterned dress in the mosque. I’ve heard enough. Gossiping during prayer comes in multiple forms. It starts off with the hello's and Salams as everyone walks in. Then women start speaking about other women in loud whispers. That's uncomfortable, uncalled for, and against the teachings of the religion.
Phones are supposed to be off. But there's always at least one person during Friday prayer whose phone starts going. How relaxing and soul-cleansing is it to hear Rihanna sing "Work work work work work work" mid-prayer?
Can we get less fundraising, and more intellect-raising? Tolerance, acceptance, and unity are three essential topics to be discussed and taught during Friday sermons. Instead of taking up the entire lecture to fundraise, how about teaching Muslims how to coexist? Maybe lectures about identity or the importance of dealing with and getting rid of Islamophobia in today's society are needed more than fundraising to open a second mosque in the neighborhood.
Charity is optional; there is absolutely no need for the donation box to be shoved in my face mid-service while I'm trying to concentrate. Just don't come by me with that box, especially if it's not around the 15th or 30th of the month. Odds are I'm broke and can't donate a cent.
As for the dudes who don't like to wear belts and are in love with saggy pants: Kneeling during prayer is not optional. I will lose my eyesight from your vividly colored underwear. How about you buy yourself a belt for Friday prayer?
There is always at least one person at the mosque reading out of the Quran off the top of their lungs. OK, I get it, you want to prove to everyone that you can read Arabic fluently, but I just want to read without you distracting me!
Here's a more serious one. Women belong in the main prayer hall with men. Yes, I said it! Women and men must be joined together during Friday sermon. There is no need to keep the women in a separate prayer hall. (Well, maybe the ones with children — did I mention the keys incident?) I’ve been to some mosques where women get a small portion of the main prayer hall sectioned off, but since almost all the children and toddlers stay with their mothers during prayer, this makes the smaller space extremely crowded. Women deserve the exact same amount of space men get.
I'm not alone in this. Many Muslim American women have expressed the same concern on social media:
Many people are visual learners, and I am one of them. I need to see the imam (lecturer) during the sermon part of Friday's service in order to understand and concentrate on the lesson. After many complaints, some mosques got monitors installed in the women's section to be able to see the imam during the service, but what use is it if it's off or out of order all the time?
This is the most troubling issue mosques have to deal with. People of other faiths in America might have most of the same issues Muslims do, but they’re not necessarily worried about their safety in the same way. One of my serious concerns about attending a mosque is the constant Islamophobic threats and violent attacks mosque attenders are subjected to. The last thing I want to witness are armed anti-Muslim protesters marching outside the mosque calling for the death of Muslims. That's something Muslims go through on a daily basis throughout the U.S.
I am hoping to find a mosque without distractions. I am hoping to find a place where I can spiritually connect with God and be able to feel at peace. So far, I haven't found that ideal place. But that's not because the mosques are dangerous places—except for the ones being attacked by Islamophobic bigots.
Mosques are places of worship and gathering of Muslim families. There is absolutely no need for non-Muslims to fear them.
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."