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Is-haq Olanrewaju Oloyede
Visiting Professor, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), and Immediate Past Vice-Chancellor,
University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria.
Secretary General,
Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs

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being a lecture at the opening of Al Hujjaj Central Mosque lekki on 25th ofApril 2014


Since the primary assignment of man on earth is to worship Allah, the whole of the earth has been declared a mosque for the Muslims (Bukhari, 7: 1). This implies that worshipping of Allah especially salat can take place anywhere except in seven places: dunghills, slaughterhouses, graveyards, middle of the road, bathhouses, watering places where the camels drink and rest, and on the roof of the house of Allah [the Ka’bah in Makkah] (Ibn Majah). Any place where one prostrates oneself could therefore be regarded a mosque or masjid. At the initial stage of Islam in Makkah, the Muslim community had no special place of worship. The prophet (S.A.W) used to perform the salat (prayer) in secret in the narrow valleys of Makkah with his first male companion ‘Ali bin Abi Talib’ and other early companions.

The spirit of brotherhood enjoined by Islam however makes it mandatory for the Muslims to come together for the purpose of carrying out their religious obligations especially salat when the Prophet later migrated to Madinah. This explains why the resident of the Prophet was turned to a mosque after his migration to Madinah and after laying the foundation of the Ummah. The formation of the Islamic state by the Prophet necessitated addressing new matters, founding institutions and raising new issues for the Ummah to move forward. In addition, it implies that the Muslims had to come together to guide against divergences and separation amongst them. Based on this premise, a common place where Muslims would come together to address issues affecting them in addition to carrying out their religious obligations led to the purchase of a piece of land for the construction of a mosque. Within a short period, the mosque was completed. The mosque was plain, unadorned, extremely simple, its floor was made of sand, its walls of brick, its pulpit of wood and its roof from tree branches and leaves of trees based on the available building materials of the time. Not minding the physical nature of the mosque, quite a good number of activities were held there. According to Al-Ghazālī in the Ihyā’ʻUlūmu `d-Dīn, Mosque is an institution. It is the source of spiritual and material guidance; it is the hall for worship, the school for knowledge and the centre for literacy pursuits. Strongly attached to the duty of prayers and the rows of worshippers are more attitudes and traditions which form the essence of Islam.

Despite the fact that the mosque has been performing great roles and has tremendous effects on the lives of every Muslim, it is observed that the mosque has been considered only as a place where daily obligatory salat are offered, with little or no reference to other roles played by it in the lives of the Muslims. Efforts of many scholars have only concentrated on the related jurisprudential rulings or architectural designs of some mosques with little or no reference to the socio-economic and political use of mosques in the society. This tradition has continued to be with us till the present time. Imams of mosques and their congregation come to the mosques to observe their daily prayers and make supplications, and this alone constitutes the bulk of the programme in virtually every mosque today.

A short History of Mosque in Islam

The migration of the prophet (S.A.W) from Makkah to Madinah (Hijrah) signaled an essential change in his life and his companions who on their arrival at the outskirt of Madinah at Quba, he and his followers spent a few days resting and preparing for the entrance to the city of Madinah ( formerly Yathrib). The Prophet (S.A.W) did not waste much time as he built the first mosque there which henceforth was known as Masjid Quba. The prophet (S.A.W) stayed with his followers in Quba from Monday to Friday morning when they started marching into Madinah proper. In this way, the time for jum‘ah prayer caught up with them at the valley of Ranuna; there, they offered the first jum‘ah (Congregational prayer).

The sacred mosque of Makkah (Al-Masjid al- Haram) came to be known as the first sanctuary for man on earth. Traditions have it that al-Masjid al –Aqsa in Palestine was the second mosque on earth. The date of its establishment is generally believed to be forty years after the construction of the Ka’bah. The mosque at Quba was the third mosque in the world but the first in Islam as earlier discussed. Historically, the Prophet’s mosque at Madinah, al-Masjid an-Nabawiy, was the fourth mosque on earth and second in Islam. However, it comes to surpass all other mosques except the Ka’bah in socio- religious and political aspects.

When Islam later spread beyond the shore of Arabian boarders, mosques were established at each place conquered by the Muslims. The first of such provincial mosques established on conquered lands was al-Basra mosque, which was believed to have been built by Utbah bin Gazwan in 637CE. This was followed by the Kufa mosque, which was believed to have been established by Sa’d bn Abi Waqas in 638/639 CE. Also, the occupation of Fustat (old Cairo) by the Muslim army led by ‘Amr bn al-‘Ās led to the establishment of the first mosque in Africa in 642 CE.

The fourth provincial mosque was established in al-Qayrawan during the reign of the first Umayyad caliph, Mu’awiya. This mosque was believed to have been founded by ‘Uqbah bn Nafi’ in 670-75 CE. By implication, the establishment of Islam in any area was quickly followed by establishment of mosques.

The Mosque as the First Worship Centre

The mosque has been of special value and holiness as God’s house and the most beloved place. As such, Muslims are enjoined to familiarise and frequent themselves with it so that the five daily prayers are observed there. There, the call to prayer is made five times daily; there, the names of Allah and that of the Prophet are proclaimed daily; there, portions of the Qur’an are recited either silently or loudly daily, and there, the word Salam – peace is well pronounced in the tongues of the Imam and the congregation.  The Mosque is therefore the place for the recycling of spirituality through prayers, the remembrance of Allah, the reading of the Holy Quran, and supplications. Little wonder then that masjid is regarded as the House of God. Though Allah does not reside there, the feeling of Allah’s presence is always felt there. There is no doubt that all this could also be felt when praying at home, but the congregational touch will not be there. This therefore explains the superiority of salat in jama’ah to that offered individually is described as being twenty-five times more in reward. In an Hadith related by Abu Hurayrah, the Prophet was reported  to have said: “salat  said in congregation is twenty-five times superior to salat said in house or in shop. It is so because when a person performs wudhu in right earnest and walks to the masjid with the sole intention of performing salat, each step he takes adds one blessing to his account and wipes out one sin therefrom. Again, if he keeps sitting in masjid after the salat is over, the angels keep on seeking Allah’s blessing and forgiveness for him. And as long as he keeps sitting in Masjid waiting for salat, he goes on earning rewards as if he is busy in salat.”

Mosque as a training Centre

It is in the masjid where practical demonstration of virtues taught in Islam is experienced. Islam does not discriminate on the basis of colour or rank. A demonstration of this is felt in the masjid, as every worshipper stands in a row before Allah with no difference between the rich and the poor, children and adults, the weak and the strong, all stand side by side. There is no other place where the teaching of equality before Allah, unity, intimacy and equality is demonstrated than the masjid. This spirit is therefore expected to eliminate hypocrisy, spite, belligerence and pessimism. It suffices here to quote the submission of a scholar on the sense of equality developed in Islam and enhanced through the use of mosque:

Once within the doors of the mosque, every Muslim finds himself in an atmosphere of equality and love. Before their Maker they all stand shoulder to shoulder, the king along with his poorest subject, the rich arrayed in gorgeous robes with the beggar clad in rags, the white man with the black. Nay, the king or rich man standing in a black row will have to lay his head, prostrating himself before God, at the feet of a slave or a beggar standing in the front. There could be no more levelling influence in the world. Differences in rank, wealth and colour vanish within the mosque, and quite a new atmosphere, an atmosphere of brotherhood, equality and love, totally differing from the outside world, prevails within the holy precincts (Muhammad Ali,1973: 298).     

The Mosque as a centre of learning

Islam came with knowledge and no aspect of the religion could be practised effectively well without adequate knowledge. This is the reason why the first revelation to the Prophet summoned its receptor to read. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) used his mosque located in Madinah as the main base for spreading Islamicknowledge and learning while he himself was the first teacher of this Islamic academy. Through this, the Muslims flocked the mosque not only to observe their daily prayers, but to acquire knowledge of their religion. In the mosque the basics of the 'aqīdah (creed), the acts of worship and the Shari'ah rules in all their types, political, economic, social, judicial and others are taught.

The Prophet also asked Abdullah ibn Sa‘īd to teach the Muslims the skills of reading and writing, and within a very short period, some Muslims became literate and so could read and write the Qur’an. The Prophet also took another step to make the Muslims literate by making the literate captives of war gain their freedom by instructing reading and writing to ten Muslim children.Through this, the significance of knowledge and awareness fostering became known to all followers of Islam. Due to the efforts made by the school of Islam to increase people’ awareness, mosques which had already been the main place for worshipping were used as the first base for learning knowledge and the Qur’an was considered as the first book and text for teaching the Muslims.

The Mosque is seen as the first and original Islamic institution throughout the Islamic world. The prophet (S.A.W) used the mosque at Madinah as a centre for educational exhortation and studies in Islamic theology. He interpreted the message revealed to him, made clarification of the meanings of the Qur’an through sermons and lectures. Eventually, the mosque in Islamic history became a centre of learning. It is said that in the fourteenth century, 12,000 mosques were used as centres of learning in Alexandria (Nakosteen, 1964). In 978 the Fatimid dynasty established al-Azhar, a mosque-university, and it remains one of the world's oldest institutions of higher learning. Al-Qayrawani and al-Zaytuna Mosques are today universities in Tunisia, same to Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu and al-Qarawiyyīn in Morocco. Expressing the viability and successes of mosque education, a scholar reported thus:

For centuries, mosques provided higher education in scripture and law. Certain features were characteristic of the great Sunni mosques during the early 1800s. Revenues from waqf endowments and donations from wealthy Muslims financed the educational system. Although some students traveled great distances to study with respected religious scholars, most were from nearby towns and villages. Mosques attracted students from a wide range of economic backgrounds. For students from poor, rural families, a mosque education provided an opportunity for upward mobility. Young, affluent Muslims pursued a mosque education as an avenue to important government or religious positions.

Knowledge of classical Arabic was a requirement for mosque studies. Religious scholars lectured from a favorite pillar in the mosque with students gathered at their feet. After a student completed several years of study under a particular teacher, the teacher issued an ijazah (written statement) certifying that the student had successfully mastered certain texts and was qualified to teach them. Mosques did not have required courses, and students did not receive an official degree or diploma other than the ijazah.

It is on record that great Muslim scholars and scientists were products of these mosque-universities. Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Bajjah were among the graduates of the mosque of Muslim Spain. Ibn Khaldun was a product of Qayrawiyin in Morocco. In addition, prominent scholars had taught in some of these mosques. Al-Baghdadi for instance taught in Al-Azhar mosque in the late 12th century while Ibn Khaldun taught in the same mosque in the 14th century.

Another conspicuous contribution of the mosque to intellectualism could be appreciated in the attachment of libraries to some of these mosques which were turned into universities. This was true of the Fatimid Library, Dāru’l- Hikmah in Cairo and Baytu’l-Hikmah in Baghdad.

Mosque as a healing centre

In the history of mosque in Islam, the mosque developed into a big centre of many activities. Apart from madrasah and libraries attached to some mosques, hospitals were attached to some. This spirit was drawn from an hadith reported by Aisha that Sa’id ibn Mu’adh was injured in the battle of Trench, being hit on the head by a Quraysh called Habban ibn Arqa. The Messenger of Allah therefore pitched a tent in the mosque so that he could be close to him for visitations. On the basis of this, it is justified that dispensary could be an attachment of the mosque. This was however put into practice by Ibn Tulūn who built a world famous mosque in Egypt with a well-equipped dispensary and library attached. The library was believed to have been stocked with a hundred thousand books on medicine and the dispensary used to witness many people who queue to receive treatment on Fridays. The mosque built by ‘Adl ai-Daulah bn al-Buwaih in 993CE in Baghdad also hosted ‘Addi hospital, while  the mosque in Damascus was later expanded to contain a hospital during the tenure of  Sultan Malik. It was also reported that not less than 50 hospitals were hosted by some mosques apart from mobile dispensaries at the peak of Islamic reign in Cordova.

Mosque as a place of accommodation  

At the initial stage of Islam, the mosque served as an accommodation centre where those who came to learn were lodged. Also, about seventy companions of the prophet led by Abu Hurayrah were said to have been accommodated in the mosque store. In addition, some prisoners of war were hosted in the mosque. Bukhari reported that Abu Hurayrah said, "The Prophet (saw) sent some horsemen to Najd and they brought a man called Thumama 1bn Uthal from Banu Hanifah (as a prisoner of war). They fastened him to one of the pillars of the mosque. The Prophet (saw) came and ordered them to release him. He (Thumama) went to a (garden of) date palms near the mosque, took a bath and entered the mosque again and said, 'I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (i.e. he embraced Islam)."

The Mosque as a Court

During the time of the Prophet, judicial activities, resolving disputes, inflicting Islamic punishment on offenders and imprisoning and chastising them were made in the mosque. If a criminal had been convicted to jail or any other Islamic punishment, these sentences would be executed at the mosque. Hence, the mosque at that time was a place of administration of justice, a place in which all judicial affairs were conducted.

Mosque as a centre of socialization

The frequent repetition of salat on daily basis and its observance in the mosque makes the mosque a veritable agent or means of socialization. The Prophet therefore used this opportunity to ask about any Companions (male or female) whom he missed from the mosque for a day or two to help them if they needed help or visit them if they were sick.

The mosque also serves as a place for marriage contract; place for reconciliation, and for receiving condolences. Deputations from non-Muslim tribes were received in the mosque. It is on record that the deputation from the Christian Najran was received in the yard of the mosque. 

Mosque as a centre of economic activities

Other functions performed in the mosque include economic function, which it did through the collection, of religious taxes from the rich, such as Zakat and Sadaqah and giving it out to the poor. The mosque also serves as a centre for sharing wills (Wasiyah) and endowments (Waqf). In addition, there are mosques which have shops within their premises or even attached to the mosque. This is not to say that the commercial transaction should be allowed inside the mosque, as this is against the spirit of Islam. Indeed, the Prophet is reported to have said in an hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah that:

If you see a man buying and selling in the mosque, say to him 'may Allah never make your trade profitable' and if you see a man announcing the lost of a riding beast say to him 'may Allah never return it to you (at-Tirmidhī and an-Nasā’ī).

The Challenges facing the Mosque in contemporary period

The above functions of the Mosque have been hampered by a number of factors. One of such is lack of knowledge of the functions of the mosque. To most Muslims, mosques are only meant for the five daily prayers after which supplications are made. Reference is made to the verses:

This explains why every time the call to prayer is made, and such prayer is concluded, no tangible message will be heard from the mosque’s public address system except supplications. If at all there is any da‘wah, hardly could such benefit the congregation. We observe that as much as people are eager to listen to sermon, many have been disappointed at the nature of message that comes from our clerics that even when there is any meaningful message to be disseminated by some clerics, the congregation is not ready to listen any longer. Or how do we feel when a Muslim cleric ends up his message begging for money or trying to sell out a product in the mosque?

It is also disheartening to observe that our Mallams and Imams find it difficult to relate local issues to international events. They still hold tenaciously to tales and stories that are difficult to prove and are so comfortable disseminating such in the presence of ignorant congregations that will only shout Allahu akbar when such tales are narrated. Rather than using the minbar and mihrab to disseminate useful information, they glue themselves to unsubstantiated stories to prove their erudition.

Another serious challenge facing mosques in the present period is the alarming rate at which the mosques are built. Proliferation of mosques could have been considered a positive development, but what is the motive of establishing mosques, is it for leadership tussle or for commercial purpose? What of the nature of indoctrination and teachings being imparted to the congregation in such mosques? What can one say about the rate at which proliferation of mosques divide the Muslims? Is this not a sign of the Last Hour as reported by the Prophet that: “The hour of doom will not come till people vie with one another in the building of mosques rather than coming frequently to them for offering prayers” (Bukhari). Are we conscious of the fact that the proliferation of mosques could be a plan to frustrate the Muslim Ummah just as Abu Amir a Christian monk collaborated with some hypocrites to build a mosque in Quba?  The Qur’an frowns at the establishment of such masjidul dirar in Qur’an 9: 107 -110 thus:

And there are those who put up a mosque by way of mischief or infidelity – to disunite the Believers – and in preparation for one who warred against God and His Apostle aforetime. They will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good but God doth declare that they are certainly liars. Never stand you forth therein. There is a mosque whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety; it is more worthy of thy standing forth (for prayer) therein. In it are men who love to be purified; and God loveth those who make themselves pure.

Which then is best? - He that lays his foundation on piety to God and His good pleasure? - Or he that lays his foundation on an undermined sand-cliff ready to crumble to pieces? And it does crumble to pieces with him, into the fire of hell. And God guides not people that do wrong. The foundation of those who so build is never free from suspicion and shakiness in their hearts, until their hearts are cut to pieces, and God is All-Knowing, Wise.

 Furthermore, the spirit of making the mosque for the purpose of salat alone and not for any other purposes could be said to have been responsible for construction of the mosque on land that is not up  to a plot with no plan for future expansion. This lack of foresight is responsible for the deplorable condition of many mosques that they cannot even find a place to locate a urinal for the users of such mosques.

Many mosques could not also boast of a source of fund for their maintenance. People are ignorant of the institution of waqf for upkeep of the mosque. A leaf could be borrowed by Muslim philanthropists  from Ibn Tulūn who was said to have constituted a large number of houses as endowment for his mosque and hospital. The waqf was used to pay salaries of  mosque officials and other issues related to the mosques. It is unfortunate that rather than establishing a multipurpose mosque with adequate facilities, well-to-do Muslims have adopted of establishing personal mosques in their well-fenced compound. Such mosques are meant for their families and to some extent only for the gatemen and other workers in the yard make use of the mosque.

On the other hand, it is disheartening that some who are in charge of finance are not truthful enough. The little contribution made by the congregation through the popular fisabilillah could not also reach the expected destination by some greedy individuals collecting such. Hardly could denominations like N500 or N1000 be found in their plate used to collect the money.


By means of concluding this paper, may I put forward the following suggestions to make our mosques attractive and appealing for attendance.

  • The chief Imam of each central mosque must identify members of his congregation with a view to knowing their professions. He can then use the opportunity to interact with them on how members of the congregation can benefit from such profession. For instance, if there is a medical doctor a mosque, through interaction the doctor can organise a short talk on medical or health issue for the congregation in the mosque. Other like this can also follow suit.
  • Pragmatic steps should be taken to ensure reliable means of sourcing funds for its upkeep.
  • The mosque should be made alive by organising different activities that will make it lively. Such can be in form of da‘wah and enlightenment programmes on contemporary issues affecting the Muslims.
  • Modern mosques that will accommodate library, dispensary, multipurpose hall and other facilities should be given utmost attention by individual Muslim community. This may not be attainable in the nearest future, but provision should be made for this through acquisition of vast land for future use.