The Mosque as a Spatial Form of Belonging and Connection
In the Melbourne research site, data collection commenced during Ramadan and consequently a large focus of the discussions about Islamic communal ritual practices centred on Ramadan. Yet, Ramadan was also discussed as a significant period by members in the Detroit research sample, who reported that it fostered social connections to the mosque, neighbours, and place. Ramadan as a practice is associated with the attainment of individual spiritual states of humility and compassion for the needy; indeed, the practice of fasting is thought to activate feelings of social responsibility and care, as well as compassion and shared vulnerability with those living in poverty and disadvantage. The stimulation of these spiritual states through embodied acts is complemented by an increased obligation to serve the community through volunteering, giving charity, and looking after the needs of neighbours.
Interpersonal neighbourliness and community organisations:
Participants described several social spaces where rituals and practices such as daily prayers, ritual cleansing or wudu, attending Friday sermon, or wearing the hijab are performed, marking participants as visibly Muslim to non-Muslim citizens and eliciting either positive or negative responses. Significant among these spaces, where public responses were experienced most acutely, were the workplace, school, and everyday public spaces (parks, public transport, and libraries). Variations between the three sites – each of which responded to unique civic and national cultures shaped by differences in social and political accommodation of rights and freedom to religious practice – resulted in very different outcomes for participants.
The first social space in which engaging in private or communal religious practices provoked feelings of either inclusion or exclusion was the workplace. In the first instance, and common across all three sites, the workplace was a crucial public venue for the practice of prayer. Accommodation by management and staff in the workplace, either by providing the use of a room or space for prayer or by allowing Muslim employees the time to engage in worship, encouraged strong feelings of social inclusion, acceptance, and belonging.
Participants in the Melbourne sample especially noted that policies around the provision of spaces and time were often implemented in public institutions and private workplaces in Australia, where respect and accommodation of the right to practice faith is institutionalised. Participants, reflecting on their experiences as Muslim employees there, reported that these affordances made them feel included and accepted, and enhanced their feelings of equal belonging and respect.
One participant however spoke of a situation where he was responsible for making recommendations for a multifaith prayer space in a public institution. Even though this was the reason for his employment, he was not able to take the time to engage in obligatory prayer himself, because it clashed with the busy work schedule:
Ali’s need to pray in the workplace was not respected and this affects his confidence and self-esteem in ways that result in feelings of marginalisation. This feeling registers particularly in the French sample. Participants in France who wished to pray five times a day often had to find the venue and time to do so without the support of the state, employers, or trade unions.
Participants cited the mosque as a central place for connection, reflection, and belonging; particularly during Ramadan and Eid:
The iftar dinners (an evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset) that are held by mosques during Ramadan – as well as on mosque open days and interfaith events – also demonstrate the civic function of the mosque in communicating the central values of Islam and encouraging civic activity, broader intercultural engagement, and harmony. For the Imams, this is more than good community relations, it is one of the foundations of the faith to be a good neighbour:
In France over the last decade, the construction of mosques and other places of worship has emerged as a contentious issue. With the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State, France was formally established as a secular state, and as such, it does not fund the construction of religious buildings. France’s religious buildings predating the Separation, mostly Catholic Churches, have heritage listings and are thus maintained on public funds. There are other such occasions when the construction of religious buildings is authorised and paid for with government funds, but authorities have generally been unwilling to direct these funds to the building of mosques.
Religious venues are very dependent on a city’s mayoral support and good will. Participants who lived in areas with limited places of worship – ranging from cellars in an apartment block, a simple room in a building, or a dedicated room opened in a Muslim shop – indicated a preference for praying at home. In Paris, however, the Muslim community confronted with inadequate facilities often have no options but to pray in the streets especially during the Friday sermons.