Quranic Reflection No. 429. Ayat 9:18 – The Maintainers of Masājid

إِنَّمَا يَعْمُرُ مَسَاجِدَ اللَّهِ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَلَمْ يَخْشَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ
Innamā ya ‘muru masājida-llāhi man āmana billāhi wal-yawmil-ākhiri wa-aqāmas-salāta wa-ātaz-zakāta walam yakhsah illal-lāh
Only those shall maintain Allah’s mosques who believe in Allah and the Last Day and maintain the prayer and give the zakat and fear no one except Allah.
(Sūrat al-Tawbah, No 9, Āyat 18)

The masjid (mosque) is an essential part of the spiritual and social fabric of a believing community.  Those who maintain it and frequent it must possess certain qualities. The main aim of the masjid is to nurture pure individuals and the maintainers of the mosque must be people who nourish that growth.

The word innamā at the beginning of the verse indicates a restriction, only the people who possess these qualities should be those who maintain the masjid. According to Tafsīr Sāfī the maintainers of the mosque include those who look after it and take care of the physical structure and upkeep as well as those who teach and preach in it. The everyday affairs of the masjid as well as the planning of its functionality is handled by them. These people must be sincere believers. The disbelievers and polytheists cannot be the people who participate in the upkeep of the masjid. Nor can they include those with weak belief and selfish motives.

According to this verse the people who maintain the masājid (pl. of masjid) should possess five qualities:

Belief in Allah ‘azza wajall – this is the root of their work in the mosque. The Holy Prophet (s) says: When you see a person with the habit of frequenting the mosque bear witness to his faith (from Tafsīr Durr al-Manthūr as quoted in Tafsīr-e Nūr)

Belief in the Hereafter – The work in the mosque is a preparation for the Hereafter. Without these beliefs there cannot be sincerity in action. Even if the actions are apparently good the inner realities may be clouded and misplaced.

Establishing prayer -the belief of these people is manifested in their actions. A commitment to regular prayer is the hallmark of a believer

Giving charity – The actions of prayer and charity go together. A believer connects to God and to His creatures.

Not being afraid of anyone other than Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā. The spirit of these people makes them concerned only about their responsibility to Allah (swt) and His pleasure with their actions. They are not afraid of what other might say or do to them. This spiritual bravery would help them speak out against oppression of all forms.

The above qualities show that the people who maintain the masjid should be believers who have strong faith and action. They cannot be in their positions because of wealth or social influence. These are not the criteria for working in the house of God. Without these five qualities there is the potential of the maintainers of the masjid leading people towards hypocrisy and misguidance. The main function of the mosque is to be a place where believers remember Allah (swt) and get closer to Him. It helps them progress in their journey towards God. The Quran says: And the mosques belong to Allah, therefore so do not invoke anyone along with Allah (Q 72:18).

Let this verse be an important reminder of who should really be maintaining the masājid. The Prophet (s) had predicted that there would come a time when the wrong people would oversee this noble task. He said: There will come a time when there will not remain [anything] of the Quran except its ritual, and of Islam except its name, people will call themselves Muslims while they will be the furthest from it, their masājid will be outwardly well maintained but inwardly ruined [devoid of guidance] (al-Kāfī, v.8, p.308). May God protect us from such places.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Āghā Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr.