No Mosque for me, thank you, I'm full
October 2, 2007 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Are there Muslim sects/branches that don't go to mosque?

Are there official branches or sects within Islam that do not require going to mosque regularly? I don't mean "are there unobservant Muslims" but "which branches don't go to mosque?"

A friend of mine just said that they don't go to mosque and have never even heard the call to prayer - but they consider themselves Muslim. They also said that "My kind of Muslim doesn't go to mosque." More info: family is from India (not Pakistan or Bangladesh)

I don't know if they're using Muslim more as a cultural identifier rather than an expression of faith and I don't really want to get into a religious discussion right this minute.

I always thought that to be a devout (as opposed to lapsed) Muslim, you had to go to mosque. [I mean, even the EasterChristmasChristians go to church for the really high holidays.] Is there a flavor of Islam that specifically avoids mosques? My Google-fu is weak in this question.
posted by yggdrasil to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total)
For a religion where apostasy is a death sentence, you won't be surprised that the answer is no.
posted by four panels at 11:47 AM on October 2, 2007

Is he Sufi, perhaps?

In any case, my understanding of Islamic piety is that it encompasses the practices described as the Five Pillars (testimony, fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and pilgrimage).

As for deciding who is an orthodox Muslim and who is not, I leave that to the imams. One challenge is deciding what is considered normative.
posted by jquinby at 12:01 PM on October 2, 2007

from wikipedia: Men are required to perform the fard salat (the five compulsory daily prayers) in congregation (jama'ah), behind an imam when they are able. According to most Islamic scholars, performing salat in congregation is obligatory for men, when they are able, but is neither required nor forbidden for women.

Doing everything else right (ie still praying 5 times lus each day) but not bothering to go to mosque to pray would be considered a bad thing, but a small bad thing in the scheme of things (of course opinion will vary considerably among individuals and congregations). It would be frowned upon by many, certainly, but it's not apostasy. I don't have a lot of specific knowledge of Islam-as-practiced in India, but it may well be that history dictated praying in congregation with an imam simply wasn't feasible for a majority of the time and so a firm rule in other places came to be considered more of a guideline there.
posted by Martin E. at 12:46 PM on October 2, 2007

The Pillar on prayer is purely that, pray five times a day in a prescribed way and in a prescribed direction. Mosque is a way of strenghtening social and religious ties and of getting advice and community support. It is not obligatory in Islam.
That said of the many Muslims I've known over the years I've only noticed people not going to Mosque if they've "lapsed". They tend to be a bit embarrassed about it. They might drink alcohol and in other ways behave in ways that would be haram to orthodox muslims. Then their Mom finds them a nice girl and they start back at Mosque.
posted by Wilder at 12:49 PM on October 2, 2007

He doesn't have to, especially if there is no mosque around. It is not obligatory for Shia muslims, recommended but not mandatory.
Islam is forgiving depending on the situation. And yes he can be muslim, and not pray at all, he would not not performing one of the "columns" duties as a muslim but that does not make him not muslim.
I am speaking from a shia perspective, I am sure some sects of islam are more strict, making not performing the friday prayer in a mosque or group, close to a fault "ethm". But that does not strip him from his "islam".
Also, even in the same sect, he might be following a certain imam, or reference, that would have a different opinion about a matter.
posted by convex at 12:58 PM on October 2, 2007

But the Jama'ah is any group of believers, members of the Umma. So you can often get a small prayer group in someone's house, particularly in the West where a Mosque is difficulty to get to.
The physical building is not the main thing. It would be considered strange if there is a Mosque within easy commute, and subtle social pressures will be brought to bear if you're not seen there regularly. You will be offered a lift, for example, with the implication "I knew you'd go if you could just get the transport" or you'll be told of a really good talk that's coming up. Inviting someone to Iftar after Mosque would be a good one at the moment. (reminds me of my Catholic upbringing actually!)
posted by Wilder at 12:59 PM on October 2, 2007

I've known Muslims who didn't really have a strong Muslim community and therefore practiced their religion without going to mosque.

A close friend when I was an adolescent's family practiced this way. They were Americans who converted to Islam while living in southeast Asia. They lived in an area with a basically nonexistent Muslim population at the time. They did pray and they did observe the Five Pillars as best as they could. His parents felt that finding a mosque-for-mosque's sake was not helpful for them. Don't know how widespread this sort of non-congregational practice is; obviously it's not the typical experience.
posted by desuetude at 1:09 PM on October 2, 2007

To some extent, being Muslim can be simply a cultural identifier. I'm Muslim (nominally, at any rate) and haven't really ever gone to mosque. This is true of many Muslims from Bosnia, Albania, Turkey and so on. There has also been a lot of Sufi influence in some of these places, which places more emphasis on the spiritual part of religious belief, rather than adherence to the five pillars and all that.

There's also the "problem" of many places having one mosque which tilts one way or the other and by doing so, excludes many from going because those people don't adhere to some of the same beliefs. It's no different from (say) a Catholic living in a small town which only has a fundamentalist Baptist church. Many Muslims are "Muslim" without practicing at all, just the same as people who say they are Christians and lead entirely secular lives. This comment . . .

I mean, even the EasterChristmasChristians go to church for the really high holidays.

. . . isn't necessarily true at all. I know plenty of Christians who've never been in a church and still take their religion seriously in their own ways. Islam gets a bad rap due to fundamentalist adherents. In many ways it's at least as "personal" a religion as Christianity, in terms of the myriad ways it's practiced.

Part of the problem with the original question is that - media about Sunnis and Shias aside, Islam simply doesn't have "branches" in the way that Christianity does. There are some generalized differences across regions and cultures, but (by way of example), I once asked 14 young Bosnian Muslims if they were "Shia" or "Sunni," and not one of them had any idea! That distinction isn't that distinct to many Muslims, so the original question is being asked through a sort of filter from a very Christian way of organizing faith that doesn't hold nearly as true in Islam.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2007

ok, so maybe "branches" was the wrong identifier. Would "general or specific movements within Islam" be more appropriate?

And I wasn't saying "there's no such thing as Christians that don't go to church" - i was saying that generally, if someone self-identifies as Christian, they've been to a church, even if they're not regular attendees, or have been in some sort of organized religious setting like bible study or something. I didn't get the impression that my friend had never been to mosque because they'd had no opportunity to - the statement was "my kind of Muslim doesn't go to mosque."

My friend said that they'd never even heard the call to prayer, which struck me as odd. I mean, I've heard it more than once, and I live in the Bible belt. So to me that says that my friend has never even been close to a mosque, and since my friend grew up in a MAJOR metropolitan area, that must have been a conscious choice. It's not just that they're lapsed or non-practicing - either their entire family is, too, or there's some individualistic flavor of Islam that simply does not go to mosque (the easy answer is that the entire family is lapsed and I'm inventing this hypothetical movement out of whole cloth - that just doesn't make for a very interesting question, so I'm proceeding on the assumption that it's not the easy answer)

I wasn't really looking for a discussion on whether there are or aren't branches of Islam like there are in Christianity, and I wasn't looking for affirmation in some sort of "how dare they call themselves Muslim if they don't go to mosque?" rant either. I wasn't asking "is my friend an orthodox Muslim" - it was a general question about the many shades of Islam sparked by a casual conversation. So let me restate or clarify it:

Is there a movement/flavor/sect/grouping/subset of or in Islam that does not go to mosque and is not considered to be lapsed or non-practicing? (stipulating that Islam is not divide easily into branches)

OK, class - discuss. and since we have no data, go ahead and WAG. :)
posted by yggdrasil at 5:03 PM on October 2, 2007

Is there a movement/flavor/sect/grouping/subset of or in Islam that does not go to mosque and is not considered to be lapsed or non-practicing? (stipulating that Islam is not divide easily into branches)

There is a grouping or subset - your friend & their family.

Maybe more than one such subset. Despite the snark, this has been an interesting discussion.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:11 PM on October 2, 2007

A muslim can pray anywhere they want even in a church as their communion with God is supposed to be direct. There are cultural factors that determine whether your group goes to the mosque or not. There are nomadic tribes who don't see mosques for months and just pray in the desert. BTW, my experience with this is from living in the Western Sahara and Morocco where Islam is VERY important; the Saudis would probably say that their version of Islam is pretty lax but whatever.
posted by kenzi23 at 5:48 PM on October 2, 2007

I always thought that to be a devout (as opposed to lapsed) Muslim, you had to go to mosque.

Not really. In Malaysia it's common for devout Muslims to pray at home and only go to mosques on Fridays. It's not quite the same thing as churches in Christianity - it's not the building that's important, it's the action.

Brisbane has a high Muslim population and I haven't heard a call to prayer anywhere. He probably doesn't live near a mosque, is all.
posted by divabat at 6:20 PM on October 2, 2007

I will echo the above comments that a Muslim need not pray in a mosque if it may be difficult (though Friday jumah prayers are highly recommended that way). It is a social thing in many ways so you don't cut off relationship with the community. Saying salaam to a fellow Muslim is very much desired.

On a different note, most Sufi groups do follow a rather strict regimen of the five pillars with a deep spiritual understanding. In fact, the majority of Sufi brotherhoods you will find are much more "orthodox" than the average practicing Muslim. So for example Rumi says in Fihi Ma Fihi: "whoever does not follow the Quran and the tradition of Prophet strictly is severely misguided." But the general perception—thanks to the amazingly unfaithful and cursory Coleman Barks translation—is usually the opposite.
There are groups who may be more lax, but I have found them to be in the minority.
posted by raheel at 8:00 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there a movement/flavor/sect/grouping/subset of or in Islam that does not go to mosque and is not considered to be lapsed or non-practicing? (stipulating that Islam is not divide easily into branches)

This is going to be difficult to answer, except anecdotally, as you're looking for evidence of a non-movement sort of movement. But a few Muslims have chimed in to say that mosque attendance isn't necessarily compulsory and a few others have chimed in with anecdotes, so I think it's fair to say that there are Muslims who, for a variety of personal reasons, eschew the community of a mosque.

I get that you said that you didn't want to get into a religious discussion but when you're in the mood, why not ask your friend why her family doesn't go to mosque in the spirit of wanting to know more about her religion?
posted by desuetude at 9:06 PM on October 2, 2007

Just as a follow-up: I ended up asking my friend last night and it turns out the entire question turned on a misunderstanding: they're the kind of Muslim that doesn't go to mosque because it's not called a mosque - they still go to temple (well, practicing ones do - my friend isn't very observant).

If I'm remembering it right, they're Ismaili and pray in a Jama'at Khana.
posted by yggdrasil at 10:51 AM on October 3, 2007

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