Thinking Beyond The Box


We don’t really need another masjid (mosque) right now. I know this may sound odd, but we, at the moment (baring some odd exception somewhere I’m sure) don’t really need another empty box. For in many ways, that’s what many of our masajid have become. There are many why’s and how-to’s, but for the sake of brevity my explanation will point to the deficiency in human capital in our community. At this stage in the game, communities should begin to shift their focus from throwing more money at buildings to investing in people (my recommendation for communities is to invest in capable human beings who can make their mosques places people will actually want to come to). Across the country the situation seems to be repeating itself: Muslim communities struggle to fill their congregations. And while this post is ultimately not about mosques, it is about the development of an American Muslim culture that is healthy and responsive, which is why I’m here to talk about my daughter’s newest fascination: Ilyas & Duck.

Ilyas & Duck may not be anything new to you. I already know several Muslim parents who love the adorable duo. It’s a great step in a better direction, if I say so myself, from author Omar S. Khawaja. Let me state up front, I have not been paid any sum of money or given any other form of compensation to write what I am writing here. This is just the feedback from one Muslim parent, one imam. What Khawaja has done, though, is courageous try and give our children a normal childhood, but infusing all those things that kids need (stories, rituals, etc.) all the while in congruence with our religious sensibilities. Human capital. My daughter can now go to bed every night with a story she’s excited to read but also helps us parents instill the ideas and values of a Muslim. And the stories are good, to boot. In fact, that’s why I like about them. The stories are good and the art work is also quality. I say that as something of a comic book snob, as my brother, Michael Manley, is a 30-year comic book veteran.

But again, this post is not exclusively about Ilyas & Duck, or Mr. Khawaja. It’s about us, as American Muslims, producing and crafting a culture that resonances with our religious sensibilities, and this can only come through supporting human beings, and not buildings. This support not only has to come in the form of economic support (which it should!), but also in emotional support. There is a stigma in some corners of our community that the only worth while pursuit is, on the secular end, to become a doctor or a lawyer, and on the religious side, a hafidh or an imam. But I’m here to tell you, we need to be putting our full support behind folks like Omar Khawaja and others like him, to support their artistic efforts, so that we build that next generation. For it is clear that we cannot “mosque” our way out of our current predicament.

You’ll have to excuse me, though. It’s time to read a bedtime story to my daughter (a.k.a., build the next generation of American Muslims).