masjid in the Qur’an

Place of worship

This article is from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation.

masjid / masājid – place of worship

The word masjid comes from the s-j-d root.

To summarise:

  • There is no Qur’anic basis to the notion that the s-j-d root denotes physical prostration; rather, it means submission or subjection (see Article VI)
  • The Arabic noun pattern mafʿid / mafāʿid (the noun pattern which masjid follows) denotes place and / or occasion of the root concept

On the basis of the above, we can reasonably surmise that masjid means a place and / or occasion characterised by submission or subjection (to something – in this case God).

Thus, it means a place and / or occasion characterised by submission or subjection to God – or, in other words, a time or place of worship or service.

The Traditionalist has it (at least some of the time because certain Qur’anic contexts force him to abandon his preference) that masjid denotes mosque. If by mosque we mean a place where a man is in subjection to and worships God, then that meaning is acceptable. But that is not the sense the Traditionalist wishes us to derive.

He means, firstly, a place in which a man physically prostrates and, secondly, where a man prostrates according to the non-Qur’anic concept of ṣalāt as practiced within the non-Qur’anic religion he calls Islam. However, this reading of the word masjid is precluded by the context in the Qur’an in certain places, a point which the Traditionalist is forced to concede in his translations.

For example:

[And said], “If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, [you do it] to them [i.e., yourselves].” Then when the final [i.e., second] promise came, [We sent your enemies] to sadden your faces and to enter the masjid [i.e., the temple in Jerusalem], as they entered it the first time, and to destroy what they had taken over with [total] destruction. (17:7)
[Saheeh International]

All interpolations in the verse belong to the Traditionalist. He knows perfectly well there was no Islamic place of worship in Jerusalem at that time in question and is forced to replace his default meaning for masjid with another one.

The Traditionalist’s aim at all times is the same: to impress upon the mind of the reader that a direct and natural correlation exists between the Qur’an and his religion.

I don’t care one way or another about a religion. If what is claimed by the Traditionalist were truly found in the Qur’an, I would be ready to follow it. But it is not, so I must disregard it.

The value which I claim for masjid is time or place of worship (but not specifically of an ‘Islamic’ nature). But does it fit? And if so, what ramifications does it have for our understanding of the text?

Here is the Traditionalist’s translation of 2:113-116.

The Jews say, “The Christians have nothing [true] to stand on,” and the Christians say, “The Jews have nothing to stand on,” although they [both] recite the Scripture. Thus do those who know not [i.e., the polytheists] speak the same as their words. But Allāh will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that over which they used to differ. (2:113)

And who are more unjust than those who prevent the name of Allāh from being mentioned [i.e., praised] in His mosques and strive toward their destruction. It is not for them to enter them except in fear. For them in this world is disgrace, and they will have in the Hereafter a great punishment. (2:114)

And to Allāh belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allāh. Indeed, Allāh is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (2:115)

They say, “Allāh has taken a son.” Exalted is He! Rather, to Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are devoutly obedient to Him (2:116)
[Saheeh International]

Because the Traditionalist requires masjid to reference his religion, his reading of 2:114 pulls the topic in an awkward direction. However, the natural reading of this passage (including the word translated mosques) treats only of the Jews and Nazarenes – including 2:114 – and has nothing to say about the so-called Islamic religion.

Here is another example:

O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. (7:31)
[Saheeh International]

The Traditionalist has switched here to masjid again. (His entire presentation depends upon the reader never doing due diligence on his claims.) But no matter, the obvious question one would ask the Traditionalist at this juncture is: how can the Qur’anic value for masjid be what he claims for it (i.e. the mosque of the Islamic religion) when the verse is directed toward all humanity? It doesn’t make sense. It would need to address the mu’minūn or the muslimūn for his value to make sense.

The Traditionalist’s value for masjid is required by him since he has a religion to maintain and all efforts are bent to that predetermined end.

The verifiable fact is that place of worship fits every context where masjid occurs in the text and is demonstrated by usage to be a generic term with no affiliation with any religion. Certainly, the Muslim’s religious buildings are places of worship, but they do not exhaust the possibilities of the word masjid in the same way that while soccer stadiums are sports arenas they do not exhaust the possibilities of what a sports arena is. There exist many sports arenas in which soccer is not played.

In summary, the Qur’anic usage of the term thwarts any claim that masjid and mosque are exclusively synonymous since there are both instances where the fit is openly suspect, and ones where the Traditionalist is forced to abandon his preferred value in order to complete the verse with a straight face.

On that basis, we can say that the Qur’anic value for masjid has some overlap with what the Traditionalist claims for it but is in no way synonymous with it.

References

2:114, 2:187, 7:29, 7:31, 9:17, 9:18, 9:107, 9:108, 17:7, 18:21, 22:40, 72:18.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of Quranite.com and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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