A Truly Open Marketplace

When Mayor David Miller spoke at Masjid Toronto 10 years ago during Doors Open Toronto, he made an interesting observation. He remarked on the contrast between our masjid and the church his family attended in the Anglican tradition.

Unlike the church, the masjid is an open space where anyone could pray at the front (or anywhere else, really). It’s first come, first served.

In his family’s church, the pews were assigned. The wealthier, upper class families would sit in the front, and poorer members of the congregation sat towards the back.

There are no such assigned seats at the masjid. Whoever comes to a spot first will pray there. And they can stay in that space until they’re ready to leave.

When the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, came to Medina, he established a masjid and a marketplace. They were both endowments (waqf / awqaf), meaning that they were public property, not privately owned by any individual or group. They also both followed the first come, first served rule.

Just as no one reserves places in the masjid to pray, in this open marketplace in Medina, no one reserved a place to sell.  Whoever came to a spot in the marketplace first could occupy that space and sell there until he was done.

Imagine what this meant.

One of the biggest barriers to entry for a merchant is rent — the cost of a spot in the marketplace to sell in. This barrier to entry allows big players to maintain and grow their position by keep small players out.

Imagine a publicly owned marketplace, like a publicly owned prayer place, like the masjid.

The implications and opportunities are huge.