Community News (V12-I17)

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Parvez Ahmed nominated to serve on Human Rights Commission

Dr. Parvez Ahmed, assistant professor of finance at University of North Florida, has been nominated by the mayor of Jacksonville to serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“There are some here that believe they caught somebody that’s an evil person,” Mayor John Delaney told the council committee. “That is not the case here. It has the feel of lynching. It has the feel of what happened to the Japanese citizens on the West Coast in World War II who were incarcerated for simply being who they were.”

There were two protestors at the council meeting one of whom was escorted out.

The council committee voted to approve the nomination. The process will be complete when the full council votes later on.

Ahmed’s nomination was opposed by councilman Clay Yarborough who had earlier voted in his favor but reverses his stance this week. He did not cite the reason.

“I think there is a lot of fear, and the fear is exploited by people with definite agendas who have stated agendas of disempowering Muslims in America,” Ahmed said.

Young Muslims in US Seek Homegrown Imams

By Vidushi Sinha | Voice of America

The Muslim population in the United States is growing, and so is its need for spiritual guidance. A new generation American Muslims is demanding more from local mosques than they can always provide.

“It’s not what you see on television or it’s not what people are talking about or a dress code or whatever. It’s about being good to your fellow man, about being good to your God. That’s all it is. That’s what it is,” said Adeel Zeb, an aspiring imam and a Muslim chaplain at American University in Washington. He reaches out to young Muslims with what he calls the real message of Islam.

Zeb says there is often a disconnect between young Muslims and the foreign born leaders who head many mosques in the United States.

“When a youth comes and approaches the imam who comes from a different country – first of all there is a language barrier, second of all, there is a cultural barrier, and then there is also an age barrier. Many barriers have to be overcome,” he said.

Sayyid Syeed is a top official with the Islamic Society of North America. He concedes that many imams at American mosques are from overseas, but he says that’s beginning to change.

“We had to reject some imams who only knew the Koran, but could not relate themselves to the people. They came with the mentality that did not fit with our constituency where you have men and women actively in the leadership positions of islamic centers and these imams who came from overseas could not reconcile themselves with the fact that women were running the islamic centers,” he said.

In many Islamic countries, the imam’s   sole job is to lead the prayer. But here in  the United States, they often serve a  broader role.

“It is much more about leading the community than leading just the prayer,” said Sheikh Shaker Elsayed, the imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia. “Here you are a judge, you are an arbitrator, you are a mediator, you are a psychologist, you are a psychiatrist at times and you are a friend. You are a brother, you are a leader, a teacher, and all of those combined, and everybody wants to pick from you what they need.”

Imam Elsayed came from Egypt three decades ago. “The learning curve of most imams is very steep. It takes an average of five to eight years for an imam to become a true, local, effective imam, especially when you move from your very small environment to a big, large, open environment like the United States,” he said.

But young American Muslims often have questions that require more immediate answers. “You need an imam who has an understanding of Muslim life here. I know I grew up around a mosque I went to only twice a year,” said Tanim Awwal.

The community at large understands the need for an imam who knows the turmoil a Muslim American goes through while growing up in a non-Muslim country.

“You have to reach them at high school level, at the college level when they are exploring. When they are learning, when their mind is still young and receptive,” said Adeel Zeb.

Zeb argues that Muslim Americans want a spiritual guide who can help to reconcile 14 centuries of Islamic scholarship with the modern traditions of American life.

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Abundant Faith, Shrinking Space

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Mosques Turn to Synagogues, Ballrooms to Accommodate Growing Membership

By William Wan, Washington Post

They stream in through the doors every Friday — a sea of Muslims pouring into a synagogue in Reston.

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Muslims facing a lack of worship space lease a Jewish synagogue in Reston, Virginia, prompting an unexpected cultural exchange.

The men roll out long prayer rugs on the synagogue floor. An imam stands up front and praises Allah. And as the faithful begin whispering their prayers in flowing Arabic, their landlord, a rabbi, walks by to check whether they need anything.

This unlikely arrangement between a burgeoning Muslim congregation and a suburban synagogue is what happens when you combine the region’s rapidly growing Muslim population with a serious shortage of worship space.

As area mosques prepare for the start of Ramadan this weekend, many are simply bursting at the seams. Every available inch — even in lobbies and hallways — is being used. Parking is impossible. Traffic afterward is worse than postgame gridlock at FedEx Field.

Nobody knows how many Muslims are in America — estimates range from 2.35 million to 7 million — but researchers say the population is growing rapidly, driven by conversions, immigration and the tendency for Muslims to have larger families. One study by Trinity College in Connecticut shows the percentage nationwide having doubled since 1990. In the Washington area, the increase might be even sharper, local Muslim leaders say.

A building boom has brought new mosques to suburbs such as Manassas and Ellicott City, but many have been full from the moment they opened. So, desperate for room, Muslim communities have started renting hotel ballrooms, office space and, yes, even synagogues to handle the overflow.

“We say our prayers, and a few hours later they meet for Sabbath and they say their prayers,” said Rizwan Jaka, a leader at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque in Sterling, which added services at two synagogues last year. “People may think it’s strange or odd, but we are simply grateful for the space.”

The extra room will prove crucial this weekend with the beginning of Ramadan — a month of fasting that often draws hundreds to mosques in addition to regular members. Anticipating the throngs, many mosques have hired off-duty police and rallied volunteers to handle the traffic.

“Just like you have Easter Christians, Hanukkah Jews, we have what we call Ramadan Muslims. They just come out of the woodwork on the holy days,” said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church.

Last year at the height of Ramadan, Abdul-Malik had to turn many away to avoid violating occupancy rules, which limit his mosque to 2,000 worshipers. When asked how many he expects this year, the imam chooses his words carefully: “I’d rather not say because of the fire marshal.”

“The prophet Isaiah said our houses would be houses of prayer for all people,” said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk. “Now, I don’t know if Isaiah could have imagined us hosting Ramadan in the synagogue, but the basic idea is there.”

It turned out to be relatively easy. Their new Muslims friends didn’t need much: wide-open space, carpet to cushion the floor and a place for their shoes. The synagogue’s social hall suited them perfectly.

The arrangement has led to the unexpected benefit of cultural exchange. There have been pulpit swaps, with the imam and rabbi preaching to each other’s congregation and interfaith visits as well.

David Fram, 72, who sings in the synagogue’s choir, was recently invited to the Sterling mosque for daily prayers. It was an amazing, if somewhat awkward, experience. “I didn’t know quite what to do; there was a lot of bending and kneeling in their prayers,” he said.

Standing quietly in the back of the prayer hall, Fram decided to simply bow his head in reverence. He ate lunch (“some kind of spicy meat and rice”) afterward. And a few weeks later, he found himself at Barnes & Noble buying a Koran, out of curiosity.

“It’s not like the U.N. here. We’re not looking to draft some final settlement agreement between Israel and Palestine,” Nosanchuk said. “But we’re learning from each other, and we’re trying to give them the space they need and make them feel at home.”

ADAMS and other congregations are unlikely to solve their space problems anytime soon because of the long lag time usually required for new mosques. Because the Koran prohibits borrowing money at interest, congregations don’t use bank loans for construction. Instead, they fundraise over many years and then pay in cash.

The process can be excruciating.

It took Muslims in Prince William County 10 years before they accumulated enough money for a new home. While they waited, they crammed into a one-story house off Route 234. Each week, they somehow fit 50 cars into a space meant for 20. When services got too full, people knelt outside and prayed on the grass.

Women working minimum-wage jobs donated their family’s jewelry to the new-mosque fund. When construction finally began in 2004, families often drove out to the site just to watch and dream about a future of plentiful parking and prayer space.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Almost as soon as the new mosque, Dar Al-Noor, opened three years ago during Ramadan, the building was packed with 1,200 people. So this year throughout Ramadan, members will continue praying and fundraising for further expansion, said the community’s president, Mohammad Mehboob.

“We are a community with many people but not so much money,” Mehboob said. “But Allah has always provided for us. It’s amazing we have this mosque now, and, inshallah, we will continue to build and grow.”

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