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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Community News (V9-I39)

September 20, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Faith communities urged to shine the light on post-911 discrimination

CHICAGO, IL—Two leading faith-based publishers – one Muslim, one Christian – urged that faith communities “shine the light” on a disturbing pattern of discrimination across America in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“We live in a xenophobic country,” said the Rev. John Buchanan, editor and publisher of The Christian Century magazine. “We thought we had [even] taken care of anti-Semitism and that has been popping up here and there. One of the things we must do is name it [xenophobia] and keep shining a light on it.”

Buchanan, who is also pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church here, was responding to a presentation from Imam Malik Mujahid, president of the largest Islamic publishing house in the U.S., who had offered some alarming statistics about what he called “the unreported domestic war on terror.”

Since September 11, 2001, Mujahid said, 500,000 Muslims have been interviewed by the FBI. Mujahid estimated 24% of Muslim American households have had a visit from the FBI. He estimated 28,000 have been detained or deported. Mujahid said special prisons for Muslim prisoners have been established since 9/11 and “Halliburton has a government contract to build more.”

Mujahid, who is imam to three mosques and chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said he constantly hears critics claim that Muslim leaders do not condemn terrorism. Muslim leaders have been doing that all along, he said, pointing to a unanimous resolution of the U.S. Senate praising Muslim leaders for speaking out. That resolution got virtually no media attention, he noted.

Both religious leaders shared their thoughts on “The Legacy of 9/11 on Media, Faith and Society.” The interfaith dialogue, held on the sixth anniversary of the 2001 terrorism events, was hosted by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) meeting near the national headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the NCC’s 35 member communions.

Mujahid had many examples of what he says Muslims call “Islamophobia” but he particularly pointed to the swearing in of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to the U.S. Congress. Last December Rep. Virgil Goode (R.-Va.) had made anti-Muslim remarks regarding Ellison’s use of the Koran in the private ceremony in taking his oath of office.

“There was no statement from the Republican Party” objecting to Rep. Goode’s remarks, he said. “There was no statement from President Bush.”

Buchanan acknowledged the National Council of Church’s role in speaking up on behalf of those who are being scapegoated in our country but said, “the evangelicals have just ‘out-mediaed’ us in the past few years.” He urged moderate mainline churches to speak out more loudly on behalf of “our Muslim brothers and sisters” and protest Islamaphobia when it is seen.

“We must say no to the late D. James Kennedy’s notion that this is a Christian nation and we must do all we can to elect Christians to office to keep it that way,” Buchanan said. “We must say no to Franklin Graham’s statements…[that disparage] Muslims.”

Buchanan said, we must concentrate on the “inclusive and tolerant tradition” that is in all of our sacred texts. He read from Isaiah 19 as an example of “the inclusive view of God?that’s worth knowing about and talking about.”

“What are you going to do with information like that?” asked the Rev. Michael Livingston, NCC president, who was moderator of the discussion. “The level of ignorance and lack of awareness in the religious community, this war, this is part of our legacy,” Livingston told the church communicators. He challenged his audience to “move this legacy in a different direction.”

The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America’s Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and traditional peace churches. Those member communions represent 45 million faithful Christians in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

Chicago cabbies get tickets while praying

CHICAGO, IL–Muslim taxi drivers in Chicago have alleged that as many as 500 of them have been ticketed for parking vehicles in access lanes near O’Hare Airport while pray at a nearby prayer trailer. The trailer has been set up by the city for making it convenient for observant drivers to pray. Cab drivers claim that despite providing them with the location, the city punishes them with hefty fines for using it.

The tickets ranging from $50 to $80 can cut a driver’s daily profits into half.

“The financial impact, at least from a revenue standpoint, is huge,” says Wolfgang J. Weiss, one of the managing directors of the Chicago Professional Taxicab Drivers Association. “We just want them to back off.”

Aviation Department spokesman Greg Cunningham said authorities do not want to interrupt Muslims and their prayer habits, according to Chicago Suntimes. But he contends that cabbies must follow the rules at a facility that needs to be clear of traffic in order for operations to run smoothly and safely.

“It’s a temporary parking and holding area,” Cunningham said. “If a vehicle blocks off other vehicles from leaving the facility, it becomes a problem.”

Malaysian Fulbright scholar to visit Montgomery County

Rosnani Hashim, professor of education at the International Islamic University in Malaysia, will be at Montgomery County Community College from Oct. 18 until Nov. 11.

During her stay, Hashim will engage in scholarly activities both at the college and in the community.

In Malaysia, Hashim has taught educational philosophy, history and sociology from the Islamic perspective since 1987 at the International Islamic University.

She has written extensively on Islamic education and its roles and position in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-faith society like Malaysia, and she has lectured abroad on the issues of Muslim worldview, education, curriculum and women.

Hashim holds a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in education from the University of Florida, a master of science degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin and a bachelor’s in mathematics from Northern Illinois University.

She has served as the vice president of Women’s Affairs for the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, and she has published six books and has written more than 30 articles, book chapters and papers.

“It’s tremendously prestigious that our students will have the opportunity to interact with another Fulbright scholar,” said Aaron Shatzman, dean of social science and writer of the Fulbright scholar application.

“We are among a very elite group of institutions to be awarded a visiting specialist under this program. Dr. Hashim will afford both the college and community at large a valuable perspective into higher education from a Muslim point of view.”

“The presence of a Fulbright scholar on our campuses is yet another demonstration of the high quality and excellence of the education and cultural outreach that we provide to our students and the community,” said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College. “We are deeply honored to welcome a scholar of Dr. Hashim’s stature to our institution.”

The Fulbright Visiting Specialist program “Direct Access to the Muslim World” is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) in Washington, D.C.

Interfaith support for Jewish temple

FAYETTEVILLE, AK–When a Jewish congregation was facing opposition from the community over its plans to construct a synagogue in the Butterfly House neighborhood, help came from an unexpected quarter. Fadil Bayyari, a practicing Muslim, approached the congregation and offered to provide contracting services at cost.

Bayyari was aware of similar opposition faced by Muslims across the nation and wanted to help.

“ Having that partnership with a practicing Muslim and Palestinian Arab, we really feel that spirit will cross religious boundaries and attract people from all walks of life, ” said Ralph Nesson, a member of the fundraising committee.

Mosque proposed in Manchester

MANCHESTER, CT–The Connecticut town may get its first mosque soon, if the plans of a group of local Muslims are approved.

The Association of Muslim Community is requesting a special exception to allow a place of worship in a residential zone. The group hopes to renovate a small, single-family house at 232 Woodland St. and convert it into a mosque, Association of Muslim Community Treasurer Tarek Ambia said.

Ambia said the group consists of about 25 to 30 Muslims, most of them Manchester residents, who now travel to East Hartford, Hartford, and Windsor to worship and who would like to establish a mosque closer to their homes.

“They feel like they should have something here locally,” Ambia said.

Town regulations allow places of worship in residential zones as long as they meet several requirements in areas such as parking and screening between the place of worship and nearby homes.

Plan to build first Mosque in Hawaii questioned

A Muslim group in Hawaii is soliciting donations to build what would be the Island’s first mosque. The “Masjid Al-Baqi Project” plans to acquire a house in the Kona Highlands subdivision and convert it into a mosque.

But the plan has already attracted media scrutiny after the seller of the house and her listing agent say that the house is in escrow but not for Syed Kamal Majid, the only person named in the documents connected with the Mosque project.

The listing agent says the buyers are “a Hawaiian family” and have noting to do with any mosque plan.

MAS Freedom Launches ‘Faith over Fear and Justice for All’ Campaign in Texas

KATY, TX—The Muslim American Society has launched a campaign to fight attempts to slander and intimidate the Muslim community of Katy, Texas. The Muslim community is facing stiff opposition for its plans to build an Islamic center.

Opponents of the center, who own property adjacent to the site of the proposed Islamic Center of Katy, have initiated an Anti-Muslim campaign, which includes the use of a misleading internet website address that continues to post extremely derogatory and inflammatory propaganda directed against the Muslim community and Prophet Muhammad (s).

The purpose of the Faith Over Fear and Justice for All Initiative, according to MAS Freedom Executive Director Mahdi Bray, is to “encourage and build a positive interfaith atmosphere that affirms the right of all people of faith to live in freedom from intimidation and hatred, and that builds bridges of real understanding and mutual respect for the good of the entire community.”

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