Muslims Take Larger Role In Community
Md. Muslim Volunteers Gather Tons of Goods for Area Pantries
By Colleen Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page C04
Only two tractors and a slice of cleared land hint that a long-held dream of a Howard County Muslim congregation is edging closer to reality -- and with it, hopes of becoming a more integral part of the community's daily fabric. After bouncing among facilities for their prayers and gatherings since the early 1990s, members of Dar Al-Taqwa are just months away from a building permit to erect the county's first mosque. The worship center, planned for a wooded seven-acre lot on a semi-rural stretch of Route 108, will be a place to call their own, to teach Arabic to their children and to honor the customs and rituals of Islam. It also will be the most tangible sign of Howard's growing Muslim population, which, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has embraced a vision that transcends the walls of its future religious center. "We are becoming more and more aware that we as a Muslim community . . . should be more involved," said Naseem Khan, a pediatrician who has lived in the county since 1979. "We have spent 30 years of our life here. We feel a part of it." Plans for the mosque parallel the construction of Islamic centers around the Washington region in the last decade. On the border of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society soon will worship in a new $4 million mosque. In Prince George's County, leaders of the Islamic Community Center of Laurel are looking for more space after just two years. But the future Dar Al-Taqwa -- Arabic for "the house of righteousness" -- represents only part of the social, political and professional presence that Howard County's 800 Muslim families have sought to define this year. While leaders want to ensure that their specific concerns are addressed, they also want to show that local Muslims are far removed from the terrorists who invoke Islam and that they are as determined as non-Muslim residents to build a better community. "We have the same values, the same interests to make Howard County a better place for everyone," said Anwer Hasan, president of the Howard County Muslim Council. The council, which is leading the effort, has sponsored candidate meet-and-greets, campaign fundraisers and issues forums. Last month, it held a networking meeting for Muslim professionals; attending were the owners of some of the county's nearly two dozen Muslim businesses, which include Sizar's Food Market, the only Middle Eastern grocery store in Howard. It has begun talking with public school officials about some high schools offering Arabic as a foreign language, as is already done in Fairfax and Montgomery counties. And this Sunday, the council holds its first health fair, with about two dozen of the county's Muslim doctors participating. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Columbia Medical Building on Patuxent Parkway, the physicians will provide mammograms and blood tests to uninsured and low-income adults. For some, these events mark a milestone in their evolution from foreign immigrants to American citizens, said Khan, a native of Pakistan who organized the health fair. After early years spent working hard to pay bills and provide education for their children, "we have achieved what we came here for," she said. "We are very thankful for that. We want to show that we are not taking our life for granted." Dar Al-Taqwa's congregation is a melange of races and nationalities, white and black, from this country, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Electronics engineer Sayed Hassan is one of the founders and recalls its start worshiping out of the Wilde Lake shopping center. Members spent several years fundraising and pooling their own savings to purchase the one-story house on Route 108 that currently serves as their religious center. But the home's small meeting room barely accommodates the 40 children, ages 4 to 12, who arrive on weekends for Arabic and Islamic study. Friday prayer services for the 150 people who usually come are held in a rented space at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia. Those crowded, itinerant days appear to be nearing an end. County planners approved the group's site development plan in July. A volunteer group of Muslim engineers did the architectural work for the 2 1/2-story mosque, which will include a library and classroom space. The design will be submitted in the next two weeks, Hassan said. Members hope to break ground this spring for the $2 million building. They have raised $300,000 to date; Islamic law forbids them to take out any loan involving interest. Imam Mahmoud Abdel-Hady, a Howard resident for 14 years, said that like all of its neighbors, the Muslim community strives to advance the place it calls home. "There are common issues that mankind needs and stands on common ground on," he said. "Integrating on these issues is part of being a human being."