Muslim worshippers say mosque expansion near Detroit was overdue
David N. Goodman of Associated Press
GROWING up in Lebanon, Rayan Dughayli came across a mosque on nearly every corner. But when he moved to the United States at 13, it was harder to find one.
Five years later, the Dearborn resident said he eagerly awaited the construction of the new Islamic Center of America - the newest addition among the places of worship along Altar Road.
"Every time I'd pass by," Dughayli said, "I'd look and imagine myself in the mosque."
His wait ended in May, when the new $14-million (euro12-million) center opened in Dearborn (Michigan), USA.
During a break from classes at a nearby community college, he was among the handful of men recently attending afternoon prayers at the mosque, the centerpiece of a 70,000-square-foot (6,300-square-meter) facility. Also worshipping were dozens of young people from the center's adjacent grade school.
Ali Kawsan, a 20-year-old Dearborn resident, said having a mosque of this stature was overdue in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb that's home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of people with roots in the Middle East, many of whom are Muslim.
"It's kind of rejuvenated the faith in this community. People say they can't believe something like this could exist in America," said Kawsan, a University of Michigan engineering student who also works as a salesman. "It's a blessing for us to be in a place like this. When I look around I say, ... 'God is good."'
While the mosque draws up to 900 worshippers each Friday, 4,000 to 5,000 come on holidays, said Eide A. Alawan, who volunteers as the center's interfaith and outreach liaison.
Besides the mosque, the facility has offices, bathrooms with pre-prayer washing areas and three banquet halls that can seat more than 1,000 people. The halls are used for funerals, lectures and other events. They also have been host to thousands of Muslims attending nightly lectures during the holy month of Ramadan, which started a couple of weeks ago.
The Islamic Center is one of a growing number of mosques in this country.
The American Muslim population began growing dramatically after 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson abolished an immigration quota system that had disproportionately benefited Europeans.
Growth in mosques quickly followed; from 962 in 1994 to 1,209 in 2000, according to a study by Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and lead author of the 2001 report "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait" for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Estimates of the number of Muslims in American vary widely, from 2.0 million to 6.0 million.
While the number of new mosques is increasing, financing them can be challenging because of Islam's ban on charging or paying interest on loans.
Overseas donors once were the big movers behind U.S. mosque construction, particularly during the oil price boom of the 1970s and 1980s when Persian Gulf states were awash in money, but the political climate following the Sept. 11 attacks has curbed such gifts, Bagby said.
Congregations often turn to wealthier members for contributions covering the bulk of the building costs, said Sulayman Nyang, a professor of African studies at Howard University and author of the book "Islam in the United States of America."
Those communities who depend on grass-roots fund-raising can spend many years meeting in cramped, rented space before they are able to pray under their own roof, Nyang said. "It may take them maybe 10 years until they have enough money," he said.
The Islamic Center of America was built entirely from donations by community members, Alawan said. Work on the center's new facility began in 1999, he said. Plans for another expansion will add an auditorium, library and classrooms and connect the new facility to its 250-student parochial school.
Alawan said the community outgrew its original facility, built a few miles (kilometrs) away in 1962, as thousands of immigrants from Lebanon moved into the area in the 1970s and '80s. The center doesn't keep a registry of members, but Alawan said there are 4,500 to 5,000 people on its mailing list.
Alawan said groups, such as classes from area universities, often request tours; others, including Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co., hold conferences in the facility.
"People are saying, 'This is a religion we don't know too much about. ... They built this beautiful building, and we need to find out about it,"' Alawan said.
The mosque features five pillars, representing the five essential elements of Islam, and a mezzanine. Its arched windows are etched with Arabic script describing various attributes - or names - of God, such as "Most Gracious," "Most Merciful," "Most Just."
Entryways are accented with mahogany imported from the Philippines. The carpeting's design of burgundy, green and gold replicates rows of prayer mats. A gold-capped dome flanked by two 120-foot minarets greets visitors who enter the center through its arched doorway.
Kawsan said the most beautiful thing about the mosque, though predominantly Shiite, is that it's welcoming to Sunni Muslims, the other main branch of the faith.
While Sunnis and Shiites often live side-by-side in heavily Muslim Dearborn neighbourhoods, they usually pray separately, said Bagby, who has studied the Islamic Center of America. He said America is exerting an ecumenical influence within the Muslim community.
"Muslims want to do their own ... thing to overcome these differences," Bagby said.