Thursday, Oct 08 , 2015 ( Thul-Hijjah, 1436)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

US Mosque Struggles for Place

OnIslam & Newspapers

Khadija Masjid
The Muslim community in Centennial is occupying a vacant office building as a temporary mosque until their dream mosque is established.

CAIRO – Seeing a larger-than expected crowd of Muslims coming together for a mass Iftar at a makeshift Colorado mosque, Muhammed Khan gained a stronger belief that one day he would see this temporary place of worship turned into a full-fledged mosque.

"We are very nascent, very immature," Khan, the president of Masjid Khadeejah mosque in Centennial, told The Denver Post on Saturday, August 20.

"We have been surviving. And to us, that is quite a bit of success."

Indeed, the gathering revived Khan's hopes of seeing his dream mosque coming true, given the years-long struggle by the mosque board to have a place in the city.

The mosque project was first launched in March 2008 by a group of well-educated Muslim professionals who sought to find a place to pray, socialize and teach their children  their real meaning of Islam.

The goal behind Masjid Khadeejah has been to create an "extreme environment of openness" where Muslims of all backgrounds and non-Muslims feel welcome, Khan said.

But the plan faced resistance when the founders tried to find an affordable space for lease.

It became even odd that every time the mosque leaders had been close to signing a lease deal, the landlord would back out at the last minute citing worries about parking or something else.

The reversals might be triggered by discrimination or profiling, but that did not anger the board members.

"You can understand some of the fears and concerns," Adnan Al-Ghourabi, a 31-year-old software engineer who is the youngest member of the mosque board, said.

"The unknown is always scary."

Behram Mohmand, a 38-year-old kidney specialist who attended the Iftar meal at the mosque currently housed by a vacant office building, agreed.

"We need to do a better job introducing ourselves," Mohmand said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people were introduced to Islam by airplanes hitting the twin towers."

Finally, in 2009, a space was secured in Lone Tree which hosted the first prayers of Masjid Khadeejah, also known as the South Denver Islamic Center. But the space, however, proved too expensive.

The mosque is currently occupying the ground floor of an office owned by a wealthy Muslim woman. But she has told the mosque founders they could be evicted at any moment if she finds a buyer or another tenant.

Imam Wanted

For now, the founders are worried about another issue – the lack of a qualified imam to lead the mosque prayers.

"The imam in America needs to be part pastor and part educator," said Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islam Studies at the University of Kentucky.

About half of US mosques have a full-time paid imam, Bagby noted. Yet, he said the shortage of imams familiar with American culture is an ongoing problem.

The mosque tried for about a year to recruit a full-time imam, said Khan.

But unfortunately no one had the criteria: an intermediate-to-advanced understanding of Islam, proficiency in English and, an ability to connect with different segments of the community, he said.

But although the mosque has no full-time imam, the board launched other services for the Muslim community.

For example, the mosque launched Arabic language courses and a community picnic as well as a children's educational program led by Sima Ali.

"We want them to be solid, active American citizens while having the values of religion," said Ali, who has a master's degree in economics and used to work in finance.

Ali also teaches Muslim girls the significance of wearing the hijab, or head covering, which is a mandatory code of dress for Muslim females.

"It's very hard on these children to get the concept of why we have to do what we have to do," Ali said.

"People ask them, 'Are you forced to wear this? Can you take it off?' It is hard for a young mind to fight back."

Knowing that their mosque project is not the only one facing resistance recently, the founders are adamant to continue pursuing their quest.

All across the US, mosques have been facing fierce opposition recently.

At least 18 mosque projects — from Mississippi to Wisconsin — have found foes who battle to stop them from seeing light citing different pretexts, including traffic concerns and fear of terrorism.

In multicultural New York, the proposed mosque near Ground Zero site has snowballed into a national public and political debate, with opponents arguing that the Muslim building would be an insult to the memory of the 9/11 victims.

Advocates, however, say that the mosque would send a message of tolerance in 9/11-post America.

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