To understand the pace at which Islam is growing in America, one need not look further than Baltimore County, Maryland.
The Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB), the largest masjid community in the region, holds two juma' prayers and three eid prayers; community members fill the prayer hall and overflow into the gymnasium. Even as smaller, independent masajid are started elsewhere in the Baltimore suburbs – like in Reisterstown and Hunt Valley – the community at ISB continues to grow.
On March 17, 2017, newly formed Islamic Center of Owings Mills (ICOM) held its first juma' prayer in a remodeled flex office space; there was hardly any open space on the pristine, freshly laid green carpet. On opening day, ICOM was operating at near maximum capacity.
Javed Patel, a 39-year old entrepreneur who runs a construction business, is the president of ICOM and one of its founding members. He estimated fifty to seventy-five Muslim families live in the Owings Mills area of Baltimore County, but now that estimate is being revised.
“Every single day since we opened the center, we are finding new brothers [coming to the masjid],” Patel told the Muslim Link. “This is long overdue. Over the last ten to fifteen years a lot of Muslim families moved out [to Owings Mills] for jobs,” said Patel, adding that the area is more attractive to families and young professionals than areas closer to Baltimore City like Catonsville and Woodlawn.
The excitement generated by the new masjid was evident at ICOM's first fundraiser, held on Saturday, March 25, 2017. The masjid was full with around one-hundred-fifty Muslims eager to contribute towards the $80,000 goal. Most of the guests seemed to be active members of the much larger and well endowed ISB community. “Most of us including the families who established ICOM have strong ties to the ISB community,” said Patel, whose father-in-law is Maqbool Patel, one of the most recognizable leaders at ISB.
After Sulaiman Mian opened the program with a recitation of the last three ayaat of Surah Al-Munafiqoon, ISB resident scholar Shaykh Yaseen Shaikh explained the opportunity in front of the assembled guests.
“We often speak about the 'pioneers' in glowing terms … and there is a [special distinction] for those first Muslims who congregated at the home of Al-Arqam … and Allah gives special mention of the 'forerunners' … the 'sabiqoon'. We have an opportunity here that when the history of Islam in Baltimore is written, we can be fully included. This is not just another fundraiser, this is history, it is a first step in the unity of Muslims in this area,” explained Shaykh Yaseen. “If our hearts and minds are not together we cannot establish anything … the Prophet's (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) masjid was a very humble space, but it connected the hearts.”
The first call to chip away at the $80,000 target was for $5,000. Two hands went up at the same time. Over the next forty-five minutes, ICOM collected over $100,000 in cash and pledges. Patel said the money will be used to pay back a 'qard hasan' loan of $20,000, to pay contractors around $35,000 for remodeling the office space, and to pay the monthly lease and operating expenses for the coming year, estimated at around $40,000.
Asked if he sees a more permanent community center for ICOM in the near future, Patel said “one-hundred percent that is the vision.” He hopes to secure a 7-10 acre property as a permanent spiritual and social home for Owings Mills Muslims “definitely within five years.”
Currently, the new ICOM site holds the five daily prayers, usually led by one of Patel's two sons, ages 13 and 14, who are graduates of the ISB's hifz program.
To learn more about ICOM or to donate, visit their website at icommd.org .