On the western shores of the Potomac River is the home of the Islamic Circle of North America's Virginia chapter in Alexandria. This culturally and historically rich city recently added a new house of worship, enhancing the region's inter-faith diversity. An inaugural event was held on January 5, 2013 as the Muslim community just finished building its new masjid near Route 1 in the Mount Vernon area.
The construction project started 3 years ago. Before this construction the community worshiped in a trailer and a house built on the property. According to Rameez Abid, President of ICNA-VA, the building was too small for the growing community. During the years of construction and trying to collect funds the administration rented a place, right around the corner from the site.
According to Abid, the project cost approximately a million dollars, and became operational over one month ago. "We [have] started full-time five salah in the new building," said Muhammad Zahid Khan, the Managing Director. Other services offered are zakat relief, a youth group and a sister's halaqah, interfaith services and other volunteering opportunities. The community volunteers at homeless shelter and clothing drive etc.
The two story facility can accommodate 115 people in the prayer hall. The sisters' musallah is on the second floor. There is an office on each floor. Four bathrooms with three wudu spaces in each bathroom are accessible to the attendees. The administration doesn't foresee any problems with accommodation."We plan to have host Taraweeh this Ramadan [and] we will be okay in sha Allah," says Abid. The parking is limited, around 15-30 spots and the community is being asked to park on the streets.
Relations with neighbors are always a concern for Islamic centers. Abid thanks Allah that the masjid has been well-received. "We are the only nonresidential property on the street. We knocked on every single door with Mrs. Fields cookies, to let them know that we are here. They were happy and excited, [no one] showed any concern," says Abid.
Parking was initially an issue, but Abid says the ICNA-VA hired a police officer. They also split Jumu'ah salah into three sessions which addressed the issue effectively.
"[We] have good relations with neighboring churches, we were renting church space for Jumu'ah; [this] caused a controversy across the nation," said Abid. During construction which started in the summer of 2010, the masjid administration rented a small place for daily prayers, but they had difficulty renting a hall for Friday prayers. They contacted the Aldersgate United Methodist Church and spoke with the pastor, who offered to rent the church’s multipurpose hall to the Islamic Center.
When Fox News picked up the story and aired it, this gesture of friendship caused a backlash of angry mail and phone calls to Aldersgate’s pastors. Mike Huckabee, former Presidential candidate, expressed his anger about this move on national TV. Church pastor Jason Micheli and former Republican Senator George Allen, a congregant, faced political pressure as several members left the church in protest.
Despite this, these good relations have fostered mutual caring. According to Khan, at the local homeless shelter, during Christmas, masjid volunteers take over so that their Christian neighbors can take time off for their holiday.
The center has just hired Shaykh Abdul Rahman Khan as Imam, a graduate of Madinah University. Originally from Guyana, Imam Khan, formerly of Villa Park Islamic Center in Chicago also served at the Islamic Society of Baltimore as principal of Al-Rahmah School.
The masjid caters to more than 50 Muslim families. There are two other mussallahs in the area."We will probably need a bigger place in the future, [based] on the Increasing numbers during Isha and Fajr. We may buy more land next door [but] we haven't really finalized the plan for the future. We want to grow [and] eventually have a full time Islamic school," said Abid.
Being a part of a national organization like ICNA has opened up doors for the masjid. The masjid is run by an ICNA local chapter. All members of the board are required to understand the mission and policies, and join ICNA's general assembly. "Zahid Bukhari the National President lives in Maryland and Naeem Baig, ICNA's Vice-President lives in Sterling, VA, so we are very connected. They attend our BOD meetings and advise us," shared Abid
Abid finds the ICNA masajid organized and interconnected. ICNA provides interest-free loans as well as guidance. Discussions of goal-setting, help with expenses and analysis are all perks of being an ICNA masjid. "We are always able to go to them, for example when [the masjid] needed a $100,000 loan.," says Abid. They push out a certain agenda for halaqahs,with topics that focus on current events like dealing with attacks on Shariah. Other benefits include new ideas, the Young Muslim program and nationally recognized humanitarian efforts.
Abid mentioned that he never personally had any issues with working with ICNA."They are open minded. I am 28 years old, so anyone who is committed can be part of the board," said Abid. There are no strict age limits or degree requirements.
When asked if people in the community who are not a part of ICNA have any issues with their masjid being labeled as an ICNA masjid, Abid said "some people are independent, but the vast majority just need a place to pray and read Qur'an and leave. We have had some issues come up in the past, but we have included [those members] in our BOD community meetings. The community is invited to board meetings; we are inclusive in our decision making process. We need suggestions, advice, and criticism as we are connected to the community. " The administration believes that input and good advice from these community members gives effective results. "The [people] running our school are not part of ICNA [and] we have allowed them to do that, we have no problems with non-ICNA members."