The Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in Woodlawn, MD, is the iconic masjid with the stain-glass windows etched with the ninety-nine names of Allah. Home of one of the largest Muslim communities in the DC Metro area, ISB is looking to the future and expansion plays a large part in its vision.
On July 27th, 2013, ISB held its Annual Benefit iftar and dinner to support the educational and social services of the center. The Community Learning Center with expanded library, a separate sister’s entrance, additional classrooms, and renovation of the original bathrooms and part of the roof are on the list. With 75 huffaz that have graduated from the Al Rahmah Quran academy and are leading taraweeh all over Maryland, the next step for ISB is the establishment of the Al Rahmah Seminary.
ISB’s newest resident scholar Shaykh Yaseen, and council members Rehan Alavi, Hassan Hammad and Dr. Maqbool Patel addressed the crowd. Visiting from Arlington, TX, Shaykh Mohammed Shakir conducted the fundraising. “We have a steady stream of young families flowing into the area,” said the ISB President, Mohammad Abdul Khadeer welcoming the gathering.
“We are gathered on this blessed night of Ramadan to grasp barakah, because our hearts are combined with the love of Allah and we are concerned about Allah’s House and our future generations,” said Shaykh Yaseen as he honored the pioneers of ISB and acknowledged the energetic youth of the community.
The center’s Matrimonial Services, Muslim Athletics, Funeral Services, Community Health Clinic, the Golden Age Committee, Interfaith group, and the Girl Scouts troop were noted for their achievements.
“It’s a very welcoming masjid,” commented Sr. Saba as she ate a sumptuous dinner of fried chicken, okra and curry. ISB’s Iftar program spends $6000 on dates and serves free iftar daily during the month of Ramadan.
Rehan Alavi is a member of the ISB council; he spoke to the Muslim Link in detail about ISB’s future. His specific duties are secretary of education and he acts as a liaison between the school and the Council. Alavi has held the post for the past two years. “I grew up in this community, attended Sunday School here,” he says.
ISB is supported by monthly memberships fee of $20 a month for a family and $10 a month for individuals. “Currently, we have a few hundred members,” shared Alavi. Membership fees, sales from the ISB Al-Rahmah cafeteria and Friday collections are the main revenue generators and pay for daily operational expenses. Annual fundraising helps support the Quran Academy, other social and educational services and expansion.
“Two primary area of focus are social services and education- the funds are earmarked to enhance the programs themselves,” said Alavi. $400,000 were raised between pledges and donations.
In examining the donor statistics and as demographics of worshippers change, Alavi said there are concerns. ISB has a member services secretary who is analyzing changing trends and options such as getting local business sponsorships, benefits and focusing on providing the community with services. “We have begun to explore options such as sponsorship, but there is no exact direction that we have yet- we are really looking to tackle this issue. The fundraising model is definitely challenging,” says Alavi.
Aside from the school, ISB’s budget pays the Quran Academy staff and faculty, office, a staff accountant, custodial staff and contractors. “So our operational footprint is quite large to manage a facility of this size,” says Alavi.
“We also understand that we have to become a more service oriented. Members look for services that are being provided for their children and families. Additional services can generate funds- we need to look into these issues more seriously, while maintaining a primarily volunteer organization,” he commented.
Executing an iftar of this size needs planning, especially logistically serving 1500 people in a limited space and serving dinner within a set amount of time. The fundraising committee worked with the Rahmah cafeteria cooking staff, with parking and security staff. “Lot of coordination and collective work on behalf of a lot of volunteers. They put in many hours so everything can go off on time, mostly ISB youth group members.”
Alavi said that the planning committee met on a weekly basis for two months to pull off this event. The treasurer who runs the fundraising committee was out of town, so the whole council collectively executed the largest iftar of the year.
The sisters’ side was crowded serving aboout 900 women and children. Sheema Hai, another young professional who has grown up at ISB, was leading the volunteers in the women’s section along with Donna Khan. “This is the first time we had the women eat outside and obviously there were some glitches but overall it went well. I wish the volunteers had met a few more times and given our tasks earlier. We need more women to volunteer and signage to guide the sisters and children,” she suggested, relying on her expertise as a professional event coordinator. “It should not be the job of the council to be so hands-on, their job is to deal with the bigger picture of what they want to accomplish from the event and not have to put their time and effort into planning the event.”
A center of this size has a large staff but does not have a full time staff member heading operations. The leadership are all volunteers.
“Donating funds also re-energizes the volunteers as it shows that the community backs them,” emphasizes Alavi.
ISB used to have an operation manager on site but currently does not have one. The council sees the need for an Executive Manager and a Youth Director onsite to oversee operations.
The challenge is to generate added value from these positions and set an initial investment timetable. Alavi recognizes that as a volunteer organization, the council deals with numerous day to day challenges and long term human resources planning is often shelved. Investment in human capital is a need for all large Islamic centers.
Sr. Shabazz, a mother of three, has been coming to ISB since her son was in Pre-K, he is now in eighth grade. “I love coming here!” she said. An elder. Mrs. Parveen Chaudhry, visiting from Pakistan extended her visit after seeing the atmosphere and opportunities to learn at ISB during Ramadan. “I see the fervor for the religion in the youth here, compared to Pakistan where the elderly are more committed,” she said,” they are proud of being Muslim.”
Many families left frustrated as fundraising for the target amount continued until 12:00 a.m. and they did not get a chance to pray isha in congregation. “They should have informed us in the beginning about the itinerary for the night, instead of holding us spiritually hostage on these blessed nights of Ramadan,” said ul Haq, an attendee.
“For the past 3-4 years when we do the annual benefit during Ramadan the challenge has been timing. The model we have employed has been iftar, maghrib and then the program we typically conduct a very short taraweeh and end the night by 12:45,” explained Alavi.
“Perhaps an earlier time for the event would have worked?” suggested another regular community member for future events.
Br. Khaleel,l recently moved from Atlanta, “I like coming here for Ramadan and that they try to get everyone involved. I want to get involved.”