In the vestibule of the ISWA masjid hangs a large beautiful picture of the Haram Sharif Precincts / Ka’ba in Makka. Hanging to the left of the picture is a framed acrostic that spells out I-S-W-A. Each letter of the word symbolizes a statement and some ayah (verses from Qur’an) to consider:
I- Involvement and Interaction. The ayat that follows states: The Believers, men and women, are protectors, one to another: they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. [Surah Taubah9:71]
S- Strive to be considerate: Then will he of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and com passion. [90:17]
W- We welcome all: The masjid of Allah shall be visited and maintained by such as believe in Allah and the Last Day, establish regular prayer, and practice regular charity, and fear none except Allah. It is they who are expected to be on true guidance. [9:18]
A- Act kindly: “Every act of kindness is sadaqa, and kindness includes meeting your brother with a cheerful face and pouring water from your bucket into your brother’s vessel.” Related by Ahmad and Tirmidhi.
The above statements above remind and encourage the Believers of excellent behavior. They highlight all of the charitable etiquette, behavior, and mannerisms that are encouraged, promoted, or endorsed by the general community members. They are part of the foundation of Iman.
Forty years ago, a contingent group of individuals concerted strong efforts to leave their native homeland in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and relocate to the mainland of The United States. The emigrants formed a composite number of relatives, extended family members, friends, and associates. They settled, work diligently, soon developed a comprehensive plan for advancing their position, and a progressive vision that helped to expand the boarders of Islam in the continental mainland of the Western Hemisphere. New seeds that took root and then flourished were planted, by these Muslim newcomers; their objectives were ambitious.
The Islamic Society of Washington (ISWA) established its nascent home in the Washington, DC / Maryland area by 1973; the small community gradually advanced their agenda, and worked tirelessly to bring about the establishment of a model community that represented the various aspects of Islam, its community life, and its supranational diversity. At a later time, other Muslim families from the Caribbean also migrated to the states, settled, and increased the number of the original consortium that made the U.S. their new home. Additional members that joined the original community comprised Muslims from Africa, the Middle-East, the Indian Sub-Continent, Asia, other parts of Latin America, mainland America [indigenous Muslims, including Native-Americans], and some European countries. In the early 70‘s, comprehensive efforts by the original group would yield tremendous results.
The challenges were many, but not insuperable as constant determination helped to forge an active community life among the members of ISWA. Their sense of responsibility, dedication, and sincerity served as a platform to catapult them into higher activity. Eventually, their efforts were supported or joined by other mainland Muslims. This continued to provide the community with valuable professionalism, expanding membership, and access to vital resources. One of the commendable aspects of the community members is their qualitative pursuit of education. The community created a viable conduit for the ongoing education of its future generations, in various spheres. This meant that the community’s first priority was to educate the Muslim youth about Islam, provide them a community life, strong domestic foundation, and encourage the pursuit of primary, secondary, and college or university level education.
Today, that vision has been fulfilled in the youth, and continues to be a strong legacy for ISWA. It has manifestly resulted in the return of certain numbers of young people that continue to carry on the work of the community, in community services, professional development, and volunteerism. They are involved in different levels of the Muslim community from MSA’s (Muslim Student Associations), to coordinating seasonal religious programs, youth organizations, media projects, regional conferences, and young adult representatives, or spokes persons. Strengthening the youth programs is part of the continuing vision and endeavor of the community. Emphasis is stressed on the leadership role of young people, are there are future plans to accommodate their needs, by improving existing programs, and creating vital new ones. This includes modifying areas within the current masjid to avail further accessibility to the growing number of young adult Muslims.
Within four decades the members have established a recognized, flourishing, pro-active suburban community, where a masjid built from the ground up serves as the nerve-center and hub of Muslim activity. Halaqas (Learning Circles) provide teaching of, instruction in, and introduction to various Islamic themes, or topics. This includes such things as: learning Arabic, studying
Qur’aan, explanation of the Principles of Iman (Muslim Faith), Saturday classes for the youth, seminars on domestic violence, personal, family, and marriage counseling, Nikkah (performance of legal Islamic marriage ceremony), also reception rooms for various weekend, seasonal celebrations, and community uses etc. Other indispensable parts of the community service are zakat (yearly compulsive contribution after the Month of Ramadhan) and sadaqa (regularly collected charitable donation) funds, which help to assist those in need. A suq (store or market), operating about four days weekly, is conveniently located on the premesis, offers male and female attire, and other paraphernalia. ISWA’s Jumua’ (Friday Prayer Service) is primarily conducted by Imam Faisal Khan, and at other times a guest Khatib (individual that conducts the talk of a religious theme), or Imam (spiritual community leader) is invited to deliver the Jumua’ khutba (sermon). Janaza (funeral prayer services) can also be offered at the masjid.
In addition, ISWA engages in outreach activities to the community at large, and inter-faith dialogue, and has established a positive reputation amongst its neighbors, over the years. The administration with the support of its active community members also endeavors to represents itself on different political issues, through cultivating a reputation of Muslims that voice their sentiments concerning general community, regional, national, and international issues. ISWA has represented itself nationally, and has received recognition from the U.S. government, as an esteemed guest at the White House during the Obama Administration, and also by members of Congress. It continues to develop meaningful interaction with Maryland State regional and local representatives. In the interest of asserting Muslim civic conscientiousness as a positive force on the political scene, ISWA continues to develop, influence positive social change, and advocate justice for all citizens, especially Muslims that are misrepresented politically, and globally by the media.
Forty years of dedicated service has created a resilient religious organization, which recognizes its pervasive responsibilities to its members and the general community. It continues to evolve, improve, and increase its ability to enhance the life of the Muslim community. Formerly, for about ten years, ISWA’s base masjid was in a converted house, located at 2701 Briggs Chaney Road, in Silver Spring, MD 20905. In a word, its membership outgrew the physical building; thus, plans were concerted to build a facility that would provide a much greater economy of space. Muslim architectural designer Haytham Younis was consulted, an artist conception was created for the building project, representative model mock-up built, and a later target date for ground-breaking was set. Commendably, It was completed with funds raised entirely by the community, without outside financing- Al-Hamdulilah (All Praise is Due to Allah)! That was three years ago! Since then, the life of the community continues in its new building; it has seen quite a bit of activity in the last three years since the celebratory official opening. ISWA is vibrant, focused, and poised to carry on its work into the next generation... and on into the future!
This past September, 2013 marked the 40th Anniversary of ISWA. Celebration of the anniversary was a warm affair. Imam Faizul Khan presided, Master of Ceremonies and Board Member Riyad Alie hosted the affair, Niwad Awad of CAIR gave the key note opening speech of congratulations, founding members Dr. Fazil Alie, ISWA;s President Zamal Houssein welcomed the attendees, the Ambassador of the Republic of Guyana gave a brief speech in recognition of the community’s successful endeavors, and Nancy Navarro representative President of the Montgomery County Council presented a citation of recognition to ISWA, from the county. Also, Muhammad Sanousi from The Islamic Society of North America was present. Other members of the regional area, Muslim activists, community workers, students, including visitors were present to witness the affair, and give their salutations.
In conclusion, the 40th anniversary of the ISWA represents one of many milestones along the pathway of Islam, which its community members have jointly journeyed upon. The community continues to strive, refine its purpose, and stay focused on its objective. The challenges for Islam in America will continue to come and go, yet the commitment to serve Allah Subhanahu wa ta’la- (Allah The Glorious and Most High) merits collective responsibility, cultivation, and nourishment for the seeds of Islam to continue to flourish. It is a tradition, and legacy that ISWA has worked hard to establish.