The Islamic Society of the Washington Area (ISWA) purchased 5.25 acres of land with a house that was remodeled to hold about 220 people. We were faced with a crisis when 300 more people wanted to attend our Eids, pray Jumu'ah and use our facilities for private functions. With minimal financial resources, it was a challenge and a daunting task facing our community.
Having just finished paying our debt of $275,000 and saving about $25,000 we embarked upon an expansion. The first obstacle is that the property is located in an environmentally protected area which restricted the land use to 10% including the building and a parking lot.
Thousands of dollars were spent on architects, plans and modifications that were rejected time and time again by the county authorities. Frustration was mounting but we kept on trying. It was by the will of Allah, the duaas, patience of the community, the perseverance of the Board of Directors and the creativity of Brs. Gaith Abdo and Hemal Mustafa, that after two and half years and numerous meetings with the architects and countless trips to the Montgomery County Parks and Planning Offices, we finally received a conditional approval to build. We were approved to add square footage by adding one story up and limited parking spaces.
Another dilemma we faced were that the estimates for the project varied from $3.5 million to $5 million. Muslim and non-Muslim owned companies were amongst bidders. This was not realistic and it was not possible to fund this project. Our community simply cannot afford this. As leaders we knew we cannot place an excessive burden upon our community in the name of religion. We were not willing to borrow from banks due to the interest restrictions and even the “so called halal compliant banks” had fees that were exorbitant.
We asked ourselves, what does it take to erect a building? What do we need? We reviewed the cost of material, labor and operating expense and concluded that we have members in our community with the knowledge and expertise and if they pitch in through volunteerism, we can save a lot of money and do this project ourselves.
We were confident to take on the project. We became the projects managers and decided that our own community member Hafeez Hassan will be our on-site project manager, aided by Shaukat and Azad Alie. Dr. Fazil Alie, the President and I, (the treasurer) would do the research and groundwork to get permits, negotiate material pricing and find the best subcontractors, on our terms.
We estimated that the project will cost about $2M and by this point we had raised only $500,000. Al Hamdulillah, ISWA leaders were very patient and transparent regarding the project. Our community was constantly updated and many started fundraising drives on their own.
Allah said, “O Mankind …and made you into Nations and Tribes that you may know one another…” Quran 49:13 this was reality at our Masjid every day during the construction. We had volunteers from every walk of life showing up every weekend to do framing, dry walling, spackling, sanding, laying tiles, cleaning up and helping wherever necessary. It was very gratifying to see so many volunteers every weekend. Many families brought food for the volunteers; pizza shops got involved by giving us a discount. There was an abundance of food, to the point we made a schedule for families who wanted to bring food. Volunteers came from Virginia, Baltimore, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York to help. We started to get donations from the communities’ extended families from many states, Canada and England.
We wanted to keep our community together during the construction so we negotiated with St. Mark’s Church to rent their multi-purpose room. They were generous and willing to give us a member’s discount for rental and free storage for our prayer rugs. We held Jumaah prayers and during Ramadaan, weekend Iftars and dinners at the church. Our community bonded and even expanded during this testing time.
We still needed money. We took loans from community members and progressed slowly but surely. We negotiated for everything purchased and many companies were accommodating. During the financial meltdown and massive layoffs, donations dwindled. We were faced with a money shortage to finish the project for Ramadan 2009. We needed to approach this differently and again reviewed what else is needed to complete the project. We listed every item: lights, toilets, drywall, bricks, paint, tile, carpet and the estimated cost. We contacted Lowes and Home Depot and set up financing ranging from 18 to 24 months with no interest. Alhamdulillah, donors used their credit, some increased their credit line to purchase materials for the project and we in turn guaranteed that all payment to those companies will be made before the interest became due. We were very confident, committed and determined and that gave many people encouragement to come forward and help. It was a joy to see so many volunteers. They exemplified “fi sabilillah.”
We had many setbacks, tiring days and sleepless nights, and finally we opened on the first Taraweeh in Ramadaan 2009. The fire marshall initially rejected our request to open the masjid, but after Jummah on the said day and some very persistent and diligent work we managed to fulfill the promise to the community. Our community was very pleased with the results.
Alhamdulillah, loans that were to be repaid were being converted to donations and the remaining loans were paid within 24 months. We completed the project for $1.75 million.
This was a very rewarding experience. ISWA is truly blessed and we are very grateful for everyone who helped on this project, and continue to be a part of this growing family.
Sheik Zamal Housein is the current president of ISWA.