A letter arrived in the mail from Morocco seeking help from the Moroccan American Community Organization (MACO). Last year an unusually heavy winter snowfall left isolated villagers in Morocco's Atlas Mountains struggling to survive. Several children died from the cold. This year a plea for clothes, socks, and bicycles came to their brothers and sisters in Falls Church, Virginia.
MACO is raising funds to ship a 20 ft container to ‘Action Now for M'diq-Fnideq’ a nonprofit in Tètouan, Northern Morocco and is collecting gently used clothing, blankets (clean and folded), shoes, scarves, pajamas, to send to them. MACO is also gathering strollers, walkers, cribs, and wheelchairs, crutches and other items for the elderly.
From welcoming to the King of Morocco on his recent visit to the capital, to community dialogues with local Fairfax county human services, the Moroccan American Community Center is a hub of activity. MACO's musalla where salat is performed five times a day is easily accessible to people who work in the offices on Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, Virginia.
Two years in the making, the center officially opened June 2009 bringing together the larger Moroccan community to serve the Muslim community in Northern Virginia. The founders and active board members include Mohammed Abdelilah, Mohamed Abkar, Abdelali Benyahya, Hicham Ibrahimi and Azzeddine Labriny. Founding member Hassan Mendoun passed away in a car accident.
The organization rents a small building where Iqra Summer Camp, Quran, Islamic Studies, Arabic and French classes take place. Daily Halaqas, martial arts classes, computer classes and meetings of other local organizations are also held at the center. Ample parking surrounds the location, but due to space limitations the annual Taraweeh prayers are held at the Nur Center nearby. The center actively brings scholars from Morocco to educate the public.
The center can also be rented out for aqeeqah and other social activities.
MACO would like to build a large community center. A large number of Somali and Eritrean brothers are also part of MACO, so despite the Moroccan name the center caters to all ethnicities. “We are not isolated; everyone gets involved because it is relaxed and laid back. Many sit in corner and read as we have a large library with different books that can help individuals,” says Mohammed Abdelilah, a construction contractor and Hajj agent who has been in the US since 1979. The center is located down the hall from his office. He is grateful for the ability to have a place to pray so close to where he works.
Three Friday services take place for Jumuah Salah: at 11:30am with a khutbah in English; at 12:30pm at the Nur Center for 200-300 people; and at MACO at 1:30pm.
Sister Sakeena of Maryland works in administration and runs the office. The Imam, Shaykh Abdel-Moun Cherqaoui, is from Morocco and joined MACO two and a half years ago. Ethiopian sisters use the community center for their meetings- “we are open to other communities; are here to empower people to be active [members] in society."
“This is our land and we need to make a difference,” says Abdelilah, who was the head of social services at Dar al Hijrah. “Helping unites peoples’ hearts to be generous,” he says.
An active Facebook page keeps community members updated about different events. MACO currently has an endowment of $90,000. “There was a time we were struggling to pay the rent and now we continue to grow with a good foundation like a tree growing slowing but [strongly],” he said.
“The Muslim community [is] very generous and we are grateful to Allah; we hope to have a larger community center as resource to be a part of American society at large.” Active in interfaith work with area churches, Abdelilah hopes the center can be a resource for all.
A project the organization is working on is a website for newcomers to the USA to find a roommate before they arrive.
For the winter drive collection bins were set up in homes in Woodbridge as well near businesses in Alexandria.
“We have been doing this for Syria- a blanket drive that we shipped to another part of Syria … We are always looking for volunteers and looking for boxes so we can sort things out - sort it out in men women and children,” says Abdelillah.
The Moroccan Community Center is located at 5613 Leesburg Pike #1, Falls Church, VA 22041
For more information on MACO programs, call 202 725 2746.