It was a packed house, standing room only with well over 250 guests that gathered to drink tea and hear the message of Imam Zia and MakeSpace at their fundraising dinner held on January 31, 2014 at Dunya Banquet Hall in Alexandria, Virginia.
Derived from Surat Al-Mujdila (58:11) in the Quran, which urges communities to make space and be a welcoming place to build community, participants old and new to the movement enjoined everyone to become part of the solution. The vision as they explained it, is not another masjid, but what was referred to numerous times as a “third” space – beyond the realms of home and work, where one could ‘feel at home’ to congregate and socialize with colleagues and peers in a safe space for both spiritual growth but also relaxation. (To get the idea think Starbucks but completely halal with Wi-Fi hubs and conference rooms for young professionals to discuss business ventures).
As Dr. Altaf Husain explained, this concept of being ‘unmosqued’ is being watched with interest and may become trend setting nationally. Indeed, according to a recent Pew study shared by Haris Tarin of Muslim Public Affairs Council, American society is becoming at the same time, ‘more spiritual but less religious.’ The institutions of faith, as evidenced by the survey, were deemed to be losing relevance with youth. So it is not a fancy building made of bricks and mortar that will attract the less attached back to their roots, but like hut of the Prophet that was only made of mud and palm fronds yet changed the trajectory of the world, what is important is to offer a place where the people are diverse (thus intra-faith being as important as interfaith) and where space and time is made for camaraderie.
Sister Noha Gaber, assisting with strategic planning, asked the audience to ‘imagine’ their ideal community center. She then went on to explain that the model is to make the space self-sustaining, through a café initially, and later perhaps a gymnasium or a daycare.
What is impressive is that, though not yet possessing a space of their own, MakeSpace has already been actively making a name for themselves through spiritual undertakings, including weekly prayers and halaqas and Ramadan activities. There have been educational programs including for High School MSA leaders and Thursday networking events for young professionals to name a few. All ages have been encouraged to join the community service projects such as food banking and shelter events.
There have been the yoga classes, picnics, and the TED like talk series just to bring some fun into the equation. With a goal to raise funds for the future site, the organizers garnered just over $70,000 towards their goal and then everyone was treated to a wonderfully delicious Afghani dinner.
The evening concluded with a spiritual reflection by Imam Zia Makdoom. Over the course of the event, there was a lot of wisdom conferred by the elders and a lot of energy and enthusiasm by those younger about what it is they want to make their faith hold relevance in their lives beyond just attending a weekly prayer.
MakeSpace hopes to be able to harness what everyone can bring and make the community center that attractive hub and indeed to make it fully inclusive, it would be ideal to be near a metro station for those living in the area without cars or maybe not yet even of driving age to fully participate and engage.
Indeed, anyone knowing of such a potential site that would be large enough to be multi-purpose or with future room to grow out should contact MakeSpace. The best way to reach them or learn more, or get involved on some of the planning committees, is at facebook.com/imakespace.