LONGVIEW (The Longview News Journal) — The arrival on Monday of the holy month of Ramadan also marks the one-year birthday of a mosque in Longview and a home for the immediate area’s 40-50 Muslim families.
“We’re doing OK,” said Saleem Shabazz, spokesman for the Islamic Centre of East Texas.
Members of the mosque on Amy Street in far north Longview, who worshiped and prayed some 30 years in an apartment until Ramadan 2012, finally have the luxury of fine-tuning their internal and external outreach.
“We’re plugging along and trying to find ways to engage people,” Shabazz said. “We’re having the same kind of problems you have as a new community — we’re trying to find a direction, and we don’t have a permanent imam.”
Recruiting a full-time religious leader for the mosque is among the overall direction issues facing the new/old congregation. So is reaching out to the community, which accelerated more than a year ago when construction of the domed mosque was announced.
The worship and community center opened a year ago with an open house, and leaders are discussing hosting a second public event.
“We are planning on having an open house,” Shabazz said. “The date is coming.”
Mosque members have met with local Christian leaders multiple times since opening the facility, largely with the simple goal of assuring their home town of their wholesome intentions. Some Amy Street residents had been concerned, a year ago, that their neighborhood could become a target for anti-Muslim chaos that was flaring in other parts of the country.
It’s gotten much better, Shabazz reported.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, on Friday when I was there I had two or three people who were walking in their yard wave at me,” he said. “The people in that neighborhood, I couldn’t ask for better neighbors. There are people in the city that — there’s an awful lot of people that are trying to find out some way of getting along, accommodating.”
Ramadan marks the month Allah gave his prophet, Mohammed, the Quran. Islam’s holy book, the Quran provides readers with a script for the month-long Ramadan, which by the lunar calendar falls about 11 days earlier each year.
This year, Ramadan is from sundown Monday through sundown Aug. 7.
Muslims worldwide spend the ninth month of the Islamic calendar observing a community-wide fast during daylight hours. The annual fast of Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam, the faith’s sacraments. Muslims who are physically able are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are spent in family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran.
Having a new, 3,000-square-foot mosque furthers those corporate goals.
“We are in a position, now, where we have space where people can come and sit and eat and visit with teach other,” Shabazz said. “The first time I went to that apartment, it was so crowded and it was so hot in there.”
Along with the fellowship of Ramadan, the month brings prayer — lots of prayer. In addition to five mandatory prayers scattered throughout the day, Ramadan brings incentive for extra, free-will prayers called dua.
“The way the story goes, the number of prayers that we make during the day is designed to keep us mindful of God all day,” Shabazz said. “You’re not praying for anything in the sense that you’re asking for anything. You’re reminding yourself that all the things that you’re doing should be done for God’s pleasure. ... This is meant to be a recognition of the debt we owe and remind us that there are people that live lives every day that don’t have clean food and water in abundance — they don’t have food and are hungry.”
Hence the faithful fast.
“Another thing Ramadan really does is it teaches us reliance on God,” Shabazz said. “Because you are trusting that you can get out here in this 90-something heat and working, and you are trusting God is going to give you the strength to do that. If a person has an illness that would be aggravated by their fasting, they are not required to fast. When you can’t fast, you are required to feed someone.”
Shabazz said the local Muslims hope to continue reaching out to the larger community, including more involvement in local public sector issues. Becoming politically active, whether running for office or attending a school board meeting, is culturally difficult for many mosque members, he added.
“Whether it’s good or not, our political system requires people to make noise,” he said. “Unfortunately, most of the membership at the Islamic Centre is from the Middle East, and they are not accustomed to challenging authority.”
A member of the Longview Race Relations Committee and other civic causes, Shabazz has seen the spectrum of healthy and unhealthy discourse.
“One of the things I’m angry about in America right now is in our political discourse,” he said. “We have gotten to where exaggeration takes the norm. ... We’re hoping to continue outreach programs to the community to where we can try and be as transparent as we can in our activities. We’re trying to allay any suspicions that some people have.”