Pride in up-and-coming Islamic Center shows

DetNews.com, MI
May 25 2004

Pride in up-and-coming Islamic Center shows

Dearborn mosque’s debut will coincide with Arab-American museum
opening

By Shanteé Woodards / The Detroit News
Steve Perez / The Detroit News

DEARBORN — Metro Detroit’s significant Muslim population will soon
have a mosque befitting its size.

Once completed this fall, the Islamic Center of America — which will
be among the largest in the country — will have a 120,000-square-foot
complex that includes the mosque, the Muslim American Youth Academy,
an auditorium and library. Currently, the school is open, and the
other phases of the project will begin after the mosque is
operational.

But the mosque is one of the highlights of the $12 million project
because it will provide the Islamic Center’s 3,000 members with more
room to worship and have community activities. Its current facility
in Detroit – which the group has occupied for about 40 years – is too
cramped to meet all their needs.

Zana Macki said she feels as if she has watched the mosque being
built from the ground up, from the pillars up to the dome that was
added earlier this year. Macki, an Arab-American activist, said she
found it significant that the mosque is going to be near Armenian and
other Christian churches.

“(The new mosque) is very much needed. This is a steppingstone,” said
Macki, a Dearborn Heights resident. “Where else but in America can
you have the freedom to have different religions right next to each
other and practicing their religions freely … and not having any
fear of government?”

There are about 500,000 Arab-Americans living in Metro Detroit. About
30,000 Dearborn residents — about one-third of the city’s population
— are of Arab descent. Arab immigrants have brought the cultures of
more than 20 nations to the Detroit area.

The opening of the mosque will be coupled with that of the Arab
American National Museum, scheduled for October in Dearborn. The
36,000-square-foot museum is being modeled after the
Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles and will be the
first of its kind.

The Islamic Center’s existing mosque in Detroit began as the Islamic
Center of Detroit in 1963. Imam Mohammad Jawad Chirri founded the
17,000-square-foot facility after rallying the local Arab community
and his contacts throughout the Middle East.

The opening of the mosque will represent phase two of a construction
project that began in 1997 with the opening of the Muslim American
Youth Academy. The school, which is on the old YMCA site in Dearborn,
opened in time for the 1997-98 school year with 35 students. Now
about 170 students attend the school, which goes from kindergarten to
sixth grade.

When the decision was made to build the new mosque, members of the
group’s construction committee talked to many people in the community
and visited mosques in Cleveland, Toronto and Toledo to see what type
of facility would best fit their needs in Dearborn. They decided a
large-scale community center would be best because of the growing
membership at its existing mosque.

The mosque will feature a prayer area for more than 700 men and a
separate area upstairs for about 300 women. There will also be a
seating area for 1,000 people. It will have separate spaces where
members can drop off their children when they are attending events.

“We can’t profess to say how large the largest (facility) is,” said
Kassim Allie, the mosque’s administrator. “We don’t aim to be the
biggest. We are one of the oldest, and we believe our program is a
high-quality program, and I think we will improve them as we go
along.”

Because Metro Detroit has such a large Muslim population, mosques
often run out of room for religious and cultural events. It doesn’t
help that many of the facilities are buildings like storefronts and
stores that are later transformed into mosques.

Dearborn resident Suehaila Amen saw the inside of the mosque when it
was in its infancy. She is eager to see it complete.

“I know it’s going to be a beautiful thing,” said Amen, who is also
on the executive board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee. “This one is set up so more visitors and people will be
able to come to a more central location. We have such a large
community here that hopefully we’ll be able to do more things, like
carnivals and festivals, the way other churches do.”

You can reach Shantee’ Woodards at (734)462-2204 or
[email protected]