Mosque is small but active

Islam: A Howard County mosque's members--whose daily life is guided by their prophet and scriptures--worship, teach, socialize and hold a summer camp

March 24, 2000|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A small green sign reading "Dar-Al-Taqwa" outside a white-frame bungalow on Route 108 west of Ellicott City is the only indication that the building houses a mosque that is the focal point of a small, active Muslim congregation.

The mosque, or masjid, on the north side of the road is the spiritual home to 30 families who worship, socialize and hold a summer camp.

At the white farmhouse, Imam Mahmoud Abd El Hady and the congregation's men say two of the required five prayers each day at 5: 45 a.m. and 8 p.m., while the women say their prayers in their homes.

Unlike other religions, Islam -- the name of the Muslim religion -- forbids intermingling of the sexes and racism.

Saturday morning is reserved for religious instruction for children, and Sunday morning means two haliqahs, -- or discussion circles -- one for women and one for men.

A prayer service every Friday gathers the community -- 70 to 100 people -- at 1: 45 p.m. in Owen Brown Interfaith Center, held there because the masjid is too small.

Potluck dinner

Once a month, the community holds a potluck dinner. The next potluck will be tomorrow night at Hammond High School.

"Please come and bring your dish," says Naveela Saleem, an Ellicott City masjid member and Khan's wife. "One of the strengths of Islam is the diversity of cultures, and each family cooks the best food of their culture, so it's very delicious."

Every summer, the masjid sponsors Camp Taqwa, similar to Vacation Bible School of Christian churches.

"We teen-age girls volunteer to keep the children busy throughout the summer, so they don't just sit in front of the TV all day," says Zainab Cheema, Saleem's daughter and a senior at Centennial High School.

"We teach sports and crafts the whole summer to about 50 children of elementary and middle-school age."

Islam celebrates two major religious holidays:

Eid-ul-Fitr, usually in the fall, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting; and the Eid-ul-Adha, marking the day when patriarch Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to God, but God prevented the killing and supplied a ram instead.

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Muslims around the world celebrated Eid-ul-Adha this month. It is the time for a pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible. Howard County Muslims not traveling to Mecca gather in large groups in Baltimore or Washington, where they pray, feast and make a commemorative sacrifice.

Each family slaughters an animal according to its budget, and the meat is divided into thirds. One part of the meat is for the family, one part for relatives and friends, and the third part is given to the needy. "It's a day of unity to thank the Lord for all he has given us," says Khan.

"Everyone comes in their best clothes, and with so many different cultures represented it's a fascinating experience," Cheema says.

Roots traced to Abraham

Ellicott City Muslim Afeef Khan explains:

"Muslims trace their spiritual roots to Abraham, a common ancestor of Judaism and Christianity. Founded in 622 by Mohammed in a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel, we recognize Noah, Moses and Jesus as some of the greatest messengers."

Muslims also believe in one God and life after death.

Islam might seem so foreign to many Americans because many Muslims come from the Mideast and Far East countries, so customs and language might seem strange.

Women and girls wear flowing skirts and head scarves for modesty.

Muslim everyday life is guided by Islamic scripture -- the Koran -- and the example of the Prophet Mohammed.

"If you understand it and live it, Islam has a pervasive influence on your life," says Khan.

Five Pillars important

Islamic daily life revolves around the Five Pillars as stated in the Qur'an: faith in Allah, prayer, zakah -- or funding for the needy -- fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca for those who are able. In addition, Muslims separate certain human activities into "haram" ("forbidden") and "hallal" ("like an act of worship").

Among activities considered to be "haram" are many that other religions forbid -- abortion, gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol or taking mind-altering drugs.

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