Room to grow

USA WashingtonDCThis morning's Washington Post had a story that, believe it or not, I finished. Rarely is there anything in the morning paper, unrelated to my day job, that is interesting enough for me to finish (another example was this story on China). Here's the nut graph of the story. Muslims are moving to the suburbs like many other Americans on their way up the economic ladder and they are building mosques and, like many other religious groups, they are struggling financially.

The boom in exurban mosques has resulted from the migration of Muslims to the outer suburbs, as followers of Islam -- just like other suburban emigrants -- seek less-expensive housing and good schools.

The story deals with some of the tensions in a Muslim community in the suburbs of Washington. Some harassment, some bigotry, but for the most part, the author paints a pleasant portrait of a group of outsiders, trying to establish themselves as insiders. There is also the issue of radical Islamic terrorism, but the Muslims settling in Northern Virginia and Maryland have denounced the radicals behind the recent terrorist attacks. Underlying the whole story are the incidents in London and whether they could happen in the United States. A fascinating angle of the story is that, in building their mosque, these Muslims could not go into debt and used local fundraisers to bring in money.

The story represents a very similar experience I dealt with growing up in a conservative denomination, which did not believe in going into debt for church-related funding. When a new addition was needed, several years went by as we raised funds. Then, to defray costs, we choose to use people from within the congregation to finish the interior, once the frame was up, much like these Muslims in the suburbs of the nation's capital.

While some would see this Mosque as a threat to their community, I would try to see it in a different light. Residents in a community are attempting to construct a center they can be proud of and, with this center, something they can base their community life on. As more Muslims in America live in communities like this, where they can come together to construct a building, it will be less likely that their youths will turn to extremism as we have seen recently in London.

Area mosques have tried to educate non-Muslims that extremist views are not a part of the religion of Islam. After the recent bombings in London and Egypt, the Woodbridge mosque and a mosque in Manassas jointly issued a statement condemning the incidents. "These actions are not sanctioned, nor justified, in Islam," the statement read. Both mosques promised to nurture "interfaith understanding and diversity" in Prince William.

Yet connections between mosques and more militant elements of Islam have been unsettling for some members of the public. The FBI found that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers worshiped at Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church for a short time. And Ali Al-Timimi, a popular lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education in Falls Church, was recently sentenced to life in prison for inciting a group of followers to train for a violent jihad against the United States. The executive committee at Dar Al Hijrah supported him and called the federal prosecution overzealous.

In all, it's a well-written, balanced story that favors a positive outlook, rather than a fear-mongering-future-terrorists-could-be-your-next-door-neighbors story that so easily could have been written. Favorite quote, involving a minor issue that keeps mosques in the area from sounding the traditional Adhan, or call to prayer:

"I'm laughing now," he said, speaking from a coffee shop near his office in Falls Church as noontime chimes began ringing at a nearby church. "I can hear the church bells coming from Columbia Pike. . . . One day we will hear bells and the call for prayers. I believe that day is coming."

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