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Facing New Realities as Islamic Americans

The mosque's executive committee has seven members, four appointed by the board of directors and the other three elected by the mosque's general membership.

Omeish acknowledged that some mosque members "have some questions about the constitution . . . and this is an acceptable discussion." Specifically, he and others said, proposals under discussion include direct elections to the board, term limits and phasing out the seats assigned to officials of national organizations.

About 3,000 people pray at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center each Friday. Congregants are from around the world; about 60 percent are Arab. (Photos Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)

About This Series

Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has undertaken extensive efforts to root out Islamic terrorists around the world and to defend the U.S. homeland. Articles today and tomorrow are part of a series looking at the elusive nature of the threat and the problems authorities confront in battling it. Today's story examines a worldwide Islamic movement that has been linked to terrorist groups but also has produced some of the most influential and moderate Islamic institutions in the United States. Tomorrow's report looks at how a mosque that grew out of that movement fares in the world after Sept. 11. Previous parts of this series can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/nation.

_____From This Series_____
Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities (The Washington Post, Aug 19, 2004)
In Search Of Friends Among The Foes (The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2004)

Those who have paid the mosque's annual membership fee of $50 for two years are allowed to vote in its elections. After only 120 people showed up for the April election to fill seats on the executive committee, an effort was launched to increase the mosque's membership, which has reached 250 families, Abdul-Malik said.

A Woman's Place

There are no women in these leadership positions. A few women ran for the executive committee in April, but none won a seat.

Women worship apart from men in an upstairs balcony and must enter the building through a separate rear door, and shaking hands with the opposite sex is discouraged.

Such treatment alienates some Muslim women. "One of the things that turned me off is that women's space is completely separate and you have to go in the back, right near the dumpster," said Saadia Yacoob, 23, a schoolteacher who lives in Sterling. "There is this general aura of 'We don't want you to be here.' "

Some female members also have complained about the attitude of mosque counselors, saying that victims of domestic abuse have been asked such questions as "Did you make a nice meal?" and "Have you been compliant enough?"

Some Muslims who find Dar too traditional instead attend the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, a mosque that draws a Friday worship crowd of about 2,500 and has 800 registered members.

The board of directors at All Dulles is elected and has five women members, and its elected vice president is female. Women worship in the same prayer room as men, separated only by a two-foot-high lattice barrier.

Omeish said Dar needs to relax its gender segregation. "We're trying to combine" some activities now done separately, he added. But he noted that older and younger generations disagree on the role of women.

An Imam's Short Tenure

In early 2001, the mosque's leaders tried a different tack to increase its appeal to younger worshipers. They hired Anwar al-Aulaqi, then a resident of San Diego, as imam with a mandate to attract young people, especially non-Arabic speakers.

Born in New Mexico and raised in Yemen, Aulaqi was young, personable, fluent in English, conversant with Middle East politics and known for giving eloquent talks on Islam. "He was the magic bullet," mosque spokesman Abdul-Malik said. "He had everything all in a box."

Aulaqi's sermons did draw a lot of young people. But the charismatic preacher was on the job only about a year.

Shortly after the 2001 attacks, federal investigators learned that two of the hijackers, Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Al Hazmi, worshiped at Dar for several weeks in spring 2001. The two men apparently showed up because Hazmi had developed a close relationship with Aulaqi in San Diego, according to the report of the 9/11 commission.

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