Muslims Find Room to Grow in D.C.'s Outer Suburbs

Dar-Assalaam of Woodbridge is a cramped, converted house. A large new mosque will open in January.
Dar-Assalaam of Woodbridge is a cramped, converted house. A large new mosque will open in January. (Photos By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 1, 2005

In the outer suburbs of Washington, long filled with Christian churches, new and expanding Muslim mosques are changing the religious landscape.

In Woodbridge, a $1.8 million mosque built to hold 1,000 worshipers will open in January. Starting in October, Ellicott City Muslims will pray in a new $2 million mosque large enough to accommodate almost 1,000 people. Mosques from Annapolis to Manassas are growing as Muslims who have migrated to the outer suburbs seek places to worship near where they live.

Some are moving into office buildings and homes -- even into some former churches -- as Muslims establish informal houses of worship called masjids . Close-by mosques are desirable for the Muslim faithful because of the religion's ritual of five daily prayers and Friday prayer services.

"It is difficult to commute for the prayers," said Farzad Darui, manager of the 48-year-old Islamic Center of Washington, the first mosque in the area built from the ground up.

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.

"Like all other segments of society, there's a move to suburbia, and Muslims are part of that movement," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington.

As those Muslims establish more mosques, more Muslims are drawn to the area. About 300,000 Muslims live in the region that stretches from Richmond to Baltimore, according to Islamic organizations. In metropolitan Washington, the number of suburban residents who claimed ancestry from a mostly Muslim country jumped 81 percent from 54,295 in 1990 to 98,084 in 2000, according to a 2003 study by the American Communities Project, a Brown University project on population trends.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, it hasn't always been easy to incorporate new mosques into suburbia. In some places, neighbors have been less than welcoming, even suspicious of who might be inside praying. Vandals have set fire to a mosque sign and spray-painted derogatory words on buildings and a van owned by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, which with 5,000 congregants is one of the largest mosques in the area.

In Howard County, there have been verbal attacks on Muslim women for their covered heads.

But local Muslim leaders downplay such incidents as isolated. Dulles Imam Mohamed Magid Ali said his congregation has successfully reached out to the community through open houses and interfaith events that foster understanding and tolerance.

For decades, the Islamic Center of Washington, with its distinctive 160-foot minaret on Massachusetts Avenue, was the center of Muslim worship in the region. But in the early 1980s, a group of mostly Arab college students moved out of the District to establish Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church, said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, also the mosque's director of outreach programs.

By the early 1990s, immigrants as well as African American Muslims and a second generation of Muslims, began trickling into the outer suburbs.

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