Answering Their Prayers

Sayed Hassan who led the building campaign for Howard County's first mosque Dar al Taqwa.
Sayed Hassan who led the building campaign for Howard County's first mosque Dar al Taqwa. (Mark Gail - Twp)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006

After nearly a decade of zoning battles, massive fundraising efforts and fervent prayers, the multimillion-dollar mosque for Howard County's burgeoning Muslim community is nearing completion.

The 24,000-square-foot building sits on nearly seven wooded acres on Route 108 in Ellicott City. The exterior framework, painted cream with green accents, has been erected. Mosque President Sayed Hassan said that some of the interior work remains, including plumbing, electricity, insulation and painting, and that he expects the building to open in March or April.

"This is about time for us," said Hassan, of Columbia.

The mosque's opening will be a landmark for the county's Muslim population, a sign of its increasing numbers and influence. It will also be a first for Howard, a once-rural area that has become a destination for immigrants drawn by low crime and good schools.

"Place makes a big difference," said Anwer Hasan, head of the Howard County Muslim Council. The mosque will be a "place from where you can reach out to other communities and have more interactions with them," he said.

The mosque will be named Dar Al-Taqwa, Arabic for "the house of righteousness," and is designed to hold nearly 1,000 people.

Howard is not the only county in the Washington area to experience such a boom in its Muslim population. The Dar-Alnoor mosque is scheduled to open soon in Prince William County. The $1.8 million mosque is built for about 1,000 worshipers.

According to Islamic organizations, about 300,000 Muslims live in the region that stretches from Richmond to Baltimore. A 2003 study by the American Communities Project, a Brown University report on population trends, shows that the number of suburban residents in the Washington region who claimed ancestry from a mostly Muslim country jumped 81 percent, from 54,295 in 1990 to 98,084 in 2000.

Although specific numbers are not available in Howard, Muslim leaders say anecdotal evidence makes clear that the county's population has grown as well.

There was no community and no place to worship when Hassan moved to Howard in 1984, he said. So he and 15 to 20 other Muslims drove to Baltimore every Friday for weekly prayers. It was inconvenient, but there were no alternatives, he said.

After a few years, Hassan and other Muslims in the county grew tired of the drive and decided to found their own mosque in Howard. They rented office space in the Wilde Lake village center and held daily and weekly prayer services there.

Slowly, the community grew. By the mid-1990s, 40 to 50 people were attending services on Fridays. Amid complaints from other tenants at the village center about the large crowds, the group moved the weekly service to the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

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