They came five years ago, without fanfare, so quietly that few people saw them move in. They pruned the azaleas and swept the front steps and tended the fountains in their elegant backyard. One day they put up a plaque - Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. Islam Fiath, United States of America - and even then only those who stopped to read it knew the Hanafi Muslims had moved to Shepherd Park.
The orthodox Muslims shared the street and sidewalks with a congregation of orthodox Jews. A massive conservative synagogue stood across the street. It seemed an unlikely location for an Islamic headquarters, but then Shepherd Park is an uncommonly adaptable place.
Jews, white Christians and blacks have bought and sold around upper 16th for the last 25 years and, through it all, Shepherd Park has made something of a career of preserving religious and racial calm.
Just north of Walter Reed Hospital, the street names burst into bloom - Jonquil, Iris, Geranium streets - and that, for most people, is where Shepherd Park begins.
Neighbors, Inc., the citizens' association established in 1958 to encourage peaceful integration, worked these streets through the 1960s, repeating the message at teas, at open houses, in newspaper housing advertisements: we can live together. We can share our streets.
And although the neighborhood did change - much of the Jewish community that had grown around the two snagogues moved north, up 16th Street and into Montgomery County - its change was easier, slower and less complete than most.
The Parkway Delicatessen, a few minutes away in Silver Spring, sits in a largely black community and still serves matzoh ball soup and Manischewitz grape wine by the glass.
The houses sit back from the sidewalk, good-sized solid houses of brick and stone, with enough lawn for a lengthy bout with a mower. There are built-in greenhouses, curving stairways, columns.
Every year around the Labor Day, Floral Street throws a block party and the Shepherd Park folks sit around eating ribs and stuffed grape leaves and kreplach until the sun has gone down and it's too dark to see.
Once someone invited a Danish dance troupe, which invited all the neighbors to put down their paper plates and dance.
Some of the houses are open to schoolchildren who need a place to stop on the way home from school. Neighbors swap outgrown clothing and worry about parking problems, high assessments, zoning. When a new family moves in, someone on the block often wanders down with a bottle of wine and a few words about Neighbors, Inc., of the Shepherd Park Civic Association.
Nobody brought any wine to the Hanafis.
The Muslim household was reclusive and quiet that first year, so unobtrusive that many Shepherd Park people were not certain who had moved into the graceful stone house on 16th and Juniper streets.
The Hanafis made no overtures to neighbors and several Shepherd Pard residents interviewed yesterday said they understand that attempts to talk to the Hanafis had been firmly rebuffed.
Then on Jan. 18, 1973, several in the family of Hamaas Abdul Khaalis were murdered in the house. Television trucks, police cars and reporters descended on Shepherd Park. And when they left, the neighbors watched the Hanafis strip their gently gardened mansion to a stark fortress.
The azaleas were cut down and cleared away. Hodges, shrubbery, anything that might hide an intruder - were leveled until a bare expanse of gravel had replaced the garden. The windows were barred; a spotlight shone on the front steps. And Hanafi guards, armed with machetes and long Japanese swords, began a night-and-day vigil outside the Khaalis house.
Every time a neighbor passed the Hanafi house the guards were there, pacing, walking steadily down the gravel field and back again. In winter they put a overcoats and warm hats and kept pacing. It made many neigbors uneasy.
"They seemed so remote," said a man who lives nearby, remembering he had never sent Khaalis condolences after the murders. "You kept thinking, what the hell, why didn't I just send a little note saying how appalling it was, with women and children?. . . if it had happened to any other family in the neighborhood, there would have been a response of some sort. But they seemed so unapproachable."
Neighbors, Inc., thought of contacting the Hanafis, a few member said yesterday. But no one was certain how to go about it. As one put it, "How do you drop by with a guy walking with a machete?"
So Shepherd Park adjusted to the Hanafis' armed presence and went back to the issues of the day. Neighbors, Inc., and the Shepherd Park Civis Association argued the best use of Marjorie Webster Junior College, a defunct private school on a 10-acre campus, where a drug prevention program and several other experimental projects have been objected to by the community because they brought in traffic and strangers.
The neighbors fumed over increases in assessments, and planned suggestions for reducing the tax rate.
They complained garbage men were not paying proper attention to them, suggesting that perhaps their location was responsible: "If they drop glass and paper west of the park, they stop and pick up," said Shepherd Park Civic Association president Melvin Washington.
Even now, after the Hanafi violence took hold of Washington this week, many Shepherd Park people say they can adjust. Some said yesterday Khaalis simply needed to vent his rage and that they thougth the violence was over.
Some said they were alarmed at his release, but would not leave. "You feel a little edgy living next to a potential time bomb," one man said.
And on Friday night worshippers came, as usual, to the Tifereth Israel congregation, which faces the Hanafi house. The rabbi spoke of Passover, of strength of faith. "Grant that we lie down in peace, secure in Thy protected love," he said, and the song of the congregation echoed throught the halls of the synagogue.