Mosques Reach out to Neighbors
and the Community Reaches back
By David Crumm
For months, Jasmine Snell
watched the walls of an enormous white building rise near
her home at Davison and Woodrow Wilson in Detroit. When it
opened in January, the buzz around the neighborhood was that
the new building contained a gymnasium that sometimes was
open to neighborhood kids for basketball.
This was a dream come true for Jasmine, 17, a Central High
School junior who's not much taller than 5 feet, but who loves
shooting hoops, especially going toe to toe with guys who
tower over her on the court. That's why Snell, a Baptist,
dared to take her first step inside a mosque.
"I just had to check this out," she told me Tuesday
night at the Muslim Center of Detroit after making an impressive
basket, shooting right over the heads of guys trying to block
her shot. She zipped past bigger ball players, her grin widening
with each shot she nailed.
That's when I realized I was glimpsing a major milestone in
metro Detroit's religious history. For decades, an almost
universal desire among local Muslim families has been that,
one day, they would be accepted as part of the mainstream
Muslims and their non-Muslim friends certainly have worked
hard on this. I've attended countless interfaith conferences,
open houses and field trips to mosques. But, until this recent
period of multimillion-dollar expansions at a half-dozen local
mosques, the Muslim community remained a fairly exotic corner
of our religious world. That was partly due to cramped quarters
and a general lack of amenities that might draw non-Muslim
When I reported May 11 about the opening of the $14-million
Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, non-Muslim readers
peppered me with questions about how they could arrange to
visit. The Dearborn mosque is now a major metro Detroit landmark,
a stunning slice of Middle Eastern design with a 60-foot-tall
This week, to further explore how far the welcome mats are
extending from Muslim centers, I decided to visit a new mosque
that's not such a high-profile attraction.
Imam Abdullah El-Amin, the longtime head of the mosque on
Davison, told me, "I can't believe the number of people
who've been coming here now that we've opened the new building."
Since its founding in 1985, the Muslim Center's main Friday
prayer services usually drew fewer than 100 people. The original
mosque was a remodeled, 3,000-square-foot bank building.
After $1.7 million in construction, plus donated labor by
many members, 22,000 square feet of space have been added
to the original building, including the gym, a huge prayer
hall, classrooms, conference rooms and offices.
"Now, we're getting 350 to 400 Muslims for our Friday
prayers," the imam said. He's just as pleased by the
number of non-Muslim neighbors who've dropped by the mosque,
simply to shoot hoops, watch the kids play or ask him a few
He pointed a finger at me and stressed, "Be sure to tell
your readers that this is not just open basketball. This is
a program about responsibility, too."
A mosque employee, Shakir Muhammad, referees on the court
and mixes the basketball with impromptu messages about good
behavior. Occasionally, he leads the kids out into the streets
around the mosque to pick up litter.
Neighbors now stop by to thank the mosque staff for letting
their kids play and for cleaning up the streets, El-Amin said.
And the non-Muslim visitors are discovering that there's nothing
to fear inside this house of God. No one pressures them to
Here's how Jasmine Snell put it: "When I first came over
here, I did wonder how different this place would be, because
I'm a Christian and all. But I love basketball. This place
is right across the street from my house. I had to come over
here. And, what I've found out is: This place is just cool."
If you'd like to visit a mosque in your area, it's best to
call ahead, because prayer times vary throughout the year
and there also may be special programs open to the public.
If you stop by a mosque during prayers, you'll need to take
off your shoes before entering the prayer hall. Non-Muslims
should sit to the side and quietly observe.
Visiting a mosque http://www.freep.com/news/religion/mosque-box111e_20050511..htm
(Courtesy FREE PRESS)