SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — Members of Longview’s Muslim community announced they will hold an open house Friday for the city’s first mosque.
“This room is called the musallah, the prayer hall,” said Saleem Shabazz, spokesman for the Islamic Centre of Longview, who welcomed reporters into a green-and-gold carpeted hall that dominates the roughly 3,000-square-foot mosque on Amy Street in far North Longview.
Carpet designs of minarets, the Islamic equivalent of a Christian steeple, pointed east to indicate which way to kneel in prayer. The large room was otherwise bare but for scattered bookshelves matching the white walls.
The Muslim community will welcome the public from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday to its first dedicated worship and community center. The day coincides with the start of Ramadan, the annual 30-day period of fasting and re-dedication to Allah, the Islamic name for God.
“The library is on this end,” Shabazz continued, offering a view of a thin room with more bookshelves before doubling back to one of two entrances — in this case, the women’s entryway — where a separate washroom peeked off a vestibule with more shelves.
Those were for shoes, which are not worn in the musallah.
On Friday, 40 to 50 Muslim families living within a 30-mile radius of Longview will abandon an apartment where they’ve held daily prayers for at least two decades
News that the Islamic community planned to establish a mosque in North Longview drew some opposition from immediate neighbors when it was announced in January.
At the time, people placed signs with “Jesus” on them in their front yards to declare their Christianity. Many of those signs, which originated with a Longview First Baptist Church promotion, remained in yards on Tuesday, but Shabazz and interim Imam Mohammed Rashad said much of the earlier angst has calmed.
Still, some neighbors are cautious about the new place of worship, fearing it will draw too much traffic down a narrow, dead-end road.
“It’s not that they are Muslims, it’s a mosque,” said Elizabeth Owens, who lives two doors west of the facility. “It’s that it will draw all kinds of traffic all day.”
Owens said some people already drive too fast on the road, which has no curbs and gutters and is further crowded by cars parked along grassy shoulders above a ditch.
Chris West said he was concerned his two children, ages 2 and 4, could chase balls into the street. He said neighborhood children ride bicycles and skate along the street.
“We’re not necessarily against them,” he said, before asking the new mosque members to, “ … just be aware and know we do have kids running up and down the street. … It’s not the religion, it’s just the placement.”
Shabazz and Rashad, whose title is the rough equivalent of a priest and means “scholar,” agreed with Owens that the Amy Street speed limit should be lowered to 20 to 25 mph.
And Shabazz added that, except during larger observances including Friday’s open house, eight people attending mid-day prayers is “a good size.” Still fewer attend the other four daily prayers.
Friday night prayers, which more will attended, should draw about 20 worshipers to the mosque, he said.
For Friday’s open house, he said, mosque members will use a back entrance from Vine Street north of Amy Street and leave the main entrance street and the mosque parking lot for the public.
“We’re talking to the members that are coming here to make sure they park properly and be respectable and not park in front of other people’s houses,” Shabazz said. “And we’ll do anything we can to get the street (speed limit) reduced. We will do that.”
The Vine Street entry leads to the back side of the mosque, where a companion building is completed except for interior work. Rashad said that facility will accommodate 50 to 60 people, borrowing a description familiar to any Southern Baptist.
“That is a hall, you can say fellowship hall,” Rashad said. “(It’s) where you have your gatherings.”
A deep green dome sat on pallets between the two buildings. It was hoped the dome would be in place atop the center of the mosque roof in time for Ramadan, but a rooftop foundation remains in the works.
Meanwhile, the men said, neighbors have been curious but friendly since the initial reaction calmed. Several have stopped while walking or driving by to talk to members who were landscaping or working on the building.
“Everything is gone by,” Rashad said. “It’s very peaceful. Sometimes people, when you meet each other, you know they also are human beings. They have families, they have kids.”
West at first said he wasn’t planning on attending the open house, before considering it might be a chance to let his new neighbors meet the children that are his main concern.
“That might be a good idea,” West said. “We are not going to be sitting out there with a picket and pitchforks.”— www.shafaqna.com/english/