Saturday, March 20, 2010

Clarksville Muslims achieve milestone: City's new Islamic Center holds open house
By ANN WALLACE • The Leaf-Chronicle • March 14, 2010
                   Dr. Abu Sarwar, left, and Dr. Ahmad Joudah talk in the men's prayer room
during the open house for the new Islamic Center of Clarksville
Saturday afternoon. (Beth Liggett Cogbill/The Leaf-Chronicle)
Saturday marked a milestone for the local Clarksville Muslim community.

The Islamic Center of Clarksville hosted an open house Saturday in a newly renovated building on Uffelman Drive that will serve as a multipurpose mosque and education center.

"We are very joyful," said Jerome Heath, a local businessman born in America who converted to Islam nine years ago. "We now have a place that is permanent. We want to help with local charitable organizations. We want to share our faith and live in harmony alongside our neighbors."

Ahmad Joudah, current president of the center, stressed the new Islamic Center will serve for worship and outreach.

"This is more than a house of prayer for us," he said. "It is also a center where we educate our children in our faith and whoever wants to learn more about Islam.

"We invite the American community to come visit, to see us," Joudah added. "We are open for everyone. We would like for this center to be a place of learning, teaching and a place to reach out to others.

"We are open to speaking to anyone about Islam. We are very happy to explain as much as we can about Islam."

Joudah and Heath stressed their status as American Muslims.

"We teach our children that we are Americans and our religion is Islam," Joudah said. "As Muslims, we are not terrorists, and there is a tremendous difference."

Heath stressed Muslim parents are compelled to teach their children "Islam is a religion of peace and harmony."

"We are committed Americans who want our country to succeed and prosper," Joudah said. "

And many of us are helping to do that. We are productive citizens as professors, physicians, engineers, businessmen and merchants."

Joudah estimated about 75 percent of local Muslims are American citizens.

Several countries of origin are represented in the local Muslim community, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, India and the United States.

"We became American citizens by choice, out of the conviction that we can contribute to the buildup of our country as much as our country can contribute to the building up of our ourselves and our families," Joudah said.

Heath nodded agreement, adding, "I love those bumper stickers with all the different symbols that translate into 'coexist.'"

"We are looking forward to standing side by side with other faiths in giving back to the community," Heath said.

Winding road

Since moving to Clarksville in 1992, Joudah said he has noticed the Muslim community has expanded.

"When we first moved here, there were about three or four families. Now there are about 20-25 families," said Joudah, who is a naturalized American citizen.

Almost two decades ago, the small group of local Muslims alternated meeting for worship in each other's homes. They rented the Crow Community Center for special prayers held each Friday and for holidays special to their faith.

Later the group rented property on Madison Street.

Eventually the group purchased property on Rossview Road with hopes to build a permanent mosque for worship.

"We wanted to build, but we couldn't raise the funds," Joudah said.

He emphasized when the Uffelman Drive property became available local Muslim leaders were excited to purchase a "better location in the heart of town."

Joudah recognizes in the aftermath of 9/11 that many people have honest questions about Islam.

He said the local Muslim community prays for understanding and tolerance.

"You don't have to look at CNN or such TV media for answers about what Muslims believe," Joudah said. "Now that our center is open, people can say, 'Hey, there's a local mosque right here that I can go to and speak with local Muslims to know what is real.'"

House of prayer

The new Islamic Center of Clarksville is a place for worship for men, women and children of the Muslim community.

It is a tangible location where prayer takes place.

Prayer is a fundamental tenet of Islam. Muslims are expected to pray five times a day, which is referred to as "Salat."

And those prayers are recommended to be shared alongside fellow Muslims.

It is preferable for Muslims to join the congregational prayers, but sometimes that is not possible because of employment commitments.

Prayers are usually performed before sunrise, at noon, mid-afternoon, at sunset and the last daily prayer, "Isha," is usually voiced about an hour after sunset.

The Friday noon prayer is the only one that is required to be spoken with the congregation, and this is the time when two sermons are delivered.

Women and men come for Friday prayers, but pray in separate groups.

Sundays are usually set aside for Muslim women and children to gather at the center for classes similar to a Sunday school in Christian churches.

Huda Nasir, 7, from left, Zoha Nasir, 9, Arwa Nasir, 4, Rayan Mohsun, 4,
         and Fellah Mohsun, 7, play in the children's room Saturday at the new Islamic
                Center of Clarksville on Uffelman Drive. (Beth Liggett Cogbill/The Leaf-Chronicle)