۶ خرداد ۱۴۰۱ |۲۵ شوال ۱۴۴۳ | May 27, 2022
News Code: 363351
15 December 2021 - 14:04
Elkton mosque

For many, the new mosque, ushered in a sense of kinship and togetherness during a time when people are still more isolated than ever.

Hawzah News Agency –A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the Islamic Society of Delaware was founded. The organization was founded in 1977.

The amplified voice of Dr. Muhammed Niaz reverberated through the walls of Cecil County’s first mosque in Elkton, Maryland, as he led a 50-person congregation in prayer.

Members of the congregation on a recent afternoon stood, bowed and prostrated on the carpeted floor as Niaz delivered a sermon that was incorporated with passages from the Quran.

After the prayer ended, attendees talked and laughed over paper plates of Zarda, a sweet rice dish accented with almonds, in the front room of Masjid Aisha, the recently opened mosque that stands a couple of blocks away from Elkton’s Main Street. The front of the building could be easily mistaken for a quaint Maryland house, complete with two large windows, a mailbox and a brown front door with an ornate glass design.

Before the mosque opened in May, a handful of people would gather to pray in Niaz’s second-floor doctor’s office that stood only a short distance away from the new building. Other Elkton residents would typically have to drive 30 minutes to pray at Masjid Ibrahim, Delaware’s largest mosque located off of Salem Church Road in Newark.

The new mosque is a sign of the growing Muslim population in the area, as well as an accommodation to the already present Muslim community there. The opening comes alongside plans to construct another house of worship on a 20-acre plot of land in Middletown.

The increase in the number of mosques in the area mirrors national trends that show the number of Muslim houses of worship more than doubling alongside steady U.S. Muslim population growth over the past 20 years.

For many, the new mosque, which formerly housed an AAAA driving school, ushered in a sense of kinship and togetherness during a time when people are still more isolated than ever. It has come to represent a common gathering place to worship and socialize while also serving as a resource for the neighboring community.

Many of the people laughing and eating around the table in the Elkton mosque have lived in the area for years but only recently met one another during gatherings in the past few months.

“Prayer is very important but also a sense of community to come together, to know each other and to be together,” said Dr. Mohammad Khan, a regular attendee of the service. “There's a sense of society and a sense of purpose together.”

The central location of the mosque is convenient for attendees who want to perform the five daily prayers required of the religion in the physical building, given its close proximity to their homes and jobs.

“Coming to the mosque five times a day is important and having a mosque nearby, it's easier to go in and go out rather than driving half an hour,” said Abid Siddiq, an attendee who helped with the establishment of the mosque. “This has brought us that opportunity so we can easily come in for all the prayers.”

The building will soon expand its scope to help mitigate issues facing the surrounding community, including the creation of a drug counseling program.

Apart from the practical advantages, the mosque serves as a response to the already present Muslim population in the Elkton area, according to Muqtedar Khan, professor in the department of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.

“The community was already there,” Khan said. “I think it's responding more to the needs of that particular community to have a formal house of worship than responding to an immediate spike in population in the Elkton area.”

Still, the U.S. Muslim population has steadily increased over the past two decades.

In 2007, there were about 2.35 million Muslims living in the U.S. with the number increasing to 3.45 million a decade later, according to the Pew Research Center.

By 2040, the center estimates that Muslims will replace Jews as the second-largest religious group in the country. In 2050, the country’s Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million, nearly twice the current number.

In Middletown, the Islamic Society of Delaware purchased a plot of land in 2018 to construct a new Delaware mosque to meet the needs of the growing Muslim population in the area, according to Faizal Chaudhury, ISD board and executive committee member. On-the-ground development of the project began in December, following the permitting process and COVID-19 delays.

The Muslim population in Middletown has increased to about 80 families, compared to only a handful of families a decade ago, according to Chaudhury. The mosque is only one of the many endeavors in three different states that the organization has recently undertaken to adapt to the changing needs of its community.

As the demographics of members change and members get older, the organization is attempting to provide community services from the beginning to the end of life.

The organization purchased a cemetery in Pennsylvania in order to provide funeral services for members, giving them last rites and a proper burial. Besides a small grave-digging fee, burial services and plots are free thanks to donations that the organization has received.

The cemetery has been operational since 2020 and a body washing room is currently under construction and should be operational by early 2022.

“It's completely in line with our vision to be the leader in providing religious services for the Muslim community, whatever they may need,” Chaudhury said.

In 1992, the organization was founded in response to a few dozen members and has since grown exponentially to accommodate the increasing population and demand for religious services. The organization has expanded to include the state’s first, full-time Islamic school and an extension of the original building, which can now service more than 500 people.

In the front room of the Elkton mosque, the group of attendees slowly dwindled as people left to return to work about 3 p.m. Soon, only a group of about five men were left in a small circle of chairs, drinking freshly brewed tea during the pauses of their conversations and laughter.

Suddenly, they all stood up and made their way to the large, carpeted room toward the back of the mosque. There, they formed a row and began to pray the mid-afternoon prayer, sheltered by the unifying building that has brought them all together.

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