A Place To Pray

By Kevin Garcia
The Brownsville Herald
October 17, 2004

Valley Muslims celebrate Ramadan in city’s first traditional mosque Allah has a new house this year in Brownsville — just in time for Ramadan.

The Masudur-Rahman, or “Mosque of Peace,” opened two weeks ago to serve the city’s estimated 50 Muslim families.

“It was our dream for at least 10 years,” Bari Siddique said as he joined in prayer inside the mosque.

Prior to the building’s opening, Muslims in Brownsville met in an apartment that served as a musallah, or “little mosque.” This is the Valley’s first place of worship designed as a traditional mosque.

“We had been paying rent and there were lots of limitations there,” Siddique said. “This is much better. To us this is the house of Allah.”

Members on Friday night were grateful to finally have a true mosque to celebrate the first day of Ramadan — the holiest month on the Islamic lunar calendar. Ramadan is a time of fasting during the day, and praying as a community throughout the week. It concludes Nov. 14 with a special festival called Eid ul-Fitr.

The new mosque, on Gilson Road in North Brownsville, is large enough to accommodate a large number of festival-goers, said mosque member Khadim Hussain

“One of the problems was space; now we can officially say that we have a mosque,” he said.

Area Muslims had planned to build a mosque for years but had to wait for funding and a larger congregation to assert itself in the Rio Grande Valley. The building cost $250,000 to build, a cost covered through fund-raising efforts.

“It took a long time for the (Muslim) community to grow here,” said Mohammed Farooqui of McAllen, who occasionally visits Brownsville to worship. “The Muslim community is growing very fast and we need more than one place.”

He said plans are under way to build another mosque in Hidalgo County, where about 200 Muslim families live.

“We are working on it and we have a building permit and by next year we should have a mosque,” Farooqui said.

Currently, McAllen’s Muslim community worships in a converted house run by the Islamic Society of South Texas. Weslaco residents worship in a similar facility run by the Rio Grande Valley Islamic Center.

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister, visited the Brownsville mosque on Friday to pray and discuss world affairs.

She was impressed that area Muslims — many from different countries and traditions — could co-exist in the same mosque. For Christians it would be equivalent to asking several denominations to agree on a single church, and how Mass should be held each week.

“There are many different schools of thought,” she said. “On the day of judgment each individual has to answer to God. They cannot say that this is what my neighbor said was right.”

The challenge of finding common ground is difficult members admit, but unlike various versions of the Christian Bible, the Qu’ran has only one form.

“We still have the same books and we still have the same prayers,” said mosque member Ahmad Karkoutly. “Our differences are not based mainly on religion. The differences come from our own personal interpretation of a religious ruling.”

As prayer concluded Friday for the men of the mosque, they greeted each other and wished members a fulfilling start to Ramadan.

“It’s good,” said 12-year-old Adam Shaikh, after participating in prayer with his father and 8-year-old-brother. “It’s a place to come and share.”

His father Anwar Shaikh brought his children from Harlingen to worship in Brownsville. Previously the family had traveled as far as Weslaco or McAllen to worship in established mosques.

“It’s preferred to go to a larger community,” he said. “We can meet our people and talk to them.”

Now equipped with a true mosque, Valley Muslims can enjoy this Ramadan in more comfort, Siddique said.

“It can’t be any better than praying in your own mosque,” he said. “During Ramadan most of the people try to spend as much time as possible in your own mosque. Now they can go and spend their own time without interfering with anybody.”

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