Local Muslims worship in Front Royal center

FRONT ROYAL — According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010, there are 2.6 million Muslims in the United States. The Daily Beast, an Internet magazine, estimates Muslims make up about 2.1 percent of the Washington, D.C., population.

Omar Farooq, an imam from Alexandria, said the size of the Muslim population in the D.C. area is so large that mosques are overcrowded, with Friday prayer services being held three times a day.

“Years ago, it would have been unheard of to hold more than one service a day,” Farooq said.

So Farooq and his father founded the Islamic Center of Front Royal at 1602 Strasburg Road to serve area Muslims and Muslims who might want a break from elbow-to-elbow prayer services.

Farooq said when he and his father were looking into establishing the center, they did not base their decision on how large their congregation would be.

“We made prayers to God to guide us in finding some property,” Farooq said. “It really wasn’t a factor at all, whether we had a big Muslim population or a small one. We knew we had to build one.”

The center opened for prayer services in fall of 2013 and currently serves 10 to 15 area Muslims. Farooq said establishing a house of worship is a process that takes years to complete.

“We may not see a large congregation in our lifetime, but as long as we put all the stones to this building and have it set up for it, maybe our children will take it forward,” Farooq said.

The closest Islamic houses of worship are in Winchester. Ahmed Moustafa, president of the Front Royal center’s congregation, said he used to worship there.

“I used to go up to Winchester to pray, so I was happy to find a place closer to where I live,” Moustafa said.

The Islamic center offers Friday prayer services at 1:20 p.m., lessons on the Quran on Saturdays and access for worshipers to pray when they need to. Moustafa said Friday prayer is very important to the Islamic faith.

“Friday prayer is a must in our belief,” Moustafa said. “Men must come to a mosque in a group and pray. All Muslim men pray on Fridays.”

According to Moustafa, the center held an open house over the summer for people of all faiths to visit and learn about Islam.

“We invited our Christian neighbors so we could introduce ourselves and tell them about Islam and if they had any questions we could address it,” Moustafa said. “We want to be a part of the community.”

Farooq added, “We do not believe in the idea of alienating ourselves from people. We believe in the value of socializing, of helping out the community as a whole. If there is a great cause in Front Royal that everybody needs to work together on, we want to be right there with them.”

Reaction to the establishment of the center has been mute, according to Moustafa.

“We heard about some incidents out of state, where people were upset about Muslims building a mosque,” Moustafa said. “There was no backlash here … We do not go look at who said what about us, although I think a lot of people do not know we’re here.”

Farooq said the Islamic center is open to anybody and he hopes to have more interactions with the community at large. He said he hopes he can start providing aid to impoverished citizens in the area.

“Taking care of social needs is a big dimension in our faith,” Farooq said. “We have plans for that in the future. Maybe we will open a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.”

Moustafa added, “When it comes to helping the poor and the needy, we do not discriminate. We don’t even ask people if they’re Muslim or not.”

Farooq said he hopes to also start interfaith conversations with Christian and Jewish clergy in the area.

“We hope to have a dialogue and maybe start doing activities together,” Farooq said. “There are topics we all share in common, such as helping the poor or going green. I hope we can bring all the communities together and build understanding.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com