New mosque opens in Brentwood

Category: Americas, Life & Society, Nature & Science Views: 4422

BRENTWOOD, CA - When Mahtab Ahmad began leading her class on the Quran six years ago, her only student was a friend's daughter. Today, she teaches about 10 children each weekday at the newly established Brentwood Muslim Community Center.

"We are forming a new community here," she said. "We come from different countries, with different languages and food, but a mosque is a multicultural place."

The government does not track religious demographics, but recent census data indicate that Brentwood, which has a population of about 50,000, has seen a sharp increase in its Middle Eastern population over the past decade.

In 2000, the census found 16 residents here that spoke Arabic, Urdu or Persian. New census estimates put that number closer to 400.

Similarly, the estimated number of Brentwood residents of Arab, Afghan or Iranian ancestry is now close to 700, up from just 63 in 2000.

The Brentwood community center and mosque opened this past spring at the Sand Creek Business Center with 50 members. Since then, its membership has grown fourfold, according to mosque leader Tamvir Choudhary.

The city recently approved a move to a new space that the center has purchased on Lone Tree Way, near O'Hara Avenue, and hopes to start using later this year. Leaders say the new building will one day accommodate 1,000 people.

In addition to Quranic studies, the center offers five daily prayers, weekly lectures and an Arabic language class for beginners.

WHAT: Beginner Arabic classes

WHEN: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays

WHERE: 181 Sand Creek Road, Suite G, Brentwood, CA

PRICE: $30 per class

MORE INFORMATION: Tamvir Choudhary, 925-497 2400

Friday prayer services regularly draw more than 100 attendees. Unlike the Islamic Center of the East Bay in Antioch -- one of a few East Contra Costa mosques -- the Brentwood center holds sermons in English.

For Zunira Siddiqui, 16, who moved to Brentwood two years ago, the best part of the new mosque is its youth group.

"It's good that they have a lot of stuff for youth," she said. "I didn't even know there were a lot of Muslim youth here."

Once it moves to its new location, the center hopes to distribute food to the homeless, provide marriage and addiction counseling, open a day care, and eventually, run a full-time private Islamic school.

Many of the attendees at the five daily prayer services here formerly attended services in Antioch.

When she moved to Brentwood eight years ago, Zargona Ngemi rarely saw people she recognized from the neighborhood at the Islamic Center of the East Bay. Now, she said, many people come from Brentwood for the prayer services that spill into the parking lot.

All but one of the six founding members of the new mosque are recent transplants to Brentwood, according to Choudhary, who moved to the area in 2007.

He says that the housing boom of the past decade brought many professionals to the area, including Muslims.

Choudhary estimates that the population of the mosque is equally divided between first- and second-generation immigrants, and he sees this mix as an asset.

"We have the culture and values from back home and the children from this country," he said. "The fusion between the two is the secret of our success."

Native-born members are strong advocates for their community, he said, while immigrants help keep the group culturally rooted. As an example, he pointed to a flier posted by a Cairo-born resident inviting mosque members to attend a rally in San Francisco for the Egyptian protests.

Congregants say that they have felt welcome in Brentwood but they are wary of media portrayals of their religion and worry about the possibility of hate crimes, such as the arson attack that burned down the Antioch mosque in 2007.

Ahmad says she has rarely felt singled out for her religion but remembers receiving a nasty stare shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as she was waiting to pick up her child from a middle school while wearing a head covering.

Like many involved with the new mosque, she thinks that the onus is on her to explain her religion to her neighbors.

"I want people to know that if someone is doing something wrong, it doesn't mean it's Islam," Ahmad said, "it's the person."

Organizers hope that Brentwood residents will drop by the center as it continues to grow, and that it will become a place for Muslims in far East County to come together as a single community comprising many cultures.

"It's long overdue," Choudhary said.

to learn more

Source: Mercury News/Contra Costa Times - Hannah Dreier

  Category: Americas, Life & Society, Nature & Science
Views: 4422
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