The opening of a new mosque is a cause for celebration, not only by Muslims who attend the house of worship but others around the metro area and state who often give their time and money to help their brothers and sisters of the faith.
Such is the case with the 7,000-square-foot mosque that opened in the spring at 420 E Lindsey in Norman. The Islamic Society of Norman recently held a community open house at the mosque. Friday, the mosque began hosting prayers and fellowship gatherings for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Farid Elyazgi, the society’s spokesman, said he and other mosque leaders have anticipated the nightly Ramadan gatherings because it will be the first time the holiday has been celebrated in the new facility.
Elyazgi said about 95 percent of the $950,000 cost to build the mosque came from within the Norman Islamic community. Muslims in other parts of the metro and state, and even other states, contributed as well.
Imad Enchassi is president and imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, one of the largest Muslim congregations in the state. He said the Norman Muslim community, like others of its kind, started out small but has experienced enough growth over the years to warrant upgraded or new worship facilities. Other congregations are following suit.
“Every single mosque is expanding,” Enchassi said. “There’s a lot of growth and progress.”
Enchassi said there are plans to build a new mosque or add on to the current mosque at 525 N University near the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. He said leaders of a mosque near the campus of Oklahoma State University recently built a new multipurpose building and are raising funds for a new mosque. Also, he said, leaders of a mosque at 1322 NE 23 are in the process of relocating to another property that will better accommodate their faith community’s growth.
Enchassi said Islamic faith communities in other parts of the state also are responding to growth. He said a new mosque was recently completed in Ardmore and a new mosque will soon open in Lawton, the second one in that city.
Enchassi said the mosque expansion efforts are obvious indicators of a thriving Muslim population in the state. He said there are an estimated 30,000 Muslims in Oklahoma and although they make up less than 1 percent of the state’s population, they add to their communities in many ways, including establishing thriving businesses and being industrious professionals in their career fields.
He said his society’s mosque at 3815 N St. Clair offers several prayer services, with about 2,500 people in attendance on weekends. Enchassi said the Oklahoma City society is in the process of buying nearby land to expand its mosque in response to growth. Also, he said a mosque is planned eventually on the same property where Mercy School, the society’s private Islamic school, is located at 14001 N Harvey.
In Norman, Elyazgi said the Islamic faith community initially started with a small group of international students who formed the Muslim Student Association at OU in the mid-1970s. He said in 1976, the group bought a house at 420 E Lindsey for meetings and services.
As the community grew, leaders purchased three more houses for mosque activities, he said. Eventually, the Islamic Society of Norman was formed and that entity operates the mosque, which still caters to many OU students.
The faith community began raising funds for a new facility in 2007 and demolished the houses on the site to make room for it. Elyazgi said they broke ground on the new mosque in February 2011 and mosque activities were moved temporarily to a storefront in a nearby shopping center. The mosque was completed in March 2012. The building’s eye-catching dome can be seen from a few blocks away.
Elyazgi, 51, and other mosque leaders said response from the surrounding community has been positive and they attribute that to the longtime relationships of trust that have been formed between members of their faith community and the community at large.
“I’m really appreciative of the officials of the city of Norman,” he said.
The mosque construction happened at a time when non-Muslims elsewhere were voicing opposition to such projects. Elyazgi referred to the furor that erupted about plans to build an Islamic community center near ground zero in New York City and a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
He said the Islamic society has grown over the years because many Muslim students who attended OU ended up settling in Norman. Second and even third generations of Muslims are growing up in the community that includes Muslims from more than 70 countries.
Elyazgi said he came to OU from Libya and stayed in Norman after graduating. He and his wife have several children who have also graduated from the university.
Azhar Mahmood, 52, the society’s financial secretary, and Ahsan Amil, 61, the group’s cultural secretary, both from Pakistan, said they and their families consider Norman home.
“Our kids were born here, and they were raised here. They don’t want to go anywhere else,” Amil said.
“They are Sooners,” he said, smiling.
Abdul Rahman, the Islamic Society of Norman’s president and acting imam, said he is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who converted from Christianity to Islam. Rahman, 74, said he has lived in Norman for several years and loves the feeling of brotherhood that pervades not only the Muslim faith community but the entire community.
“The characteristic that Norman is known for is brotherhood. It has that reputation and I like that.”